Dear Athletic Support: My daughter just wrapped up her eighth-grade volleyball season. She’s been playing since fourth grade and has always been one of the better players. That wasn’t the case this year. This year she barely even got to play. Honestly, I can’t blame the coach for keeping her on the bench. It was like she was scared every time she stepped on the court. I think it was because she was an eighth grader playing with the ninth-grade girls. I just want her to succeed. Is there a way I can help my daughter become more aggressive and confident? — Too Timid For Her Own Good
Dear Too Timid: At one point in my career, a coach told me he wanted a team full of jerks.
No, he didn’t actually want a bunch of bullies and punks on his roster. What he really meant was he wanted players with confidence. The aggression that you reference in your question — that’s what he was after.
It reminds me of the age-old question, “Do nice guys (and girls) really finish last?”
From what you’ve told me of your daughter, I’m guessing she’s a “nice” girl. She’s probably not too pushy. She doesn’t think the world revolves around her. She considers the feelings and emotions of the people around her.
Those are all wonderful qualities for a young person to have, but the question here isn’t about what constitutes a good person, is it? You’re trying to figure out if there’s a way to light a fire under your daughter. That way, when the game is on the line, she’ll throw caution to the wind and rise to the occasion.
The problem is, you can’t teach aggression. When faced with opposition, people are generally programed in one of two ways: fight or flight. To put it bluntly, kids are either born with a killer instinct, or they’re not.
I can back this assertion up from experience. I taught 3rd and 4th grade P.E., coached 7th grade through varsity athletics, and let me tell you, it is obvious which kids are programmed for aggression. Some kids have no problem making their first tackle. Others cringe every time they get hit.
But here’s the good news: aggression doesn’t always correlate to athletic success. Not every player on the volleyball team has to go for the winning kill. Depending on the sport, or the position, possessing a level head can actually be an advantage.
Imagine a heated rivalry game. Emotions are running high, and the other players on your daughter’s team are playing poorly under the pressure.
Because of your daughter’s laid-back demeanor, she might become the voice of reason for the other girls. She might even make the winning dig. And if she does, she’ll prove the old adage wrong. Nice girls don’t have to finish last. Your daughter might even save the day.
Eli Cranor is a former professional quarterback and coach turned award-winning author. Send questions for “Athletic Support” to firstname.lastname@example.org