Q&A with Lynne Malloy

North Springs High School

By Staff

Coaching Management, 13.11, November 2005, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm1311/qamalloy.htm

Although the state of Georgia is not known as a hotbed for volleyball, there are a handful of pioneers who have worked long and hard to elevate the level of play in the state. Lynne Malloy, Head Coach at North Springs High School in Atlanta, is one of them.

A 1974 graduate of North Springs, Malloy has been a physical education teacher at the school since 1979, coaching volleyball, basketball, gymnastics, and track and field, as well as serving as athletic director for a period. Thanks to Title IX, she has been able to devote her energy primarily to volleyball for the past decade, and that focus has paid off. She recently notched her 500th win and her squad is regularly ranked in the top 10 in the state.

Malloy has served on the Georgia Athletics Coaches Association Board of Directors and on the National Federation of State High School Associationís Volleyball Rules Committee. She currently serves as Georgiaís 6AAAA Area Coordinator and has been instrumental in drawing regional, sectional, and state tournaments to North Springs.

With no middle school teams or feeder programs in her school district, most of Malloyís players arrive on the court with no previous experience. They also have a passion for their schoolwork, as North Springs is a dual magnet school that accepts students by application to its performing arts and mathematics/science programs.

Most proud of the consistency of her teams, Malloy talks in this interview about motivating players, working with parents, and the new rules the high school game has recently employed.

CM: When North Springs became a magnet school, did you change the way you coach?

Malloy: I have great kids here at North Springs, and our teams have had some of the best academic records in school history, both before and after the magnet school designation. But one thing that has changed is that I have to work harder on developing my student-athletesí competitive natureótheir intensity and fire. For many of them, academic success has come so easily that they are not used to pushing themselves as hard as I ask them to. I am a very demanding coach. And for some of them, thatís difficult to adjust to.

How do you teach them to push themselves?

By making sure they know I believe they can achieve athletically at a very high level and I will accept nothing less. I expect them to go out every day and serve perfect serves, execute perfect passes, and make perfect hits. I am well aware that they are not always going to do that. But I do not let them settle for aiming at mediocrity.

Youíll rarely hear me tell a player, ďThat was okay. Youíll get it next time.Ē I want them to understand that if they strive for mediocrity, they may not even reach mediocrity. But if they strive for excellence and they fall short, theyíll still be pretty darned good.

So that is what I bring to the table for these young ladies. Academics have come easily to them, but in my realm, they are going to have to work very hard to achieve excellence. I tell them, ďYou might have lower expectations of yourselves than I do, but my job as your coach is to expect excellence from you.Ē

How do you explain your coaching style to athletes and parents?

First, I tell my kids that if they ever have a problem with anything on this team, I have an open door policy. They can ask me anything. They may not like what I have to say, but they are more than welcome to ask. Then I tell them, ďAs long as you and I can understand each other and you know why Iím doing what Iím doing, I do not care what your parents think.Ē

That might sound like an extreme position, but it works. Iíll give you an example. I had one player recently who ended up going to play at the University of Mississippi. Throughout her four years playing for me, I did not let up on her at all in practice or in contests. Her dad was supportive at first, but then he thought I was being too hard on her.

So one day I pulled her to the side and said, ďDo you want to play college volleyball?Ē And she said yes. So I said, ďDo you want to play it because you want to play it, because your dad wants you to, or because you think I want you to?Ē She said, ďCoach, I really want to play.Ē So I said, ďI know your dad doesnít understand why I am doing what Iím doing, but if you can play for me, you can play for anybody and youíll know what it takes. Do you understand that?Ē And she said yes. The player went back to her parents and told them that she understood why I was pushing her so hard. They relaxed, and it worked out.

I also work with parents to make sure they know my philosophy. I explain to them that my job is to put a team out on the court, not individual players, and I will make the best decisions for the team. I have a preseason parentsí meeting every year, and I tell them that Iím going to play each player where I need her. I am not going to sacrifice whatís best for the team to make things better for an individual.

