Michelle Cole is the Head Women’s Volleyball Coach at Seattle University located in Seattle, Washington. Seattle is a NCAA DI institution and a member of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC). Other programs in the WAC include New Mexico State, Grand Canyon University, and University of Missouri at Kansas City. 

Michelle comes to Seattle by way of The Citadel where she was the assistant coach for several seasons. She’s also had positions at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, South Dakota, Occidental College and Azusa Pacific. Not only has Coach Cole coached in multiple NCAA divisions but she also played DI ball overseas in Spain, so she brings a wealth of knowledge to the game and now to Seattle. 

During our conversation, Michelle and I talked about an array of topics such as her offering up tips to athletes on how to stay physically and mentally fit during this time. She gives us her thoughts on what makes DI unique, but also some thoughts on all divisions and just playing college ball in general. Coach Cole also shares some insights into what makes a team successful and shares a fun story from her playing days. Our conversation was fun-filled, yet informational, and you won’t want to miss it!

For more info on Coach Cole’s first season at Seattle, you can check it out here: https://goseattleu.com/sports/womens-volleyball or GoSeattleU.edu 

Coach

Michelle Cole: Head Women’s Volleyball Coach at Seattle University.

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Topics 1: What is Coach Cole’s Coaching Style?

Coach Cole admits to stealing her style and coaching tips from every coach she’s worked with. It’s no secret that coaches learn from each other and use some of those styles. She talks about some of the coaches she has worked with, and how their knowledge has helped her grow as a coach.

Topic 2: Coach Cole’s Coaching Background:

Michelle talks about how she got started in coaching while playing, and the impact of coaching camps she has travelled to around the country.  She also shares some awesome stories about teams that she’s been a part of.

Topic 3: Staying Physically Active During COVID-19: 

Michelle’s biggest tip is to just get out there and do something; keep touches on the ball, and to check out April Ross’s drills to keep moving.

Topic 4: Staying Mentally Active During COVID-19:

The biggest take away during this pandemic would be to keep a schedule Monday - Friday, and keep some sort of structure within each day. Finding the internal motivation to stay active will help during this crazy time. 

Topic 5: Recruiting Tips & Suggestions During COVID-19:  

Dignity? No room for it! Michelle speaks about recruiting opportunities for seniors on how to keep the ball rolling. Michelle's tips can be applied for all aged athletes and how they should stay active by being persistent and aggressive. She also gives some fun 'Dos and Don’ts' when communicating with coaches.

Topic 6: Success - Mental Toughness or Talent?

Michelle shares a story about her college team and what made them successful in order to make it to the Elite 8 twice in the 4 years she's been there - as well as having multiple athletes in the A&M Hall of Fame. While they have had some very solid players, they were also rabidly competitive and mentally tough which has made all the difference in the world. She also brings up “roles” for each player on the team and using this to their advantage, even if it wasn’t a role an athlete initially wanted.

Coach Cole uses her experience as a volleyball player, along with adapting to certain skills while coaching. With success comes hard-work and dedication, and it seems this is a common attribute she implements within all of her athletes. 

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Full Transcript:

Jess Gregory  

We're here with Michelle Cole out of Seattle University. Michelle, how are you today?

Michelle Cole  

I'm great today. How are you?

Jess Gregory  

I'm doing pretty good. Pretty good. It's a little chilly here in Chicago. But you know, could be worse. It could be snowing.

Michelle Cole  

beautiful sunny California. I got to say. got a chance to get out on the American River Trail outside is the best place to be nice.

Jess Gregory  

I love it. I love it. All righty. Well, Michelle, I know a little bit about you because I've worked some camps with you in the past but for our viewers, can you share with us your coaching background and how you got started?

