Monday, May 28, 2018

"Black magic...!"

In this final installment of a special 3 part blog series, the Arizona Region talks to Sarah Sponcil after one of the most impressive weeks in a volleyball player's life!


Sarah had helped her UCLA bruins with the NCAA Beach Volleyball Championship, setting the championship ball for the win! A week later, she is teaming with Lauren Fendrick and this brand new upstart team gets to the finals in the AVP Austin before dropping a nail biter to April Ross and Alix Klineman.


Sponcil talks about the future Hall of Fame line up of coaches that have helped guide her as an indoor and outdoor player AND as a human being facing her future.


Enjoy this wonderful interview with one of Arizona's most decorated and notable players of all time.

"There's no gray area..."

In this special 2 part of a three part series, the Region interviews J.T. Hatch after his stellar career at UCLA and his appearance in the NCAA Men's National Championship match on May 5th. 


Hatch talks about his career where he attacked and played libero for the Bruins but most of all talks about his coach, John Speraw, (who also coaches the U.S. Men's National team) and offers insights into his coaching philosophies and decisions.


Hatch opens up on Speraw as the coach, the master tactician and the teacher. Enjoy this half an hour interview with one of Arizona's greatest men's players of all time.

"A lot of dreams can be crushed here, a lot of hearts can be broken....."

This is the first of a very special 3 part series for coaches, players and volleyball fans.

Part one is a half an hour interview with one of the most decorated and celebrated players in Arizona volleyball history: Madi Kingdon.



Madi talks about her record setting night where she scored 57 points in ONE match playing in South Korea. She also talks about her coaches along the way and what they taught her and what it takes to be asked and play in the hyper competitive gym of the U.S. Women's National team.

It should be noted that Madi did this interview with the Region in the early afternoon on May 7th and found out just a few hours later that she had NOT been on the final roster for the U.S. Women's National team entry into the FIVB Volleyball Nations League. Asked if she wanted to not go forward in publishing the interview, she said no, run it. "I need to get better."



Enjoy this insight into the world of Professional Women's volleyball, the National team and what it takes from coaches and players to get there.


Saturday, March 17, 2018

...Tiny keypads...

It's around our sport like oxygen. We talk about it, even yell about it. We use it, forget about it, urge others to find it and at times, say it's too much. The perfect balance may be unattainable, but we continue to search it out.

We are talking about communication. Coach to player, player to player, coach to parent; it never ends. Listen to coaches that are great communicators and you realize just how valuable a tool it can be.
Coaches that are in the ocean of life long learning, how can we as humans not continue to get better communicating with each other? And yet, with the advent of the cell phone, our communication skills have deteriorated as a society. Face to face has been replaced by text to text or e mail. Sticky subjects are handled awkwardly on tiny keypads as recipients read emotion into small letters on the 4" screens in their palms. How is this considered communication?

Watching this video, it's hard not to see how our communication or more importantly, our lack of it, has contributed to some of the ills of society. Recently, England appointed a Minister of Loneliness! Think about this for a second...loneliness has become such a social ill that the English Parliament made an office just for loneliness!

As coaches, how can we get better at this skill? Recently we came across a few resources that might help.

Julian Treasure's TED talk called, "How to speak to that people want to listen."

Along those same lines, check out Celeste Headlee's TED talk entitled, "10 Ways to have a better conversation."

Finally, one of our favorite coaching resources, Simon Sinek put out an article of his own on why leaders should talk LAST!

In the never ending coaching quest to be better tomorrow, can you pick up one communication skill today to get better at? Can we become better at HOW we talk to our team...WHEN we talk to them and even WHAT we talk to them about? Maybe even most importantly, can we become better listeners?

Put out phones down, look our athletes in the eyes and give them the attention they deserve? Nothing drives coaches more insane and annoyed when athletes don't look us in the eye? Turn their heads and look away? Look down or have their attention stolen by the smallest of things? It's maddening.

But are they to blame? Go to dinner and look at the restaurant patrons? How many adults are on their phones while their kids are on theirs or just sitting there? How many times has an athlete of yours wanted to talk to you but you were looking at your missed calls, texts and tweets while they talked to you? Don't they deserve the same consideration you are asking of them?

Friday, February 23, 2018

Four Freshmen...

In this special audio blog, we interviewed four freshmen and asked them questions. What was the best and worst part of their seasons, what surprised them, what would they like to tell their coaches and most importantly, what would they tell NEW freshmen coming into the collegiate volleyball world.