How do you like coaching with the libero position?

When youíve been coaching a long time and a new concept comes in, youíre leery of it. I didnít really understand it and I didnít know if it was going to fit my system. Now that Iíve begun to adapt, I think the libero has some important benefits. It puts a tremendous defensive player on the court for the majority of the game. Itís also great for saving substitutions.

Iím using a libero for part of the rotation this season, and that decision is based on my personnel. I have two potential liberos, but one is also a great server, so I donít use her as a libero. Iíll adjust my strategy with the libero from year to year based on my personnel.

Do you like rally scoring?

I love it. It has made the game faster-paced and more intense because everything counts. A serve is now one of the most important weapons you have. If you are a poor-serving team, that is really going to hurt you in the long run. Now if you miss a serve, not only does the other team get a point, they are also going to get the momentum.

How do you build relationships with your players?

I make sure they know that if they have any concerns, they can come to me and I will listen. Even if I donít take the action they want, I will take their input seriously.

For example, I brought my seniors in yesterday because I didnít feel our team chemistry was what it needed to be. I asked them, ďWhat do you think is going wrong here? What would you like to change?Ē

We had a great dialogue. One of them said, ďCoach, we always do the same drills in practice.Ē So I said, ďOkay, you seniors set practice up for tomorrow and weíll run whatever you want to run.Ē I know 3,000 drills, and I choose the ones I think are most important. But if they want a different practice, thatís okay. I want them to have input, and I want to give them ownership.

Why donít you coach club volleyball?

I do not discourage my players from participating in club if they want to, but I donít get involved, and there are several reasons for that. One is that Iím not a big fan of specialization at the high school level. I think a child should have as many arenas to excel in as possible, and different sports complement each other. Itís also good for athletes to take a break and not have to concentrate on just one sport year-round.

I had an all-state volleyball player who graduated last year and she never played one day of club volleyball because she is also a basketball player at my school. She is only an adequate basketball player, and some coaches would have urged her to specialize in volleyball, but I am not one of them. I was never going to say, ďYou are not going to play college basketball, but you could get a college scholarship by playing volleyball and you need to concentrate on that.Ē I knew she loved basketball and she loved representing North Springs.

The other problem is that sometimes when my kids get back from playing club, they think theyíre better than they are. Or the club coach did something one way, but I do it a different way. I truly believe club is more about the individual, so it can be more of a problem than a benefit.

What advice do you have for beginning coaches?

Make sure you are as prepared as you can be for each practice. Be organized. Go into every practice with a solid idea of what you want to do, how you want to do it, and what you want to accomplish that particular day. After 27 years, when I create a practice plan, I still designate exactly what Iím going to do from one minute to the next.

Always try to keep learning. If thereís anything you can do to improve your knowledge and enhance your coaching, do it. Every year, I try to go to clinics and stay updated.

You have been very involved with the development of high school volleyball in Georgia. What do you see as the future of the sport in your state?

Itís really exciting because itís expanding by leaps and bounds. Until recently, a lot of schools, even in-state schools like Georgia Tech and Georgia, would not recruit Georgia volleyball athletes because they were not Division I caliber. Well, I have a player at Georgia Tech right now who was a walk-on and Georgia just signed one girl for this year and one for next year from schools in my area. The skill level and the interest have just skyrocketed. Itís finally taking off.

What are your personal goals for the future?

To touch these young ladiesí lives in some positive way. When they look back in 10 or 15 years, I hope they remember this team as one of the best experiences theyíve had.

I want to turn out players who have a passion for playing volleyball. If you look at the number of kids from my program who have gone on to play college volleyball, itís not a large percentage, and thatís okay with me. These kids are not playing volleyball to get scholarships. Theyíre playing because they love the game and it makes them feel confident about who they are.

Itís not about wins or losses. In the end, itís not even about volleyball. Itís about getting kids ready to go out into the world and hold their heads up high. Itís about knowing the feeling of giving everything youíve got, and learning never to settle for mediocrity. If I can give them that, Iíve done my job.