By Chantal Guerrero
“Reliable.” “Genuine.” “A true servant’s heart.”
These are the descriptives that tumble out of the mouths of senior volleyball players Katie O’Rourke, Lauren Schmitz and Emily Stromberg when talking about their coach and mentor, Mika Robinson.
“All coaches care, but she goes the extra mile to be selfless,” says Schmitz, who was a senior setter this season.
|Head coach Mika Robinson came to Berry in 2008.|
Robinson demonstrates this care off the court, according to Stromberg, one of Robinson’s growing population of All-Americans. (Jessica Gum and O’Rourke joined the list following the 2015 season, which saw the Vikings advance to the NCAA tournament’s second round.)
The rapport Robinson has developed with her players is about developing them as people, not simply as volleyball players.
“She has taught me to believe in myself, to believe in the students I’ll have one day (as (an elementary school teacher), and to really love people unconditionally,” said Schmitz, who, with O’Rourke, was a member of the most accomplished duo in the Southern Athletic Assn. this past 25-8 season.
For O’Rourke, Robinson’s influence has mostly been felt in developing her as a leader.
“She has taught me how to be a better servant leader,” said the Kennesaw, Ga., senior.
“I’ve never been more confident in my leadership and who I am as a leader.”
Without exception, players say that Robinson is intentional in her holistic relationships with her players. She knows their families. She knows about their lives outside The Cage. She takes them to the doctor when they are sick.
“When you’re away from home, you don’t get to see your family as much, but she fills that role,” O’Rourke said, “because she knows how to genuinely care for people.”
Robinson calls her “job” much more than that; she calls being a volleyball coach at Berry her “calling.”
“It’s become a huge part of who I am; coaching has become a way where I can give back,” said the Harvard graduate. “I can help people be more successful and contribute to society in a different way.”
From Crimson to Berry Blue
Graduating magna cum laude with a degree in psychology after playing four years of varsity volleyball for Harvard, Robinson moved back home to Gainesville, Fla., to coach high school volleyball. She moved up to the collegiate level at Division I Idaho State University, where she helped guide the Bengals and earned a masters degree in physical education with a focus in athletic administration.
But the South was calling again. Offered the head coaching position at Berry in 2008, she and her and her family, including husband Clint, daughter Bryce and son Clay, decided it was time. She became Berry’s fourth volleyball coach.
What Robinson has brought to Berry is a holistic coaching method that has as its horizon the whole of a player’s career.
The bigger picture
Robinson and assistant Caitlyn Jansen preach the
“Messiah Method,” from Messiah College in
Grantham, Pa., a holistic team approach that
emphasizes leadership, growth as moral agents and
development as athletes.
Everything Robinson does has a bigger lesson, meaning or purpose, said Stromberg, who will move from Berry to the University of Kentucky to begin her path to becoming a physician.
For example, when the Vikings faced Oglethorpe to open the conference season this year, Robinson replaced all of her starters with freshers and sophomores. Though the set ended up going Berry’s way, it proved tense, and often looked as though Berry would cede the set to a far lesser opponent.
“In those moments, you’re risking some short-term failure, but in the long-term there will be gains,” Robinson said. “The (younger players) will recognize and learn that they can come through and win, or they lose that and they grow from that experience, too.”
She said she can’t rush in to rescue a young player by replacing her with a starter; that would destroy confidence.
“How did I impact her if she believes I trust and have faith in her?” said Robinson, who is 169-88 all-time at Berry. “Do I have her back? Am I willing to risk failure by counting on her in that moment? Am I going to let her battle out of it?”
The Vikings won the set 31-29.
Robinson and assistant coach Caitlyn Jansen say their approach is about winning the war, not necessarily every battle, every set, every match.
“Did they grow as players and as people?” Robinson said she asks herself. “Are the seniors leaving here with some life skills that they learned from our program.”