Last week, Head Volleyball Coach Erica Rau, added another notable title to her list of accomplishments: she was elected as Division III Women’s Director for the American Volleyball Coaches Association. Rau already oversees the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and works as an assistant athletics director, the senior woman administrator, and the deputy Title IX coordinator for athletics.
“I hadn’t planned to run, but someone I really respect and admire asked me to,” Rau said.
Rau has been pleasantly surprised by the outpouring of respect and support from her colleagues, both during the election process and after the announcement.
In her new role, Rau will primarily act as a liaison between the AVCA Board of Directors and the Division III Head Coaches Committee — this means she will be responsible for speaking on behalf of the Division III Head Coaches Committee during the AVCA Board meetings, and planning professional development opportunities within the Division III Head Coaches Committee meetings.
She will bring a unique perspective to this position because of her experience as both an administrator and a coach.
“Although administration and coaching overlap, you have to wear very different hats in each role, and it is important to be able to switch those hats easily,” Rau said.
Since starting her career as a coach, Rau has always been passionate about empowering women in coaching. For her part, she is in her 10th season as the Head Coach for the Women’s Volleyball team and has taken her team to the North Coast Athletic Conference Tournament each season, mentoring many student-athletes to become all-conference selections.
“Women are still underrepresented in most athletic departments and women coaches are still leaving the profession at an alarming rate,” Rau said. “It is extremely important that all our athletes continue to see women leading in athletics.”
Rau would also like to see the Division III Head Coaches Committee focus more on anti-racism, inclusion, mental health, and current events in the future.
In the past, Rau has had success leading initiatives within the NCAC, like their conference-wide video encouraging voter participation — and getting full participation from the coaching group in donating towards the AVCA Diversity Award. This award will allow the NCAC coaches to choose someone from an underrepresented group to attend the AVCA Convention.
“We were one of the only D III conferences to achieve voter participation,” she said. “It was heavily dominated by Division I, and I think I could be successful at pushing out initiatives like these on a more national level and getting greater participation. It’s really powerful when you can bring a big group together towards a common goal.”
Rau also feels that many of the amazing volleyball coaches out there put the majority of their time into the volleyball aspect of the job, but that the sport itself isn’t the only important part of being a coach. She believes that coaches need to be comfortable having and leading tough conversations with their teams.
“I don’t think coaches always realize how much their players are going through on a daily basis, and it is important that we are equipped to discuss everything with our players,” she said.
Rau says that her experience at Oberlin has helped her become comfortable with being uncomfortable, which has made her a better coach overall. Lauren Fitts, a College third-year on the Women’s Volleyball team, affirmed that Coach Rau is always ready to discuss things with her team.
“Erica does a really good job of checking in on everyone and creating a safe space,” Fitts said. “Whether it’s just dropping in to catch up or talking about important things going on in my life, I know that her door is always open and that she genuinely cares.”
College third-year volleyball player and All-NCAC Second Team selection Emery Beacom highlighted Rau’s efforts to be a supportive and successful coach off the court, too.
“Erica has always been super understanding and supportive throughout my time at Oberlin, but I think it’s become particularly apparent since the pandemic began,” said Beacom. “The current circumstances make it really hard to commit to anything and she has been nothing but compassionate of my individual situation, offering honest advice, asking the right questions, and checking up on me when needed.”
As one of her players, I can attest to this. No coach has ever made me feel more welcome, while pushing me out of my comfort zone at the same time. Coach Rau has been able to facilitate dialogue within our team that not only helps us on the court and as athletes/players, but off the court as human beings and friends.
“I’d like to help other coaches feel more confident tackling issues outside of volleyball,” Rau said. I and my team have full confidence she will be able to achieve this and more.