I can vividly remember the first time I learned how to play volleyball. It consisted of me, a balloon and Coach Cook in our living room. I was around 2-years-old. He showed me how to properly hold my hands when you pass and then we would practice with the balloon, trying to keep it from hitting the floor. He showed me how to properly hold my hands when you set and then we would practice with the balloon, trying to get it high enough as if a hitter was going to come out of nowhere and attack. Eventually we moved to an actual volleyball and I would catch in my window position, pretending that I was actually setting.
We were drilling footwork from an early age, too. He would walk around the house with me while I practiced my approach –– left, right, left, jump. I would say it out loud, go through the footwork and then try to jump and use an arm swing as if I were crushing a ball on the court. As I got older, it became a game of trying to hit the top of door frames and ceilings.
My fondest memories growing up revolved around the gym. I remember hiding behind the ball carts and playing dodgeball while Coach Cook would take his team through attacking drills. I remember trying on kneepads, volleyball shoes and shirts that were all too big for me. I would beg anyone I could find to play pepper with me at those practices. It was safe to say I was a gym rat and that I just couldn’t get enough.
Or it could be because this was all I ever knew. My mom played volleyball, my dad coaches volleyball, I have aunts, cousins and grandparents who played volleyball. It is in my blood. I always tell people that if I didn’t have volleyball in my life it would be comparable to cutting off my right hand. I credit my dad though for the love I have for the game. I didn’t know it when I was really young, but I was being trained by one of the best coaches in the sport. To me he was just Dad. As time has gone on, I have come to appreciate the thoughts he instilled in me at a young age more and more.
Even though there are many benefits to being Coach Cook’s daughter –– tickets to every match, charter flights to games, swanky Adidas gear, lessons with the best in the business, just to name a few –– there are some downfalls. It is hard to spend time as a family when you have a father as a coach. We try to do a dinner together once a week, but usually that is interrupted by a recruit calling or a video session that needs to happen for the upcoming match. While I was in middle school and high school people would make comments that I made the team simply because of who my dad was. One of the big reasons I decided to go to UCLA was because I wanted to prove to everyone that I could be successful on my own, without Coach Cook’s label.
You also have to deal with the criticism all high-level coaches face. Even though people might not know the entire situation or only hear bits and pieces of information, everyone is always judging. Sometimes negatively and sometimes positively, but you have to take their comments and hold your head high and not fight back even though you want to defend the person you love. You get a front-row seat to live the highs in a coach’s family, but you also have to weather the lows.
One of the highs came in 2000. That year my mom (Wendy), brother (Taylor) and I made our way to Richmond, Virginia, to support Coach Cook in his first national-championship match as the head coach at Nebraska. After delayed flights due to weather, spending the night in the Philadelphia airport, taking a train, a bus and a taxi, we finally made it. Even though we were used to traveling often, I remember that trip being one of the hardest we had ever had to make.
The stress didn’t stop once we arrived in Richmond. During the championship match against Wisconsin, my mother had to walk Taylor and I around the concourse because we were in tears, terrified that Nebraska might not win that night. It ended up going five, being a thriller and we missed the championship point because Taylor and I couldn’t handle watching, but we were there for one of the biggest nights in our dad’s coaching career. I think that’s being a coach’s kid in a nutshell, though. You are always there as a support system whether it turns out to be the best night in your family’s life or the worst night.
Being a coach’s kid is so much more than being there for the wins and losses though. My dad instilled a lot in me from a young age. From life lessons, to my love for all sports, to my career in the sport of volleyball, he was there for it all. He may have missed a few games because he was coaching his own, but he was always supporting me, whether it was a pep talk before a match or a phone call to run down how everything went after. Even though I no longer receive private lessons from Coach Cook and my playing days are long over, volleyball will always be a major part of my life and I believe that is because I was raised by a coach.
I grew up with sports at the center of our household. Without sports, I wouldn’t know who I am. Sports define me and have guided me throughout my life. Every decision that happened, every sacrifice I made, it was all for sports. I have my dad to thank for that.
Coaches have a different view on this world, which I believe they pass down to their kids. If you really pay attention, you’ll notice that most coach’s kids grow up to be coaches someday. (That day could still be coming for me). Even though we witness some of the hardest times with the losses or the criticism coaches receive, it is the wins and the impact that he has had on young men and woman that makes being a coach so rewarding.
It makes being a coach’s kid worth it, too.
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