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Seeing & Believing

There are goals. And then there are GOALS. At her very first meeting with players as the new Head Girls’ Volleyball Coach at Flower Mound (Texas) High School, Jamie Siegel gave her team an outlandish objective: to win its first state title in program history.

There was no discussion—no calculating the probability or asking the girls what they thought. Just a huge blast of confidence from a stranger who would become their gutsy and gung-ho guide.

In mid-November, to the surprise of almost everyone except themselves, the Jaguars fulfilled that audacious goal. After not winning a playoff match for the past four years, Flower Mound captured the 2018 Class 6A Texas state title with a 3-1 win over Ridge Point High School. The team had gone 18-17, 22-24, and 9-12 in the three years prior.

How do you inspire athletes to accomplish more than they ever thought possible? How do you give them a sense of confidence built on relationships (and not social media)? And how do you convince them they can win a championship when it wasn’t even on their radar?

ALL ABOUT TRUST

Prior to taking the job at Flower Mound, Siegel was Head Coach at Keller (Texas) High School for four years, where she took the team to the Class 6A regional semifinals in 2016 and the regional quarterfinals in 2017. From 2009 to 2015, she served as Head Coach at Colleyville (Texas) Heritage High School, winning four district titles there.

Through those stops, she developed a coaching philosophy a bit bolder than most. She believes in barraging players with positivity and pinning any setbacks on herself.

So in her initial get-together with players at Flower Mound, she did not hold back. “The first day I met these young ladies I told them to pick a finger and visualize the state championship ring on it,” Siegel says. “I always set the bar high because whatever expectations you provide as a leader and coach, athletes are going to strive to reach that goal.

“I think every coach is hoping to win a state title, but not all coaches say it,” she continues. “To actually verbalize it and show your athletes that you believe they can do it gives them the confidence they need.”

Building that confidence, explains Siegel, continues through developing relationships based on honesty and unrelenting support. She sets the tone by showing how much she cares about each student-athlete, speaking to them individually before and after practices and games.

“It entails talking to them like normal people and not always focusing on what I want them to do as athletes,” Siegel explains. “They need to get to know me as a person, and they need to know that I love and care about them as people, not just as volleyball players. That’s how you start to build a family culture.”

The next step is getting players to trust each other in very deep ways. Along with using team building activities, Siegel asks players to shut off their cell phones as competitions approach. This leads team members to turn to each other for support instead of outside sources.

“Today’s athletes rely so much on social media for likes and comments to make them feel good about themselves,” Siegel says. “But on game days I take away their cell phones so they have to talk to each other and learn about each other—they have to realize that this is where they build their relationships. That helps them start to believe in each other and have a common goal and talk about how they’re going to get there.”

Siegel also writes personal notes to her players prior to matches, giving them specific instructions and reminding them how much she believes in them and their ability. Every letter ends with, “Trust yourself, trust your teammates, and trust your coaches,” and, “I believe in you always.”

THE RIGHT BALANCE

Hand-in-hand with building relationships, Siegel is relentless about promoting positivity. She ends every practice, every timeout, and every match with an upbeat comment.

“Focusing in on the positives is the biggest thing,” she says. “For example, we break down practices by saying “Family” and then I tell them I love them and that they’re doing a great job.”

She also uses her phone to send voice messages to players after practices, congratulating them on their hard work and encouraging them to keep it up. “People are surprised that I do this, but I do it because I love and care about these girls. They deserve the best from me because they’re going to give me their best,” Siegel says. “It does take time, and some people don’t think it’s important, but to me it’s the baseline.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that Siegel is soft on her players. “You still have to coach them,” she says. “We couldn’t have accomplished what we did this year without the actual coaching aspect. There are still reminders and consequences if someone isn’t doing what they’re supposed to do.

“I’m also very strict when it comes to working on strategies and skills,” she continues. “If you ask my athletes, they will tell you I’m a tough disciplinarian. But because I build relationships with them first, they never take it the wrong way.”

Siegel admits that finding this balance between pushing her players and remaining positive can be challenging. So when she realizes she has neglected her role as their number one fan, she’s quick to apologize. “There are definitely days when I’m not perfect and I don’t end things on an encouraging note,” she says. “But the next day I will own up to that and say, ‘Girls, I let you down, I’m sorry, and I still believe in you.’ When I fail, I acknowledge it and take responsibility.”

Keeping things positive also means taking the pressure off her players. Whenever the team losses, Siegel will shoulder the blame, and whenever they win, it’s the players who get the praise. She believes this helps her team compete with the same level of intensity on every point in every match.

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