Before every match I remind the team of a few things: This isn’t about you; it is about us. We win as a team and lose as a team. It doesn’t matter who gets the most kills or aces but it matters that we win.
Head Girls Volleyball Coach
Huntley Project High School
Montana Class B High School State Champions
2003 2004 2006 2007 2009 2010 2011
WillofaChampion: Do you have a purpose, mission, or a vision statement?
Coach Stookey: I love teaching, coaching, and watching athletes succeed. My mission is to teach them everything I know and hopefully good things come out of it. Vision Statement – teach them what is correct instead of what is easier. I run an AAU program for our fourth to sixth grade girls. We just returned from a U12’s tournament where they noticed a lot of girls serving under hand. We serve over head. We help them; we use a lighter ball, move them up closer to the net and/or lower the net. But we teach them what is right and not easier so we don’t have to re-teach the skill later. As they get older they just get better at what they’ve been taught. I’m not saying serving underhand is wrong, over head is just more effective.
Coach Stookey: A lot of hard work. I start youths in camp when they enter second grade. We’re a small district but still average about 120 kids grades 2 to 12 in our summer camps. All of them are our kids. I try to make it as fun as possible. Our AAU program starts in Fourth Grade. I try to get them as much playing time as possible. We focus on skills. For example, this past weekend the girls were a little frustrated they didn’t win a lot of matches. But I reminded them that they learned the rotation, when to switch to defense and where to go to base. We stress the basics in switching and picking our positions; my middle hitters, outside hitters, my setters. Three of our four 4th-6th grade teams are running the 4-2 defense. Not that they’re getting the pass, set, spike every time but they’re learning. If you run the 4-2 you can run anything. It works for me and the kids like it.
WillofaChampion: Is it harder to create or maintain a championship caliber program?
Coach Stookey: I think it is harder to create it. I think success breeds success. Once you start winning the athletes, parents, fans, and community want to be involved. Our support is amazing. But it wasn’t like that when we first got here. We had to start winning before the enthusiastic support developed.
WillofaChampion: What have you done to cultivate a team first attitude amongst your girls?
Coach Stookey: Before every match I remind the team of a few things: This isn’t about you; it is about us. We win as a team and lose as a team. It doesn’t matter who gets the most kills or aces but it matters that we win. The girls know that if someone is having a good game we need to keep feeding her the ball. If someone isn’t we need to steer away from her. That is okay because not everyone is going to have a good game all the time. I tell the younger kids we need to pass, set, attack and good things will happen. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose but I do want you to pass, set, and attack every ball if you can. Their challenge is when we have our back and front rows doing their switching and the other team is just bumping the ball right back over the net. We get caught in the switches. The girls get frustrated with that, but they are starting to understand why we do what we do. The sooner we get them into a pass, set, and attack offense the more success we will have in the end. The young ones are part of the program and like the older girls they are learning not to do what is easy but what is more effective.
Coach Stookey: We have Terrific Tuesday practice. The girls call it Terrible Tuesday. Since I started coaching in 1990 I have had a sign called Terrific Tuesday to remind us. Tuesday night is the hardest practice of the week and they know it. They mentally have to be ready. I work them physically very hard on all sorts of defensive drills.
WillofaChampion: What do you expect from the captains or leaders of your team?
Coach Stookey: I expect them to lead by example. To get respect they have to earn it. I always tell them to practice what they preach. If you expect it, then you better do it. I expect them to be great leaders on and off the court. I expect them to talk with me when something is going on I need to know about. I expect them to help with conflicts amongst teammates. We vote for captains because it is important to let the team have input. I also choose a captain. We usually choose two or three captains. The number depends on each girl’s leadership ability and skills. If I need to relay something to the team I find the captains. I count on them a lot.
WillofaChampion: Do you do anything specific to develop leadership skills in your athletes?
Coach Stookey: We have a big-sister little-sister program where our upper classmen are assigned one freshman for the season. For every home game they have to give each other a token of encouragement; A note, a Powerade, a “hey – have a great game” candy bar. Those are examples of many things they do like that. Part of what makes this special is if the Little-sister is struggling with something not related to volleyball they still always have someone to speak with. It has really been awesome for us. Senior night is a big deal because the Little-sisters will do something special for the Big-sisters, especially the seniors. We’ve had really cool and creative things that have meant a lot to the Big-sisters. Posters with pictures and a poem, things like that. This has really helped bring the freshmen along with the seniors. We practice everyone together at the same time, so they get to see each other all the time and help one another. I really like having all of them together. I make the day they find out who their big-sister/little-sister is very special.
WillofaChampion: What do you do to invest in the young girls that may join your program in the future?
Coach Stookey: Again, we start in second grade. We are a small town, so those young girls will come and watch the older players. Some of our alumni return to help at the kids camps. We try to get the older and younger girls together. We used to have a 5th and 6th grade program the older girls helped with. It gave the younger girls exposure to the older ones. We do T-shirts at camps the older girls would sign the young girls’ shirts. The young ones loved it and felt connected to the older girls, part of the program.
WillofaChampion: Is there anything we haven’t discussed you believe is critical to developing a state championship caliber program?
Coach Stookey: I became a head-coach at the age of 19 (different school in Montana). Having girls just a year younger than me was challenging. I came here and learned two things from our principal who was a very successful wrestling coach. In regards to winning, he told me, “Go with what got you there. Don’t change midstream.” The second thing: “Before you criticize an athlete, remember who put her out there in the first place.” Those two things I truly think about all the time to this day. Obviously, there is more to the coaching part. But those two things have stuck with me since 1990. I have put them into my philosophy. I try to be a leader, role-model, and keep in touch with players after they graduate. When we won the state tournament this year, I had 120 text messages from former players. What I loved was not the number of text, but the number of people excited about us winning. It is a lot of work and the more you win the more pressure is put on the next team. I try not to focus on the past. Every year we’re a new team with new energy and chemistry. This year we were defending state champions. People around us talked about the three-peat. We never talked about it. There is enough pressure on kids today you don’t need to talk about the past. You just need to worry about what is happening in the present because that is what matters. Our philosophy is to take our team and make it the best it can be with what we have.
Another facet we haven’t discussed is parents. I believe in educating parents and fans about the intricacies of the game. Parents don’t always understand the game. They don’t know when you can or can’t substitute and why. It isn’t like basketball where you can random sub. But when you break it down for people, they are often surprised at the technicality of the game. At our school every sport is required to have a parents meeting. I require at least one of the parents to be there. A kid cannot play until one of the parents has met with me. At the parents meeting I go over the rules, I talk with them about position play and how the game works. Taking the time to teach the parents has saved me time with parental issues later. Now parents ask me questions to try and understand the game better. The other thing we tell our parents is if they have an issue they cannot come to any coach after the game. They have to call the next day and set-up an appointment. I get great administrative support with that rule. I am fortunate that we don’t have a lot of parent problems, every coach has one or two, but for the most part our parents are great!
Interview: March, 2012