The Region appreciates the time these four young women took for this project and we hope you enjoy this 17 minute accounting of four different freshmen, in four different situations with many of the same thoughts and insights.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

"Day 1, Change The World..."

“You always have a culture so you might as well be intentional with it.” –John O’Sullivan

O’Sullivan is the host of the wonderful podcast “Way of Champions” and he also started a little venture known as “The Change the Game Project” which if you are coaching youth sports and are unaware of this, you are behind. His point is well taken. No matter where we work, train, live, there is a culture. Sometimes great, sometimes toxic.

What is your culture?

In a wonderful new book from Karen Crouse, she investigates why a tiny town in Vermont, “Norwich” has produced 11 Olympic athletes in a population of just under 3,500. That is roughly one Olympian for every 322 people in the town. How is this possible?

Culture seems to be a big part of its success. This is a town that doesn’t cut kids from sports, offers up and encourages kids to try lots of different sports, both winter AND summer. The Parents aren’t overbearing and focused on wins and losses. The allow their kids to be in charge of their own sports experience and let them fail and learn from those experiences. And most times, when Olympic careers are done, athletes come back to Norwich to train the next generation of Olympians because of their fond memories growing up.

The San Antonio Spurs recently came into Phoenix and handed them a lopsided beat down. This statistic was in the Pre Game notes of that game: Since 1997, how many days have the Spurs had a losing record? (20 years by the way)

Giving you a hint, #5 on that list is the Utah Jazz with 1,005 days. Number 4 is the L.A. Lakers at 969, #3 is the Dallas Mavericks with 867 and #2 is the Houston Rockets at 856.

The San Antonio Spurs?
48 days.

Coach Gregg Popovich is one of the subjects of a new book from Daniel Coyle called, “The Culture Code.” Coyle examines the reasons why Popovich has had such a remarkable stability of success the last 20 years. Some will say he’s had superior talent, but other teams have had superior talent and not been as successful as long. What is his secret?

Coyle talks about three big parts of a culture in his book. Boosting safety: are your workers or in our case, athletes feeling safe? Is the environment a good one to learn and flourish or is it filled with negativity, little chance to redeem yourself after a bad play, punishments for mistakes and losses?

(Simon Sinek has a TED talk on this phenomenon that every coach should watch)

The second part of a strong culture is getting vulnerable and staying vulnerable: can you as a leader let your team know that you aren’t perfect, you make mistakes and pass that vulnerability onto them? The connection at that point is substantial.

The third trait Coyle talks about is seeking, finding and sharing resonant stories: Can you and your athletes share stories about your season that can build culture? A good win or even a bad loss might put a point home. Is there a catch phrase or a sport quote you and your team use to help define your team’s culture and ideals?

One senior at a DI school this year was talking about her team’s culture. She talked about the coaches yelling, negativity and hurtful sarcasm in practices, the one mistake in a match that would get a player pulled, the way the 'star' players were treated and given special treatment, including not practicing if they “didn’t feel like it.” Her senior season was everything she had hoped it wouldn’t be as the team with promise and hope floundered and spiraled into a losing and toxic season. To make matters worse, the standout that was given special treatment left the program right after.

“We can all celebrate ‘culture’ as a cornerstone of success. Not everyone can identify nor instill a successful culture. It’s hard. You never arrive. It’s something that you work at every day.”

Those thoughts are from current Arkansas Head Coach Jason Watson who recalled his inaugural practice at ASU when he was first given the job 10 years ago. “We had to change the culture right away. A better culture would permit us to recruit the type of athletes we wanted to coach. Macey Gardner, Whitney Follette and Bree Bailey for example don’t come to ASU if we had the same culture we had in 2008. arena The whiteboard at ASU was without its wheels when I arrived for our first practice. The graduating seniors had ‘stolen’ them. I wanted the wheels back and asked the team to find them. One player said, ‘The Seniors have them’. ‘Great,’ I said, ‘Go get the wheels from them or spend every day running every set of stairs in Wells Fargo arena until they are back on my whiteboard.” One of the underclassmen got them back within 24 hours. That was a pretty sure sign that the culture was a mess. Of course some of the returning athletes, who may have been victimized by the outgoing senior class, felt it was their turn to ‘pay it forward’ to the underclassmen and even the coaching staff.” Watson’s solution: “Day 1 - Change the World. Day 2 - see Day 1.”

When was the last time you held a mirror up to your coaching culture? What about you as a Club Director? What is the culture of your club? As O’Sullivan points out, if it’s there already, why shouldn’t we be intentional about it? What do you like about your culture? What don’t you like? Maybe more importantly, ask your athletes and maybe even parents the same question. Is it too late to change this season?

