Interview With An Olympian: An Interview With The Parker Varsity Volleyball Coach
The coach of Parker’s varsity volleyball boys and girls teams is coach Sharon Peterson. As a player, she is a United States National Team Member 7x, a two time Olympic games player in 1964 Tokyo and 1968 Mexico City, A two time Pan-American Games player winning a gold medal during her 1971 year, a World Games player, A United States Volleyball Association (USVBA) All-American 7x, USVBA National Player of the Year 1969, A International Professional Volleyball Association (IVA) player from 1975-78, an IVA League Champion with the LA Stars in 1975, an IVA All-Star in 1977, a USVBA Fly Hyman All-Time Great Player Award, and a USVBA All-Era Team player 1949-1977. As a coach has Seven National Championships, over 500 wins, 5x National Collegiate Coach of the Year, Assistant Coach on the United States Team - World University Games, a 1983 Neal S. Blaisdell Award winner, and the 1984 State of Hawaii Sportsperson of the year. She is also in the Hall of Fame for El Camino Jr. College, CSU at Long Beach, National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, Hawaii State Sports, University of Hawaii-Hilo, and Southern California Indoor Volleyball. And among all of this, she is a phenomenal person, mentor, and teacher who genuinely cares for every single player she has ever coached.
I just want to know in general, how did you get into volleyball and what was your upbringing?
Many moons ago, I grew up in Hermosa, two blocks from the ocean. Volleyball was just a fun beach activity back then. After graduating from highschool, my friends and I decided to enter a 6 woman volleyball tournament at the Manhattan beach pier. It was my first taste of competition. I can remember diving out in the sand for a ball and saying to myself, “this is great fun”. After the competition, my friends and I were sitting talking story when Evie Stoten walked up and asked if anyone would like to be coached. I said yes and that’s how I got into competitive volleyball. That was my start, but I had no idea at that time what that yes would actually mean to me. I did know however that I loved to compete, and I am forever grateful to Evie Stoten.
So now to fast forward. For both boys and girls, I just want to know, like from all the coaches I've had, you've done a really phenomenal job at developing us, especially like last year with myself included, a lot of the team had gone from never playing volleyball to us eventually making the playoffs, and with the girls team competing in the playoffs this year. I just want to know how you unlock that in your players? Is there a secret to it?
Early in my high school years, I wanted to be a teacher. After going to a junior college for two years, I transferred to Cal State University at Long Beach and earned my teaching credential in Physical Education. I felt my education there was excellent and it prepared me for a career in teaching. When I moved to Hawaii, my teaching expanded to include coaching when I was employed by Punahou School. High school P.E. teachers were expected to coach as well as teach, so I coached volleyball, basketball, and track and field. I was asked to coach hurdle in track when I never had gone over a hurdle in my life. To my surprise, I survived, and it was at Punahou School where I fell in love with coaching. I always believed that you should love what you do and do what you love, and coaching was and still is exactly that for me.
I love how you basically turn us into a family from like the daily inspirational quotes to all reflections within practice and after practice and games. And I think you develop the mental aspect just as much as you do physically, if not more. So I just want you to talk about it. How you value the mental side of sports on and off the court team chemistry and like, even life lessons through sports.
I do value the mental and emotional side of the game and I do my best to give my players “from the neck up” power to perform at a higher level. When I started coaching volleyball at the collegiate level, I made a decision that I questioned at first. Do I explore the mental side of the game possibly opening up a can of worms? I said “yes”, and I’m so glad that I did. We went on to win 7 small college national championships. Many elements went into those championships, but mental toughness was most definitely one of them. It really helped to develop more than just the physical side, because they say the worst enemy is between your ears and it really is true. There was a quote by Bruce Lee who is one of my idols that says, “absorb what is useful, discard what is useless and add what is specifically your own,” and I really like that, you know, especially absorb what is useful, because a lot of times we might absorb some things, but oftentimes we hold on to what is useless. A lot of times, that's all that clutter in the head and it just leads to just a performance that is slightly under par.
And then also, what about the mental aspect, not just from like a player personally, but also how they interact? Do you notice something different in the chemistry of the team overall when they're clearing their heads more and not getting, you know, on themselves too?
Somewhere I just recently read it's the person behind the technique, and that is part of my philosophy. You know, you've got the technique and you teach all of that, but it's the person behind the technique and everyone's different. Someone may have too much control and not enough arousal. Some might have too much arousal, and not the control. Some may be fearful, just had a player, she was serving, she was serving, serving in the net ,in the net, in the net, this is like 2 days ago, and so I went over and I said, why don't you step [a little closer], and let's serve from there, and she gets it over. She did another, she gets it over to the middle of the court. So I'm going, “you know, if you were [back] here [at the service line], that would have still cleared the net, and so I had her come back a step, [then back a step], and she did. So she was serving from behind the line just like that. And I said something to the team about it, and I asked her kind of what went on with her, and she said, “you know, when I used to stand behind that line, you know how you take binoculars and you turn them around and it sends things way off like that? It felt like that, that it was way off.” But, just by just her stepping inside, it changed it. You know, getting to see players see their own development is really exciting. Anyway, that was one of the things that and Another thing we are working on is sequence, staying in the here and now, instead of getting snagged where your mind can go to the past or future. So those are the things that I really like to work on; And the more they get them, the more the game flows and then pretty soon you start seeing achievement instead of activity. Every player is different and special. I believe if you can discover what motivates a player, you can guide them to put their best foot forward and help them to achieve.
