Mark Zalin, Thacher’s new varsity volleyball coach, brings years of experience to Thacher, both on and off the court. Mr. Zalin studied under countless volleyball legends, and has coached and played volleyball everywhere from Harvard to the Soviet Union. Dedicated to his players, Mark Zalin is a veteran coach who will doubtlessly bring great success to Thacher’s volleyball program.
Why did you decide to coach volleyball?
“Volleyball’s been a continuing part of my life for a long time. I studied initially under Kathy Gregory, who was the great volleyball coach at UC Santa Barbara, and queen of the beach, well into her forties. Kathy Gregory taught me a lot about the game, taught me to get in shape, and stay in shape, other teachers, mentors and coaches taught me to make friends wherever you go, speak the language of sport, and some great lessons that have nothing to do with volleyball, but have a lot to do with life. I learned a lot of life lessons and a lot of volleyball lessons, and volleyball’s just been a continuing thing. It’s an enjoyable sport to coach, and I get to work with great people, and I get to travel, and it’s been a really good experience.”
How would you describe your coaching style?
“I’m certainly passionate about the sport and the game. I’ve always realized that I’m teaching people, and not players, so I respect, care about, and know them beyond their competencies in volleyball. I want to know all about my players, and that in turn makes them better players. I try and be really consistent in my coaching, and again, I like the game. I like how the game works, and I like the areas that you can improve and have success in. They parallel a lot of life lessons, and that’s certainly what Thacher espouses with the way to live.”
“My style is adapted to who I have, so, like I said, I realize I’m teaching people, not players, so I respect, care about, and know them way beyond the competencies and the skills of volleyball. The things done by the best teachers I’ve ever had are the things I should also be doing in the gym. It’s basically the kind of people and leadership I have on my team that counts, and I do a lot of Socratic coaching. I ask the players a lot of questions, and it sometimes takes a lot longer than telling them what to do, but in the end, it makes for better thinking players.
“I know that kids in any sport don’t care about how much I know about the sport, until they know how much I care about them. And then when they know, they’ll work harder and play harder.. It doesn’t mean that you don’t set expectations and standards for them, but if you lead with your heart, people see you are genuine and real.”
Why did you start coaching at Thacher?
“I think I’m so fortunate to be coaching at Thacher. I went to UC Santa Barbara, and while I was in attendance at UC Santa Barbara, worked at Laguna Blanca and helped start their volleyball program. And so, we would play Thacher and it was everything that I had always wanted or dreamed of growing up, which was an institution which espouses great values as well as the outdoor life, the sporting life, and it was just where you wanted to be. My volleyball career took me all over the world, and I always had Thacher in the back of my mind. And when the opportunity came up, I talked to the people at Thacher and it worked out. It’s been a great joy, not only to be on the volleyball court, but on and off the court, with all the wonderful opportunities and remarkable people that I meet everyday. I feel so lucky to be at Thacher, and it doesn’t even feel like work. It’s just a joy to be able to get up and work with these people and get to coach and work with the people I do.”
How does Thacher compare to other schools you’ve coached at?
“There’s an old Underground Railroad saying, “If you want to go fast, you go alone. If you want to go far, you go together.” And it seems like in everything that is done around Thacher, it’s thought about, and it’s done in a community way and done together. A residential setting is really unique and offers opportunity for true community, and what I’ve found at Thacher is that respect, mindfulness, humor, and compassion are some of the key elements that make Thacher not so much different, but unique. It’s a unique place, and it’s great to be here.”
What’s one piece of advice you have for Thacher students?
“This parallels again, I’m not just coaching players, I’m coaching people. The lessons I’ve learned apply, and what I’ve learned through a lifetime of volleyball and teaching and coaching, is what my coaches, teachers and mentors have taught me, and it’s worked out remarkably well: Get in shape and stay in shape, be ready to work hard. Make friends wherever you go, be the best you can be and honest about your qualities. Dream and dream big. Lead with your heart & trust the people you work with and allow them to grow. Serve the people you lead by putting the cause before yourself and see it to fruition. And do the right thing always. One of my my favorite Mark Twain quotes is “If you tell the truth, you never have to remember anything.” It’s simple, but it’s seemed to work.”