First-year volleyball head coach Ladi Iya tries to keep her coaching philosophy pretty simple.
‘Our players need to work hard and, most importantly, compete,” Iya said. ‘I think there is this idea that women don’t compete or that it is not acceptable. We’re trying to get past that idea.”
Iya’s own competitive nature stems from her long history playing sports. Growing up in both Nigeria and England, Iya played soccer and volleyball. She eventually was recruited by Evansville University for volleyball. Upon graduating in 2001, Iya had a brief stint playing in the United States Professional Volleyball League. In 2003, she returned to Nigeria, where she trained for the Nigerian national team.
And with such an impressive playing career, Iya brings a lot to the table as a coach.
‘I think it is really important in coaching that there is consistency and also execution,” Iya said. ‘The ability to know what you want and get your players to buy into that and then execute your system are very key.”
One of the things that is so striking about Iya is how much she buys into her system. It quickly became clear within minutes of talking to her that she was thoughtful, sincere and, most importantly, very passionate about her job and what she is trying to instill here at UR.
‘They have to endure, and they have to persevere,” Iya said of what she expects of her players. ‘In the end, whoever you come to play came to play the best you, so you should come into a game ready to play your best.”
And while Iya expects a lot out of her players, she also seems to expect a lot out of herself in her role as coach.
‘One of the most challenging parts is that you have so many different personalities on a team,” Iya said. ‘Communicating to the players how to achieve our goals when everyone learns in different ways is something I have to adapt to.”
Iya’s transition to the realm of coaching began after she graduated from Evansville with a degree in business.
‘I wasn’t too passionate about business,” Iya said. ‘But I always knew I wanted to teach, and coaching seemed to fit into that.”
After her training with the Nigerian national team, Iya returned to the U.S. and worked as an assistant at Nicholls State University in Louisiana and then at University of Buffalo before accepting the position at UR this past spring.
Throughout her career as both a player and coach, Iya has been enormously influenced by the coaches she has played for and served under. In high school, it was the volleyball coach that made her fall in love with the sport. As an assistant at Nicholls State, Iya learned the importance of recruiting in collegiate athletics from the head coach.
Now in her first capacity as a head coach, Iya’s lessons will be vital as she looks to take UR volleyball to the next level in the University Athletic Association and on a national scale. But in terms of what Iya hopes to accomplish as a coach, she takes a much more all-encompassing approach.
‘Obviously, we want a better record and to win the UAA it’s what we are working toward every day,” Iya said. ‘But we also want to get better individually. We want to be able to learn, change and adapt.”
It is this individualistic approach for growth, coupled with a focus on team play, that makes Iya’s goals special. In terms of her own role, she already commented on a key element of coaching you have to know what you want out of your players and have a vision for your team. And while the season is still young and very unpredictable, Iya’s passion in that sense has already proven that she is up to the challenge.
Hilfinger is a member of the class of 2010.