Thursday, January 12, 2017

WRP- "We are the sum of our experiences..."

In this final post, Reid Priddy talks about a number of things that affected his careers including injuries, personal demons and his future. He refers often to his camp here in Phoenix in late fall and talks fondly about his years spent here learning the sport. 


I don’t know the number of fractures but certainly there were a lot. I definitely broke my face. That was 2011 and actually 2010 was kind of like when my injuries started. I had three significant injuries. I had always wanted to win the World Championships and it was one of the things that if it wasn’t time for my family to move on and for us to do something different, I would consider playing in the World Championships in 2018! But it was absolutely time and appropriate for me to move on but I just love that tournament. It’s such a hard tournament to win and to win it would just be so special.

 So in 2010 that was my absolute focus and I was going above and beyond to prepare for it. My son was going to be born right before we were going to go to Italy for the World Championships so I was doing extra work in the weight room and extra time on the court because I knew I was going to take a few days off when he was born and I didn’t want to have any regrets and I didn’t want to lose anything. But what I found was I had more to give. I found this extra gear. I just felt like I could play for like four hours, I was hitting at the highest I had ever hit, my jump was massive, my strength was massive, I was eating the right things. It was all converging at the right time and my son was born and I didn’t sleep for like three days in a row and I was so amped that I came out for a Saturday scrimmage and played a set and I tore something in my back. To this day, I don’t know what it was but it set me back three weeks and it totally interrupted that World Championship. So that was sort of the first thing.

The next summer we’re playing and it’s toward the end of the summer and Max Holt drifts into me and elbows me in the side of the head and breaks my zygomatic arch, pulls my cheek bone away from my….ugh, it was just gnarly. So I had two surgeons operate on me: full reconstructive surgery that went well but I had a bleed after the fact and had to go back into emergency surgery with no anesthesia, I couldn’t have it and I had the opportunity to listen to the entire O.R. absolutely freak out while my eye was being swollen shut with blood. I almost lost vision in that eye but they were able to save it. Then to the ACL injury in 2016, those last 6 years were overcoming a lot of injuries. 

His Personal ‘Reboot’ in 2015

I was not healthy. I did everything I could in 2014 and 2015 to get to a place to be 100% by the first day of practice when the guys got back from playing overseas. I wanted them to see me and say, ‘Okay, Reid’s good, it’s a non issue and let’s move forward.’ This has happened to me several times in my career where I’m not really good at self governing, I will overplay when I’m in those scenarios and I get hurt. So I’ve done all this work, I’ve gained weight, I’m moving around, I’m jumping, I’m passing, I’m playing well and the second day of practice…

We have an event, a NORCECA event. Anytime we have an event that is in our zone, it’s a different sponsor. So if it’s an FIVB event, it’s Mikasa balls, NORCECA event we have to use Molten and for whatever reason, the Molten feels heavier. Scientifically speaking, maybe I’m totally full of it but any player you talk to, when you go from one to the other, the Mikasa feels lighter, the Molten feels heavier. So the second day they bring out Molten’s and we start doing our practices which entail spinning to each other and in essence there was a ton of overhead volume that day and the next morning I went in and I was on a box hitting to a teammate and I felt a pop in my pec(toral muscle). I ended up tearing my pec but we didn’t know it, we just thought it was just a strained muscle, ‘It’s okay, let it go.’ I took a day off and played the next day and it’s worse. I took two days off, played the next day and it’s worse. Finally we get smart and take an image. For those reading, I would say, just take an image right away. It’s just so much better. Even if your trainer thinks they know and it’s not going to change what we’re going to do recovery wise, why not just get an image if you’re well insured. It might cost some money but it’s well worth it in the end. So I wind up wasting like two and a half weeks and I don’t even go on that first trip because my shoulder isn’t ready.

When the team gets back we’re right into World League and we’re in our lifts and I do a hex bar squat which I hadn’t done yet up to that point; I was doing dead lifts. For whatever reason, the way I lifted it, I tweaked something in my lower back. It’s a small thing that leads into a big thing. Now all the while I am pressing, I am pressing, I’m pressing, I’m pressing, I’m pressing and it just leads into this scenario where I am developing this low back, low butt pain that no one can identify and it travels up to my back. We get to the point where I lose the entire summer and it wasn’t until I had that conversation with John, where World Cup was now off the table, that I sort of have to take inventory and say, ‘Okay, am I doing the right things? I now have this 8 month gap before the next year, what do I do? Do I just stop or do I keep pressing or should I keep doing the right things?’

So I decided, ‘No, I’m going to get ready and if that’s in two weeks or in two years, I’m going to do what it takes to get ready as quick as I can even though I’m not preparing any more for anything. John and I had our talk on Tuesday and I was with a bunch of friends on that Wednesday and they just started grilling me. One of them was in therapy so he knew how to just start talking to me. And I started getting all of this stuff out I was carrying; the stress I was carrying. Turns out that the desire I had was creating so much stress and cortisol and bad stuff that I was almost toxic internally. It was almost causing my body to not heal but to get worse in areas. The very next day I drive to Anaheim, get out of my car, thoughtful about the night before and I just text my buddy; ‘Sorry that last night was all about me but thanks for pulling that stuff out.’ But I felt this tangible thing, like my body just unlocked. It was as if it just relaxed. And two days later I was attacking like nothing had happened. It was one of those things where, ‘Shoot, John already submitted the O2 roster, so too late,’ at that point it was over, the decision had been made regarding World Cup but let’s just keep building. So I did build. I think I was ready to play in October but I didn’t take any deal until January in Italy and that was that.

