Insights from BSN SPORTS Brand Ambassador Juliann Johnson
The Heart of the Game is where coaches reside. Without coaches, athletes would be lost. Like a parent to a child, coaches teach on their own experiences, spend hours thinking about ways to help their athletes grow, and give their all selflessly, so that their teams can succeed. Coaches aren’t in it for the money or the fame. They take pride in knowing that they could have an everlasting impact on a player’s life and spend every second finding ways to do so. Coaches truly are the Heart of the Game.
I have been fortunate to have some amazing coaches influence me during my time as a volleyball player. Many coaches saw my potential, but few knew how to harness it and guide me to become as great as I could be. Throughout high school, one coach sticks out. He took me under his wing, put me on a top-level team right away, and showed me he believed in me. I blossomed and was able to move on to new heights because of the confidence he instilled in me and the time he invested in helping me grow.
But the coach that has had the most influence on me is someone I will cherish forever. Her name is Jenny Lang Ping. As a former Olympian and professional player from China, she was able to connect and understand me because she had been in my shoes once. She was also the first woman coach I had ever played for. There was something about her ability to draw out the very best in me without having to say much. She could just give me a “look” and I would be able to feel a confidence and belief in myself that wasn’t there before. She truly was the best coach I have ever had. Not because she taught me anything physically I didn’t already know, but because she showed me what being mentally strong looked like. It was the first time in my professional career that I felt a coach cared enough about me to get to know what made me play at my best level. She took the time to build a relationship with me off the court. She knew what I needed from her to be able to produce for the team. She saw something in me and it allowed me to see it in myself.
I will never forget the match that Jenny pulled me aside during a time out. I was having a rough start to the game, making a few errors and not feeling like I was able to put the ball away. I didn’t feel like myself. She could have easily subbed me out and put someone in for me. But instead, she grabbed my arm gently and whispered in my ear, “You are the best player on this team, and I know that this next play you are going to go out there and get this point.” I still get the chills thinking about it. Jenny gave me exactly what I needed in that moment. It was more than encouragement. It was a reminder. She reminded me of the player I was and the capabilities I have in one simple sentence. Of course the story goes that I went on to have an all-star game and we won the match. But even if we didn’t win, the impact that Jenny Lang Ping had on my life in that simple moment is why I believe coaches are truly at the heart of the game. I am so thankful for all the wonderful coaches I have had in my life. They are what make sports a home away from home for us athletes.