Michelle Cole  

Um, got started. Gosh, I think I've been coaching since I've been a player. So you know, high school. It's like you work all your high school camps and then college, you work all your college camps. And then when I returned to the real world, volleyball was just way more fun than any nine to five. So I was coaching club, I was doing summer camps. My best friend had a great idea one summer, and she literally charted a map across the United States. On all the cities we wanted to visit, and we worked a college camp and each of those cities Oh, cool. So that was our summer. We did college camps, a little bit of everywhere. We are insane. crazy idea, but it was a ton of fun. Yeah. And then one day, you know, corporate America, I was spending all of my vacation time, coaching volleyball, and it just came to me one day like, hey, maybe that's where your heart is, and you should do it full time. So I want to say it was 2014 that I started coaching full time. assistant coach at Azusa Pacific Division Two school out in California. Worked with Chris Keith, it was amazing. Just a wonderful opportunity. He really let me see like all the joy there is to be in college coaching. And then I got my division one star at the University of South Dakota. So this California girl learned about the cold firsthand. Lynn Williamson was great to give me my start up there and the frozen north and it was just wonderful. Just great people. Great. Opportunity had a team that was absolutely amazing. You talk about go getters on the court like whatever we asked them to do. They were excited to do. And at that time we were practicing in a in playing in a very small area of a gym. And now they have this palace. And when I tell you those girls earned the right for that palace, they earned the right to be in that palace, just such hard workers. And then I went to corpus span and Corpus Christi, back to the warmth. And I coached there for a bit we went undefeated one season finished third and conference one season so very successful. I learned a lot about technical volleyball, Game Day strategies, all those kinds of things. And then I went to the Citadel on the East Coast out in Charleston, and has hands down been one of my favorite coaching experiences working with David Zelenok was a wonder. Working at an institution as storied as the Citadel. The history of that school is absolutely amazing. The work that those athletes cadet students do I couldn't do, I couldn't do the work that they do. So being able to be a part of that was just a once in a lifetime opportunity and it had such a huge impact on me. I was very happy there until Seattle came calling. And it was one of those things where it's like who I am as a person is exactly who they wanted me to be as a coach. The fit was that perfect so on my interview, I did none of the interview things. There was a day it was raining I I ran around and my flip flops, like just fully casual shoes. I was absolutely myself like we sat at dinner and just chatted for hours. Nothing on my interview went correctly. My flight got canceled, they had to reschedule everything. So in the midst of that chaos, it was very obvious that the core that place was about the people and that they wanted you to make the students better and volleyball was the vehicle you used for that. Yeah, which fit perfectly was my ethos. So it was it's been wonderful. I just can't wait to be able to do some of the volleyball and stuff. But so far it's been a lot of communicating with the players and it in some ways, it's kind of good because I get to know them as people very deeply as we go through all of this together. Yeah. And it gives me the opportunity to help and see how they handle adversity because no one as an athlete who's handled adversity quite like this. So it's been eye opening.

Jess Gregory  

That's awesome. Yeah. Now, you mentioned a bunch of awesome coaches. I've heard of a bunch of them before they were pretty great. Um, can you tell me? Do you emulate any of their styles? Like what is your coaching style? 

Michelle Cole  

you steal from everybody you work with? And that's the very truth. I've heard that so I love it. It's true. Like I tried it. I used to say borrow, but I was like, I'm not giving back those ideas. They're mine now. You absolutely steal from a Chris was such great at preparation, you know, and so I still try to keep that preparation. I'm not as good. It is here. Cuz it's not as natural for me. But I saw just the impact of it. It's like when you're that good at prep how much it helps everybody that you work with and the team. Leanne is just so authentically herself every second she's coaching. And that was something that I really hung on to. She doesn't pull any punches. She doesn't like, try to add sweetener to anything that she offers. Like, when she's talking to you. She is talking to you, if she means every word. She says, you know, you don't have to like think twice. If she says it to you, she absolutely means that she follows through on everything that she says she's going to do. And I I love that as an employee, like the players thrived on it because you knew where you stood. And so you know, right away like this is home for me, or maybe I need to find another place. So I've absolutely tried to grab that. You know, it's something that I'm working on. I absolutely tried to grab that. And Dave Wow. Like when you talk about somebody who's consistently coming up with the next new idea. He's been coaching you His whole life and I've never seen anyone as creative, a problem solver as David Zelnick. And so that's something that I've tried. So whenever I come to a situation where I don't know the answer, I just try to think about it from another angle. I try to engage other people and draw them into the process. Because when it comes to being a creative thinker and a collaborator, those were the two things. He's been the best app that I've ever seen. And those are the two things that I am I have stolen. I'm sorry, Dave. Sorry, I'm stealing it. Yes.

Jess Gregory  

I'm sure they're okay with sharing it with you though. So, all right. Well, that's cool. I bet your students now that are your new students are probably looking forward to to getting to know you better, too. So I guess this is a great time to kind of use that that strategy.

Michelle Cole  

Yeah, a little it's, we're all hungry. We're all hungry for time in the gym. And that's something as coaches like sometimes we think like we're more into it than the player sometimes, but they are so ambitious. They have such big goals. From the time of my interview to even this morning, when we spoke to each other, these girls are so adamant that they want to be good. They want to fulfill their potential. And that's why it's so hard for them not to be able to be in the gym too. So whenever I think like, it's tough for me, I know it's 1000 times tougher for them. So yeah, we're taking this time to try and get to know each other better. So when we hit the gym, like at least we're over that hurdle. Trust has been established. We know what the expectations are, and we can just kind of play.

