Coach of the Year, friend for life
Coach of the year awards are old hat for Western women’s volleyball Head Coach Diane Flick-Williams.
Still, it must feel nice to be named the American Volleyball Coaches Association Division II West Region Coach of the Year for the third time, and the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Coach of the Year for the tenth time.
These accolades come as little surprise to those who have paid attention to the way this year’s volleyball team has dismantled its competition. Finishing the season with a 28-3 record, and going 20-0 in conference play, Flick-Williams has led her team to the Division II Elite 8 Tournament for the third time in her nearly two decades as head coach.
But if you listen to Flick-Williams talk about her success as a coach, she’ll try to tell you that it has little to do with her.
“I didn’t even touch a ball,” Flick-Williams said of this year’s stellar win record on the court.
Flick-Williams is the first person to point out that coaching awards are really team awards. She redistributes the credit equally to everyone on the floor, from the players to the assistant coaches and athletics staff.
Flick-Williams wants to make it clear that she couldn’t have earned that kind of recognition by herself. It takes a village, so to speak. However, she does tend to skim over the fact that it takes a village that is willing to listen to its leader.
So what kind of person can inspire that brand of loyalty and respect from their peers?
If you chat with her players and staff, they’ll let you know that it’s not just who Flick-Williams is as a coach that makes them willing to follow her to war. It’s who she is as a person.
Senior players Abby Phelps and Brette Boesel have been working with Flick-Williams since 2014. Their opinions of their long-time coach could be best described as “gushing” as they make no effort to hide their love for her.
“She’s one of the most selfless people you’ll ever meet,” Phelps said. “We are the program that we are, and the people that we are, because of our leadership. And that starts with Diane.”
As a coach, they describe her as an intensely competitive person, but said that she never lets her desire for victory overshadow her personal relationships with her players.
“She wants to win and gets us fired up, but she’s there to lift us up, too,” Phelps said.
When the women’s volleyball team started the season on a three-game losing streak, Boesel credited Flick-Williams’ leadership with helping get them back on course.
“She’s just got such an amazing relationship with everyone on the team,” Boesel said. “She tells you what you need to hear, even if that isn’t always what you want to hear.”
Flick-Williams’ people-first approach to the game has resulted in Boesel’s time with the volleyball program being what she described as one of the best experiences of her life.
Assistant coach James Suh has been Flick-Williams’ partner-in-crime for 18 years. Few people have watched Flick-Williams’ career progress from such close proximity, and Suh believes that her years of coaching have given her a broader perspective on life.
“She’s competitive and wants to win, but she’s also understanding of the more important things in life outside of the game,” Suh said. “It’s less to do with volleyball and more to do with making better people.”
Phelps couldn’t agree more.
“Our relationship is probably 90 percent outside of sports,” Phelps said with a laugh. “I talk to her about everything.”
Those deep personal connections translate onto the floor when it’s time to suit up and play.
One of the oldest sports cliches is “buying-in” to what a coach is selling, but with Flick-Williams it appears to be more of a barter system. She invests part of herself into each of her players, and the return she gets on that investment is pretty obvious when you take a glance at her trophy case.
For her part, Flick-Williams said she most values the culture she’s been able to cultivate in the volleyball program and claims that her coaching philosophy is simple.
“Give them roots and wings,” Flick-Williams said.
Her goal is to give her players a solid foundation to start with, and then let them try to fly. Flick-Williams also stressed that it’s natural to fail sometimes and to feel vulnerable as a result.
“It’s okay to cry,” Flick-Williams said, quoting one of her old volleyball coaches. “Just don’t slip on the wet spot on your way to the next drill.”
It’s not just good advice for volleyball, but for life in general. Many of the lessons Flick-Williams teaches translate into the everyday world for her players, and they’re grateful to her for those learning experiences.
Phelps said Flick-Williams encouraged her to be confident in herself and her abilities. It must have been good advice, because that confidence has led to Phelps becoming the all-time GNAC kills record-holder in women’s volleyball.
Boesel’s own personal lesson from Flick-Williams is one that she said she’ll treasure for life.
“She taught me that I have a voice, and that my voice matters,” Boesel said. “It’s okay to be myself.”