Stuart Helps Volleyball Teens Find Their Strong Side
By Karen Shugart
|The Coastal Plain Volleyball Club 13-1 team, The Strykrz, won the state championship tournament March 20 in Greensboro. Team members are, front row, left to right, Maggie Hallow, Chanelle Hargreaves, Emma Hutson; second row, Coach Andy Stuart, Catie Jones, Cameron Leonhardt, Leah Whitehurst, Macie Wright, Annie Randall, Hannah Martin, Merritt Anderson and Peyton Fitch. Contributed photo.
A skilled coach takes on many roles: taskmaster, motivational speaker and therapist, among others. Add young teenagers to the roster, and the balancing act can be even harder.
It’s a balancing act that Dr. Andrew Stuart appreciates. A former college volleyball player and coach whose experience in the game has spanned almost four decades, Stuart is founder of the Coastal Plain Volleyball Club.
Stuart, a professor in the Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders, has coached a variety of age groups and abilities. This season he’s coaching his youngest yet – 11 girls, ages 12 and 13. “It’s been fun and a challenge,” he said.
The challenge, it appears, has paid off: Within months of beginning practice, the team won a state championship. The players learned quickly to come together, Stuart said. “When they win, it’s rewarding for them, and it’s rewarding to see how they can meet goals when they work hard and they’re disciplined.”
Such traits were characteristics that Stuart developed himself growing up in New Brunswick, Canada. He developed a passion for the sport so closely associated with his country, but as high school rolled around saw that his future in hockey might be limited. “The boys were getting bigger and the hits were getting harder,” he said.
So he set his sights on the other sport he loved, volleyball. “It is one sport that demands the athlete have a balance between strength, endurance, and quickness,” he said. “The little player is often better than the bigger player. It also is a game that demands a lot of mental preparation and study of the game – smart players excel.”
His skill landed him spots on the Dalhousie University volleyball team in Nova Scotia. In the years after college, he played and coached at Dalhousie and other places, including teams in Greenville.
It wasn’t until two years ago, however, that several parents approached him to coach their children. What was intended to be one team grew into the eight-team Coastal Plain Volleyball Club. “Our club and our philosophy is to be as inclusive as we can be and to find a place for kids to play no matter what skill level they are,” Stuart said.
Stuart, known as “Coach Andy,” to his players, sees the club as a way to keep teenagers busy in positive activities and to provide physical activity. Some parents, such as Dr. Sherri Jones, say the club has provided their daughters with other benefits as well.
Jones said her daughter’s self-esteem — and her volleyball skills — has improved as she’s learned not to be so hard on herself. “Andy’s been really good about explaining to the whole team that everybody makes mistakes,” said Jones, an associate professor in the Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders. “We don’t dwell on our mistakes. We need to deal with them and move on.
“He’s very disciplined, and he expects discipline,” she added.
Stuart’s patience was on display at a recent practice. “Cameron, where are you supposed to be?” he quizzed one player.
“Over there,” a voice said quietly.
“And where are you?”
“OK, everybody, listen up, you’ve got to move when the ball is hit! Let’s do it again.”
And so it goes during the two, sometimes three, weekly practices that began in November and will last through early May. It’s hard work, for sure, but it has paid off: only two months after the team failed to even advance out of pool play in its first tournament, the team won the Carolina Regional Volleyball Association Junior Girls 13 Gold State Championship on March 20.
“It was very rewarding and fun to watch the players respond over the course of the season,” Stuart said. “We went from just getting the ball over the net to more advanced individual skills and a team commitment to an offensive and defensive system.”
Coach Andy Stuart shares a laugh with Chanelle Hargreaves as he tosses a volleyball to her during a drill. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)