Hunting for Respect

January 29, 2015

The rivalry between Hope College and Calvin College dates back more than 90 years and has been a positive element for just about every sport at both schools. But recently, the head volleyball coaches at the two colleges had grown concerned that their players were taking it too far. The solution? A preseason scavenger hunt modeled after the CBS television show, "The Amazing Race."

"[Hope Head Volleyball Coach] Becky Schmidt and I were both worried that the competitiveness between our two programs had become unhealthy," says Calvin Head Volleyball Coach Amber Warners, whose squad won the 2013 NCAA Division III National Championship. "There were some social media posts that showed us our players weren't respecting each other, and we wanted to fix that."

Warners had put together "Amazing Race"-type competitions before with her squad and found her players loved them, so she posed the idea to Schmidt. "By forming teams that integrated players from both schools on them, I thought it would be an effective way to get the two groups working together," Warners says. "Coach Schmidt agreed and we went ahead with the idea."

Initially, the players were not thrilled with the prospect of joining forces. "Coach Schmidt and I both spoke with our team captains and explained how important it was for the two squads to have a healthy respect for each other," Warners says. "After that discussion, the girls were excited to participate."

Schmidt, whose Hope squad made the national quarterfinals last season, set about organizing the event, in which athletes would be challenged to solve riddles and decipher clues to find hidden items. "I went to various businesses around our campus and asked the owners if they would be willing to participate," she says. "Then, I worked with them on activities the girls could do at their locations.

"We didn't want it to be a scavenger hunt where the teams found their items as quickly as possible just to get it over with," Schmidt continues. "So we came up with adventures in which the girls would need to work together to accomplish a series of tasks."

On the day of the event, the Calvin squad drove 40 minutes to Hope's campus. The coaches placed players into groups of four to five--each team was composed of athletes from both schools--and turned them loose to complete nearly a dozen tasks at various locations. At a local architecture firm, the teams had to put together a puzzle that revealed the floor plan of one of the school's field houses. And at a fair-trade marketplace, the teams had to find a T-shirt with a word on it that described a strong, independent woman.

"One of my favorite challenges took place at a local theater, where the girls had to pick one school's fight song and teach it to the players from the other school," says Warners. "It really forced them to work together, because rather than the Calvin athletes wanting to do their song and vice versa, the girls had to think about which song would be easiest to learn."

After each task was completed, the groups were asked to post about their progress on Twitter--using hashtags to refer to the event, reference each school's volleyball team, and identify their location--which the coaches said was a lesson in how social media could be used positively. Following the competition, all of the players came together and shared a pizza dinner.

Warners credits the success of the day-long event to splitting up the two volleyball squads, who met on the court three times last season. "It would have been completely counterproductive if we'd made this a Calvin vs. Hope contest," she says. "But by getting the girls to work together, they learned that the person on the other side of the net is someone they should respect and not just an adversary. In turn, I think it's going to make our rivalry stronger and more positive."
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