As you may have gathered from recent issues, we at VBM like a guy named John Mayer. He is an NCAA champion, AVP champion, teacher and self professed student of the sport who continues to set a great example on his journey through the game. Now he is finding a way to give back and develop the next generation by coaching at Santa Monica Community College. As a setter and one-time opposite at Pepperdine, Mayer has been able to experience the game from the vantage point of excelling at two different positions. We stopped in to one of his recent practice sessions to catch up with him and take a peek at one of his favorite setting drills.
VBM: Some big stars like yourself and Riley Salmon have come out of community colleges. What do you see as the biggest difference between the D1 level and the community college level?
JOHN MAYER: Community college volleyball at the men’s level has always been an important part of the system. I think this is due in large part to the limited amount of opportunity at the university level. CC volleyball has provided opportunity and allowed guys like Jason Ring, Casey Jennings, Bob Ctvrtlik, Steve Timmons and many more a chance to hone their skills. I would say I made my biggest gains as a player in my two years at Pierce College. Of course, not every community college team has these kinds of guys on their roster. At the division one level the athletes are bigger, stronger, and faster, so the game becomes that much more challenging. I’ve found that at the community college level you’ll have a few Division I athletes from time to time but for the most part you’ll just have guys who love playing the game. And most of the guys would run through a wall for you if you tell them to. I think this type of energy is one of the best parts about coaching and playing at this level.
VBM: You have had success as a setter and won a National Championship as an opposite. As a coach what do you tell the kids the key to winning is?
JM: It’d make things a lot easier if there was some sort of video game-like secret code. I could tell them: “if you just pass the ball with one eye closed you’ll be able to win every time.” As a coach I don’t really talk a lot about what the key to winning is. I try to get across the Wooden idea of “the harder and smarter we train the more prepared we’ll be to have success in matches.” Some years success for us could mean winning a State Championship, other years it could mean winning more games than we lose.
VBM: I noticed you spent some good one-on-one time with your setter during practice. Where do you like to see them mentally?
JM: I think setting is the toughest position on the court. Read blocking in the middle is definitely a challenge but I think the pressure of setting a team is the toughest. For the most part in practice I try to train my setters physically. I think there are a lot of technical things that can make the position easier. When it comes to the mental side of things I try to not be too overbearing. I want them to make mistakes and for us to learn from them. I think as a setter you play best when you have some freedom to run your own offense.
VBM: You’re very positive as a coach. Do you feel that is important on the court as well?
JM: My personality is generally optimistic and positive. I couldn’t put on an act as a coach and pretend to be a drill sergeant. I want the guys to enjoy playing and feel rewarded when they succeed. I know I always play better when the energy of the team is positive. I think you can still be industrious and serious while enjoying the game.
Originally published in March/April 2011