By Greg Bach
When professional beach volleyball standout Traci Callahan steps on the sand with the club team she coaches in Southern California, her young players know they’re going to work hard, have fun, and receive encouraging words along the way.
And another benchmark of Callahan’s coaching: there will be plenty of honest feedback, too.
“Kids are savvy these days and they are really smart and they know when you are being straight up with them and they know when you are just being rah-rah,” says Callahan, who competes on the AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour while also weaving youth club coaching into her schedule. “I think kids really like it when people are honest with them but also very encouraging.”
When coaches have forged those strong connections with their young athletes, that honest feedback they’re doling out is more likely to have a positive impact, too.
“I coach mostly girls and for girls it’s really important for them to know that you are right there with them and that you understand them,” Callahan says. “There’s something about not just giving them information but being there for them on a more personal note. I’ve found that when I can encourage my athletes with very specific information, and when I’m honest with them, they really respond well to that.”
Burying boredom; igniting competitive fires
Boring, predictable practices that plod along chase kids away from sports all the time. And you won’t find any of that happening when players gather with Callahan.
“I think practice is fun when there’s consistency, variety and competition,” she says. “Especially for kids, they love competition and that is what I think motivates them to come back to practice. If it’s too drill-oriented they get burned out and bored, so I think it’s really important to develop a competitive spirit, especially for younger players. So as coaches we have to be careful not to get so detail-specific with younger players and actually let them enjoy the game for what it is.”
Generating confidence in young athletes requires time, patience, and giving them opportunities to see that their skills are progressing.
“I think that confidence is something that takes time – it’s not superficial,” she says. “It’s not a mask that you wear. It’s something deeper that grows inside of you over time.”
Once those practice hours begin translating into improved play during matches, confidence tends to escalate.
“I think confidence comes from when you know you did something that deserves merit,” Callahan says. “So I think when kids see the reward of the work that they have done that builds confidence. That’s what I’ve seen in coaching too – whether it’s that girl who can’t get her serve over and she works and works at it and finally gets it over you can literally see her grow in confidence in that very moment.”
Setting – and reaching – goals
“I think goal-setting and having reachable goals is huge,” Callahan says.
And she found an effective route for attacking her goals.
“When I first started playing when I would goal set I would work backward,” she explains. “So I would say, ‘What’s the big goal that I want to reach? And let’s have a systematic plan going backwards that leads me all the way up to the present moment where I can see that this is the path that I need to take.’ And that helps you stay motivated when things get hard, because they always get hard.”
“For me, my question every day is am I being consistent with what I am saying I want to do?” Callahan says. “I’ve just always loved hard work and I think when you’re in the nitty gritty and pushing yourself to the limit I think that’s really rewarding. And that’s what I see with a lot of the girls I coach now.”
When kids are immersed in practices, dialed into the process, and giving their best effort, it can often be the precursor to some special memories.
“When they’ve worked so hard and they win that game that win is so much more exciting and so much more fulfilling then the easy win or one they didn’t have to work for,” she says. “When you work harder the reward is that much sweeter.”
The journey to the sand
Callahan grew up loving basketball, but her athletic path veered during sixth grade.
“I was a basketball player and my mom played volleyball on Wednesday nights in an adult league, so I was that kid on the side of the court who was hitting the ball against the wall,” Callahan recalls. “And I switched schools when I was in sixth grade and I wanted to make some friends, so the first sport in the fall is volleyball and I started playing and I just happened to be tall. So it kind of worked out.”
Did it ever.
An outstanding player, she eventually found her way to Cal State San Bernardino, where she was named the Division II National Freshman of the Year. Later transferring to Concordia University Irvine, she produced three stellar seasons and left among the school’s all-time leaders in kills and digs.
Now, she’s competing against the greatest players in the world while also giving back and helping cultivate a love for the sport among young players.
“I’ve always had a heart for the mentorship side of coaching,” she says.
You can follow Callahan on Instagram and Facebook.
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