For a team to be successful in any sport, there must be solid leadership. At the highest position on the team, a head coach must be a winner and a solid verbal communicator with their players. The Wisconsin volleyball program has that in head coach Pete Waite and has had it for a long time.
Waite is entering his 13th year at the helm of the Badgers and his 24th overall coaching at the Division I level. During his time at Wisconsin, Waite has become the winningest coach in Badgers history, both in number of wins and percentage, posting a 157-83 record in 12 years (.654) as well as boosting his career record to 538-217. The fact that Waite is such a proven winner makes his coaching gospel to his players.
“We all know he’s a proven winner and has had many wins at Wisconsin and really loves the program,” senior Janelle Gabrielsen said. “We all respect and listen to his coaching and take it in stride. He knows what happens inside and outside of volleyball, so his advice is always easy to take whether it’s on or off the court.”
Players also thrive under the coaching style of Waite. It’s an approach that has earned Waite nine Coach of the Year honors in his career.
“Coach is one of the calmest coaches I’ve ever had,” junior Alexis Mitchell said. “He tries to teach you to how to think for yourself and be smart on the court. He doesn’t want to hold your hand through everything, which made me mature faster as a player. He wants you to be adaptable to all the different situations of a game on your own. He does put pressure on the veterans to step up and lead the younger players.”
“He always talks to you like you’re a human being,” Gabrielsen said. “He likes to set up individual meetings with players to let them know what’s going on and how they can help the team and how he can help us get better and improve. He spends a lot of time with us making sure that we’re happy.
Waite acknowledges that with every situation and player a coach must constantly adapt his coaching for each individual.
“I think you have to adjust to the personnel you have,” Waite said. “You have certain styles you like to keep as a coach, but with every player there are different skills and backgrounds, so your approach can never be the same.
It’s a player-friendly approach that Waite has kept throughout his time coaching. What has also made Waite successful is his push for his players to be generals on the floor themselves.
“He looks at us (upperclassmen) to lead by example, as well as with words,” Gabrielsen said. “We try to be more vocal on the court and push our teammates more. He really wants us to create the atmosphere on the court we want at Wisconsin. After we do that, the younger players catch on and can lead with us.”
“The upperclassmen have to lead the way with the challenges of training and practice,” Waite said. “The difficulties of the season and the Big Ten will be high. I think a year ago we lacked consistency of play, physical size and ball control. We took care of the size with some of incoming freshman class, but I’d say Gabrielsen and Mitchell are especially important for us this year. They posted the most court time last year, and they are both great athletes and competitors.”
The dedication and leadership Waite expects from his team and his veterans is only outshined by what he expects from himself, as his commitment and dedication to his job is admired and joked about by his team.
“We joke around a lot wondering if he’s ever at his house,” Mitchell said. “He might sleep at the Field House; otherwise, he wakes up at the crack of dawn to get there so early. He’s always available if we need to meet with him or watch film. He and our coaching staff are awesome, they always have everything set up for us and we can get in the gym early and work with them. They always have everything ready and prepared to help us succeed.”
Waite and his Badgers will look to return to prominence this season, as the team has now gone three years without an NCAA tournament appearance. With a talented freshman class and a solid group of returnees, Waite knows that one of the biggest challenges for the success of the squad will be maintaining consistency.
“With volleyball, you need to understand that this is a marathon; you have to sustain that level of high performance throughout a 30-plus-game season,” Waite said. “We start from the first couple days of preseason to start comparing players. Once you start the real competition, you find out who can play in the games rather than practice and what the roles of players will be. At the end, you have to put that puzzle together and hope there aren’t any pieces missing.”