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Around The Fleet

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.
Three photo collage of Bailey Wagner coaching Team Navy at a Warrior Games training camp.

"I want to be that person that they can call on, regardless of if it has to do with volleyball. If they're going through anything, I want to be that sounding board that they can talk to."

She could be considered a player's coach, who adapts her coaching strategy to her players' strengths and weaknesses.

That starts with Wagner herself. She believes in setting the example through her actions and work ethic.

"My biggest thing as a coach is just making sure that I leave the gym at the end of the day knowing that I put forth 100 percent effort to my athletes because that's what I always ask out of them," she said. "I want to make sure I give them as much knowledge as I have."

Wagner's goal is for her team to place in the top three this year, after their fifth place finish in the 2016 Warrior Games. She is intrigued to see how the 2017 lineup takes shape with so many players new to the Navy team. Her hope is that this group establishes a winning culture together and develops confidence as a unit.

"I want us to go out there and go point for point with these teams and truly compete," Wagner said.

She would be the first person to tell you that she is a fiery competitor who wants to win as badly as anyone, but she said that her respect for the athletes and her role in their lives makes the entire experience bigger than volleyball.

"What we're doing for the athletes, I think, really is a huge impact to get them out and get them active again after what they've been through, so I'd say it's really rewarding for me."

Learn more about the Warrior Games here.

Watch for more stories on the Warrior Games here on

Click here to read about Army Staff Sgt. Jessie White, archery coach for Team Navy.
Photo link to Archery coach 2017 DoD Warrior Games.