Woman Coach Wednesday: Alyssa Taylor

Posted on December 9th, 2020 by

The Importance of Female Mentors

By Alyssa Taylor ’15

I had just walked into my parents house for a weekend at home during my sophomore year of college. My phone starts ringing with a number I was unfamiliar with. Back then, it was rarely a telemarketer, so I answered. “Hey Alyssa, this is Coach Ro, the volleyball coach at Gustavus. Your friend Paige told me you were thinking about transferring schools to play volleyball again. Do you have any interest in checking out Gustavus?” In my head I was thinking, ‘yeah, I will go and have a fun weekend with my friend, but there’s no chance I will actually transfer there. No. Chance.’ 

“Yeah that sounds like fun, I’m interested in checking it out,” I responded, just to humor the coach. 

I arrive for my visit and meet with Ro. We had an honest and genuine conversation. She told me about her vision with the program and how I could fit into that. She did not, however, guarantee that I would get playing time and would have to earn it. I don’t know what it was about her telling me that, maybe I saw it as a challenge. I wanted to play for her and show her how I could be a part of what the volleyball program needed to take that next step. She was clear on her expectations and honest through the entire process. What I saw was what I got – this was new for me and I liked that. 

I did not expect to leave my visit feeling the way I felt. What I saw was a coach that had a vision I wanted to be part of, a coach that celebrated when her team made a good play, but constructively coached them when they had to make adjustments, a coach that wanted me to be part of what she was building. Most importantly this was a coach that was a strong and driven female. There was no chance I was transferring anywhere but Gustavus. No. Chance.

I arrived at Gustavus for my junior year. It wasn’t this picture perfect success story… it was rocky. My first two seasons we had a losing record, but luckily due to my transfer I had an extra season of eligibility with classes. Leading up to the fall of my final season, as seniors we had a breakthrough of major leadership development and work that Ro had put together for us. We were motivated and determined to have a great season.

Taylor embraces a teammate after winning the 2015 MIAC playoff championship.

That leadership was put to the test our first game day. We lost both matches. After a powerful meeting with Ro we declared that we are refusing to go down this road again after the work we put in for this final season. After rallying around this sentiment, we are able to win the next 27 consecutive matches, setting a school record. We went undefeated in the conference and then won the conference playoffs to earn the sweet long awaited trip to the NCAA tournament. It was the kickstart the program needed, and man did it feel good being part of it.

Why did I take the time to tell that whole story?

Because through all of it, one thing remained consistent, and that was coach Ro. She didn’t try to change who she was or how she coached, even when things weren’t going how we wanted them to go. At least that’s what it seemed to us. She remained confident in what she was doing and in our abilities. Encouraging us to take charge and create the environment we wanted. We had a relationship with her that was transparent. She wanted input from us on what we could do, together, to get to where we wanted to go as a team. I hadn’t played for someone like that before. It was empowering and eye-opening. Her coaching allowed us to get to where we got, and is the reason the program is where it is at, consistently competing atop the MIAC and fighting to go to the dance each year. 

At my senior exit meeting, Ro asked if I would be interested in being her assistant coach. I laughed it off and headed to South Carolina for the next two years, where another incredible woman took a chance on me to be her graduate assistant. Sure enough, Ro was as persistent in hiring as she was as a coach. In my final semester of grad school I got a call, “Hey Alyssa, so here’s the deal… I get a full-time assistant next fall and want you to apply.” 

This is my third season as Ro’s assistant. In all honesty, it was a no brainer for me to come back and coach with her. Writing this allowed me to reflect on the importance of not only her, but all the women who have shown me what it means and takes to hold steadfast to what you want and the importance of instilling confidence in young women, even when they don’t see it in themselves quite yet.

The biggest thing I have taken away from Ro as my coach and continue to learn from her as my boss (she hates when I call her that)… It’s okay to develop real relationships with players. To ask them what they think the team is struggling with and ways they think will help with that. To put some ownership and accountability into the players’ hands. To listen and understand. That having a female coach that gets what it is like to be a female in a male dominated world is impactful. That seeing someone who looked like me, be successful, empowered me to want to be that for other young women. 

I see the impact being led by a strong female had in the women I played with, as many of them are kicking serious butt in their respective careers; climbing the corporate ladder, doing important research to obtain a PhD in neuroscience, or excelling as a new Physician Assistant, to name a few. I see it in the players we coach now. It’s why I coach. To be a mentor, an encourager, a “do it again, I know you can do that better,” constantly pushing their limits. I am without a doubt who I am today because of the strong women in my life and them paving the way. However, there is so much more to be done.  

We need more women in positions of influence. More women coaching women. More moms coaching youth teams. More women in athletic administration. I am proud to coach with an all-female staff. I am proud to coach in the MIAC, where ten out of 12 teams have females at the head of their volleyball programs AND is one of the most competitive conferences in Division III volleyball. I am proud to work at Gustavus, where our President is a female, our Dean of Students, Provost, and Head of Health Services are all females. 

This isn’t the case everywhere and there is still so much more women can do and I want to empower my players to do just that. In our program, we will continue to encourage and challenge our players. We will help to provide the tools it takes for them to become successful beyond the court. For them to become strong females in their own right. I want the players I coach to leave Gustavus knowing that they can take on whatever path in life they want to and be really good at it, female and all.

 


4 Comments

  1. Len and Jen Weber says:

    We are so proud of our granddaughter,Alyssa Taylor. She has worked very hard to achieve success in her field. Her written article will empower young women of today’s world.

  2. Chad Koebnick says:

    What an adventure!! Alyssa, you have described an amazing narrative. The impact of wise people on our lives can never be understated,. The impact of Ro on your life and the joint impact the two of you have on players in the program is an example for all of us to follow. Keep it up!

  3. Amy Olson says:

    Thank you, Alyssa! Very well-written and heartfelt!

  4. Julie Dosch says:

    This is so amazingly written Alyssa! I know we all feel blessed and very fortunate to have you as an integral part of this volleyball family and program!! All of these girls, and especially Rachelle, are so happy you are a part of this special team! Love ya kiddo!