Q&A with Volleyball Coach Beth Wilmeth

University of Northwestern's volleyball team just finished their season with the second most wins in school history. Head Coach Beth Wilmeth talked to Upward Sports about the team's success and their "honor calls" system.

In 2009, Beth Wilmeth along with her team instituted "honor calls". This meant whenever a player for her team touched the ball and it went out of bounds but the ref didn't see it, that player would be honest and let the ref know she was the last one to touch the ball, costing her team a point. In this Q&A she gives us the back story about how the "honor call" system came about.

Tell us how the idea of "honor calls" came about.

Wilmeth: "Our team competed in the 2008 NCCAA National Tournament and saw Cedarville University’s team making honor calls. Our players had a mixed reaction to the idea at first. Some thought that it was interrupting the flow of the game by asking officials to change the call. A few thought it was self-righteous. Others, being the competitors they are, worried it could cost us a match. The rest of the team just really wanted to make honor calls. It was actually pretty divisive in our program for a while. We had several heated team discussions about it, and eventually ended up tabling the idea. Months later it came up again as we founded our team's core covenants. At that point, we felt like the Lord was asking us to "walk by faith". We challenged our players to take the preseason period to pray about it and seek the counsel of someone outside of our program (a former coach, teacher, or youth pastor). Two weeks later, our coaching staff met individually with each player - it was an "all or nothing" decision. We wanted to be in complete agreement. One after one, the players came in and agreed that honor calls were something we were supposed to do, many with tears in their eyes. That was in 2009, and we haven't looked back!"

What type of reaction do you get from other teams when one of your players makes an "honor call" during a match?

Wilmeth: "Teams have gotten used to us doing it now that it’s been six years, but that first year was a surprise to many of our opponents. They didn’t understand why we would essentially give back points. The officials were taken aback as well. A few said that they didn’t think it was fair that we’d put ourselves at a disadvantage. But time and time again other players, officials, and fans all thank us for the gesture of sportsmanship. We’ve even had other teams join us and report their own missed block touches. It’s a small act, but we’ve seen big waves of impact. Because of our honor calls, we’ve had a long list of opportunities (like this article) to share about our faith and the bigger purpose there can be in sports."

What has been the biggest contributor of your success as a coach?

Wilmeth: "How you define success is important. In our program we define it as doing everything we can to be the best we can be. We simply try to take the gifts that God has given us and use them to our fullest ability. By taking the pressure of win-loss motivation and the scoreboard out of the equation, we make it about honoring the Lord and representing Him on the court. That freedom has allowed us to play with a joy that is consistent regardless of any team record. I firmly believe that the Lord honors those who honor Him. I’ve seen it time and time again. When we commit to our best effort, the rest takes care of itself."

What Bible verse is most relevant to you as you coach?

Wilmeth: "On the sidelines when the competitor in me wants to get more wrapped up in the scoreboard that I should, I remind myself of the first part of Romans 12:2. "Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." I'm called to be uncommon in my approach to coaching, how I treat our players and the officials, how I view competition, and the ultimate purpose and direction of our program. In order to do that, I have to throw off the world's definition of success and the idol that our culture makes of winning. I have to run towards an identity that is rooted in what Christ has done for me on the cross, not in my win-loss record as a coach."

Coach Wilmeth has served as the head coach at University of Northwestern (MN) for 12 years. During that time, her teams have won nine Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC) championships and have participated in six consecutive NCAA tournaments. Wilmeth has been named UMAC Coach of the Year three times. Her program has produced ten All-Americans, six UMAC Player of the Year winners, 51 All-Conference awards and 58 Academic All-Conference awards. Wilmeth also serves as UNW’s senior woman administrator, overseeing all NCAA compliance.