It’s Wednesday afternoon and the volleyball team strolls out of the Hill Center locker room and heads upstairs to Ben Light Gymnasium. As a swarm of gold shirts and blue shorts walk onto the court, some players feel the stress of schoolwork and grades. Others are concerned about the approaching cold weather. Forced to forget their problems, the team must find a way to stay positive and keep focused.
Over the course of the offseason, head coach Janet Donovan decided to proceed with a different approach to motivating her team than in previous years. She requested her players read international bestseller, “The Energy Bus” by Jon Gordon. The book details how to approach life with positive energy and thinking, which will eventually pass on to other people. Purely fictional, the main character George takes a ride on bus and meets compelling individuals who share 10 rules on how to change his life and fix the problems he encounters.
“Do you have your ticket?” Donovan asks. The players proudly raise their arms with grins on their faces. The ticket, included as a part of the book, allows each player to create her own positive energy.
They each grab a volleyball and get into pairs, tossing around the ball as a warm-up. They talk about their day and share stories about their personal lives. Soon enough, Donovan huddles up her players and tells them to practice hard and have fun by using their positive energy to motivate teammates.
Donovan said she got the idea of making the team read the book from a colleague after determining how to make the team more successful.
“[Softball head coach] Deb Pallozzi gave me the book and said, ‘We did this back in 2002 when we won the national championship,’” Donovan said. “The Atlanta Falcons had done it along with a lot of other college and pro teams, so we incorporated their principles and added our things too.”
Sophomore middle Siobhan Sorensen said she took a lot from the book, including how to eliminate the negative thoughts and focus on the positive.
“There is a list of 10 things to throw out of your mind, like negativity and bad attitudes, and to get rid of the bad habits and just let the positivity become you,” Sorensen said.
Donovan said she has received plenty of feedback from her peers, and fans have told her it is hard to tell if the team is winning or losing because the players are so optimistic.
The Bombers have shown a vast improvement as they stand at 7–3 on the season, their best beginning to a season through the first 10 matches since 2007, when they began 9–1.
Donovan said the book has already impacted the players in the way they handle in-game situations.
“I’ve seen it in how the kids perform on the floor, how they come off the bench, how I can make a substitution and bring a kid off,” she said.
Freshman outside hitter Joelle Goldstein said if the players applied what they’ve learned from the book out on the court, it would make the team stronger and work together better.
“The point behind it really applied to life itself and volleyball,” Goldstein said. “It’s easy to get down in volleyball, especially if a team gets on a run, but if we keep in mind the perseverance and focus that the character in the book had, it will keep us going and [become] more [successful] in the future.”
The rookie has already made a lasting impact on the squad, leading the team with 92 kills and a .231 attack percentage, while playing in eight out of 10 matches.
Goldstein said volleyball is a mental sport and she has benefitted greatly from reading “The Energy Bus.”
“I can see how it has helped me improve my confidence and improve my mental toughness,” Goldstein said. “If you’re going for a serve and you say, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to make this,’ you’re nine times out of 10 not going to make it.”
Graduate assistant strength coach Skylar Rubalacaba said even though the book was not written directly for athletes, it could still be applied to an athletic setting.
“I think the book is a good motivational tool for the athletes,” Rubalacaba said. “It teaches an athlete that they’re in control of their situation, and if they have a positive attitude about things, they will have good, positive results.”
Despite the fact that not all 15 players will start, Rubalacaba said each player could use the book to help the team stay encouraged and win.
“In terms of this team, it gives each of them an active role,” Rubalacaba said. “Even if they are not playing all the time, they can still motivate their teammates. It brings the team together as a whole.”
At the beginning of the season, Donovan said she made it a goal of hers to construct a winning atmosphere based off the theories the players learned in the book. With the team’s record so far, it seems to have paid off.
“I said to them, ‘I’m out to create a positive, winning, unstoppable climate,’” Donovan said. “‘Are you with me?’ They said yes.”