Jungle Tiger – Bucknell Volleyball
The Bucknell University women’s volleyball team was recently Jungle Tigered. Assistant Coach, Eric Ragan, explains how it went down and the results that they saw.
The first workshop we did with our team was “Jungle Tiger.” We went through the key differences between the lives of a tiger raised in a zoo and a tiger that grew up in the wild and how this applies to learning, life, and volleyball. We know that the best learning occurs in the wild, where we are uncomfortable and make more mistakes—where things get ugly. However, in a volleyball specific context, we are trained to stay in the comforts of the zoo. This happens for a few different reasons, which include practice design (motor learning) and valuing looking good over learning (mindset). Both coaches and athletes can be responsible for putting the cages up that inhibit better development, but we can all help to tear down these cages and let the tiger—and learning—run ramped in the wild. We have already seen a shift in jungle-like attitudes and behaviors after three days in our gym.
Sometimes volleyball players are trained in the zoo. The prominent factors that influence this are the desire for more good-looking reps that come with block training as well as skill and positional specialization. I’ve been in gyms where, to help alleviate a weekend of poor line digging in matches, a coach on a box rips line shot after line shot at players attempting to dig them. By rep 10 they are looking better, by rep 23 they’re all-conference, and by rep 47 they’ve successfully dug 20 balls in a row. But, during the next weekend’s matches, there is little difference in successfully defending line shots.
Motor-learning research aside, the line digging repetitions are an example of training in the zoo for two reasons. First, the coach is looking for reps that look good to prove they’ve improved at line digging. This is a fixed mindset mentality since they are not embracing the ugly and failure that comes with the jungle and real, transferrable learning. A coach with a growth mindset would embrace the ugly and failure of digging random game line shots knowing that real learning comes slower than that of our box digger. The second reason this is an example of training zoo tiger volleyball players is because it takes away a chance to practice the most jungle-like skill of all time—reading.
Players also put up the iron bars that impede their learning process. I coached a 12’s club team a few years ago and will never forget a player who wanted to sit out of a doubles game on the first day. She was a middle so she saw no need in practicing any volleyball skill besides hitting and blocking. You want me to pass and set, too? No way. This is a zoo-like situation since the player is avoiding the ugly of a shanked pass or two, the randomness that is volleyball, and developing as a whole volleyball player.
In the past at Bucknell, our women didn’t like to mess up. They were concerned with not failing and looking good. So, this made them avoid the jungle, the situations where they’d make mistakes—where they’d actually learn. We’ve been working with the Growth Mindset theory for a year, which has helped developed the ugly in our gym tremendously. However, this preseason was their first experience with the Jungle Tiger. We used the story, discussed each tiger/learner/volleyball player’s experience, and journaled to further investigate the zoo and jungle.
In the days since our Jungle Tiger talk, we’ve seen our players become more comfortable with the uncomfortable. We/they cheer when they recognize this. We’ve had great discussions about what it means to be in the wild both physically and mentally. The biggest shift that we have seen is sustained effort and grit when things are tough. It is extremely easy to give up or check out in those situations, yet they constantly keep after it resiliently. They recognize they are learning more in that moment of failure than anywhere else. Our women are also taking huge swings on everything, regardless of how tight the score is and what is on the line. They also have less apprehension in new or difficult drills and games since they understand their purpose: to increase the ugly in our gym.
Click here to watch a Jungle Tiger Workshop!