Jess Gregory  

Yeah, yeah, that sounds great. Now, you mentioned that your players are hungry for it. I'm sure these high school kids that had their club season just sort of pulled out from under them are just dying to get back on to the court. Can you give them some kind of tips on how they can stay physical during this time, and then we'll sort of talk about, you know, the mental side after that.

Michelle Cole  

Just get out there and do something. Just get out there and do something touch the ball as often as you can, is kind of the idea of volleyball is a team sport, but you bring Your individual skill to the team. So the only thing you can offer your team right now is your physical efforts and the intent behind it. So there's great drills going on on April Ross has put together a bunch of volleyball drills you can do while you're at home. It's been great. If you don't follow her on Instagram you absolutely should ad She's hilarious, be she's amazing at volleyball and see she's got stuff you can do. So I mean, there's there's all kinds of things on the internet, there's a ton of stuff out there for you to be able to pick up and find. Don't be too ambitious about it. Just do the simple things. It's just passing against the wall. That is great. do that every day, if it's just setting to yourself, even if you're not a setter, do that. It just keeps you in the volleyball mindset. It keeps that touch active like so that when your team is back together, and you can start growing your skills, you can start growing your skills right now you're mostly trying to maintain, you know, that's the biggest thing so touch the ball every day.

Jess Gregory  

Yeah, that's awesome. It's kind of funny. I remember doing that when I was in high school and my parents would get so mad because I would just pass the ball, you know, I was a DS thousand outside, I'll just pass the ball against the wall. And they would be like, again. I'm like, Oh, sorry. So yeah, those are those are great tips. I think kids can take at any point in time. Whenever you get your hands on the ball, you might as well might as well as well do it. All right, on the flip side of that now on the mental side, you have any tips for them and how they can kind of overcome this adversity because I'm sure a lot of kids are not prepared for this.

Michelle Cole  

Well, absolutely. So for me, just because you know, I'm not a therapist, I don't do that part professionally. One of the hats you wear as a coach is you help your team with their mental strength. And so some of the things that we've talked about as a team for us is, structure is very important during this time. You don't have a lot of external structure in this moment. So especially if you're in high school because depending on your parents schedule, They could be at work or they could not be at work, depending on your internet schedule, right? So depends on how many seasons you've got to get through of, you know, shits Creek on Netflix that that makes a difference on what your schedule looks like. But more than anything, like the core thing you should be trying to do is come up with a schedule and do it Monday through Friday. Just have that schedule on Play structure is very important. It's artificial right now. Once you get back into school and back into athletics, then it becomes external. Your coaches tell you what to do your parents tell you what to do your teachers do right now, you have to find that internal motivation. You have to find the reason why so that you can still wake up at the same time you normally would take a shower, get dressed, do it even though there's nobody to see you. Look, I'm wearing Seattle, you here I'm representing us fall out. I wake up and I'm working at 8am every single day as if I was in my office, because you you have to you have to create that sense of normalcy somewhere. So that's the big Biggest thing I can offer, make a schedule. stick to it. Take a shower. Your family needs to take a shower every day.

Jess Gregory  

Oh, man. Yeah, that's that's the first tip that I've heard from a coach this week about making sure that you stay clean. So let's stay on that one for sure. I'm sure all of you gonna be thankful for you for saying that.

Michelle Cole  

well, we make them do that during season anyway, like after we're leaving a gym, we make sure they all shower before they're allowed to get on the bus. You know, you're just building habits you'll need in college. Absolutely.

Jess Gregory  

All right now, um, we're gonna start with seniors now. So I want to kind of flip the flip a little bit to the recruiting side. Do you have any tips for seniors that are maybe super nervous right now they're unsigned. What can they do during this time that maybe they wouldn't have done before? Like, how can they get in contact with people

Michelle Cole  

I don't know. I don't know what they should be doing now is different than what they were doing before. Because one thing I my perspective always is when it comes to recruiting, there's no room for dignity. When you're an athlete and you want to get recruited, there's there's really no room for dignity. Um, even when I was being recruited way back when, when sat out was still alive. But for me, I know there was a bunch of schools that were interested in me I was on their list, a lot of good things were happening, but then when it came time to actually, you know, offer the money. A lot of those people disappeared, you know, I was a fad 50 selections and still faced the idea of, oh my gosh, like, I might not find a home to play. And so I just had to get on the phone. And I talked to everyone I knew I said, Hey, like here's who I am as a player, what coaches do you know that I would work well with? And I there was a list created and I went down that list and I called people incessantly. Back then you sent VHS tapes these days. It's so much easier you have links that you can hand out like they should absolutely be aggressive. And they should absolutely be persistent. And it is much better to have a coach think that you're doing too much than to miss an opportunity to find a home and a place that you would do well at. Because you are nervous. So there's there's no room for dignity in recruiting. Like, if you think you're good enough, go for it. Let that coach tell you, you're not good enough. Let that coach tell you like what the opportunity really is. let them decide, you know, because the last thing we want to do is I know people don't want to miss out on a great athlete, because you're sitting at home waiting for us to call like a coach like that's our nightmare is that we're gonna miss the player that makes a difference for us because they didn't call us you know, so just be aggressive. Take a deep breath. It's fine. We've all been doing this for a very long time. We know how to have conversations with you. They will be super awkward. It's okay. Awkward is okay. Just ask The conversation.

