Coach and professor Amber Warners knows the meaning of pressure more than most people in the Calvin community. This award-winning volleyball coach has led her team to two NCAA national championship titles in the past four years—and both final games were won point by point.
With her PhD in psychology and sociology of sport from Michigan State University, Warners teaches the team to work together and keep focused during high-pressure situations like the championship games.
Getting into their heads
Recently, Warners has developed a technology to help players improve their ability to make decisions during a game.
“For the setters, one of the really important things to teach is decision-making—where to set the ball. I couldn’t get our setter to do what I wanted her to do, so I started to think about how I could get in her head.”
That’s when Warners remembered a three-way push-to-talk microphone system soccer referees use to communicate across long fields during games.
“I strapped the thing on [the setters] back, and I had her talk to me about what she was thinking between points. And then after that I started to talk to her during play. I said, ‘I’m going to tell you things that I see and we’re going to go on from there.’”
Warners' focus on the psychology of the team and this innovative use of technology clearly paid off. Calvin’s volleyball team won the NCAA Division III national championship in November.
From there, the path was clear: expand use to all members of the volleyball team using an 8-way wireless microphone system. The technology is so cutting-edge that Coach Warners is pitching its use to Olympic gold-medalist Karch Kiraly, coach of the U.S. national women's volleyball team. She will spend two weeks with sixteen women who hope to make the 2016 Olympic team, piloting the technology to help make them even stronger players. If the pilot is successful, Coach Warners could return to work with the top-level Olympic team in June.
“This is limitless,” she says. “This could be used on a soccer team, in basketball practice, put it on a pitcher and a catcher and talk to them in practice about what pitches to call. … I’m excited about all of the things we’re going to learn. It could not only help our team, but it has the potential to change something I love—the sport of volleyball.”