I think it was just that I was pressing too hard and it was just stress. I just wasn’t allowing the process to happen. I was overly stressed that I was missing out on this opportunity or that opportunity instead of just letting it go and just saying it’ll happen when it’s going to happen and I can’t control it. I just got so wound up that I think my body, instead of releasing the good hormones and that kind of stuff and just sort of being at peace, wasn’t. I was just sort of wound up and cortisol was building. There’s a book out there I want to read about how stress can kill and I totally believe it. That’s actually one of the things I’ve tried to learn. How do we construct a life that is stress free; you know young kids and demands and all this stuff. If we can figure out how to truly be stressed about nothing, understanding that we can’t control everything and we just sort to have to adapt and move, I think our life will be longer and more enjoyable.

His last Pro Team

When I was in Italy, my team was a phenomenal club to play for. Uber professional, it was a great city. They had an amazing staff, from the weight coach to the physio to the doctors and they just had it all and it was all under one roof. Being a professional, that’s not the case when you go to these European teams, it’s not like that all the time. So this had a great apartment, a great life, a great city and a great team and I just remember thinking man, I could do this for another 5 years! I truly believe I am playing the best volleyball of my career. I look different, you might not put me on the highlight reel but as far as my numbers, there’s no part of my game that is going to cause us to lose. With my competitive drive and what makes me a team player, I knew that I would be a value anywhere, that I could play and I could help. But at that same time, my wife was in this Italian apartment with no support structure, with a young little baby and a son that was going to be entering kindergarten next year. That became really obvious that even if this is something that I could do and enjoy, it’s not a complete picture. They’ve put up with enough and they’ve gone through enough. It’s time for OUR life to be OUR life and not just my life. So I really think it became clear that this is going to be it, this is the final run with this particular lifestyle.

Why number eight?

Number 8 was not a not a number I chose, it was just given to me and it’s become part of my identity. When you get on the National Team you don’t get to choose your number per se but that number happened to be free and they gave it to me. I love number 8 because if you turn it on its side it’s infinity, there’s balance to it. It’s an even number and there’s been great players who have worn that jersey. I think it’s a great number, I love it.

His time in Phoenix.

So I started playing volleyball in Florida and we moved to Phoenix so the jury was out, it was a total unknown. I had a new passion but my Dad had to move because of his job. So what about me? I have this new passion, is there going to be an outlet for me. It just so happened that we moved to Arizona the very year boys volleyball was sanctioned and we happened to move to Ahwatukee where Fred Mann was going to be and he was, I think at the time, one of the best coaches, or at least had more exposure than any coach I knew of. I really didn’t know the scene and I hope I’m not offending any people but he was a great coach for me.

I think it helped tremendously that our first time going to Boy’s Classic, we registered as BYA, which meant Barn Yard Animals. Our buddy Sean Scott, who was one of the best High School Volleyball players in the state, his Dad drove us to Berkley to play and we just screened shirts. I still have that jersey; in fact I have saved a jersey from every team, which is kind of cool. We played in the LDS community and they have a lot players and I can remember we would sometimes play at LDS churches on rug, and wherever we could get games and I played a lot of sand volleyball. Of course winning State was obviously super fun. I had never won anything as an athlete so that was certainly a lot of fun. Then my senior year it got interesting, it started becoming a thing. Now volleyball is like this thing that I wanted to pursue and I think we went undefeated that entire year and then lost in the State Championship, so that was a real bummer.

I love Phoenix, I still do. My wife isn’t on board yet but we love real estate and I’m already grilling friends to tell me the areas, what parts of town am I looking at? There’s something about the desert I just love. We have a place in Las Vegas that we’ve been in the last 5 or 7 years or so and I love golf and I love the desert so coming back has been great. Plus the relationship with Matt Peterson and all the old stories: this is my 20 year anniversary from graduating high school. I wasn’t’ able to go but a lot of great memories and a lot of growth, a lot of maturity even though it was just a few years. My parents were here for 7 so I would come back. I had all of my first jobs here. When I think back about what put hair on my chest, it was at 15 years old. We were middle class, we certainly had everything we needed but as it came to these extracurriculars, I needed to work to contribute. My friends in high school like to remind me of just how much of a poor mooch I was. It’s very embarrassing. I would work 40 hours a week during the summer in warehouse jobs. I was a busboy.

It’s super awesome when I was a Senior. Matt Peterson who graduated a year before me, was really instrumental in the camp that just happened come together because he was the connector to Troy and the guys I work with. He got a job right out of high school and he gave me some money to go to JO’s that year. He was 18 or 19 years old and he just invested. We were great friends and he said, ‘I want to support you in this,’ and so that obviously meant the world. Not too many 18 or 19 year olds are doing that stuff. I was certainly working for those opportunities. I played for a club in east side San Diego my Senior year and my parents had a relationship with someone that they worked with, I think it was American West at the time and he got buddy passes so I would fly on standby and take a train to Del Mar and stay with our good friends up there. So many people were pivotal in making this thing happen. All my friends in Phoenix that were buying me Taco Bell and stuff like that. Now that you’re pulling all of these stories out, maybe I’m overdue for a reunion party just to say thank you to all these people.

What defined maturation for him.

One of the easiest ways to start is just the understanding that the most important thing I do on this earth is relational based; my relationship first with my creator and my relationship with my family. Those are both relational based. I think for much of my life I was operating as if what I achieved; the things that I did or the things I accumulated were the most important things I could do in life. So it was a really big paradigm shift. So wow, the most important thing is relational, I’m not very good at relationships so if that’s really the most important thing then what does it mean to be good at relationships. So once that realization started to sink in, then it sort of took the pressure off. I’m not defined by whether or not I win or lose this game. I can focus and pour into the process even more and not be as result driven. Results still hurt if they’re bad results and you still have to manage your ego when results are good and that was certainly a learning process as well.

