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The Reporter sits down with Coach Cindy Belt: A coach and inspiration for all seasons

Shelter Island School Volleyball Coach Cindy Belt has been awarded the title of Coach of the Year for League VII from the Suffolk County Volleyball Coaches Association.

No stranger to the honor, Ms. Belt has taken the top coaching prize three times  during her career. She has coached for 21 seasons at Shelter Island, starting as a volunteer for two seasons, was the junior varsity coach for three years, and just finished her 16th season leading the Blue and Gray varsity teams.

In addition to her coaching, Ms. Belt is a well-known Island figure for her work at Mashomack and for her articles in this newspaper.

The Reporter recently spoke with her and asked her about her challenges and rewards as a coach.

Ms. Belt keeps close in her memory the coaches she had in high school and college who were her inspiration to be a leader. She also expressed her desire to coach because it was a form of “paying it forward” from her incredible teachers and coaches who shaped her to strive always to be a better person and give back to her community.

“My volleyball coach at Cornell was Andrea Dutcher,” Ms. Belt said. “She helped mold me from a high school player into a college athlete, and gave me my life-long love of the sport. Her coaching philosophy of celebrating each individual’s contribution to the team, no matter what their role, and the belief that everyone can and will improve, is one I’ve embraced.”

She Ms. Dutcher are still close. “We visit regularly, most often when I’m in or passing through Ithaca,” Ms. Belt said. “There’s nothing like having a coach who believes in you to inspire you to become your best. It’s noteworthy that while I played for four years, it’s been 40 years since I graduated — how can that be! — and I have a life-long influence and friendship.”

Coaching at such a small school has its unique challenges. Ms. Belt acknowledged how busy Shelter Island students are in their day-to-day lives. She noted the many after-school activities provided by the district, such as the annual play, clubs, and other sports.

Another challenge Ms. Belt spoke about was convincing students who hadn’t played a sport before, or didn’t think they could be an athlete, to sign up and give volleyball a try. Even if they were at first awkward and un-schooled in technique, she added, the girls would learn, grow, and become a part of something bigger than themselves as a team. 

Inspiring girls and coaching volleyball is not easy, taking a lot of time, planning, and energy. Asked what keeps bringing her back to coach again each season, Ms. Belt responded, “I come back every year because there’s always a new mix of athletes in the gym.”

Because Shelter Island is a small community and school, it’s easy to monitor the girls’ progress as they move their way up from junior high to varsity, and being able to help someone grow more confident in themselves is fulfilling and rewarding every year.

Ms. Belt has become proficient in juggling all the requirements that come with work, family, and coaching, she said.

Something she suggests that everyone do is start their day by stepping outside and taking a walk as part of a self-care routine. Another strategy she employs is making a game plan.

She sits down with herself, clears her mind and plans out the day. And when it comes to volleyball practices, she writes up a practice plan in what her players have named “the legendary clipboard,” which she brings to every practice and every game. 

Congratulations to Ms. Belt on her third Coach of the Year award. Here’s hoping for many more.