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West Point’s Women’s Volleyball Team – Choosing Integrity

“I always believed we needed to do the harder right.” – Bob Gambardella

In the early 1980’s, women at West Point were still a cultural innovation. Along with taking part in military training and academics, the traditionally all-male school began women’s intercollegiate athletics. The Army women’s volleyball team was coached by Bob Gambardella. Under Coach Gambardella’s leadership, the volleyball team set a standard in Integrity and sportsmanship for everyone they played against.

At one point, Coach Gambardella and my father, The General, were discussing how volleyball had changed through the years. One thing which had been lost was an expectation and the habit of calling “I touch” on yourselves. This was one of the hardest calls for a referee to make. Why? Because they could not always see if a blocker’s finger tips had touched the volleyball after a hitter attempted to put the ball away for a kill.

The ball moves so fast. It may or may not change direction according the naked eye. The only person who truly knows if they touched the ball or not—is the blocker.

The habit and expectation was for a blocker to raise their hand and state “I touch” if the ball deflected off her hand and went out of bounds. But, as happens in so many sports, this expectation died off by the mid 1980’s.

West Point, however, is a different place. There is an expectation for all cadets and staff to exercise Integrity in all things and in all circumstances, even sports. It was their Duty and Integrity to uphold three prominent and memorable statements:

  • The Honor Code: A cadet will not lie, cheat, or steal nor tolerate those who do.

  • The First Rule of Thumb: Does this action deceive or allow anyone to be deceived.

  • The Cadet Prayer: Help us choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong….

After reminding the team of the standard, Coach Gambardella decided calling “I touch” was an issue of Integrity for the team. As a result, the West Point Women’s Volleyball team began to call “I touch” during their matches.

At first the referees didn’t know what to do. In fact, some referees didn’t like the fact players would overrule a call. Yet, another interesting thing happened. Soon the teams on the other side of the net began to call “I touch” on themselves as well. Both teams began to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong.

Imagine if Integrity was more important than winning. What would happen if it became the norm again in our athletic programs? What could our children learn and what type of impact could sports have on upcoming generations?

Instead of cheating, allowing others to be deceived or choosing the easier wrong—we would have a generation who understood how to win without compromising their Integrity.

The women at West Point in those early years were cultural trailblazers. They set an example for all of us, that both genders are wholly capable of serving as leaders in our military. They also set an example when they were willing to give up a point in a volleyball match, all while keeping their Integrity.

Do you know who else won too? The leader. Coach Bob Gambardella went on to take influential roles with USA Volleyball and the United States Olympic Committee. Why am I not surprised? Because the power of Integrity is contagious and powerful.

Dig Deep Questions:

  • When could you exercise Integrity when others do not?

  • What happens when people see a team who has unquestioned Integrity?


Taking responsibility and exercising Integrity is a lifelong journey for not only you, but your team. We want to partner with you as you make Integrity part of your organizational culture. When it comes to remembering the definition of Integrity, let us help to make it easy to keep it visible.

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