Volleyball coach finds joy drawing Christmas cards

Volleyball coach Jesse Zabal hand draws Christmas cards for friends and family. Art and creativity are an important outlet for her. Courtesy of Jesse Zabal

Volleyball coach Jesse Zabal hand draws Christmas cards for friends and family. Art and creativity are an important outlet for her. Courtesy of Jesse Zabal

Brendan Heffernan

While she earns her living in locker rooms and gymnasiums, Loyola head volleyball coach Jesse Zabal says that art has always been a huge part of how she says, “I love you.”

“It definitely is a huge part of how I interact with people I care about,” Zabal said. “It’s really important for me to show my love for people by thinking of really creative things that pertain specifically to them.”

For the last few years, Zabal has been focusing her creativity in a special way during the holiday season. Zabal designs hand-drawn Christmas cards for her friends and family, often featuring symbols of happy memories in her designs.

“I posted something on my social media and it just said, ‘Hey, who wants me to send you a Christmas card this year?’ and that’s how it started,” Zabal said. “I got some plain card stock paper, and I designed different cards for everyone. I either take something that’s an inside joke or something that I know that person really loves, and then I incorporate some kind of Christmas greeting into it.”

Zabal remembers designing a card for her best friend one year that centered around the pair’s favorite way to cheer each other up.

“We love coffee and cupcakes and if we know we’ve had a bad week, we’ll send each other one of those electronic gift cards for Starbucks, or we’ll send little treats in the mail, that kind of thing,” Zabal said. “One year, I remember the card that I made for her was two little Starbucks coffee cups, and I think it said, ‘Coffee and Christmas Cheer,’ or something like that.”

Zabal says that because she’s a college volleyball coach, most people don’t expect her to find joy in being creative as much as she does.

“I’ve always loved art and music and everything like that,” Zabal said. “With coaching volleyball, you don’t use that very much, so it ends up being therapeutic for me to create stuff.”

Another creative outlet for Zabal is managing all of the volleyball team’s social media accounts.

“During the day sometimes, if I want to get away from staring at my computer and staring at my email inbox, I’m like ‘Let me work on some social media content,'” Zabal said. “It’s kind of like an escape, and it’s fun for me to do that kind of stuff.”

While Zabal said she might consider adding hand-drawn greeting cards to her bag of recruiting tricks, none of her current players know about her holiday tradition.

“I don’t think they’d necessarily be surprised, but I think a few would be like, ‘Why don’t you send me one!?'” Zabal said. “There are a couple of kids on our team that are pretty artistic and creative. One of them in particular, Brittany Cooper, has made some phenomenal gifts for our seniors the past couple of years like watercolor paintings or hand-painted posters, so I think she would appreciate that I do things along that same vein.”

One thing that makes sending Christmas cards special for Zabal is the chance to send her loved ones a message that goes beyond the standard social media greeting.

“I’m just a huge fan of snail mail,” Zabal said. “I just try to be as creative as possible and send some joy through the mail during the holidays.”