“Your culture is something that you always work on.” Watson says. “I think we all recognize that. Also, I think coaches should take some time to examine and reflect on where they are at as a coach and what they can change. You also have to have the courage to change; the courage to get in front of your team, be vulnerable, and admit the need to change. I think that’s what happened on our program’s turnaround. Perhaps it was the next evolution of our culture or me as a coach. Perhaps losing sucks and why not make this change. Perhaps the athletes we coach today wish for a partnership/collaboration relationship with their coach. Perhaps I’m afraid of being one of those coaches that can’t change; that are resistant to change and therefore get spit out of the coaching profession and end up working at Dick’s Sporting Goods.”

Perhaps, since it's there already…it’s worth a look.

Monday, February 12, 2018

"That restless spark..."

It started as many rabbit holes do. A coaching article, a book, a podcast and then a casual mention of something you hadn’t heard before so you write it down, make a note. A rabbit hole is born.

But this one was different. This one was a story we all should know. How it missed many of us is a mystery, moreover a crime. People like this should never be found in a rabbit hole. They should be found in history books and talks with Fathers of courage and integrity to their sons and daughters. How had this been missed?

His name was Janusz Korczak. (Ya Noosh  Kor shack) 


He was born in Poland in 1878 or '79 and was named Henryk Goldszmit. His father, a prominent Jewish lawyer in Warsaw, Henryk grew up in a house of privilege and spent hours a day using his imagination to entertain himself. Henryk’s parents kept him away from the ‘poor’ children of Warsaw as they were ‘dirty and unkempt,’ not to be part of his life. But he played with the school janitor’s son and spent time with ‘those’ children, finding them entertaining. His Father didn’t understand how his son could play with blocks for hours at a time or entertain himself with his own stories conjured up in his 6 year old head.

At the age of 11, his father fell ill and was sent to psychiatric hospital where he would die just 6 years later. (For the rest of his life, Henryk would be affected by this- even to the point of not having his own children because the idea of psychiatric illnesses being inherited was the practice of the time) Without his Father, his family’s financial situation soured and he was soon living in the neighborhoods his Parents had once told him to avoid.

He earned money tutoring children and began to write. In one literary contest he put his pen name as Janusz Korczak after a character in another Polish children’s novel. He began to write a column on children’s well being for Polish newspapers at the same time he was going to school and earning a Pediatrics degree. Doctor Korczak began working in Warsaw at a children’s hospital and wrote a book, “Child in the Drawing Room” that gained literary recognition.

In 1912, he teamed up with a woman who would be his partner for life, Stefania Wilczynska. Not a partner in a marriage or relationship sense, but in the care of children as Korczak opened up an orphanage for Jewish children in Warsaw: Dom Sierot with Stefania as his assistant. In this home, Korczak put to test his ideas of child rearing and treating them as children, not mini adults. In his book, “How to Love a Child,” Korczak wrote “One of the worst blunders is to think that pedagogy is the science of the child…when it is the science of men”

He arranged for the children of the orphanage to write and publish their own newspaper. They had their own court system and a parliamentary system of government. “Korczak was convinced that if you treat children as respectable people, they themselves will be full of respect for others,” according to scholar Phillip Veerman. (Details of life in the orphanage can be seen in the video, "The Last Korczak Boy.")

Veerman quotes one child who lived in the orphanage. “It is important to note that independent thinking was not stifled in Dom Sierot. Children’s questions were not swept under the rug but were answered. Considering the period when oppression existed in the home, as well as in the country at large, it was quite an accomplishment. The seed of independent thinking planted in Dom Sierot remained with me.”


World War I saw Korczak serve Poland as an army medic but he came back to Warsaw after the war. In 1923, he wrote what would become his most prized literary accomplishment, a book called, “King Matt the First.” It was as widely read in Poland as “Alice in Wonderland” was in the U.S. He continued to write other children’s books and had a weekly radio show on the care and understanding of children. But in 1939, things began to come apart as World War II began.

Korczak enlisted in the Polish army but was denied because of his age. A year later 138,000 Jews of Warsaw, including his orphanage was forced to move from its house into the Warsaw ghetto, a place where the Nazis had detained the Jews to better manage them. It was a place of poverty and hunger. As Korczak and Stefania marched the children to their new home, a guard grabbed a wagon of potatoes. Korczak demanded the guard release them as they belonged to the children. In the dispute, the guard asked Korczak if he was Jewish to which he replied he was, but was not wearing the mandatory arm band required of all Jews in Warsaw at the time. Korczak said, “There are human laws which are transitory, and higher laws which are eternal . . .” He was seized, beaten and jailed by the guards. He spent a month in prison but used the time after his release to regale his children with stories of his imprisonment and his inmates.

