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Spotlight: Jackie Hutchison

Head volleyball coach Jackie Hutchinson incorporates yoga and mindfullness as part of practice. Photo by Alberto Vazquez
Head volleyball coach Jackie Hutchinson incorporates yoga and mindfullness as part of practice. Photo by Alberto Vazquez
Head volleyball coach Jackie Hutchinson incorporates yoga and mindfullness as part of practice.
Photo by Alberto Vazquez

The  S&B’s news editor Nora Coghlan sat down with volleyball head coach and yoga instructor Jackie Hutchison to discuss her approach to leading a team. As Hutchinson see it, yoga not only makes volleyball players better physically, but it also improves the mental game by teaching the team to be mindful and calm.

Can you talk a little bit about your background? How did you end up in Grinnell?

Well, my background is in physical therapy, so I’ve always been interested in training and bodies and health and wellness. As a former athlete that has always been part of my past, but the way that I got to Grinnell was through my partner [Professor] Paul [Hutchinson, Education]. This was his dream school, I think. He had a small liberal arts education in undergrad and so when he applied to this position he was like, “This is the kind of school I want to work at,” and when I got here the then-head coach was looking for an assistant and I had never coached volleyball, so I was like, ‘Uh, yeah, I’m not interested.’ But this funny thing happened: we were in Des Moines at the Iowa Cubs game and it turned out he and his wife were sitting, like, two people down from us, and I thought it just seemed sort of serendipitous that we were both there. He just wanted to talk about ‘Hey, would you help out with the program?’ I decided to at least consider it because of the magic of that possibility and so first year I was the assistant coach and that was really great and just through circumstances I got to be the interim head coach and then the head coach.

What is your volleyball background like?

I played Division I volleyball at UW Milwaukee.  … when I got done with undergrad I went to school for physical therapy then I worked as a physical therapist. … It’s funny because I had never had a coach say to me ‘one day you could consider coaching’ … You get so much from coaching and so I like to encourage people to at least consider it, even if it’s just peewee soccer to your own kids. Get involved with coaching, because it’s a really great thing.

How would you characterize your coaching style?

I see myself as someone who is more inspirational than punitive about negative things, like pushing what they’ve done wrong. I am more supportive of the journey they’re on and the good things that are happening. I think that’s part of just my personality, but I think it’s also something we’ve embraced in the team, this notion of growth mindset and just really allowing for the messy part of when you learn and you make mistakes.

What has been your favorite part of coaching?

The women on the team. … I’m amazed by the people that I get to meet and work with and coach through volleyball. The students are amazing. I just love to think of how they were as first-years, because sometimes it’s crazy. They’re changing and they’re growing.

I’ve been told that you are also a yoga instructor. How long have you been doing yoga?

I started doing yoga in about 1990, and I have been a certified instructor probably since 2009, and that was a game changer for my journey of being a person. I think when I started on the process of learning about me and growing as a person, then my life just got way better. … I just had a lot of shell around me and resistance and when I started to do [yoga] it was a combination of the movement work, the flexibility and opening of my body that helped to soften me but also just the meditative, taking time for stillness and I am better, not to suggest that I’m better than anyone, but my life is better because of that work. So now I love that I get to teach it.

Do you ever incorporate yoga into your coaching at all?

We do. … What we most often do is we do some in preseason and I integrate … some kind of deep stretch or something at the end of practice. We do visualization and relaxation stuff a couple times a month in Darby, so I try to integrate yogic things into what we do. … Just because you are really great at volleyball doesn’t mean you know anything about being present and breathing and staying in the moment …  it’s a different skill set. I say this all the time in my yoga class, it’s relaxation and training your mind. That’s a skill and you have to work on it. Otherwise your mind is running the show and that’s no good.

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