Some may think that the end goal for the head coach of a Big Ten volleyball team is an amazing record and a shot at a championship. While those are important factors for Cathy George, head coach of the Michigan State University women’s volleyball team, they are not her top priority. George finds more value in what her girls take away from each game, on and off the court. “I want them to know they gave it their best. I want them to know that they are growing as player and as person and that these opportunities are a chance for them to grow and get stronger. Volleyball to me gives us opportunities. It’s not about the ball, it’s about the opportunity to strengthen ourselves, our will, determination and drive,” said George. George started her career in volleyball in fourth grade playing throughout her schooling and joining the Illinois State University team in college. George took an assistant coaching job with Central Michigan University for a year before becoming head coach at North Dakota State University for two years. Her career continued with a five-year stint at Texas Arlington, followed by 11 years at Western Michigan University, before finding her place at Michigan State University. George has an impressive history and is a well-respected coach within conference and across the country. George has been the head coach of Michigan State University’s girl’s volleyball team for nine years and has made a lasting impression on not just her team, but on the athletics staff as a whole. “She was the one I wanted us to target (when looking for a new coach),” said Shelley Appelbaum, Senior Associate Athletics Director, of George. “When you think about 27 years as a head coach and how young she is, it is impressive. After getting her masters she immediately went into a head-coaching roll and is in the top 25 nationally. In a sport that has had a domination of male head coaches, she really shows what women can do.” Appelbaum works closely with George and speaks highly of not only her skills as a coach, but of her dedication to her team, to her work and to the university. “With her it was her commitment to academics, getting a degree and winning with integrity and honor. She gives them (her players) an environment to flourish, to have great role models and give them the tools to go out and be successful,” Appelbaum said. “She embraced those who came before her and still has a competitive spirit all her own. She still has the passion today that she had years ago.” Appelbaum is not the only one who is in awe of George’s passion. The current women’s volleyball captains, Kori Moster and Kristen Kelsay, share in their admiration of their coach. “She really cares about each person on our team,” said Moster. “She is one of the most passionate people I’ve every met in the sport of volleyball. You meet so many people that want to win so badly, but they don’t have great relationships built with their players like Cathy does. We can go into her office and we can have a conversation about volleyball but we can talk about so many other things too, like what is going on in our life and how we are doing with certain things. It’s really not all just about volleyball.” This sentiment is echoed in Kelsay’s thoughts as well. “Cathy has something that makes her special, she cares more about who are as people,” said Kelsay. “She see us as women and wants us to be ready to go out into the world. I have talked to girls who have graduated and they say she has made a huge impact on them, not just in college but years later. She is a strong mentor and role model. There is something else about her, she’s though, if you need a kick in the butt, she isn’t afraid to do that. She cares about you, more than your skills on the court. Yeah, that’s her job, but I know we mean more to her that that.” Although enjoying many success of her own, George prefers to focus on the success of the program and of her team. “This team is really great. They have a center about them and they work really well together and they give you their all,” said George. “They have over come difficulties and still stayed strong. They have learned to go for it.” With so many years of experience under her belt, George has learned what it takes to be a good coach. “I’ve learned not to sweat the small (stuff). In coaching you can’t have control of everything. You need to take control of what you can and not worry about what you can’t. I think I spent a lot of time worrying or thinking about things that I didn’t need to be,” George said. It’s a lesson that George has used to go after everything she’s wanted in life. With a supportive husband and two loving sons, George has found a way to make a very hectic lifestyle work. In an up coming conference, George will share her advice on having the career of your dreams and the family you’ve always wanted. “I have two boys and a wonderful husband. I’ll be speaking at the convention on how you put it all together. So many young people are asking because they are afraid they can’t do it all. My advice is that, yes you can and you should. You have to understand it takes a good relationship but when they support me it gives me the ability to live out my dream,” said George. George has had the opportunity to share her dream with countless players and is invested in working with even more so that every woman who leaves the program feels like they have accomplished something in the sport of volleyball but also in their personal lives. “When you’re coaching you’re trying to give them the courage to go after their dreams, after things they want. Not just in volleyball but in everything,” George said. “I want them to be strong beyond measure. I want them to know that they can do anything and let choices come from strength, not fear.”
Ami Iceman-Hauter is the Brand Manager at M3 Group in downtown Lansing. Iceman is a graduate of Michigan State University with a bachelors degree in creative advertising.