Feb 14th, 2018, 07:58 PM

No Coach? No Problem

By Alina Hope Wong
Tenacity, hard work and dedication keep the volleyball team in the first division even without a coach.

Last semester, for the first time in history, the American University of Paris' Women Volleyball team rose to elite division in the Parisian University League. It is an exciting and fresh time for the women, as they blaze forward in endurance while pushing into a new and increasingly challenging territory. As of this year, they are doing it all without a coach. 

The captain Sarah Keough and co-captain Maryam Benjelloun shared how they have been faring. 

In a few words, AUP's girls' volleyball team is a group of "determined, global and united girls," as described by Maryam. Strength is also a necessity, considering changes the team endured over time. At AUP, with the coming and going of international students, the player turnover rate is high; for the volleyball women, in particular, coach selection has not been stable either. The difficulties mainly lay in language barrier and difference in "spirit". 

Aup Women's Volleyball 2017 Team Photo Image Credit: AUP athletics 

First of all, the women needed a coach who could not only speak relatively fluent English but also be licensed in France, a combination that is hard to find. So, for a while, they worked instead with coaches that communicated in French which was, according to Sarah, "definitely challenging but also a cool experience."

Maryam added, "it was hard because there were moments when we could not understand the coach or some girls felt uncomfortable trying to communicate; it's a deadly combination when you're wanting to play as a team. It slowed us down a lot." 

There are also apparent differences in American and French mentalities when it comes to sports. This caused a slight struggle between the team and its French coaches. The women tended to lean towards the American spirit of working hard while having fun. "This spirit is not found as much in French sports," Maryam admitted, "The French spirit is more serious in approach." 

Sarah continued in illustration, "In America, college sporting events usually draw large, rowdy crowds whereas, in France, the only people at matches are the ones involved. Apart from the game, the environment is silent." 

The AUP volleyball team strives to balance the two viewpoints and ultimately create an environment that is uplifting for each of its players, as "every girl comes with a different goal. Whether they want to practice their skills or just exercise, we use whatever mentality needed to help them achieve their goals and get the best result," Maryam said.

Image Credit: AUP athletics 

Without a coach this semester, Sarah and Maryam stepped up to coach the team themselves. They all meet two times a week to either train and condition or compete with local French universities. Maryam described some of the difficulties they're facing: "not having a coach has not been great for our team's performance overall so far. It's hard to not have fresh eyes pointing out the little things we need to work on, and encourage and remind us of details before games. A slight difference in bending our knees can completely change the impact of our bumps or serves. It's when we have someone who can see and guide us in a positive way that we play best." 

Even without a coach, the volleyball team is still pushing forward. "You might think fewer girls would show up or take the team as seriously because we don't have a coach, but it's actually the opposite. Everyone knows the challenge of being on this team. We do our best to work our way out of problems and keep going. Surprisingly, this experience has actually brought us closer. We're learning to work more fluidly as a team," Maryam added.

Sarah pointed out that they also learned to "communicate better" and "pay better attention to detail" in the process. Team members waiting on the sidelines act as "eyes" to notice what the playing team cannot see themselves.

As the semester continues, they are still actively seeking a coach. But for now, dedication, unity, and perhaps a dash of school spirit and support will keep them fueled. 

This season, AUP Volleyball Women played against two prestigious teams in the top league; Paris Dauphine, the French National Champion, and Sciences Po, the French Vice-Champion. Consequently, they rank number one and number two in the elite league in the final standings this year. The inter-regional league contains 10 teams. AUP finished in 8th position, with the prospects of staying in the very competitive and high-level elite league. AUP has good chances to stay in this league.

Their final record was two wins and seven losses. They totaled 11 points finishing ahead of Essec Cergy and ENS Paris Saclay, with 10 points. They tied with Centrale Supelec Sport, who also had 11 points. Just ahead was HEC and Paris Dauphine 2 with 14 points. They played 27 sets, winning 6. This makes a differential of sets won and lost - 15.

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