Jess Gregory  

Nice. All right. Well, those are great tips for seniors. I think some of the underclassmen can still take those. But do you have any other tips for the underclassmen, they obviously have some more time. So what are some things that they should be doing right now?

Michelle Cole  

Um, honestly, like, the biggest thing that they could do is make sure people can see them, you know, so, normally what would be happening for the people who are recruitable ages, we'd be watching them play volleyball. Um, but we don't have the opportunity to do that. So you just want to create opportunities where it's easy for coaches to watch you play volleyball. So if you're a recruitable age, absolutely make little clips even if they're fun or funny. Like because right now we can't watch you play other teams. We can't watch you on your team. So let us see, you know, what kind of drills you came up with. Let us see you passing against the wall. Who knows, you know, whatever that is, those are just some creative ideas that maybe you could do but you know, could we just need to see people play volleyball?

Jess Gregory  

Yeah. It seems like you guys have plenty of time to check your email. Now, so you should probably be number one on that list.

Michelle Cole  

Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah, you got to be aggressive right now. Like this is this is the time you want to you want to be aggressive. You want to make sure people are aware of you.

Jess Gregory  

Mm hmm. Awesome. Now, in general, do you have any fun do's and don'ts on contacting coaches and I preface this by saying I have gotten such weird emails as a college coach from players? So what are some of those do's and don'ts that that you've kind of seen throughout the years that you maybe want to share with these guys?

Michelle Cole  

Um, don't send the glamour shot, unless it's hilarious. Um, unless the intent is for it to be hilarious. Let's say that. Well, when I get glamour shots, full makeup. I'm, I'm kind of curious and how that relates to volleyball. Like, what is that telling me about you? Um, it's kind of the idea, you know, you, you put your personality on a plate. That's what you want out of these emails. That's what you want out of these contacts is you want to be 100% transparent. You know, you want to make sure that the good stuff happens up front. lead with your best strength if I've had middle blockers and videos of them passing, why I think we all spend those moments like fast forwarding the video, like trying to get to the part where the middle does Middle East things like middle, do middlee things first, your defender do defender things first, like make lead with the best your personality and a plate. lead with your best foot forward.

Jess Gregory  

Nice. All right, those are awesome tips. I totally hope that kids take advantage of those for sure.

Michelle Cole  

Absolutely. I mean, it'll, you know, the better that athletes get at this, the less stuff like that will have to amuse us, honestly, like there are some great ones. I've got some full 80 glamour shots that have been awesome, but you know, it's still Things we want people to be effective, especially during this time. It's like you don't everything's so compressed recruiting is going to happen in such a compressed fashion now that it's like, I'd rather they'd be efficient and I have less stuff to giggle about. Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense. For sure.

Jess Gregory  

Awesome. Um, all right, so we gave him some great tips. Now, I kind of want to switch gears a little bit and just learn a little bit about your past successes. And if you can kind of tell me if those successful teams were more talented, or they had more mental toughness. What kind of made that team successful?

