Friday, September 15, 2017

"Let 'em go..."

If you don't follow Men's volleyball very closely, you haven't heard of Pete Hanson.

And while you are missing out on one of our profession's best resources, he's probably just fine with that.

Humility defined, Hanson is heading into his 34th season as coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes. He is coming off two National Championships, both sweeps over talented BYU teams. 

As his trophy case continues to overflow, he side steps questions about himself and deflects credit and praise to his athletes. Hanson is beloved by his guys and in the Coaching world for his candor and his ability to change his sails depending upon the wind of his current team. At the moment, as his opponent's will tell you, it is a hurricane.

Hanson, has taken the guesswork out of serving. "Let 'em go!" is his mantra and his team has responded. OSU's opponents find themselves out of system much of their matches a direct result of the Buckeye's onslaught from the service line, a factor Hanson correlates with his team's recent Championship success.

To read more about Hanson, click here. But please enjoy this 30 minute chat with one of the country's premiere Coaches in any sport.

Thursday, August 31, 2017


She stood off to the corner. At 5-9, this freshman looked strong and capable but she was standing away from the court, as if scared of the speed of the game and the off chance the ball might come to her. She was new, she was the tallest girl on the freshman court and no one knew anything about her. One of the girls on the court asked her to play. She sauntered uneasily to the service line, drew back and piloted the ball from an underhand fist toward the other side of the net. It landed in the bottom of the net. Some of the girls on the court rolled their eyes, others snickered. The tall freshman moseyed back off the court, defeated and embarrassed.

Sometimes it’s hard to see the finished product in a snapshot.

In 1946, a man by the name of Korczak Ziolkowski was commissioned by a Lakota Elder, Henry Standing Bear to build a monument in the side of a South Dakota mountain known as Thunderhead, sacred to the Oglata Lakota tribe. Standing Bear wasn’t comfortable having four American presidents staring down at his people. Just 17 miles from Thunderhead lies Mount Rushmore, and Ziolkowski worked on that project years before. 

He accepted Standing Bear’s offer and after two years of building a house, water lines and a way up to the mountain, Korczak officially began in 1948 to build a monument of epic proportion to the Lakota Chief Crazy Horse. 

He had learned a lot on the Rushmore site and wanted no government money or interference. (Korczak twice turned down multimillion dollar government offers to help fund the project) He started with $174 at the age of 40, buying used equipment and selling other sculptures he crafted during the winter and rainy months. His vision coming to fruition, he struggled with all the little things in a project you can’t see in a snapshot. He averaged only 5 working months a year of full time drilling, exploding and sculpting working around the weather. Sometimes the drills would break, equipment would go bad. At one point, he created his own cable car made of a box he nailed together strung precariously on cables he set into the monument.

Ziolkowski built a 741 staircase to the top of the mountain and bought a 24 year old generator and constructed 2,440 feet of piping to help him drill into the rock to set the dynamite and coring and chiseling he needed to do. The generator would often stall and Korczak would have to descend the staircase, start the generator back up and climb back up. One day, he was up and down 9 times. (13,338 steps in just one day!) As perhaps a joke or maybe documentation, for a while he had a sign on the mountain that simple said, “Slow. Man at Work.”

Undeterred, he continued on. He divorced and married on the project and found time to have 10 kids, one of which he delivered himself. The family continued work on the sculpture and built a tourist friendly museum to see the progress and learn more about Crazy Horse. When the face began to take its final shape, he had to blast a hole through the middle of the mountain and not disrupt what was above. That alone took three summers. 

Korczak’s vision was of the Chief riding his horse, hair and mane blowing behind them and Crazy Horse pointing forward. The Chief, who was never photographed and died in Nebraska at the hands of the US Cavalry in May of 1877, once said he had no home, that “My home lies where my dead are buried.” Ziolkowski’s vision was Crazy Horse’s remark; explaining why the Chief is pointing out into the Black Hills of South Dakota. 

Her name was Hannah and she was in the middle of a divorce and living with her Dad. She had played volleyball in the 7th and 8th grade but the teams were, by her admission, not very good and she didn’t learn much from the coaches. She didn’t know anyone at this new school and it showed in her lack of confidence and body language. Her underhand serve, as it is with many high school coaches, was as good a reason as any to cut her and be done. But this coach saw something in this project and worked with her. She resisted often, not wanting to come out of her comfort zone. She didn’t want to do approaches, she just wanted to hit. She wanted to hold her passing hands the way she did in 8th grade. Why couldn’t she underhand serve? When one skill was too tough, she asked to do another. Some of the girls became frustrated with her even more. In a competitive drill, she was the outcast no one wanted. Many water breaks, with the girls doing a cheer, Hannah would lag back, not wanting to be the girl everyone was whispering about.

