Can we apply Joe Maddon’s 5 stages of being a ballplayer to volleyball?

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By Jim Dietz for VolleyballMag.com

Can we apply it to volleyball?

Joe Maddon is a baseball manager famous for thinking outside of the box. He’s also an outstanding “people person.” He guided the 2016 Chicago Cubs to the World Series title, and while his specific ideas do not always work, the philosophies on which he he tries to base them are sound.

As with most things in life, Maddon’s theory about the five stages of a ballplayer’s career isn’t really original. You can see an earlier template for this with Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs/theory of human motivation. For Maslow, an individual put the most effort into securing basic necessities first and only when those were taken care of did the person worry about “self-actualization.” For Maddon, the top of the pyramid comes when a player is willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of team victory.

In brief, Maddon’s five stages are:
— “I’m Just Happy to be Here”
— “I Need to Survive This”
— “I Belong”
— “Getting My Stats/Being a Starter”
— “I Don’t Care — Just Win, Baby”

So how can we use this in terms of volleyball, especially since there is no Major League Volleyball to speak of in the United States? Is it possible to apply Maslow’s/Maddon’s ideas across the various levels of organized volleyball (youth, high school, club, college) because there isn’t a single answer that works?

Why not try? Perhaps, if we consider the stages and the level at which we coach, we can put ourselves in the athlete’s position and subsequently help them develop the maturity needed to reach that fifth and final stage of being an athlete.

Youth volleyball 
Happy to be Here: Whoa, a ball! This is cool. Let’s pass it back and forth and control it five percent of the time!

I Need to Survive This: Extremely high when they get something right, massively discouraged with an error. It is all about self-confidence and learning the rules of the game.

I Belong: The player understands a system. The athlete can hit a serve over the net most of the time (over- or under-hand). Unless panicked, they’ll try and use all three hits.

Getting My Stats/Starting: When the youth athlete has figured out how to play at the 8-12-year-old level, they start to hog the ball or demand the ball, taking charge on the court. Others may get upset and that will bother this athlete because they don’t understand why everyone else hasn’t reached this stage yet.

Don’t Care, Let’s Just Win: Players at this stage will understand their role, understand that even if they are the best hitter, that they may need to be the setter to ensure everyone else gets a consistent ball to hit. If another team wins by just thwanging the ball over, this athlete will get upset because they aren’t playing the game the right way.

High School
Happy to be Here: Holy crap, high school kids are tall and cool and you definitely don’t want to upset juniors and seniors — they run the school. If I keep quiet, maybe they won’t notice me. Please, Baby Jesus, don’t let Coach cut me!

I Need to Survive This: If I do OK, I’ll get some freshman of JV playing time. I’d like to start on one of those or be the first person off the bench and I’ll play any position the coach wants.

I Belong: The player understands offensive and defensive systems. They’ve adapted to the speed of high school. They are comfortable joking around with teammates, even if they are older.

Getting My Stats/Starting: The player is unhappy unless they are starting or getting significant varsity playing rotations. They get what’s going on and get frustrated by choices they disagree with. “Why did Mary get set that ball instead of me?” Losing doesn’t sting too much if the stat line looks good or the athlete played all six rotations.

Don’t Care, Let’s Just Win: Losing gets old and time is passing. The player wants a regional/sectional/district title, a shot at “going to state,” and more. The player would six-pack his mom if it meant a chance at hoisting a big trophy. “If that means Dave gets set rather than me, I’m going to be the best possible decoy I can. Get me the point, Dave!”

Club
Happy to be Here: I made a team! Someday, I’m going to play at, like, Stanford or Penn State and then go on to play for the USA in the Olympics!

I Need to Survive This: Athletes begin to question the team they are on. They see the older girls practice and wonder if they have what it takes — especially when they run off strings of errors.

I Belong: The player feels confident playing at larger tournaments. When the first contacts from college coaches come, the player realizes the dream is possible and coming closer every day.

Getting My Stats/Starting: The player worries abut the colleges he or she hears from. Mom says if they played for a different club, they’d get better offers. Other clubs say if they came and played for them, there would be better offers. The athlete checks daily for the letter his club coach assures him that big-time coaches are sending.

Don’t Care, Let’s Just Win: If you are a recruitable athlete, you realize volleyball exists outside of only the places that win national championships and that there are plenty of colleges where the education and volleyball are first-rate. You’ve got your decision, a burden’s lifted, and now you can just focus on playing for love of the game.

College
Happy to be Here: A coach thought I could play. How could he, I mean, my high school team went 12-19? We sucked and here I am on a team that went 24-5 last year. It’s OK. I’ll keep working and enjoy watching the starters hit bombs from here on the bench.

I Need to Survive This: The player either focuses or is directed to focus on a specific aspect of the game: serving, serve-receive, blocking, but is still not at the point of contributing nightly. They know, though, that there are circumstances (blowout, injury, etc.) where they’re going to get the call to go in.

I Belong: The weight-training has paid off. Same for practice and film study. There’s a rhythm to college life, being a college athlete, and you’ve got it now. You don’t fear the bad days because you’re secure in your role and playing time.

Getting My Stats/Starting: Having a role is wonderful, but it would be nicer to have your name called as “key to the match” by the ESPN announcer or listen to the Big 10 Network talk about how you dominated last Saturday. You want the ball, you demand the ball and you get the ball — which is the key thing.

Don’t Care, Let’s Just Win: Volleyball is over soon. Your degree is coming and at that point, welcome to “the real world.” You realize success comes from teamwork and effort and that you are responsible for maintaining your team’s tradition and creating a legacy. To be immortalized in a picture in the gym’s lobby — that’s everything.

Jim Dietz has been the head coach at Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield, Ill., since 2006. The Loggers have been to the last three NJCAA national semifinals and Dietz, who is also the technical director for the Capital Area Volleyball Club in Springfield, Ill., is the winningest coach in school history. Dietz has also written two coaching books — The Human Side of Coaching and Like Heck She Isn’t a Volleyball Player) — and several novels.

Dietz has also written for VolleyballMag.com about recruiting on the junior-college level. 

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