There’s a period of time I had a pretty good stretch: a lot of wins, I was one of the highest paid players in the world. So you really have to check yourself; that doesn’t define me. The wins, the money, the achievements, the accolades and the attention don’t define me in the same way the losses and the failures define me. So what does define me? Who am I? How do I relate to my creator? How do I relate to my wife? How do I relate to my kids? How do I relate to my parents, my family and my friends? I think once I started to make that distinction about what’s really important, I started to be healthier and more grounded and more comfortable in my own skin. I wasn’t out there trying to prove something, like my value wasn’t on the line. So I think that’s really hard as athletes, if we think the action speaks something about our value as a person, it can get really overwhelming and it can go either way, right? We can become egomaniacs when the action is good because we think that’s our value and when it’s not we can be the worst people to be around and be disparaging and depressed and really struggle.

Those volume of experiences, and we are the sum of our experiences in some sense, then the more you add up. That’s where I could get to a point in 2016 where I didn’t feel like there was anything that could happen that I wasn’t prepared for. You can rest assured in that position, right? You can be less anxious if you feel like you know how to handle it or if I don’t, I’m connected enough with my creator that I will receive the help that I need to get through this experience or that experience.

That’s why I’m sharing my story because I want people to know that it didn’t come easily and it didn’t come through the good things, it came through the hard things. It was the struggle. These last two years were extremely humbling. There were lots of times that I felt undervalued or overlooked and instead of overreacting, I just sat in it and started to be okay with it instead of being preferred or having the benefit of the doubt, any of those things. Somebody in passing asking me what I’m doing. ‘Oh, I’m making a comeback for the team.’ ‘Oh, the guys are doing really good though.’ I mean really? ‘It’s a pretty full team, you’ve got Taylor and you’ve got Aaron and you’ve got Jaeschke who was twice player of the year, you got Paul and Garret and Jablonski ,’ and so that kind of a conversation would happen all the time and of course I would want to defend myself. ‘Hey, I started for 14 years!’ Unlike my natural self who wanted to defend myself, I would just bite my tongue and take it. You know what, I’m just going to put my head down and work. And that was really hard for me. It was really humbling and that happened on a regular basis. That scenario where people were so surprised because the team was doing great. Of course I already had that; I was already dealing with that, having those insecurities. ‘Gosh, these guys are having these great experiences without me, do they need me? Is there still a spot for me? Can I make a comeback?’ I think that going through the humility of those two years, and even leading into the games, that’s a huge stage.

There’s always that thought of going through the games and not playing. Or those 8 points against Canada; those were not a proper representation of the way I was playing day in and day out. If those were the only 8 points logged in the archives of the annals of volleyball, that would not have been a characterization of what I was capable of. But I had to live with the reality that maybe that could be all that was there, so the reality just sort of builds into this humility to where it just helped. I was able to get to a point where this is it, it just doesn’t define me. I’m proud of my team, myself, my wife my kids, I’m proud of the way we responded these two years. It was a team effort. We fought through doubt and insecurity and humbling moments and all the rest.

The margins of winning at the highest levels 

They really are thin, especially when you start looking at probability numbers. This is where I think stats can take the next jump. I think it would be amazing if we could find some bench mark, within the proximity of the setter to establish more accurate numbers, just to see who is really impacting the game the most. So who’s attacking the ball at 20 feet way above everybody else in terms of efficiency? Everybody at the highest level is talented so it really comes down to in-between the ears type stuff and competing and being comfortable under pressure and performing under pressure and facing expectations, all that stuff. I would be able to perform at a high level with a great mental mindset and an awful mental mindset. People can still perform with bad mindsets. I think you know what kind of space you’re in when you’re in big games and if you just want it to be over and you just want to move on, than you’re in a bad spot. The best spot you can be in is if you’re under pressure and the outcome is totally unknown and you want that game to go on forever, you never want it to end. You’re just totally enveloped in the process. You aren’t just thinking about hurry up, let’s just get to 25. You are right in the mix, you’re just thinking about point 16. You’re just thinking this is amazing, I’m so stoked that I’m in this situation, come on let’s go, next point.

These last three months since the Olympics, I literally have said yes to two events, standing in for two friends and that’s lead to where we are today. I’ve lost 10 pounds of lean muscle mass and I’ve put in a ton of time trying to develop and reflect content for this 4 day event. And even as we are talking, you’re asking questions that I’ve never thought about before. I want to ask you if you’ll share with me this audio because I am literally answering these questions for the first time and I feel like I’m finally in a better spot to answer them because I’m able to reflect more now whereas before it was just 20 years of forward motion. I’m doing a lot of looking back and now that this four day event is over, it’s time for me to really get serious about looking forward.

Tokyo in 2020

I believe that I can make an impact as a player still and I want to do that. I’m in a weird spot because I would love to just be able to show up at the beach and perform for a National Team coach and let the chips fall where they may. I’m confident in my ability to adapt, my ability to compete and my ability to learn. I don’t know how long it would take but I like my chances in that scenario. But that’s now how it works, right? There’s total autonomy. I’m actually having a meeting with a couple of beach coaches tomorrow and I just have to figure out this whole new landscape to where I need to find a partner, I have to find a teammate. Who’s going to be a part of this journey and it’s hard to do.

I would love to find a complimentary partner where we could start now and build something going forward. I don’t necessarily like the idea and I’m having trouble picking a one year partner, like a stepping stone. I don’t know, it just feels awkward to me. It feels impersonal, it feels odd. I also don’t like the indirect communication that goes on in beach; the texting back and forth. I’ve been very forthcoming; I’ve met with a few players and called guys directly, I think that’s how things should be. I don’t know that I have a mission statement. I want to win a gold medal in Tokyo; that is certainly the goal. I’m excited to play on the AVP, I love the AVP. That’s what I watched growing up. I’m intrigued by the FIVB, let me put it that way. I think it’s been really fun the last three months working out, I’ve been watching a lot of video of Bruno and various teams around the world. You know, what are the best doing, what it looks like but the goal on the beach is Olympic driven. It’s not a profession I need. It’s clearly not a financial thing. It’s 100% about the Olympics, that’s the whole point about transitioning to the beach. That’s my whole drive and focus. I’m not quite sure what it looks like now but I have a good idea how to get there in terms of the infrastructure that I want to build which sort of leads me to what I am doing right now. The stuff I am saying yes to now, from that a business is forming where I can inspire and share my story and build some resources to start my own infrastructure. I’m sort of like crowd funding. If you are reading this and you want to be a part of my journey to Tokyo in 2020, the way you help me get there is to bring me to your events. Let’s do a camp, let’s do something. I’m investing in that because I am seeing it have a positive impact. It seems like the more I am putting myself into those positions, the more positions are opening up in more places so I’m just trying to say yes to the demand and see where it goes. I’m not sure what the next four years will look like but that’s sort of the direction I’m headed.

The Arizona Region would like to thank Reid for his time and his contribution to volleyball in Arizona and the U.S. We hope to have Reid back soon in the valley doing camps and more clinics. To follow Reid, go to his website here. 

WRP- "You don't just get to win..."

In post two of our conversation with four time Olympian Reid Priddy, Reid goes into detail about the differences and what he gleaned from each of his four Olympic coaches. Admittedly uncomfortable answering this question, the insight into his last 16 years on the Men's Olympic team is unrivaled.

His coach, Doug Beal, in his first Olympics in 2004

Well Doug (Beal) was so innovative he invented the two man pass. Doug surrounded himself with the absolute best coaches in the game Our staff was Doug, Hugh (McCutcheon), Rob Browning was our stat guy, Marv Dunphy and Carl McGown. It was ridiculous. We got a lot of support there, so that was awesome. Doug’s delivery is pretty dry, so at the time it was hard to receive. A little bit dry, a little bit sharp but virtually everything he had to say I came to appreciate so much as I matured. So I think as a younger player it just seemed like a hard environment at times, but as I matured a lot of things he said like, ‘You don’t just get to win,” became like staple truths and tenants that I hold to. And what he has gone on to do as our CEO in leading USA Volleyball, I think it’s been phenomenal.

It’s really amazing to me how there’s certain people who just have it out for him for what I would consider very selfish self-serving reasons. I think it’s very hard to please everybody but I think as a volleyball community there is so much gratitude we should be showing him in the amount of respect he receives across the world, and rightfully so, is really intense and impressive and when I come across people in our sport who have this personal vendetta, I can very quickly identify them as self serving individuals that can’t be team players, that don’t have a greater picture in mind. Now I understand that he comes from an indoor background and it probably took some time to fully appreciate how to best serve the beach community and I think he has come a long way and doing well but he has always tried to surround himself with the best and when people get that and work together as a team, that’s why USA volleyball has gone from a 5 million dollar operation to a 25 million dollar operation under his leadership.

I think with Doug there could have been a little more relational development towards younger players. I think that that team didn’t have a ton of continuity maybe from the top down and I think that we could have cleaned up some relational issues but honestly when I think about that quad I think we had a great finish. We were not about a 4th place finish. Brazil was, by far, the best team. I think Italy was the second best team. I think Russia was the third best team so relative to our level I think we had a good finish. I hate saying that, I mean I wanted to win a medal but I think that maybe communication wise, finding ways to help us young guys receive those messages earlier so it wouldn’t have been on me maturing to really receive but there could have been some tactic or delivery that could have been a little bit more tactful for me as a young player. I don’t know I haven’t really thought about it so I’m trying to put it together.

His coach in his second Olympics, Hugh McCutcheon

The culture that Hugh created was just predetermined and thought out and he had a plan and it started with us writing a mission statement in 2006 which we did begrudgingly. I don’t think we as players saw value is spending two days in a hotel room trying to craft a mission statement but it became absolutely instrumental and informative to the culture. I think Hugh kind of saw that there was some relational gaps in the earlier quads but I think he made it a value and a priority to build and encourage each player to relationally connect and he established right away the concept of, ‘Look, we are all going to be treated fairly but that doesn’t mean we will all be treated the same.’ So the way that he treats Lloy and Lloy’s practice plan is one way and Reid’s is going to be another way. So there’s this idea of it’s going to be fair and equal but it’s not going to be the same and he was going to get to know each guy individually.

He also built a system to where he helped manage risk and so different guys had different roles and everybody kind of understood their role and we became extremely fundamentally sound and so we worked in such a way where there were very, very, very few practices, I can maybe remember two in the entire quad, that I would call throw away practices where we should have just grabbed coffee. That is phenomenal to me that that mission statement became our daily litmus test and gage; did we take a step towards this or away from it? Staying the same, through Hugh’s eyes we were either taking a step forward or taking a step back. I just think that he was instrumental in building that culture and those relationships.

We happened to be in a spot where a lot of us were in positions around the world to rise up and be the best. We became one of the best passing teams, we had the best setter, we had the best opposite and we had some of the best middles. I mean it was great. I think as a coach it’s hard to identify what’s going on in real time. There would be times that it would seem that collectively we would be panicking a little bit in a time out, but without fail when Hugh would go and watch video he would come to us and know exactly what needed to happen and the changes we needed to make. I think that when we went through pool play in the Olympic Games we learned a lot as players in Hugh’s absence. In timeouts we would be down often to start a match 1-7 or 1-8. Nobody was saying a word. We just all sat down and got some water took a break and went back out. Literally I just remember it being quiet and nobody was panicking and as a player it’s just really comforting to recognize that nothing needed to be said, we were going to approach this next point the same, irrespective of the score. We were here to do a job and that job is to do everything we could to win the next point. I think that was really powerful experience to go through and I think it helped in his absence because it was hard to play without him there. He was our leader and all the stuff he was going through, our hearts were with him and his family and that was just such an unbelievably painful thing for them to be going through.

The murder of Hugh's Father in Law in Beijing

I think initially there is a little bit of fear. There had been terrorist threats, we didn’t know if this was an isolated incident. And certainly once they tried to assure us it was isolated then it was just kind of like sorrow, this is awful, and kind of does put things into perspective. Knowing Hugh and all the work you put in, the last thing you want to do is mail it in. The only thing we could do was what he trained us to do. That was the best way we could help was just play hard, play smart. That was our mantra, it was basically a pared down version of our mission statement. So that’s what we went out there and did. The first match against Venezuela we almost lost but we stayed in there. I think that was the most emotional, the most difficult. And then slowly it was just kind of like you know what, the best thing I can do is just be focused on this right here. This is the fort that we can hold down while he’s gone. I think that gap between what was happening real time and on the video analysis obviously closed and we were able to be working simultaneously. I think he’s making all the right moves of on the fly, I think it’s great.

On crafting the 2008 Mission Statement

He led us through the construction of a mission statement. We did a little bit of small group things. What are we setting out to do, that was the first thing. Our mission statement reads something like “We are setting out to win the Olympic Games in 2008 in Beijing,’ and to the rest of the world we had no business saying that. We had no business writing that. If the rest of the world would have seen that, they would have laughed at us. We weren’t trending, we weren’t on the rise, we weren’t the next hottest team or the team to look out for in 2006. So we made that our mission, this is what we are setting out to do.

And then we went through a process of saying , ‘That’s our goal, how are we going to get there?’ What are things we think we could be the best at? Well, we can be the best at competing, we could work the hardest, we could be students of the game, we can be great teammates; all of that language was in there, That’s what we held to, and there was a lot of values that stemmed from that mission statement.

You know when we talk about team work, it was a highly eclectic and maybe semi-confrontational group, a very competitive group. You would have thought we were all playing for thousands and thousands of dollars in a simple wash drill with the amount of competitiveness that was going on but Hugh had a very specific value that we adopted that was honest and direct communication, that we were to be forthcoming and if we had something to say to someone, we said it. If we didn’t have the ability to say it for whatever reason then it was our responsibility to get over it. It wasn’t allowed to fester, it wasn’t allowed to go to a third party so that sort of culture built into this beautiful working culture that got the most out of every rep and got us to work together as a team, and that was super efficient as roles were defined.

I don’t know what the stats were but it felt like we knew when we needed to risk and when we could just play smart because we were so confident that we could score real points. From Clay’s (Stanley) serve to our block and defense, we knew that the game was never out of reach so by the time we got to the Olympic games and we were down 8-1 at a time out, we knew we could score real points and I think that really helped us in recognizing that we were always in the game no matter what the score was. The best compliment that team ever received that I heard was that you never knew what the score was by looking at how they were playing. You couldn’t tell if we were down or we were up. We had one way of playing, it was professional, competitive and it was passionate. But you could never see by our faces if we were up or down, that was the best compliment I ever heard.

McCutcheon- Standards v. 

The standards remained the same. There was no content of like, ‘Okay, Reid and Clay, you need to work this hard.’ The standards were all the same. The roles maybe were different. I don’t know that it ever happened but Lloy obviously did a lot to bring his family to Newport Beach when it needed to happen. There was going to be some flexibility with practice times or with his start date to the National team versus a newer guy. A newer guy might be told, ‘Hey, we’re starting on this date and you cannot go home and see your family, you’re 22 years old, that’s not possible. But Lloy, you’ve got children and you’ve got a family.’

Hugh was unbelievable at making the families feel like they were a part of the team and I think that was awesome. My wife felt like she had a jersey on, that’s how much he made the families feel like they were always with us. We’re in this together. Your support system are all in this together so there were not players-only events, especially as it related to outside events. To me, that’s just a little bit odd because we spent so much time together as players that if there was going to be a dinner and we’re at home, I mean you’ve got to include our support system because they’re in this with us.

The standards never change. But there might be different rules. Like Lloy, Tom, guys who have displayed self control and maturity and are of a certain age, Hugh’s not going to tell them they have to be in bed by this time but if you can’t have a couple of beers at dinner…? It’s not going to be run like a University or a College team, with those types of rules. But if you’re just out of college and you really haven’t proven the ability to handle yourself or be a professional, you have to earn that right. Those are sort of those things that were going to be treated fairly but not the same.

His third Olympic Coach, Alan Knipe

That was a tough quad. I think it was tough for everybody. If there was a quad that I would like to get back, sort of redo, I would like to redo that quad. Knowing what I know now, there are several things I would like to do better. There’s more that I would change about what I did than Alan. Playing as a professional volleyball player, there is no off season. As great of a life as it is, it can be very demanding. Typically what happens after an Olympic games is you’re just thinking next summer I just need time off because we’re all going to go to our Pro teams. As soon as the Olympic games are finished, within 48 hours typically, 72 hours maybe, we are getting new gear and moving into new apartments somewhere around the world that is not our home. We’re transitioning from this experience that was amazing and starting with an entirely new team, new season with zero breaks. The reason I say this is to set up our mindset when we won the gold in Beijing.

Nobody was thinking about what sort of time frame they needed at the break, everybody was saying, ‘That was amazing! Brazil had just dominated the world for five years, six years and now we can do that; enough of us are returning, we can do that. Let’s rival Brazil. Everyone, we are going to be here day one, 2009. We’re going to go win World League; we’re going to win it all.’ So we all go to our teams and we find out in December, kind of the first domino to fall, is Hugh saying I’m moving over to the girl’s team. So okay, that’s a bummer but we thought at the time we were kind of self operating. We can do this; self operating. We didn’t quite understand the impact of that at that time. Then it took Doug and USA Volleyball a while to name the new coach. I think they named Alan as the head coach in April and we’re coming back in May. That’s like 8 months, 9 months from the finish of the Olympic Games to naming the head coach and it just sort of seemed like it took a little bit of steam out of that mindset.

Alan hadn’t been on a trip with the A team in the 8 years that I had played. I knew Alan through his reputation as the head coach of Long Beach and a ton of positive stuff of him and Long Beach and people who had played for him and had nothing but good stuff to say but I personally had no contact. It just sort of started on that foot and I thought that could have been better. It just seemed like it took forever to make that decision.

Essentially the dynamic that developed over the four years was a disconnect between the 2008 group and the group that wasn’t a part of that experience. I think we lacked leadership. I wish I knew what I know now about leadership so I could have been a better leader and understood the dynamics that were happening. We had played in a highly rule specific environment where rules were defined. Hugh helped manage risk for us by developing rules like no matter what is going to happen, no matter who is attacking , somebody has the responsibility of tip coverage. There is never a question of who it’s going to be and no matter what- the ball never falls. Another rule was we never miss two serves in a row. Another rule was you never allow a guy to hit line on a triple block. You never miss a serve on game point. So he decided to play the numbers game and manage risk for us. We went on to play in that system and we went on to win so I don’t think that group was cocky. It certainly was not about, ‘Oh we won this so we’re going to go out and win everything.’ There was a drive and I think we totally recognized that. Like Doug said, ‘You don’t just get to win.’

What ended up happening was, as young players started to filter into the system, they weren’t accustomed to those rules and Alan didn’t have those same rules, and even John: they don’t manage risk the same way, it’s a different framework. Without ever having that big conversation like, ‘Hey guys, you played this way but we’re going to play a different way,’ there was never sort of that systemic dialog; ‘Okay, this is the system we’re going to run. It was okay, you older guys you continue to run in your system but we’re not necessarily going to reinforce those same things to this younger group.’ And over time that created a really big divide between the older and younger guys. So John took two years off and became an Assistant two or three years into the London quad and by the time he got there, he’s calling meetings with all of us, Alan included and said, ‘Hey, I see a really big divide between old and young,’ and I think what ended up happening was us older guys, out of just sheer frustration, would just blow up on the younger guys. The younger guys were like, ‘Oh my gosh, these older guys are just so angry and bitter and just jerks.’ But in reality, we just played a certain way and didn’t necessarily understand the new way to play and the young guys, bless their hearts, were just trying to fit in.

Over that like 4 to 6 year period, when John became the head coach, as an older guy, I had to adapt to their style of play which was really crazy to me. It was a really difficult process for me to go through but I’m thankful for it, it’s made me better and more understanding. I’m glad I was pressed but it was really hard to not say, ‘Hey guys, this is how you play and compete because I’ve been here for 8 or 10 years.’ I’ve got to learn how to play their style, what their mentality is. The younger generation was not confrontational, it was not a value to not be super direct and I had to be positive; there was a lot of adaptation. So when I look back on, what I would call that quad that I would like to take back and redo, I look at myself and I wish I could have been a better leader and could have better recognized that chasm that was taking place because we all wanted to win, top to bottom and we had the tools to win. By the time we got to 2012, I think some of us older guys finally let some of that frustration go and said, ‘You know what, the Olympics are bigger than any of us. Why are we holding onto this bitterness. Let’s find a way to lead better.” Once we did that we started performing so much better. I really wish us older guys understood all that was taking place but it was just a little bit above our experience level at the time and we had to go through that painful experience and obviously that painful loss to Italy to sort of reflect and to see what was taking place.

I think Alan understood that the National Team is a special team and there is too much of a disconnect between the people who have played before and the people who are playing now, there’s like zero connection. He didn’t do things that were huge. He asked, ‘Why are we training in California but we’re not competing in California?’ He leveraged his relationships at Long Beach and the boosters there to start hosting matches in California which is huge. It was huge for the brand; it was huge just for us to play at home. I think he made it important to say we are investing so much of ourselves into this experience and then when you move on from the National team you have no touch, so he started reaching out to alumni and started building this alumni network which I hope now, that I am an alumnus, that I’ll be able to add to that and really try to take that to the next level where there is personal contact between the players and the guys that have competed and worn that jersey. I think that should be a super tight alumni group. So I think those are two great things that Alan did and initiated.

His fourth Olympic Coach John Speraw

I think John did not want to manage risk. He wanted the players to not even think about risk and when I say risk I mean errors and unforced errors. It was his mantra to play focused, fearless, tough and together. So those four things: focused- he wanted us to develop the skill of being hyper focused. Fearless- he wanted us to be fearless. He would never talk about mistakes. He wanted guys to just go and be fearless, then tough and together. So as I said to the coaches I spoke to over the weekend; I absolutely loved both mantras. I like the play smart and manage risk of Hugh and I like the focused and fearless because I love to play aggressive so if I’m the child of those two guys, if I could live in a world of both, I would. I like both of them.

This staff put a ton of systems work in. He didn’t want there to be any grey area in terms of systems. Offensive systems, defensive systems, what do we do on this pass, what do we do on that pass when the ball hits here; there was no scenario that would take place on a volleyball court that we didn’t have a system for in place. Coaching by this staff was a lot about developing systems. Mike Wall and Matt Fuerbringer and Nate Ngo, Anton Willard, those guys spent a ton of time developing an entire systems handbook for the first couple of years of the quad and so practices became kind of retro coaching in the sense of we’re out there and we’re going through practice, and they’ll pipe in every once in a while on an individual basis if they see something that applies to the whole gym. By and large, we’re out there working hard and in our systems and the next day, after the coaches would have watched video of the entire practice, they would have selected clips for us to watch and that’s how we sort of got specific feedback. So it was high detail and high system. I haven’t’ been able to connect with John yet, we’ve been playing phone tag this last week but I think John has always valued creativity and the concept of finding ways to win, whatever it takes. If there was one thing that I think we went a little bit away from, I think it would be that concept. Down the stretch, we could have been a little bit more creative and we kind of got a little bit stuck in, ‘We’re going to win this way.’ I’m not just referring to myself, I think we had a team that was really deep. I think there was lots of ways we could have had success and I know John and I know he did what he thought was best and he has no regrets, so he’s not going to be worried about the things I’m saying and I respect that about John. But I think one of the values within in our system is to find ways to win no matter what it takes to win. We always did these little drills where there were rules and he would praise us for almost being able to break the rules, to get creative, use our brains, find the edges, Any chance we could to get an edge we did and I think we had lots of tools that we could have used to gain edges, so that was it.

Being asked about the coaching in each of my Olympics is certainly the most uncomfortable question I’ve ever had because I don’t feel comfortable doing that but I think there’s more positives and I feel fortunate to have played for all four of these coaches and certainly developed relationships that certainly will outlive volleyball, so I’m very thankful.

In his final post, Reid will talk about his personal demons, injuries and answers questions about his future toward Tokyo, 2020.

WRP- "How long can we stay out here?"

This begins a series of blogs told to us by USA four time Olympian Reid Priddy. Reid was in Phoenix in late fall to do some clinics for boys, girls and coaches. He graciously agreed to give the Region an interview but his time constraints kept him from sitting down and being interviewed. In typically Priddy style, he solved the problem by chatting on his 6 hour drive home. What you will read in the coming posts are Reid's accounts, opinions and stories of a remarkable player and an even more remarkable story. In this blog, Reid talks about the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, his last and the storied match v. Russia. 

Reid on the Bronze Medal Match v. Russia

I didn’t know I was going to get an opportunity but I was certainly ready for it. I kind of went through my normal routine and for me it was being that the loss to Italy was so devastating it was a really tough turnaround to try to get back to a place of being clear headed and focused on the task at hand. I had to ask myself in that 24 hours, if I don’t play and if this is my Olympic experience in the bronze medal game because it was looking like that would be the case, was this two year comeback worth it. And my conclusion was, it was worth it. There was so much that took place in those two years that were awesome and I would never change. 

(Watch the match here!)

I would never change that injury if I had the choice to say, ‘Here- you can have this match back in Bulgaria where you tear your ACL and not have that injury happen’, I would not choose that because so many great things happened in that period of time. From the birth of my daughter, the growth and internal maturity that took place and then the relationships that were forged those two years and the experiences that were shared with those relationships. I processed all of that leading up to that match and that 24-hour period of time and felt tremendous gratitude. I think it was because of that I was able to enter in to that match focused, ready and completely 100% confident that no matter what took place, I was ready for it and I had the tools necessary to handle it; either that I was going to get called or that I wasn’t going to play. I knew that I had what I needed emotionally and had the tools and all that stuff, the maturity, to handle that as well. That was sort of my mind leading into the match.

When I got the nod, I was completely immersed in the match. It was about that, it wasn’t about proving anything to myself, it wasn’t about making a mark, it wasn’t about anything but being super aggressive and super connected to winning that particular point, the next point. I kept saying to the guys ‘How long can we stay out here?’ When I came in we were down big and we wound up going down 0-2. ‘How long can we stay out here and make this match last?’ And thankfully we made it last just long enough.

Using that match maybe people tried to build the narrative that I was putting it all together in my last match but I would argue that that was the level, that’s what I have been playing at this entire summer. I often tell people if I had 16 different versions of myself to play a super high stakes match with everything on the line and I can choose Reid from 2000, Reid from 2004 or Reid from 2008, 2012, I think my peak year was 2010. I was playing some really amazing volleyball but I wasn’t as mature and I didn’t have as much game as far as variety in 2016 and I hands down would choose Reid from 2016.

