So I’m on the phone with one of the smartest people I know, and right off the bat, he is talking about “crazy time.”
And right off the bat, I can relate.
Crazy time, Terry Pettit tells me, is when you get in your own way.
As a coach. As a writer.
Crazy time is when a head coach communicates out of frustration rather than choosing a posture, tone and language that will give a player the best chance to adjust and play with confidence.
Crazy time is when you tell yourself a lie, like “The behavior on the court doesn’t reflect my coaching.”
There is more to crazy time, but you will have to visit the blog at www.terrypettit.com for the rest. That is also where you will find out more about “Trust and the River,” Pettit’s collection of poems.
Topics range from love to loneliness. Death to politics. Fly-fishing to volleyball.
Yes, there has to be volleyball. Pettit was the head coach of the Husker volleyball program for 23 years.
Twenty-one conference championships. Six final fours. An NCAA title in 1995. Three national coach-of-the-year honors. Packed houses at the Coliseum.
That was poetry.
It still is, under Pettit’s successor, John Cook. Both of them are Hall of Famers.
Cook will tell you it was Pettit who taught him to “think outside the box.”
“He was very creative, and he helped me to use that part of my brain,” Cook says. “He helped me understand that Nebraska volleyball is a state treasure.
“He taught me how to give talks in public, talk to reporters and understand you are always telling a story.”
‘Trust and the River’
Pettit tells many stories in “Trust and the River” – new stories and old.
The challenge, he says, is not always knowing what’s working.
“I’m a nervous poet,” he says, “in the sense that I don’t know that I can predict how an audience will react.
“I certainly have a better feel for whether or not I did a good job in a coaching situation than I do in a writing situation. The scoreboard gives you feedback.”
One of my favorite Pettit poems is “The Players Arrive for Practice.” Here is an excerpt:
They acknowledge their coach
with the attention and indifference
a springbok gives a lion lying
several hundred yards away in the sun.
The poem was first written in the late 1970s.
“I’ve probably rewritten it 50 times,” he says. “The coach is not seen as the enemy but apart from what they’re doing. Things change when the focus becomes the ball. The ball becomes everything.”
In “If I Could Coach Again,” Pettit makes it clear that his coaching days are over while sharing a few regrets.
I would let go of the game
When I got to go home
To my family
I would wait until the next day
To speak to a player
Who had not played her best.
Poetry and coaching
Pettit shares that poetry is about not knowing the next turn or when you might find it.
“With coaching, I have a good idea of where I want to go and the best path to get there. When I write poetry, it is more like a road trip where I have a phrase or a metaphor that I want to explore but the poem has a mind of its own. Frequently it goes off in a direction that I hadn’t anticipated. If I’m not surprised by what happens in the process of writing, I’m disappointed.
“The motivations are different as well. With coaching, I am passionate about helping someone discover what they are extraordinary at and then training them to leverage that talent. Communication is critical in coaching.
“Because writing is more private, you might think it is easier. But it isn’t. When I was coaching, I could walk into practice each day and see that players were tangibly getting better, which in turn encouraged me to work harder.”
Coaching is behind him, but Pettit is still very much a working man. Writing. Speaking. Consulting. He recently spent the good part of a week helping a Southeastern Conference school find a new volleyball coach.
Pettit, who has also authored two books on coaching and leadership, says, “Every instinct I have about coaching came from my father.”
He also learned from Frank Brown, a social worker in Lincoln who helped Pettit when he had a player who was in a bad place, and Dr. Paul Keller, a professor of communications at Manchester University in North Manchester, Indiana.
“I took every course he taught, but one of them titled ‘Language and Thought’ had a major impact on me. I learned that language doesn’t always drape that close to reality and that how a person says something is more important than what they are saying. Dr. Keller was the best listener I ever met. He tried so hard to understand what you were saying that I sometimes wondered if his head would explode from the effort.”
After Manchester, Pettit received a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from the University of Arkansas.
The resume posted on his website is not your typical resume. It’s better, with items like this, under Additional Experience:
Wrigley Field is where I bought my first and only tethered chameleon.
Yes, he is a Cubs fan, and he now lives in Colorado with his wife, Anne.
One of his favorite quotes comes from Gloria Steinem:
"Writing is the only thing, that when I do it, I don't feel like I should be doing something else."
And there will be more writing.
“I’m pleased to have written books that have had some success,” Pettit says. “Writing is important, because I really don’t know what I think about something until I write about it. I’m still searching for the most interesting and creative way for me to communicate.
“I think there is something still out there that tells a story that hovers above reporting and fiction that I want to explore.”
Terry Pettit on Nebraska volleyball
“Nebraska volleyball is pretty unique. I was fortunate to not only be at the right place at the right time, but to have the support of exceptional assistant coaches, and an engaged administrator in Dr. Barbara Hibner. There were also committed high school coaches throughout the state who were developing kids who already had the right mindset to play at Nebraska. People have tried to follow a game plan for creating something similar in other states, but I’m not sure you can. No one, including me, knew what Nebraska volleyball would become. The vision was continually evolving as the program became more successful. John Cook has done a masterful job directing that vision, and it will continue to evolve as the challenges of collegiate sports changes.”
How to get Pettit’s books
To get “Trust and the River” or any of Pettit’s books, visit www.terrypettit.com.