But a couple of the girls- perhaps realizing she could one day be a valuable asset to the team in the future- started to help her. Hannah came in early the second morning to work on her overhand serve and it got better. She came back early from lunch, stayed after camp. She started to do her approach and the timing started to click. On the third day, she came in again and launched a serve 30 feet, ½ inch and it crawled over the net for what would have been an ace. Hannah’s arm shot up in the air, as big a gesture as her smile was.

Korczak Zioklowski spent the next 34 years making his vision a reality. He died in 1982 at the age of 74 and his wife and children promptly picked up the vision and continued his work. To this day, the visage of Chief Crazy Horse can be seen heading north on state route 385. Of course tours and closer looks are available in the monument’s visitor’s center, run by the Zioklowski family.

Before he died, Korczak said in an interview, “When the legends die, the dreams end. And when the dreams end, there is no more greatness.” He always called himself a “storyteller in stone,” a title he relished. He is buried somewhere on the site of his life’s work; he wanted his remains to be unknown like those of the mountainous Chief he spent his life honoring. 

Korczak’s Crazy Horse is jarring in its scope. His head measures 87 feet high. For a dose of perspective, the president’s heads on Mt. Rushmore are 60 feet tall. When all finished, which one tour guide suggested was probably within the next 50 years, the Chief from flowing hair to the tip of his finger will measure 641 feet and a height of 563 feet. Zioklowski’s project never wavered in its possibility or its necessity and it continues today.

And tomorrow…

Hannah spent four days at camp. She went from unskilled and cautious to a player not just better but more confidant and one that enjoyed her teammates and the game more. Will she ever become an All-State player? At this point, no one can say. We do know that if the coach had seen this project based on her snapshot on day one, she’d been jettisoned: left to float into the sea of all the others we let go because as coaches we lack the vision, the patience or the work ethic to see what’s past that snapshot.

Drills and bits, dynamite and explosives, patience and a kind word, some extra time or just an idea of what they can be, projects are built and defined by more than just the first snapshot we take. We work, and look a little deeper…

“Beauty can be seen in all things. Seeing and composing the beauty is what separates the snapshot from the photograph.” –Matt Hardy

Sunday, July 30, 2017

"If you can't say anything nice...."

Travel the coaching journey for many miles and you hear stories, from players, former and current.

(In total paraphraseology…)

“Holly, you are never going to be a setter. You aren’t fast enough and your hands are terrible.”

(She was 12)

“Chandler, if you are playing soccer for your high school during club season, you aren’t an athlete.”

(She was 15)

“Chandler, you only played one year of club and you can’t pass.”

(She was a college freshman)

“Landon, you will never be a setter or a hitter. Just go pass.”

(She was 14)

“Adrianna, you aren’t tall enough to be a hitter.”

(She was 15)

“Ashley, you will never play back row.”

(She was 15)

“Mac, you are too big boned to get to the ball. Love your hands but you aren’t fast enough to set.”

(She was 16)

These are examples of bloviating Coaches who put walls up on young athletes, in most cases before they are grown, out of puberty or have played the game very long.


Is it to show the level of internal expertise they think they may have? Is it to nudge a player into the direction that best fits their club team and program? Is it just a need for the coach to flex their ego?

Tough to say but there are enough walls in adolescence for young athletes, especially young women.

Holly went on to set for her college team.

Chandler is now the starting libero for her college team having set dig records her junior year.

Landon will start her college career this season after being named her state’s player of the year….as an outside hitter.

Adrianna will be starting her junior season with her high level high school team…as their OH1.

Ashley, at 6-1, played back row her final year of club.

Mac will be the starting setter on her high school team this season as a senior.

Too slow, bad hands, not tall enough, too ‘big’, can’t pass, can’t hit, can’t set, can’t block…..

We seem to forget one thing in this equation.

We are coaches. We should be helping them get faster, better hands, better passers, better attackers and better blockers. Why do we just look at an athlete and think this is the finished product and their entire career is based on how that club coach or high school coach or club director sees them at that moment?

Our mothers used to tell us the old adage, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything.”

Coaches need to take this to heart. Don’t tell your athletes what they can’t do, lead and coach them to what they can do.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

High heels...

It is a small sorority.

Women coaching Men's collegiate volleyball. You can count on one hand the coaches that fit this bill. It is a daunting task with so many eyes and opinions on everything you do.

Add to that coaching the Women's collegiate program at the same school.

Oh yea... your two kids and a personal life to balance.

