Sports

CCA volleyball coach focuses on mental, emotional aspect of being an athlete

Considering her background, Rachel Morris might not on the surface appear to be the best candidate to coach one of the area’s most competitive high school volleyball programs.

As a promising Division I prospect, Morris quit the sport midway through her junior year of high school. She’d had enough of the yelling, the screaming and the insensitivity of coaches who micromanaged every part of the game but didn’t pay much attention to what their players experienced as human beings.

She’s channeled those sentiments into a coaching philosophy that emphasizes the mental and emotional parts of being a competitive athlete that she believes is frequently overlooked.

Morris has put that philosophy into practice at Canyon Crest Academy, where she serves as co-head coach with Ariel Haas.

“I got into coaching to give to young athletes what I didn’t receive when I was growing up as a young athlete,” Morris said.

Morris grew up in Manhattan Beach and started playing club volleyball when she was 7 in one of the nation’s most competitive regions. She was playing high school ball at Mira Costa High when the burnout got to be too much.

Morris went on to play college ball at Oregon, walking on as a freshman and eventually earning a scholarship to play in the elite Pacific-12 Conference.

Morris is in her fifth year coaching at CCA.

To say that she herself never envisioned her current role would be an understatement.

“When I was a young athlete I remember telling my mom, I will never coach volleyball,” Morris said. “It seemed so boring, like why would I want to spend my weekends and my time doing that?

“I remember that very vividly. I had zero interest in coaching.”

Morris’ attitude towards coaching changed at Oregon, where she found a coaching staff pushed athletes without pushing them out to the door.

She found herself enjoying coaching summer camps towards the end of her collegiate career in Eugene.

“That’s kind of what motivated me to be the coach that I am, having people that were there to lift me up in tough times really showed me that this isn’t just a game, that there are so many life lessons, so many ups and downs,” Morris said.

Morris uses motivational quotes and has a reading list for players on the high school and club teams. Tops on her reading list right now is Ryan Holiday’s “The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph.”

But the most important element of coaching in Morris’ view is relationship-building. She does what she can to keep up with daily challenges her players face, everything from illnesses and injuries to tests and schoolwork.

“If you have an athlete that truly believes that you believe in them they’ll run through walls for you,” Morris said.

Morris’ coaching style has won her high marks from players who appreciate a coach who’s in tune with the pressures and demands today’s high school athletes face.

“She’s very involved in each kid and she really cares about each player individually, not only in their volleyball but personally in a way that helps the player-coach connection be stronger,” said Hannah Martin, a USC-bound outside hitter who’ll be a senior this year.”

Morris has fostered relationships that outlast the coaching. Former Torrey Pines standout Savvy Simo, who now plays at USC, and Kalie Wood, who’s now at Columbia, are among the growing list of top-level athletes she’s coached at CCA and the Wave club team.

Haas believes Morris’ ability to build trust with players makes her a better coach.

“She relates really well to the players,” Haas said. “She understands what they’re going through with their feelings and emotions and is able earn their trust.

“A lot of teaching and coaching is about trust.”

Morris said she learned through her own experience as a player how important an element of coaching compassion can be.

She recalls one occasion when a coach found her sitting by herself in the locker room minutes before warmups, tears streaming down her face as she was grieving the death of her friend days earlier.

“I remember being an absolute wreck,” Morris said. “One of my coaches came in there and was literally sitting in there holding me.

“Wiped my face, got on the court, got out there and started playing,”

Those are the types of memories that she believes aren’t easily forgotten.

“I don’t remember the games, I don’t remember how many assists I had or many digs I had or aces,” Morris said. “Those are the things I remember.”

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