For some beach volleyball is peculiar sport to get involved in. What drew you to the sport and what makes it stand out for you compared to other sports?
I fell in love with volleyball at the age of 12 when I was playing in my mixed schools team. At the time I thought it was fantastic that I could play with and compete against the boys at my school. Volleyball became my passion and I gave away the other 2 sports I had been playing. At the age of 16 I had a knee injury and as rehabilitation started back on the beach as the surface is a little softer on the joints. I became completely inspired by the game that allowed so much freedom for athletes and independence ( only 2 players on court ).
A lot of people might not know but before you coached you were a player yourself and a pretty good one at that! What was your biggest achievement as a player?
I did play for many years on indoor state representative teams and then on the National Tour for Beach volleyball and a few tours internationally. I have a cupboard full of medal and trophies from my junior age group championship days but one of my favourite achievements was being voted best defender in the state at one of the annual awards nights.
Looking back now with numerous experience as a player and a coach, were you two different people, or is the coach you are today still the same person with the same mindset you were as a competitive player?
I only wish I knew all that I know now as a coach when I was still competing! No I am definitely a very different person due to the experiences and knowledge base that I have gained over the last 10 years. I think though that I’m still as competitive now when I play and I always have been.
Unlike other sports beach volleyball so heavily dependent on the relationship between two individuals both on and off the court. Does your experience as a player allow you to better sync two individuals as a coach?
I actually think that different trainings and education off the court I have undertaken allows me to better understand my players and different peoples perspectives. I have spent a lot of time studying human behaviours such as mindset, motivation, chaos management , leadership qualities and personality profiling.
What inspired you to move to a coaching role and move away from playing at an elite level?
It was less inspiration but an unfortunate event which really spurred me to take on a coaching role. At the age of 22 I suffered my a life threatening and career ending blood clot near my heart. I was very lucky to survive however the management and treatment meant that I could no longer compete ( at least in the foreseeable future). I was lucky enough however to be contacted by the then Olympic Gold medal winning coach who offered me an alternative career in coaching. His generosity with his time and knowledge based formed a 4 year mentorship which would take me onto the professional Circuit at age 24 as a full time coach.
For you, how much of coaching is physical development and how much is mental development? Is it balanced or do you see one outweighing the other?
Both are completely necessary to be successful at the elite level. Mental development must be weaved into each and every training session and although there are not as many specific “mental training sessions per week as physical , there are very few training sessions which go by that the athletes are not pushed to grow and develop in a mental capacity.
Often these are present underlying themes of weeks are areas for improvement or incased self awareness and mental management. It is somewhat a catch 22 , you cannot get to the top without being physically competitive with your peers , but you will not win at the top without being mentally resilient and skilful.
One of your first major roles was being the head coach of the Vanuatu National Team. Can you describe what that was like coaching in a developing nation such as Vanuatu that often may not have the sports resources allocated that a country like Australia does?
The role in Vanuatu was one which I am very grateful for. I had to learn to be very creative and resilient to challenge and balance elite performance with social change goals and fund raising! The resources were available if you were creative enough but it was definitely a very different experience to working in a developed sporting nation like we have here in Australia.
That Vanuatu program achieved fantastic success under you and after thanks to your coaching. Was it hard to knock them out in the Olympic Qualifiers in Cairns?
Yes , it was a very bitter sweet moment for me but one of pure joy when I sat down to watch the final between the team I had poured the last 3 years of my life into for Australia , and the one I spent 5 years creating. I got to watch the best of my work battle it out for a place at the olympic games where I had given everything I could and the rest was up to the players to perform on the day.
I think although I was very connected to my team in Vanuatu , I was very proud of the way the Aussie girls competed on the day in Cairns, they truly earnt their Olympic spot by simply applying everything we had ben working on in the months leading and applying all the pressure management mental skills they had been working so hard on. On the day we earned the spot.
Can you describe the feeling when you qualified for the Olympics? Has anything compared to that so far being a coach or player?
Words absolutely cannot describe. Pure elation, nothing has thus far compared.
What was the feeling going into RIO in 2016, and what were your goals for the team and as an individual, did you change your usual mindset to prepare for something with that kind of scale and importance or did you stay with your usual routines?
No the mindset remained the same. The team went into the event to continue to grow their game and give their best possible performances. Being such a young team, their experience at the games will be invaluable in the years and their performances to come. If anything I think the games reinforced the importance of maintenance of routines.
Usually we see coaches inspiring players. However we don’t often here about who inspires the coaches. Have you had any influential coaches, role models or mentors throughout your career whose words or actions have stuck with you
I seek the best in those around me so I’m inspired by those traits and actions I want to emulate myself , regardless of what that persons area of expertise is. As I mentioned previously I was very Luck to first be inspired and then tutored by the belief, knowledge and generosity of 4 time Olympic coach Steve Anderson as my first mentor. I studied legendary John Wooden when I was first beginning but these days I seek my inspiration more from great leaders in any capacity both within and external to sport.
What’s next for Lauren Soderberg in her beach volleyball coaching career?
Good Question! I have just currently completed my last National Team camp as I am preparing to go on maternity leave later this year!
So I’m stepping back into two areas which I am very passionate about one which is Sport for Change including: women in sport and leadership, using sport in developing countries to create positive social outcomes including anti domestic violence and avoiding risky behaviours.
The second area is Coach development and education. I am very passionate about assisting young or developing coaches to get quality information and mentorship like I was fortunate enough to receive.
For the aspiring players and coaches out there on the sand do you have any advice, words of wisdom on what it takes to make it to the professional level and represent your country at an Olympic games?
Firstly and above all else follow your passion , then ensure that you have the level of commitment required. Often it is not the most talented but the most resilient who will be successful in the end. Lastly you must believe anything is possible. Im a big fan of the quote “The man who says it can’t be done should get out of the way of the person doing it”.