When Kirsten Bernthal Booth took over the Creighton University Women’s Volleyball program in 2003, the team had a record of 3-23 the previous year. Since then, the Creighton women’s volleyball team has become one of only 10 Division 1 volleyball teams to be ranked in the year-end AVCA Top 25 poll each of the last five years. In 2015 Creighton had their first Sweet Sixteen appearance and in 2016 they made their first run to the Elite Eight.
The Kirsten Bernthal Booth that was hired back in 2003 inherited a team that won three games in a season. How did you convert the culture of your team to adopt a “winning mentality”.
I’ve always been a coach that believes in process. Doing the right things and not being totally locked into outcomes. To me, as an athlete and as a coach, that frees you a little bit. We’d really focus on process and taking risks. In a small way, if a player tipped, they were probably going to get yelled at. If they had a perfect set and they made a low risk decision, they were going to get in trouble with us. And if they had a good set and they went for it, regardless of outcome, we were going to cheer for that. It allowed them (the players) to go for it and know that there weren’t going to be ramifications. I know that sounds simple, but it really did switch the mentality. We’re a pretty high risk program. When you get a good ball, we’re going to go for it. It’s paid dividends because at the Division I level, if you give the other team that opportunity, they’re going to throw it down your throat, so we’ve got to seize it.
If you have a player that’s in a rut or experiencing a crisis of confidence, what are some strategies you use to help get that player out of their funk?
I think our biggest job as coaches is to make kids believe how great they can be. I really believe that confidence is key to everything. It starts with how we talk to them. Every word that we say as coaches is impactful. Everything we’re saying is being heard and we need to be careful with the words that we choose. If I see a kid is struggling, the first thing I’m going to do is talk to them. I’m not going to attack them. Maybe there’s something in their life going on, maybe their parents are struggling, you know it might be bigger things. So the first thing is that I’m going to reach out and see what’s going on. If it’s small stuff then I’m not going to make a big deal out of it. If they’re really struggling, then I’m going to try and give them tactical things to do.
They (players) can always control their demeanor. If I can tell they’re down, then I’m going to challenge them to make sure their teammates don’t know they’re down. They need to make sure they’re holding themselves with confidence. I am a believer that you can fake and your mind will follow you faking things, so “fake it til you make” it is a mantra in our gym. Displaying that confidence is important.
If they are still struggling at that point, then we’ll talk about tactical things. Let’s make sure your step-close is really explosive, or let’s make sure we’re hitting high hands. Another thing we’ve done is made a highlight clip on the iPad that just sits on the end of the bench. During a time-out or when a player is subbed out, they can watch a 20-second video of themself looking awesome. You can also spin stats in a positive way and try to give them data of why they’re actually better than they think.
There’s not a perfect solution for each kid. Each kid is different. Some you have success with and some you don’t. The benefit of being a college coach is that we get to pick the players. I believe that every kid on my team has the ability to be great and it’s my job to make them know how great I think they can be.
Listen to Kirsten Bernthal Booth talk more about the importance of confidence and strategies that she uses to build confidence in her players on Headstrong’s YouTube channel.
For more strategies and tools for building player confidence grab a copy of the Headstrong Mindset training book for volleyball teams. You can also download the free workbook which includes activities and resources for building player confidence.