“A Fresh Season: Insights into Coaching, Leadership, and Volleyball” is the second book on leadership and coaching written by Terry Pettit, the volleyball coach at Nebraska from 1977 through 1999.
The book is a collection of short chapters and articles that contain insight into what makes coaches and teams successful, plus some personal anecdotes from the former coach on relationships, a battle with depression, and a history lesson on the changing face of the NU Coliseum.
The book is available at The Bookworm (8702 Pacific St.) in Omaha, at Huskers Authentic (625 Stadium Drive) in Lincoln, and online at terrypettit.com.
Q: How is this book different from your first book, “Talent and the Secret Life of Teams”?
A: This book is a little more personal. The point of view of the other, and the tone, was a little bit more like an essay. In this, there are some very personal stories.
Q: One of those personal stories is in the chapter “Looking for Ghosts” about your search for a former player who you coached in the 1970s, Carolyn Hawkins, that no one seemed to be able to locate.
A: A few weeks ago, in the middle of the night I get a text. The text says, ‘My name is London Hawkins, and my Mom wants to talk to you.’ I ignored it. Two hours later, another text comes in that says her number is this. So I called the next morning, and she answered the phone. I recognized the voice. I said ‘Carolyn, it’s Terry Pettit.’ It was a very emotional meeting. I said, ‘Carolyn, before you say anything else, tell me what happened.’ She went to North Carolina, played volleyball there and got a degree in health and physical education. She couldn’t get a teaching job so she enlisted in the Air Force. They put her in intelligence. After training her, they gave her a chance to go to Europe to work. She spent her entire Air Force career in intelligence where she was discouraged from doing anything that let people know where she was.
Q: Did you write that with the hope that someday it could lead to finding her whereabouts?
A: That’s the hope, but I was 90 percent convinced she was dead because I’d heard it from too many people. Her former coach and other people thought that she entered the military, but she may have been killed in Desert Storm. When you don’t have a lot of information, a little information starts to take on a life. She sent me an email the other day, and it said ‘Coach, thanks for continuing to look for me.’
Q: One of the most personal pieces of the book is “Coaching and the Black Dog,” where you describe coaching at Nebraska in the mid-1980s while battling depression. You describe the path you found out of that darkness. Was that a hard story to write?
A: I wrote that because at some point, there’s a pretty good chance that everyone’s going to go through a period like that. I threw all my energy into coaching. That’s what helped me get through it. In some ways, that delays dealing with some of it, but it also helps you get up. That got a lot of response when I wrote it. I had some college players contact me who were depressed. Kids from other schools writing me how much they appreciated it because they needed to hear a story about somebody coming out the other end.
Q: In several chapters, you stress the need for a deliberate effort to encourage more participation in volleyball by minority athletes, even going as far to say the U.S. Volleyball Association should direct funds from youth competitions into programs that encourage minority participation.
A: Volleyball is only learned in an organized situation. Basketball can be learned one-on-one. Even baseball, you can still go play a pick-up game anywhere. (But in volleyball) you need a court. You need somebody to teach you how to do the fundamentals. Our national program, the U.S. Volleyball Association, despite the fact of having a fairly high percentage of players at the international level be minorities, has done nothing to encourage minorities to take up the sport.
It’s frustrating that the USAV, which is the governing body for volleyball in this country, is not providing the structure for that to happen. It’s kind of like ‘Well, that’s not our charge.’ Well, it is your charge. Even if you weren’t interested in minorities, at some point you have to say, ‘Why is the majority of our team who are world-class players minorities?’ Even if you’re selfish, it’s in your interest to promote it (to minority players).
Q: One of the themes of this book is the concept of learning while being uncomfortable. You encourage coaches and players to put themselves in position to feel uncomfortable. Why?
A: I don’t think you can change without being uncomfortable. Some of it can be very minor and simple. Say you have a regular routine for a walk and one day you decide to go the other way. It looks totally different. Anytime you immerse yourself in a different culture, you’re forced to change. The problem is the more successful you are, the more you think you have control. It’s worse if you’ve had some success because you start to believe you have a system.
Systems don’t work without talent. You can be the best trainer in the world, but if you don’t have the talent to compete for a national championship, you aren’t going to compete for it.