When Kalie Wood struggled early on in her Canyon Crest Academy volleyball career she went to coaches for help.
They tossed her a yoga mat.
“(CCA Volleyball coach Ariel Haas) rolled up a yoga mat and put it under my arms and said ‘You are not allowed to drop this yoga mat and you’re going to pass this ball,’ and he videotaped me at the same time,” Wood said.
The unconventional move paid off. Wood went on to be a standout libero. She now plays at Columbia University in New York City.
And she wants to give back.
She’s among several current and former CCA players who’ve remained connected to a program that many current and former players say emphasizes useful life and social skills along with the high-level volleyball.
They’ve taken on ambassadorship roles this summer that points to loyalty running deep in the program.
Earlier this summer Wood helped coach an inaugural CCA indoor volleyball camp for middle schoolers and those entering ninths grade.
“I think this is one way of presenting Canyon Crest as a community that doesn’t just end after you graduate,” Wood said.
“I had a lot of really strong mentors throughout high school who showed me what it means to be a student athlete in all senses and work hard on and off the court, so this is my way of kind of giving back in a sense, because I wouldn’t be where I am if I didn’t have good leadership and good mentorship from the girls who came before me.”
Wood was also among several CCA alumni who wrote letters to the current players emphasizing what they believe to be some of the program’s core values. Ravens coaches named an award after her for those demonstrating her trademark leadership and passion for the game.
Wood was the inaugural winner in 2015. Whitley Ballard was named the award winner last year.
“It’s meant to remind the current kids and to teach the new kids about how we do things, and to maintain our culture of the standards that we adhere to,” Haas said, noting the effort, behavior and emphasis on getting his players to believe that they’re playing for something bigger than themselves.
Haas said he got the letter-writing idea from reading about a Florida golf academy run by David Leadbetter that incorporates sports psychology.
“I don’t give them any instructions,” he said. “I just tell them what the point of the letter is, and they go forward and write it.”
He didn’t have to. Those who benefited from a program that emphasizes team-building and emotional development along with volleyball skills were eager to share their experience.
“Culture is so crucial to having a successful team and setting the standard early, that you’ve got to do a lot of work building a team culture with kids that didn’t know each other and have never played with one another and to understand what each one is about and what each one is striving for and how to behave is a crucial element to a team’s success,” Haas said.
Wood’s letter was read to the team by her younger sister Gracie, an incoming CCA freshman.
“Kalie mentioned a lot about Haas and other coaches pushing us really hard mentally and physically and that it’s not just about volleyball,” Gracie Wood said. “It’s about our mental state and being mentally tough. “It’s a lot about enjoying the experience because it goes by really fast, especially for her.”
Gracie said that in just a few weeks of practice she’s noticed a difference in her Ravens coaches’ approach compared to previous experiences.
“So far it’s been a lot of mental work, a lot of visualization,” she said. “I’m not used to this because it’s different from my club team, we never did this type of stuff. I kind of enjoy it. I think a lot of schools would just focus on the volleyball aspect, they wouldn’t t focus on playing as a team or knowing your limits and pushing past your limits, Haas and Rachel, both coaches emphasize that.”
A lot schools probably also wouldn’t roll out yoga mats in passing drills.
“I do remember that,” Haas said. “We needed to simplify her (passing) motion and change her technique a little bit, and that was the best way to give her some tactile feedback to make the change quickly.”
Haas insists he won’t hesitate to roll out more unconventional instructional props.
“I’ll do whatever it takes,” Haas said. “I’ll bring a rolling chair into practice, put yoga mats under your arm, tape your arms together. Whatever works. Sometimes it’s not good enough to just hear what you’re doing wrong or even see what you’re doing wrong. Sometimes you need to feel it, so I made that up.”