New head coach of the Mills volleyball team, Jack Cowden, has started off the season going back to volleyball fundamentals, working on consistency of execution.
For years, Cowden managed a parallel career in real estate as he was an assistant coach, but now that he has retired from real estate, he has dedicated his time to the full-time head coach position at Mills. He has over 15 years of experience coaching volleyball.
Cowden began his career coaching competitive volleyball when his two kids started to play. After working at Foothill Junior College as assistant coach, Cowden moved to Dominican University, where he ran highly competitive youth volleyball programs. He also founded a professional team that represents Northern California in the USA Professional Volleyball league, and became the head coach for the Northern California Premier Volleyball League (PVL) that finished in the final four in the 2012 league championship.
“It’s a very exciting sport,” Cowden said. “The learning curve is very fast in volleyball and it’s very exciting as a coach.”
Cowden finds coaching rewarding, not only because he gets to witness the growth and learning curve of individual players, but also because of the team work.
By setting a good foundation of skills, Cowden is building a more competitive program, advising on form and skill sets for other positions. Working on the basic skills also allows Cowden to assess the players’ skills and personalize his advice and drills. He runs drills during and after practice, and concentrates on drills like hitting the ball at the height of the swing, or making solid contact with the ball. He considers himself a “teaching coach,” using examples and offering different ways to approach a move in order to execute it fully.
“I focus a great deal on fundamentals,” Cowden said. “All the drills are related to keeping it as simple as possible to obtain a result. All the drills revolve around consistency.”
At a recent drill session after practice, Cowden worked with a few players on how to prepare for the ball and how to maintain form. During practice, he gives feedback like how to balance their weight as they prepare to swing and encourages them on setting goals for each volleyball meet.
Cowden does not do this by himself; Ashia Joseph, the assistant volleyball coach, helps him. Cowden finds that both he and Joseph’s coaching styles balance out. Since Joseph recently left the court as a player, she can give advice based on those recent playing experiences.
Emma Hohulin, a sophomore who has played volleyball since her first year, believes the team has benefited from Cowden’s and Joseph’s guidance. She finds that starting with the basics allows the team to build on previous skills while growing and honing current skills, instead of pushing the team at a pace that they’re not ready to go at.
“His coaching style definitely tries to play to our strengths,” Hohulin said. “Overall I see an improvement with [the basics].”
Sophomore Samantha Martin joined the team this year, and likes the supportive environment of the team. As a less experienced volleyball player, she feels supported by the more experienced players on the team.
“The more skilled players are very encouraging to the less skilled players,” Martin said. “There’s a lot of positive language.”
Beyond the basics, Cowden aims to recruit competitive athletes to Mills, and develop the volleyball team into its full competitive potential.