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Feb 07, 2024

Navigating the Journey: From Player to Coach on NGWSD

Growing up in a Muncie, Indiana, the rhythmic bounce of a volleyball became the soundtrack of Taylor Unroe’s childhood. Growing up, the now Associate Head Coach of Clemson Volleyball was captivated by the sport, a passion that ignited during her early years. Her journey commenced with the innocence of a child, dreaming big while holding onto the belief that anything was possible.

As a young athlete, Taylor displayed exceptional talent, catching the attention of coaches and peers alike. Her love for volleyball evolved into a commitment to excellence, paving the way for a remarkable journey that would see her transition from a promising young player to collegiate athlete to influential coach over the course of her career in and around the sport.

The path from aspiring child to collegiate athlete is often a challenging one, and Taylor navigated it with unrelenting determination. Making the most of every opportunity she had to learn and adapt to what each team she was a part of needed, she would come in an hour early for every practice to get in an early training session. She focused on watching what those older than her were doing, learning how to apply what they were doing to her game and getting coached for every situation that could arise.

“I just really wanted to be great at it. If I was going to do it, I had the mindset that I had to be good at it.”

Unexpected tragedy struck Taylor’s family when she was 14 years old, and one of the only things that kept her moving forward was a volleyball. A tournament went on to dictate her collegiate career after Florida’s recruiting coordinator saw her play just days after the tragedy. Just a few weeks later, she made the decision to play collegiately for Florida. Over the course of her five years as a Gator, she racked up numerous individual and team accolades. Finishing her collegiate playing career, she shifted her focus to staying around the sport from a coaching perspective.

After leaving an indelible mark as a player, Taylor faced a pivotal crossroads in her life – the transition from player to coach. Many athletes find this transition challenging, but she embraced the opportunity with open arms. Her decision to venture into coaching was fueled by a desire to give back to the sport that had shaped her character and provided her with invaluable life lessons.

While finishing up her master’s degree, Taylor participated in the ‘Coaches for Coaches Program’ through the AVCA. It provided her with free convention registration to attend different classes and network with other coaches in the industry. This is where she once again crossed paths with Head Coach Jackie Simpson Kirr, who she had previously met during her sophomore year. One thing led to another, and the next fall, Taylor was serving as an assistant coach at George Mason for Coach Simpson Kirr.

Becoming a coach meant more than just teaching the technicalities of the game; it was about mentoring the next generation of athletes, instilling in them the values of discipline, teamwork and resilience. The opportunity to guide players in their personal development and contribute to their growth became a driving force in her coaching career.

“I don’t think I was initially born to coach, but I will say that the most appealing part of this job to me that I didn’t even realize until I was doing this every day is having the ability to help the players navigate everything in their life. It’s what I have found I am most passionate about – helping them figure things out. It goes beyond just volleyball stuff. It’s the critical thinking aspect and being aware of how you interact with professors and their future employers. I always wanted to be someone that was available to assist with the things that go beyond just the court, and I get to do that.”

For Taylor, coaching is not just a profession; it’s a calling. She wants a future to exist where young girls and women see sports not just as a recreational activity but as a platform for empowerment and self-discovery. Taylor wants to inspire the next generation of players and coaches, emphasizing the importance of diversity, inclusion and the limitless potential within each individual. Her vision extends beyond the court, envisioning a world where girls and women confidently step into leadership roles, both in sports and in life.

“My coaching philosophy revolves around building a legacy of success, not only in terms of victories, but also in creative a program that players, alumni and fans take pride in.”

Taylor understands the significance of championing diversity and advocates for different opportunities. She promotes an environment where players feel valued, heard and supported. Her commitment to inclusivity goes beyond the game, resonating in her efforts to create a culture of acceptance. She also isn’t afraid to push boundaries and challenge the status quo. Taylor embraces the challenges, understands the importance of process over results and strives to leave a lasting impact on the program. The legacy she envisions is one of continuous improvement, fostering a culture of creativity and instilling a sense of pride in everyone associated with the Clemson Volleyball program.

The landscape for women’s sports is continually changing for the better, including directly at Clemson where increased visibility, support and opportunities are available. Clemson Athletics has recognized the importance of investing in women’s sports with the addition of three new programs (softball, lacrosse and gymnastics) within the last five years. Upgrading facilities, including renovations to Clemson Volleyball’s home, Jervey Gym, that is scheduled to be completed for the 2024 home slate, is only a small piece of Clemson’s larger goal to supporting women’s athletics.

On this National Girls and Women in Sports Day, Taylor’s journey stands as a testament to the transformative power that sports have on people, especially young women. From a child enamored with the bounce of a volleyball to a coach inspiring the next generation, Taylor encapsulates the essence of perseverance, passion and the enduring spirit of female athletes.

As Clemson celebrates the accomplishments of women in sports, Taylor’s journey serves as a beacon of inspiration for all those who dare to dream. In the world of volleyball and beyond, Taylor’s commitment to empowering others is a reminder that the true impact of sports extends beyond the scoreboard, leaving an indelible mark on hearts and minds for generations to come. It’s about reminding young girls and women to relentlessly pursue excellence.