Michelle Cole  

Wow. Um, well, I played for Texas a&m.  I'm way way back when I'm not. I'm not gonna say the years. I think that's okay. I'm not gonna I'm not gonna reveal that. But um, we finished in the Elite Eight, two years out of four that I played there and arguably still some of the best teams in and in volleyball history. We kind of had a bit of both to be perfectly honest like we we absolutely had some flat out talent as good as I like to pretend I was I was not at the top end of that scale. We definitely had some all Americans some people who are in the annum you know, Athletics Hall of Fame. Gentlemen, mackovic amber Woolsey. They're married now. So that is not either of their last names anymore. But it's like we had some fantastic talent. And what put us over the edge is how we use that talent. We were rabidly competitive. We were rapidly competitive. We were not nice about it. A lot of my current teams ask us how we were successful and I was like, What works for us, I don't know works for the makeup of teams these days. Because we did not get along. There was not a lot of team bonding like outside of the gym, like half the team. Were tight over here and the other half The team was tight over there. When you when we walked in the gym and we were on the court you could not tell. Yeah, and the best thing about us The only thing that was important for us as a team is winning. We wanted to get to at that time 15 first, yeah, I wanted to get to 15 first, and that was it. It didn't matter, you know. And so that's the only thing we focus on. So that was kind of like that mental focus that mental laser being like intensity that God has through the gap because we were in the big 12. Then when Nebraska was in the big 12, Baylor was in the big 12, Texas was in the big 12. You know, we just had the big 12 which is so stacked with talent. It was really hard to break out of there and make a name for yourself. And we did it by I mean just ruthlessly competitive. Like that's all that mattered. If you are across that net from us, you are going down and the people who are on our side of the net were our best friends whatever it took to make the girl next to you play even better. That's what it took. It took me sitting on the bench like yelling and screaming my head off for you to do better. That's what we did. So it's that combination of like talent and mental toughness that gave us our success thing is so difficult to replicate because we did it in such a brutal fashion, like our love language was very, like brutal honesty, but it worked for us because we didn't have time to beat around the bush, you know, where we tolerate in Nebraska? No, did we hit harder than Texas? No. But we were able to be successful. Because what we did have is like what we needed to do to be well didn't take enough time. We were faster. We made decisions faster, we made changes faster, we executed everything quicker. And so we that helped us get an edge against our components. So that kind of blend, I think is what you're looking for. If you're if you're like me, and you're not the most physically talented person on your team, and I wasn't I wasn't the most athletic. I wasn't the most physically talented. You know, the part that I brought to the game, that's when you have to add more of that mental side of things. So it's kind of that sliding scale, the more physical talent you have, like, you know, you can get away with being a little here. You know, the less talented you have, yeah, you've got to be sharper mentally. And it's more about what you add to the team. Yeah, not that individual skill. Like it's great. If you touch 11 two, that's awesome. If you touch 11, two, and you're getting kills, but everybody around you plays worse because you're a brat. Then your, your team can't use you. You're costing the team points in ways that you know, those are soft points that you lose, you know, so if you're touching 10 feet, but everybody around you plays better because you're upbeat, you keep people focused and energetic. And so your team gets these like Phantom points because you're out there on the floor. Then Yeah, you play over the kid who's touching 11 two and wow, is it she need to look at but she's costing us points, right? You know, So it's kind of that like that mental toughness is more What do you bring to your team? Just as that physical talent is? How do you add that to your team? Like, what does that add? So that's what it all comes down to.

Jess Gregory  

Nice. Yeah. So basically, to be successful, you just you have a role on the team, whatever that role is, you just got to be tough with it. And just keep working hard for the team. So,

Michelle Cole  

absolutely, yeah, you've got to own that role. You got to own it hard, whether it's the role you wanted or not. And when I tell you, that team was very successful, because people took on roles that were distasteful, you know, we had people playing right side who are like, I'm, I'm not a right side, like yeah, you are today, right? Like, you just are and they didn't own it and just crushed it. So yeah, sometimes you you take on the role that the team needs from you, as opposed to what you necessarily want.

Jess Gregory  

Right? Awesome. Well, I hope these kids are taking these tips and running with them so that they one day can be on that successful team and kind of share Everything that they've learned now with their new teammates, so we'll see.

Michelle Cole  

Oh, I just I think we're all just ready to get back to volleyball. I think I'll just back to the gym. Yeah.

Jess Gregory  

Yeah, I agree. I'm ready to get back out there too. So we'll see when we can get back out there. But

Michelle Cole  

well, we can get started again, I just want to make sure everybody knows is, once we know what it is, our schedule will be available on go Seattle u.edu. So check it out. If you get a chance to play us. We're in the whack. So we play across half the country. So come on, watch us play volleyball. We'd love to have you there. Like we're missing people. So once we can get together as people they're like, we'd love to see you.

Jess Gregory  

Nice. Yeah, I'll definitely put that down in the captions for you guys, too, so that kids can can look that info up for you.

Michelle Cole  

Oh, that'd be great. Perfect.

Jess Gregory  

Yeah. Hi, Michelle. Well, I thank you so much for sitting down and chatting with me. I've learned a lot more about you today. And hopefully some kids get to learn some more about you as well.

Michelle Cole  

I hope everybody like just get better. Right right now Your goal is to maintain and bring all that wonderful like pent up energy to your team. Once we get the green light to play, stay safe out there stay healthy.

Jess Gregory  

Absolutely. All right, Michelle, you to stay safe and we'll see you soon. All right, bye Bye, guys.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai