Getting to know Salima Rockwell
June 9, 2009
AUSTIN, Texas -- Salima Rockwell almost defines the term player's coach.
She was a three-time All-America setter for Penn State from 1991-94 and captained the USA National Team in 1997 and 1998 as the team's starting setting both years. And for the past two seasons, Rockwell was an assistant coach with the Nittany Lions as they won back-to-back national titles.
Now, Rockwell brings her unique perspective as player and coach to the Texas Longhorns, and TexasSports.com recently talked with Rockwell about her role at UT.
Well, there's the obvious question -- why Texas? Texas is one of the top programs in the country. I've known Jerritt (Elliott) for many, many years. So the comfort level was there. I played at Penn State, and coached at Penn State, and I was excited to see change and something different. I knew what I knew, but I wanted to see how another top program does it. It was the hardest move I've ever had to make in my life. It was very trying, but it's been a great one. Once I talked more to Jerritt, and really learned how he ran his program, and once I came down here and saw it, it became clear what I thought my family needed to do.
How do you think your personality fits on the coaching staff? It's actually a really good balance. We all get along. The best thing about Jerritt is that he wants to win, so he's very open to ideas and suggestions. I like that. For me, I can be the mom on the team, or the buffer, because it's tough on this level. Sometimes girls need that, and with my experience, I have a lot to offer. I think it helps the girls knowing that I've been through exactly what they're going through. I get it, and this is what I think it takes to win. It's a good dynamic in that way.
How do you balance expectations and empathy in your coaching style? Usually, as long as they understand that you get it, you can say whatever you need, and then they'll buy in. The girls can say what they want to say, and vent without judgment, and then I can come back and say, "OK, here's the reality of it." And it's not taken in a bad way. They all want to know how to overcome, and be better at something, and my perspective is that it's fine and be upset, but you also have to move forward.
Coming from a program that's been at the top, you're now at a program that is literally knocking at the door. How do you adjust? Actually, when I got to Penn State, we were almost exactly in the same position (as Texas is now). My first year there we lost in the regional final -- kind of right on the cusp. It's a paralleled situation, because the girls at Texas have that taste of what it's like to get there. They can feel it. It's right there. I don't have all the answers, but I was recently through that process of getting to the next level. If I can add any value, or use anything from my experiences, it's to teach these girls what it takes to be mentally tough to take that next step.