The Unlikely Leader
Volleyball coach without military tie finds herself coaching in the Warrior Games
Bailey Wagner kicks off a drill by serving a ball over the net and yelling authoritatively and enthusiastically, "Ball! Get to the spot! Nice high hands!" It doesn't take long to tell that she is a competitor, almost as if she gives as much effort coaching as she would if she were playing the game.
She arranges her team into a variety of drills, harping on techniques like straight elbows, getting under the ball and calling the ball early. She then sets her team up for a drill where they put their hands straight up on one side of the net, block a ball, and scurry over to the other side of the net to block a second ball. To wrap-up practice, she gathers the team one last time and goes over a few plays.
Wagner is in her first year as the head coach for Navy's sitting volleyball team in the Department of Defense Warrior Games. Wagner, who grew up in Chicago, has been around the game of volleyball almost all her life. After high school, she received a full scholarship to Georgia Tech for track and field, but her love for volleyball drew her back to coaching the sport. She doesn't have any immediate military ties, but she found her way to the Navy's sitting volleyball team through her coaching mentor, who was the head coach last year.
There was an adjustment for her as she transitioned to the seated game. While there are many similarities between the sitting and standing games, she listed a number of changes such as the height of the net, the dimensions of the court, the legality of blocking serves and player movement.
"A lot of it does transition between the standing game and the seated game, but obviously you have to adjust with drills and things like that so there are a lot of changes," she said.
The overall concept remains the same, however. She said that one important constant is the above-the-waist movements like setting and forearm passing, so she has been able to adjust.
There are changes she's happy to make, in fact, because Wagner genuinely believes in the program as a viable rehabilitation method for her athletes.
She thinks getting injured service members up off the couch and back into society is vitally important. Returning them to a competitive, supportive environment is key because it's easy to sit around and feel bad for yourself, she said.
As a coach, her philosophy is to get to know her players as people first and understand where they're coming from. She wants to foster an environment of teamwork and closeness for the team on and off the court. She makes it a priority to have a vested interest in their lives and make players feel like there's an open line of communication.
"If there's anybody that's struggling, whether that be with something mental or physical, we're always checking on each other and making sure everyone's doing alright," Wagner said. "We're always there for each other, whether that be coach-to-athlete or athlete-to-athlete.