Nickie Sanlin, the head coach of the volleyball programs at McKendree University  in Lebanon, Illinois, does just that. Every day. At one time, she was also coaching club in the St. Louis area and continues working summers with USA Volleyball, coaching High Performance and Junior National teams. 

In this 30 minutes interview, Coach Sanlin talks about her volleyball career as both a player and a coach, the influences in her life, how she manages her time and commitments and answers the big question from the front line: What IS the difference between coaching men and women?

Enjoy this interview with Coach Sanlin.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

"Caught the bug...."

The University of Arizona hired Steve Walker to lead the unknown. A beach volleyball program in the desert. Since his hiring in 2013 and 4 years of PAC-12 competition, Walker has seen his program rise from an unknown to one of the elite programs in the country.

Last season, Walker's Wildcats earned their first 20 win season and their coach the PAC-12 Coach of the Year. He has helped guide several players toward the pairs championships in the last few seasons including Madison and McKenna Witt. As the sport continues to climb, Walker talks about his past, the beginnings of the Wildcat Beach program and where the sport is going.

He also offers up sage advice for those that think coaching Beach volleyball is an easy gig.

Monday, April 17, 2017

"Shrimp tails...."

Lifelong Learner. That's a phrase tossed around like shrimp tails at a Benihanas. What is a lifelong learner and are they actually?

Lifelong learner is a student for life. They still get spring break off and they might blow off reading that chapter for a quick coffee with friends. But lifelong learners figure out, in their own way, in their own time frame what works for them to continue to learn more about what they are passionate about. In our case, volleyball, our athletes and coaching.

Lifelong learning has to be the comfortable jeans you slide on and feel good in. They can't be too constricting, too uncomfortable. Sometimes it's something that by pure accident you come upon and share. It's a tiny light that is always on, waiting to glow a little brighter. 

Follow the path below and perhaps some of these articles, videos and podcasts will get you to think a little bit more about the coach you want to be, the way you want your team to play and the way we want our sport represented. In no particular order and following a recommendation of several, please enjoy the following. 

The Secret to Coaching Success: How Long Is A Piece Of String? by Wayne Goldsmith.

Emotional Agility by Susan David and Christina Congleton.

How I stopped Dealing with Parents by Nate Sanderson

Growing the Love of a Game blog.

The Perception and Action podcast hosted by Rob Gray. 

Echoes beyond the game: the lasting power of a coach's words by Coach Reed. 

Regression to the Mean, or Why Perfection rarely Lasts by Adrian Barnett.

Derek Sivers Book Notes: where an Internet billionaire has jotted down the notes of the last 200 books he's read. Ones that you might pay particular attention to are Daniel Khaneman's "Thinking Fast and Slow" and "Ego is the enemy" by Ryan Holiday.

The Max Potential Playbook by Reid Priddy.

The Headwinds Paradox, or why we all feel like Victims by Jonah Lehrer. 

4 Career Lessons Bill Belichek wants all Millennials to Know, (Including his own kids) bySuzy Welch. (Watch the accompanying video too!)

Why Facts don't Change Our Minds by Elizabeth Kolbert

Coach your Brains Out podcast. Recently guests have included Hugh McCutcheon, Andrea Becker, Tom Black, Reid Priddy and John Dunning. It is hosted by John Mayer, Billy Allen, Andrew Fuller and Nils Neilson

How to get better at the things you care about by Eduardo Briceno.

A Note to my Fellow Working Moms as I near the End of My Life by Rachel Huff

The Confidence Gap by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman

To Raise Brave Girls, Encourage Adventure by Caroline Paul. 

Why Young Girls don't think they are Smart Enough by Andrei Cimpian and Sarah-Jane Leslie

The Sitting Happens podcast hosted by Jon Aharoni and Dan Mickle. 

Tell us what you listen to, watch or read and help us continue our lifelong learning. We appreciate any and all feedback always and look forward to yours. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

There ARE little things....

For nearly every other day during the two weeks of the 2016 Rio Olympics in Brazil, on the sidelines of the Ginasio do Maracanazinho in Maracana, Mike Wall took his seat as the Assistant Coach of the USA Men's Olympic squad and watched the previous four years of work, research and instruction unfold before him. It's a long two weeks, one that drains everyone involved to the last drop each day, requiring a prodigious revitalization of both body and spirit. 

There are no off days in the Olympic Games.

Mike has signed on for another quad and will be one of John Speraw's confidantes through Tokyo 2020. In this exclusive interview with the Arizona Region, Wall talks about his beginnigs with the sport, his Hall-of-Fame Coaches and what he took from them, his work with Gold Medal Squared and his recollections of the Bronze Medal winning Men's team from last summer.