Despite the means to, Korczak continued to live at the new house with his children. He became a bit of a social pariah as he was constantly asking the wealthy friends and associates he knew for money to feed his children, all the while taking on more orphans as the war continued producing them. He wrote of the time, “That restless spark which is Earth is again in ferment. Disorder, disquiet, negative emotions predominate, reign. Miserable, painful, impure is their life over there. Its disorders upset the current of time and of impressions. . . . "

He was also offered more than once chances to have papers forged so he could escape to the other side of Warsaw for safety. He asked about his children, 179 at the time. When it was clear they all could not be relocated with him, Korczak refused the offer.

Korczak’s fame as a writer and pediatrician was minimalized by the war and by 1942, as the Warsaw ghetto was being emptied, it became clear that the Nazis would be coming for he, Stefania and his children soon. While some concentration camps were work camps, Treblinka II was an extermination camp. Prisoners were killed with poison gas and their bodies buried in mass graves. Korczak knew his fate and the fate of his children. Again he was offered chances to come over to the Ayran side of Warsaw but refused. Not without his children

On August 6, 1942, the SS came for Korczak, Stefania, 11 other staff and 192 orphaned children. He wrote in his book, “Ghetto Diaries,” the following: “It is a difficult thing to be born and to learn to live. Ahead of me is a much easier task: to die. After death, it may be difficult again, but I am not bothering about that. The last year, month or hour I should like to die consciously, in possession of my faculties. I don't know what I should say to the children by way of farewell. I should want to make clear to them only this- that the road is theirs to choose…freely.”

Early that morning, the SS gave Korczak and his children 15 minutes to gather their belongings. He came outside and his children lined up in rows of four. He walked to the front of the line and clasped the hands of the two middle children, Stefania a row behind him They began to march toward the train station. The children sang songs and marched with their heads up. The procession through the Warsaw streets was of great concern to the rest of the ghetto. If they had Korczak, then no one was safe. One witness wrote, “I remember seeing Janusz Korczak walking with the children and many other people. There were many Germans around them. When I came home and saw my dear parents, I started crying because I knew this would probably be the end for all of us.”


Four by four, they arrived on the train platform. A guard passed a note along to Korczak as they waited. He recognized Janusz as the author of his favorite children’s book growing up. He had permission for Korczak to return home but not the children. He refused to leave their side, saying, “You do not leave a sick child in the night, and you do not leave children at a time like this.”

In author Joshua Perle’s eyewitness account, he wrote, “A miracle occurred, two hundred pure souls, condemned to death, did not weep. Not one of them ran away. None tried to hide. Like stricken swallows they clung to their teacher and mentor, to their father and brother, Janusz Korczak.”

Days before his march, Korczak wrote in his diary, “The spirit feels a longing inside the narrow cage of the body. Man feels and ponders death as though it were the end, when in fact death is merely the continuation of life, it is another life. You may not believe in the existence of the soul, yet you must acknowledge that your body will live on as green grass, as a cloud. For you are, after all, water and dust.”


Some may ask why this rabbit hole has found its way into a coaching blog. The idea of integrity and courage that persisted throughout his life and trials are plainly evident. But the way in which Korczak treated his orphans calls to us how we should, perhaps, be coaching. The idea of giving children the freedom to learn, the idea of not treating children as mini adults on the playing and training field; these were the essence of how Korczak related to young people.

In 1959, The United Nations General Assembly created a Declaration of Children’s Rights, many of them taken from the pages of Korczak’s writings. Those include, “The child has the right to respect, The child has the right to optimal conditions in which to grow and develop, The child has the right to live in the present, The child has a right to make mistakes, The child has the right to fail, The child has the right to be taken seriously and The child has the right to be appreciated for what he/she is.”

Simply put, if we ever get away from these tenets, we should turn in our whistles. We are done.

Perhaps the best explanation is the rabbit hole itself. In our never ending search to be better coaches, better parents and sons and daughters, we find these rabbit holes. Do they lead us to a fifteen minute gallery of social media tweets or of someone who we can look up to, that changed lives, which lived for others.

Unlike Janusz Korczak, that choice is ours.