Prepare to Play: Motivation Pt.1 - The Challenge Begins

The upcoming 2020 season will be many things - unpredictable and unprecedented are certain to be two words commonly thrown around. As we work through the pandemic caused by Covid-19, we must begin to think about helping players return to competition in a safe and healthy way. Amber Warners (Calvin) is known for her ability to recruit and motivate her athletes year after year. We asked if she would let the AVCA in on some of her secrets, and she responded by showcasing her methodology for making sure her team returns to campus at the end of each summer ready to compete at the highest level.

Part 2: Planking - Part 3: Agility

Time is the ever-present enemy of every coaching staff. When the team is dispersed, conditioning cannot be monitored, guidelines can't be enforced and motivation can't be ensured. Despite your best efforts to provide instruction for how to work out over the break, you can't know for certain if anyone is heeding it. When players show up to campus behind where you'd expect and hope they'd be, everyone suffers. Players are more injury-prone, conditioning takes longer to round into form and actual instruction takes a back seat.

Sick of dealing with the unknowns, Coach Warners developed a summer program that helped integrate conditioning expectations with home workouts, and also began to lay the foundation for quality team-building before players even made it to campus. After some experimentation, Warners and her staff came to develop 9 distinct challenges that help make sure their athletes are ready to go upon returning to campus.

When they were designing the curriculum, the coaches brainstormed about what they wanted their players to be ready to do when they showed up on the first day. Five of those benchmarks were physical.

1.Core strength - especially to help with their jumping ability.

2. An anaerobic component - perform a high intensity movement for a short amount of time.

3. Show up prepared for long rallies - leg strength with a bit of endurance.

4. Strong ankles and feet - some type of plyometrics workout.

5. Agility - move quickly, change directions.

Using these foundational criteria, the staff developed 9 challenges that the players would need to be able to handle upon returning to campus in mid-August. The remaining four challenges related to the mental and social component of the team-building process. This means partnering an incoming player with a veteran to help navigate the preparation and establish trust - eventually, these partners need to respond to a 50-question quiz about each other (with a 70% success rate!).

They also need to write a third-person letter of recommendation for themselves about why they should be a part of the program. Then, they engage in a months-long nutrition challenge, largely centered around drinking enough water and getting three square meals a day.

The final component is a skills-related piece. This can be as simple as bumping the ball to yourself - just building familiarity with the ball and working on simple motor skills.

Coach Warners and her staff like to name each of the specific challenges after a specific opponent on their conference schedule - giving them a bit of motivation and internalizing the workouts for tangible results later in the year.

The first phase of the challenges is to simply start the process of getting to know your teammates. See below for an example:

Other than building personal bonds, it's crucial early in the summer to begin the nutritional awareness component of the challenges. It is absolutely crucial the athletes are consuming enough water - the staff clarifies that pee should be a light yellow at most throughout the duration. Three square meals is also a foundational piece of a strong diet. It is suggested that you keep a water bottle with you at all times - and the staff provides a log sheet (see below for an example) to make sure that you're paying attention to nutrition.

With those foundational pieces locked in to start the off-season, the physical challenges are soon to begin. Check out the next challenge, where being able to hold a plank for three minutes is not only encouraged, but expected! Being able to pass these challenges in August is the goal - so the idea is to ramp up preparation now.

Follow along as we continue this new series on Preparing to Play!

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