Andrea Becker: The Sports Psychology Coach For The U.S. Men’s National Volleyball Team

"I’m often bridging the gap between the head coach and the players."

Photo by Kevin Fiscus

Becker played Division 1 softball at Cal State Sacramento while studying kinesiology with an emphasis in teaching and coaching. “I always thought that I wanted to become a softball coach, but when I went into my master’s program, I took a sports psychology class that really resonated with me.” After earning a doctorate in sports psychology from the University of Tennessee, Becker met John Speraw, the men’s volleyball coach at UC Irvine, who persuaded her to join his staff while she taught kinesiology at Cal State Fullerton. “I’ve been part of his staff ever since, when he went to UCLA and now for Team USA.”

Speraw told Becker he wanted to integrate more mental skills into his environment. “He also said that he’s always the one providing feedback to the athletes and that it would be nice for him to sometimes get feedback as well. So he kind of always considered me the coach’s coach.” Becker often coaches players indirectly, through Speraw. It could be as simple as letting him know that it looks like a certain player could benefit from a meeting with him. “I’m an extra set of eyes.”

When she does coach players directly, Becker often asks them questions to figure out what is at the center of their frustration so she can diffuse that feeling and refocus their attention on what is most necessary to help them perform at their best. “Oftentimes, athletes get caught up in their thoughts. And when we get caught up in our thoughts, we’re inside our heads instead of focusing our attention externally toward the game itself. What I’m trying to do is get the athlete back to a present focus.”

During games, Becker doesn’t say much. “I think that athletes have a lot of voices they hear when they’re playing, whether it’s coaches or teammates or their own voice. And I don’t want to just be another voice telling them what to do.” But she does notice when a player has a shift in focus or seems extra tense. “If a player is looking up at the scoreboard a lot, it could be a symbol of pressure because maybe the score is close. Sometimes, it’s really subtle; you just notice them doing something outside their normal routine. If necessary, I might give him a reminder in that moment.”

After spending the summer at the team’s training base in Anaheim, Becker will watch closely as the team competes in the 2018 World Championship in Italy and Bulgaria this month. No stranger to the international stage, Becker traveled with the team to the 2016 Olympics in Rio, where it earned a bronze medal. “Looking forward, we’re hoping to continue to build on the systems that we’ve developed, the communication patterns, our team culture, our identity, and our mission toward standing on the podium in as many international competitions as possible.”

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