Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Reason to Show Up

Post by Diane Lichtenberg: Diane is in her 30th year of teaching & coaching volleyball at Bettendorf High School. Last year, Coach Lichtenberg led her volleyball team to its first state championship in school history. (Team pic below)

Ever since I was in elementary school, I knew I wanted to be a P.E. Teacher.   I have always loved sports, games, and exercise.  I am fortunate. I have a job I really enjoy.  I get to go to work each day and help students learn the meaning of commitment, discipline, responsibility, hard work, and success.   One of the unique things about teaching physical education and coaching is that I get to teach many life lessons through sports and games.  Now that’s what I call “FUN”!

When you look up the word success in the dictionary, it simply states, “a favorable result.”  We all want to be successful in what we do and we want our students and athletes to have success as well.  I am in my 30th year of teaching and coaching. At the end of each season I have the players answer a series of questions about me as a coach and about the season in general.   One of the questions I ask the players is, “If I were to see you 5 years from now and ask you, “What do you remember most about your high school volleyball experience, what do you think you would say?”   Not one player has ever answered that they would remember our win/loss record.  Kids get involved in sports for a number of reasons.  Winning isn’t the only reason. At the top of the list should be because “it’s fun.”  Success isn’t just measured by wins and losses or A’s and B’s, there is so much more to it than that. 

“Success is about the journey as much is it is about reaching the destination.  Success is about uniting a group of individuals to pursue a common goal.  Success is about overcoming individual differences in order for the team to achieve its potential. Success is about the number of athletes and students who have enjoyed their overall experience.   Success is about teaching through sports, the life skills necessary to be a winner.” - Source unknown

I believe there are several keys to help athletes and students succeed.  These include good communication, the use of goal setting, having high expectations, and incorporating FUN into your coaching/teaching. 

Communication- At the beginning of the season, I hold a parent meeting to go over our volleyball handbook, in which the players, parents, and coaches roles are defined, team rules are listed, and expectations are explained. I hold individual meetings with each player to go over their individual goals and to define their role on the team.  It is important that the players have a realistic picture of where they will be contributing on the court and what areas they need to focus on to improve their game.  It is also important to communicate with parents.  I put out a monthly calendar of events and send out a weekly newsletter to parents.  Through the use of journals, I am able to communicate individually with the players.  The girls write down their weekly goals, reflect on their game, and address any areas of concern they have.  In the classroom, the ground rules and expectations are laid out on the first day of class.  I challenge myself to learn all of my students’ names by the end of the first week of the term.  One of my favorite ways to communicate with my students is during fitness time when we are power walking.  I like to talk to the students and learn a little about them, what their interests are and work to improve their level of fitness at the same time.

Goal Setting- Setting individual and team goals is very important.  The players must have something to push for each time they enter the gym for practice or competition.  The team also has to have a vision of where they want to go and what they want to achieve.  They need to set long and short term goals that are realistic and measurable.  During class, I challenge the students to improve their level of fitness each day, to set goals for themselves for their fitness testing at the end of the term, and to get into some healthy habits while they are young to help them lead a longer and more productive life.

High Expectations- I believe you have to set the bar high.  The students/athletes will rise to the standards that you set for them.  One of the things I preach to my team each year and to my own children is, “Part of being an athlete is self-control and discipline.  You are an athlete twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and twelve months a year.  Therefore, you must set an example for others to follow.  You represent yourself, your family, our team, and Bettendorf High School.”   Students/athletes have to realize that the decisions they make not only affect them but they also affect the others around them. There have been a few times over the years that my players did not live up to these standards.  That is really tough to handle.  It was very disappointing for me as a coach, humiliating for the athlete that made the poor choice, devastating to the family, and a real disappointment to the teammates they let down.  As tough as the situation may seem at the time, we move on and hopefully some lessons were learned. I will continue to stress the importance of doing the right thing and reminding everyone that whether they are on the court, in the classroom, or at home with their families, they need to be respectful and treat others as they want to be treated.

Incorporating Fun- I believe that good team chemistry is essential for a team to be successful.  I do a lot of team building activities throughout the season.  The variety of activities we do help make the season fun, allow the girls the opportunity to get to know one another, and make each player feel like they are an important and contributing part of the team.  We have an overnight activity where the team is involved in a low ropes-course, they prepare meals for one another, perform skits, take part in fun challenges, and earn prizes.  Other things we do throughout the season include having theme color days where everyone wears a certain color that represents something special, i.e. wear red because we have to play “with heart”, team dinners, pep bags, riding in the Homecoming Parade, movie night, and dress up on game days.  In the classroom, I like to mix up groups throughout the block, pre-select teams, set up challenges for bonus points, and incorporate some fun elementary games to lighten things up once in awhile.

A shocking statistic I learned from Rose DuBois while completing my Master’s program was that by the time a person is 18 years old, they will have heard 150,000 negative comments. Wow, that’s depressing!  She shared this information to remind us that we need to be positive with our students and athletes.  We need to point out things that they are doing well and praise them daily.  She described it as the “See it, Say It” technique.  It’s simple, if you catch someone in the act of doing something good, let them know it.  The reason for this is twofold.  First of all, the student will feel good about themselves because of the praise and recognition, and secondly, it points out to the others in class a job well done. Another point that DuBois made that hit home with me was, “Give your athletes/students a reason to show up tomorrow.” It is so important to be a positive role model, an effective leader, and a person that can help them to become a positive thinker.  We can help our students learn how to handle stress, we can show them the importance of hard work, dedication, and what it means to be part of a team. 

A quote I try to live by each day is, “Give the world the best you have, and the best will come back to you.”  I like to be prepared, organized, creative, and ready to give 100% in everything I do.  I want my students to look forward to coming to class each day.  I want my volleyball players excited about practice and game day.  As a teacher and a coach, I have the ability to impact a lot of people.  Some kids carry around a lot of “baggage”.  They don’t have very positive home lives, don’t have much confidence in themselves and don’t always have a lot to look forward to.  Being involved in exercise, doing something good for their body, gaining confidence when they’re successful at a new skill, and having fun in class might be the best part of someone’s day and I’m glad I can help make that happen.


  1. Diane, It has truly been an honor working with you and learning with you for the last 12 years. You are an example of what all new teachers coming into the teaching and coaching profession should emulate. Your personal attention to each individual student/player and an ability to bring them together as a team is what makes you such a special teacher/coach. Thank you for giving so much to our kids and school community. I am proud of you! - jimmy

  2. Really enjoyed reading your post Diane. I have many memories from playing high school and college sports, but you are correct the wins and losses are not what we remember. My favorite part of your post was:

    A quote I try to live by each day is, “Give the world the best you have, and the best will come back to you.” I like to be prepared, organized, creative, and ready to give 100% in everything I do.

    Thank you for sharing and thank you for making a difference in the lives of so many.

  3. Diane, I have witnessed first hand that you live by your words. The young people who have been fortunate enough to be in your classroom or on one of your teams have been truly blessed! You are a phenomenal coach, leader and colleague! I am a better person because you are my friend. Wonderful work on this post!

  4. Diane,
    What an insightful post Diane. I appreciate your dedication to your athletes and students. I really liked your comment, "We need to point out things that they are doing well and praise them daily." All to often we point out the negatives in our students lives and all they need is a little TLC! Continue to be a positive role model in our students lives.
    ~ Colin