There’s a saying in coaching that you don’t want to follow “the guy”, you want to follow the guy who follows “the guy”. Joel Walton followed a coaching legend at Ball State University and has been quite successful in his own right. I’d guess most of that success is due to his great knowledge and astute coaching ability. But some of it has to be an inner confidence he had within himself to handle the pressure of following a beloved coach. I’m sure his mindset helps him guide his team when they’re in pressure-filled situations.
When I talked to him about teaching his athletes to handle pressure, he had some pretty interesting things to say. During his time at Ball State, as a player, assistant, and now head volleyball coach, his team has enjoyed many Top-25 rankings and has played against many teams with national rankings.
How to handle the pressure of a big-time program:
- Recruiting. As I’ve said before, Ball State volleyball has a passionate fan and alumni base who have high expectations for the program. Walton says students choose to play at Ball State precisely because of the pressure. He recruits athletes who won’t shy away from having expectations of greatness put upon them.
- Focus on the process. Walton says he doesn’t talk to his team about national rankings and whatnot, but rather breaks it down into more manageable pieces for them. He’ll focus on doing well in conference because he can show the team how much easier their path will be once they get into tournament play.
- Enjoy the outcome. The outcome isn’t necessarily a national ranking or a conference championship, but a legitimate chance at those things. I’m sure all of us would agree that being in control of your destiny at the end of the season is a good place to be.
Those steps almost seem easy, but those of us who’ve been at this coaching game for long enough know that finding the balance of expectation, focus, and fun can be challenging. I linked a few other articles I’ve written on pressure down below. Enjoy!
Join me in a series of interviews with successful coaches. I believe what we learn from our coaching peers can be applied to our teams, our recruiting efforts, and how we behave as professionals. These interviews will be less Q & A and much more philosophical in nature, keep coming back to see who I’m talking to and what they’ve got to say!