I was having this discussion once about buying chicken. My friend was of the opinion that there are just superior sources of birds, and that one should judge a restaurant already by knowing where they buy their chicken. My position was that it was a poor measure of the skill of chef – after all, where true mastery lies is in extracting a delicious dish from what’s considered inferior ingredients. It’s what our grandmothers have honed through a lifetime of experience – making do with what was available, and still nurturing their families. At the end of the day, when those fancy chefs need inspiration, they go to learn from those grandmas and aunties.

When I encounter conversations among volleyball coaches, I hear echoes of this conversation. There’s immediate talk about how this player is tall, or that player is athletic, or if that other player has that relentless competitiveness to pursue the ball – and that of course, they should be the first picks when being trained. But how is that the measure of the coach? In many circles, by only considering the win-loss record of a squad, the measure of a coach is that of a prospector, that if they can just find the right pieces already pre formed, or that it just needs a little polishing, they can win and be rewarded. For all that is preached about growth mindset, coaches often fail to accept the challenge of being mentors and teachers, of seeing the murkiest glimmer of potential and bringing it forward.

And maybe some of that is inherent in the reward system that doesn’t see the historical context of good athletes, or how we judge beach volleyball players on individual performance versus team contexts – and how they were trained in either. In a sense, the outcome of good competent coaching is to make the role of the coach invisible. Much like how our grandmothers simply dished out miracle after miracle from their meager cupboards that we take for granted – as we rain accolades on the preening chefs that cannot be bothered with the cheap cuts.

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