Coach’s Corner: Christi Kelsey, volleyball

Sam Coyle

Photo courtesy of Christi Kelsey.

The Record publishes “Coach’s Corner” interviews to give readers the chance to get to know the coaches of their favorite Eph teams. This week, we checked in with Christi Kelsey, head coach of volleyball. The Record sat down with Kelsey to discuss the transition to the College, team culture, and the challenges of coaching.

Sam Coyle (SC): Did you always envision yourself becoming a volleyball coach?

Christi Kelsey (CK): I always wanted to be involved with volleyball in some way. I loved my experiences as a collegiate athlete, but when I graduated, I wanted to try out my degree. So I did that full time and worked in computer science and did some business development work. But I volunteered on the side [coaching volleyball] and loved it and decided that that’s what I wanted to do full time.

SC: I know you coached for Harvard before coming to Williams — what was it like making that switch?

CK: [Harvard] was pretty similar in a lot of ways. I had a great mentor at Harvard who helped me get a handle on what it’s like to have a competitive experience. It was pretty high level for volleyball and I got to work with highly driven and highly motivated student-athletes — that’s what we have here.

SC: What have you enjoyed the most about the volleyball program here?

CK: I think it’s definitely the people. I’m really lucky with the student-athletes that I get to coach — they bring a lot of joy into my life. They’re just amazing people, not only for what they do on the court, but [also] off the court. We have a great [athletic] department too, which has been awesome to be a part of for the last 12 years.

SC: Having won the NESCAC Championship multiple times [including most recently in 2014], can you describe what it’s like to lead a team to victory?

CK: I think it’s a combination of [everything that’s] happening in that year. You bring a group of people together and special things happen. Obviously, you compete hard and it’s [rewarding] to have that defining moment. But, we’ve had a lot of special teams otherwise that haven’t had the title to go with it. For this [year’s] group in particular, it’s been a really special season and hopefully we can make a run for the title.

SC: The team looks strong this year — what would you attribute that to?

CK: Across the board, we have great leadership at the top. There are a lot of great returning players — our juniors and seniors. And then we have a really awesome group of freshmen and sophomores who have just come in and helped contribute right away. Our team chemistry is off the charts, which is great.

SC: How is good team chemistry established? Is there anything in particular that has to be done or does it happen naturally?

CK: Building great team chemistry requires investment in creating strong relationships and connections. As a coach, you have to be committed to making time and space for that. But most importantly, you need to have awesome people who want to invest in that process with you and believe in something bigger than themselves. As part of our volleyball family, we are incredibly lucky to have amazing people who believe just that.

SC: What is the most challenging part of being a head coach?

CK: I think the most challenging part is making sure we’re providing an opportunity for our student-athletes to grow, but also to establish the context of what this whole experience is supposed to be about. Yes, they are athletes, and they are very committed to their [sport], but there are so many other things at Williams that they value and are passionate about. The [goal] is to try to make room for all of those things.