I think a lot of people don't know this about you, but you've coached at many different levels and you've even played to the level of representing the US as a whole in the Olympics which is incredible. How is the approach as a player versus a coach different?
As a player I was focused on myself. I wanted to go all out in practice, and I didn’t want to let my team down when competing. I now realize that the fear of letting my team down interfered with my performance. I didn’t understand the importance of the mental and emotional aspect of the game back when I played. I wish I knew then what I know now. As a coach, my focus is on 12 individuals and the challenge is bringing them together as a cohesive unit. It is a continual problem-solving journey, and to me that is why I love to coach–Always a new challenge. Early in my coaching career, one thing really influenced me and I read it somewhere, there was a big retirement party for a woman who had taught 30 years and a reporter asked her, “Did you teach 30 years or one year, 30 times?” That really had an impact on me, and I said I do not want to be known as a coach that teaches one year, 30 times. So I always try to bring in new things. When I learn something new, so do my players. Someone said, "When you learn something new, you become something new.” As a player, your job is to prepare yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally for the competition; As well as support your teammates, so they can be their best. As a coach, every practice is team preparation, but gameday is showtime, and you are responsible for game decisions and keeping the momentum on our side of the net.
With that, how is it different from coaching at the college level versus like trying to help a couple of teenagers at school, right? Like, what's that difference in coaching style or dynamic, etc.?
Different skill levels, but the challenge is the same: Bring out the best in each one and excite them with the knowledge that they are better than they ever thought they could be. That never grows old. So to sum up, the level of skills taught is different but the desire to succeed remains the same. Guiding them and getting to see them see their own development is why I still love coaching.
Is there anything that's been just completely universal between everything you've done, like something that you just say every time will like something that throughout all your years has just been consistent and it always works?
That’s an easy one. Be a learner. I was determined to never be known as the coach who taught one year 30 times. I felt that I had to keep learning so my players can continue to learn with me. Recently I read a quote that says, “Don’t let your learning lead to knowledge, instead, lead to action.” Some players that I have coached will tell me, “I know”, but their knowledge had not turned into action on the court. This past season we really focused on turning our knowledge into action, and it had a very strong positive effect on their play.
Was there any moment where or like a defining point in your career where you kind of felt like you wanted to stop volleyball or take a different path? Any hard moment for you where you wanted to quit?
It was interesting to me that at moments I was questioning if I wanted to keep coaching. I would unexpectedly receive a note from a former player thanking me for the life lessons I had taught them through coaching. I always saw it as a sign to continue to coach and here I am. I love teaching. I just like to open new eyes to the game of volleyball. I loved playing volleyball and I want others to love it too.
With that, is that what inspires you to continue today?
You know, I get excited when I talk about developing players. There is something special in every single one of them, and pulling them together into a team is something I will never get tired of.
So not to focus on the girls a little bit more, I just want to know. What were your expectations or your mindset coming into this season like even before tryouts? Like, did you have a goal that you wanted to achieve for this?
This season, not so much a goal, but I I thought we had a good crew coming back, and then first off is Takarrah‘s injury. But even with setbacks and disappointments, this team’s spirit never waivered. Before the season started, I never expected the team to be so mentally strong. I loved coaching this team. As far as expectations. I didn't really have any because they are still a pretty young group. But they came together as a team with a willingness to learn, a great spirit, and a positive mindset. They were just a great group of players and I thoroughly enjoyed working with them. I think they really got how important it is to be able to be open to learning and to be a good teammate. And there is some quote that says something about you wanting to be playing for your team, not just with your team. And I think that is something they achieved this season.
That's a perfect segway. What's one crazy difference that you've seen in improvement from the team? One thing that you were worried about maybe at the beginning of the season, and now it's just like the easiest thing?
We really have worked on trying to establish good habits. Good habits are things such as: balance, focus, sequence, and flowing as a team. They're hard to develop, but easy to live with. Unless you constantly focus on them, the old habits will creep back in. A big part of my coaching is to not let those bad habits creep back in. This team did a great job in progressing toward good habits on the court, and I think that’s why their performance kept improving.
And then now obviously with the big game approaching tomorrow, what's like the game plan? Or what's your mindset going into this? (This was before the Honoka’a game).
My husband takes outstanding stats, and we took those stats to develop a game plan. 79% of their kills are from the left side. So we wanted to make sure we had two blockers up on that side, so we’re having the middle blocker cheat to that side. We are also having our center back cheat towards the line. So, we do have a game plan, but the other part is just to stay calm. See as much as you can, and have fun. Having fun is a big part of it because you perform better when you are relaxed.
So what’s one mistake that’s just always stuck throughout the season?
Fear- It’s what I call going into the den of thieves and it steals your focus, enjoyment, and affects your ability. You’re slow to respond to the ball - and your performance drops when you’re in the den. When you’re out of the den, you perform without hesitation, doubt, or fear. It’s really interesting to see the players out of the den, playing freely. I’m sure it’s exciting for the players to experience as well. But the most important thing is always to have fun.
I think we're kind of near the end. I just want to know if there's anything else you would like to say or speak about, whether it's for the game, for the girls season this year or there's anything in general?
I'm just happy to be here. I'm honored to be here. This has been a really good experience for me, I've grown here.