“The Essence of Sports”
By Rick Duncan, Publisher
Over the decades sports has produced many winning coaches, but it’s always the big games that document success and set aside a great coach. There is one variable that most great coaches focus on and that’s not success, but failure. Failure is a given in every aspect of sports, whether it be individually on a micro or macro level or failure of a team as a whole under the same conditions. The one contributing factor that can make or break turning failure into success is the method that a coach uses when implementing past failures into the equation.
In 1958 John Madden was a 21st round draft pick, which equated to the 244th selection overall by Philadelphia. Early on, he was stricken with a knee injury that halted his career and he never played one NFL regular season game. Madden built off of that failure and became one of the greatest NFL coaches of all time with a 103-32-7 record in 10 seasons, from 1969 to 1978. He never had a losing season. His philosophy was to use past failures to build on the future.
Bill Walsh, coach of the ’49ers in the ’80s, was one of the smartest coaches of all time. He not only focused on building a team around rectifying their failures, but during the 1st half he was an expert in analyzing the opposing team’s weaknesses, then making a phenomenal adjustment in the 2nd half, hence the many Joe Montana comebacks that developed. Regardless of the level, from high school to pro sports and everything in between, a true passionate coach has a will to win and a plan to comeback from all failures, just as every player does. The game of golf is the epitome of failures. Every shot is a miss and failure, until the shot that puts the ball in the hole. The strategy is to tighten your game by analyzing your failures.
When Licking Wildcat fans and parents come to the girls volleyball games this season, they will sit in stands and watch the players give it their all, but behind the scenes and before the game begins, every execution and method of play has been devised and dissected by the coaches. This year Tammy Miller takes the helm. This changes things drastically with strategy and play philosophies, because a coach that has grown with the same team understands the mentality of the players, whether it be attitude, passion for the game, abilities, strengths, weaknesses or resilience based on failures. Miller has to fast track many of her coaching strategies based on this.
Coach Miller graduated from West Plains High School in 1991. She was the Rolla High School Volleyball coach in 2020 and improved an inexperienced team, all while dealing with Covid rules. When Miller left the Rolla Athletic High School program her career record was 622-176-40.
She was the volleyball head coach at Logan-Rogersville from 1999 to 2019. During her span there, her teams won 15 conference titles, 16 district crowns, 7 Elite Eight appearances and 8 Final Four berths. They also won the 2018 Class 3 state championship and was runner-up 3 seasons.
Coach Miller was named NFHS Missouri Volleyball Coach of the Year in 2009, AVCA Regional Coach of the Year and Missouri Class 3 Coach of the Year in 2018. She was also the MHSVCA Peggy Johnson Award winner in 2013 and was Big 8 Volleyball Coach of the Year in 2018 and 2019. She has had 29 players named all-state with some being named multiple times, two USAV All-Americans, one Under Armour All-American and one Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year. These individual and team accomplishments put Miller in an elite class. A team does not achieve the aforementioned with only average percentages of every statistic. It takes players playing at a much higher level.
Shari Harris, a managing editor of The Licking News, attended the Jamboree this past Thursday at Mountain Grove. Although a volleyball jamboree is comprised of short exhibition games and modified rules, it is the perfect atmosphere for players to test their skills and for coaches to analyze their strengths and weaknesses. There were the anticipated ups and downs during the jamboree and Coach Miller learned valuable information to apply moving forward. There appeared to be a lot of family support for the kids.
In Harris’ interview with Coach Miller after the jamboree, Miller explained that inexperienced players will learn from this exhibition and their knowledge of the game will progress. She has spent a lot of time so far on basic fundamental skills. Teamwork will progress with the season and Miller expects that they will be playing good in October. She is learning her individual players, how to motivate/coach each individual to get them to perform at their best.
“They all have high expectations, I’m learning how to get them there,” Coach Miller said.
Miller feels that they have all the components of a great team and that the players like to win, like to compete, and she stressed that those two variables are something you cannot teach.
There was a lot left on the court to guide Coach Miller and she was able for the first time to analyze the players individually in play in order to deduce what the next steps are to be.
Sr. Hannah Medlock and Jr. Allie Hock have to be involved in the offense a lot. Jr. Josie Wells has to increase the intensity of her shot, which will be important. Jr. Zoey Dawson is the X-Factor. She keeps the ball in play. Jr. Aubrie Gorman is important for ball control. Jr. Ralee Clayton, the libero, is important defensively, is a “Defensive General.” Sr. Riley Moloney and Jr. Linzie Wallace, the setters, are doing a better job; they are running things they’ve never run before, so it is challenging to them. Sr. Finley Sullins works hard and is learning the game; she has progressed a lot.
Jayden Barnes, sophomore, is injured for the season. Miller said “She has a TON of ability…it hurts us this year.”
As every athlete, coach and sports fanatic knows, you have to work on playing better, but unless a coach deduces failures with the basic logic “if this happens then this happens,” playing better or evolving as a player and as a team will never happen. You must recognize your failures, accept that they are your failures and execute a plan to lessen or eliminate your failures. This appears to be Coach Tammy Miller’s philosophy and although this is her first year, her presence on and off the court expresses a volleyball intellect that indicates to me, we are in for a great season.
It is apparent that there is some frustration in the kids, they’re not unified and not relentless, but Coach Miller says, “That will come.”
Upon an immediate analyzation after the jamboree, Coach Miller deduced that the team needed to fine tune communication, learn to serve others and lift their teammates up.
“Serving others makes you better, lifting up others helps you out,” Miller said.
Furthermore, she feels the team needs to learn better composure when things aren’t going well, staying in tune, and need to be able to recover better. Miller stressed that she was not overall pleased with play at the jamboree, but many times she saw “glimmers of good.” She expects to be playing well in October and stated, “The more we play, the better we’ll get.” She added, “I want to play teams that are better than us.”
During the jamboree Licking played Willow Springs, Mountain View-Liberty and Mountain Grove. Harris, of The Licking News, said the girls played well at times, but frustration was evident by the end. There were some excellent digs, kills, aces (serves), but all with some inconsistency. Talent and desire were evident, but they were not a cohesive team yet.
On a personal note, coaches have many different philosophies on how to manage a team and on how to win, but Wildcat fans must understand that one of the most difficult moments for a coach is to join a new team and become an immediate success. Most scenarios such as this on any level of play take more than one season for the players and the new coach to mold and bond, but every so often the right coach comes along and, given their coaching intellect and the players’ reception, attention and acceptance to the new coach’s coaching and playing philosophy, success can be immediate.
Fans and parents need to have patience, because a new era has begun, but from what I have witnessed from Coach Miller, we may see some expedited victories and immediate success with her at the helm. Put yourself in the same position as Tammy Miller. The players only have one person to adjust to, Miller must adjust to several players, all with differing talents and styles of play, and Miller is new to the entire community. She understands you can’t teach the will to win or the love of competition, which she feels the girls already have; therefore, she can focus on the fundamentals that will help speed up the cohesive bond needed between a coach and their players.
Does Coach Miller have the coaching ability to create a winning season for the Wildcats? I, for one, say she does, not only based on her past achievements, but watching her in action. Her intensity, dedication and honesty with the players are spot on. The Licking News welcomes Coach Miller and we hope the best for her; she truly is “The Essence of Sports.”
Photos by Shari Harris and Gracelyn Wesley