I think the level that everybody got to see was the level I’m capable of playing day in and day out. There wasn’t any one particular play that gave me confidence, I already had all the confidence I needed. Now there was one play, I think it was the fourth set or the third set where I took a big swing on a very unlikely, or I should say a not very probable left side hit. I was at like 12 feet and I just took a backwards step close and took a big swing. As soon as I hit that ball and that ball went down, I looked at Dave Lee and started screaming ‘It’s just a little dumb luck for ya.’ That’s a term when we were playing cards, Dave Lee loves to act like when he’s winning, it’s all about skill and when everybody else is winning, it’s dumb luck. When I killed that ball, I knew that was outside of the probability lines and that I was pressing a little bit then and that’s when I sort of, in jest, started screaming at the guys, ‘Sometimes it just takes a little dumb luck.’ I think they all loved it.

Match Point v. Russia in Bronze Medal Match

I’ll never forget that moment. Even as you’re describing it, I’m emotional. That was one of the most special moments of my entire career. Just locking eyes with Micah and him coming up and giving me a huge hug and then all the guys, Taylor and Aaron came swarming into me. That meant the world to me. I mean that’s just one of those shared experiences. 

There was a time when the team was named, the team was announced to us in Brazil and we had to travel the very next day to Italy and John (Speraw) wanted us to go to dinner and we went to dinner in Rome. We had just travelled all day and he asked from youngest to oldest, to say a few words about what this meant to them. You can kind of tell that with the young guys it was pretty quick: this is cool and special and the further you got the more emotional it became. By the time it got to me I think I talked for probably 30 or 40 minutes. Maybe I was using words 10 minutes of the time because it was so emotional. I told the guys after we go to the Olympic games and I was especially emotional when It came to Dave, I couldn’t even look at Dave Lee when I was talking. And now I think they understand. I told those guys that night in Italy, from this point forward, we will never be able to think about these moments and not get emotional. It’s just something that happens when you go to battle and you go through the highs and lows together and you get through that kind of experience. I’ll never forget that moment; it was probably one of the most special moments of my entire career.

What he was telling the team after going down 0-2 v Russian in Bronze Medal Match

I don’t remember specifically but I know I was saying, ‘We’re doing fine, we need to stay aggressive. We’ve missed a few serves, who cares? Keep going, keep communicating, how long can we stay out here?’ Those guys have been pouring out their heart and soul for two weeks and it’s not easy. Especially in your first go-round, and that’s really what you learn in your first Olympics is what is required of you emotionally and physically. It’s more than you’ve ever had to give. It was just the encouragement of, ‘Just keep going, just keep going.’ We knew that team, we knew those guys so it wasn’t a ton about tactics, it was about stay the course, keep being aggressive and how long can we extend this match.

Having to walk to the Bronze Medal Match v. Russia 

We stayed in a hotel the majority of the time and our hotel wasn’t very far from the venue but they had all the roads blocked because I think it was the soccer game that afternoon. Where we played was right next to the soccer stadium and they were going to have the gold medal soccer game so it was absolutely pandemonium, had roads closed, and we had to get out and walk a few blocks which was a little bit odd but at this point, the mantra is we wouldn’t expect anything but difficult. I don’t think it phased anybody at all, it was sort of like, ‘This is par for the course. Let’s get out and walk in the rain to our bronze medal match, no big deal.’

Coach Speraw on his selection to the Olympic Team

John was never able to vocalize a role for me. That conversation was something along the lines of you’ve been selected, we couldn’t be happier and all the hard work you’ve put in and we’re super stoked for you and just keep doing what you’re doing. Your work ethic, bring it in every day and continue to be a friend to the guys. My reaction at that point, I didn’t assume anything, but I didn’t feel like I had arrived. I still had a gold medal on my mind. So it was how to make that gold medal even more the focus and I think that’s what the staff wanted to do was stop the question marks in the gym of am I or am I not going and start really honing in on the medal. So that’s kind of how that talk went.

If he hadn’t made the 2016 Olympic team? 

It would have been hard. I just never thought of it I guess. I never thought of ‘what if.’ My whole life was doing everything I could to make sure I was going to be on that roster. I guess I never really thought through that. But it is hard. Even this week I’m getting half a dozen offers to play overseas. I get a text this morning. I don’t know why this week but over the last couple of months, I’ve gotten two dozen offers to play overseas and it’s a little bit hard to walk away when you’re playing the best you think you have ever played but this whole other facet of my life has developed and now I’m saying yes to these speaking opportunities and developing other business ventures.

I don’t think I’m done because I still want to play on the beach. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do so I think that’s helped me to say no, knowing that I’ll have a competitive outlet. And I will say that, it’s going to sound silly, I’m uber passionate about golf and it really satisfies that training element, that fixation on how good can I really get. I think that for the next 30 or 40 years while I’m on this earth, I think that can help satisfy that drive in me that I need in terms of competitiveness. So I think I’ll always be doing something that’s trying to push the limits of my abilities.

In the next post, Reid goes through his four Olympic coaches and discusses his experience with each. 

Friday, December 30, 2016


For a coach, it’s the equivalent of the Titanic sliding into the icy North Atlantic. It’s the car that won’t start on the morning of your most important job interview. It’s the unexpected thunderstorm the afternoon of your outdoor wedding. It’s the dread, the Charlie Watts drum solo pounding inside your chest, the inconceivable coming alive.

The Arizona Western Lady Matadors were playing at home in early November with a berth to the NJCAA Div. I National Tournament on the line. They were across the net from the Gila Monsters of Eastern Arizona who just two weeks before had beaten the Lady Matadors at home, 15-13 in the 5th set.

Now Western lost the first set but came back and won the second handily 25-16 and was up 24-16 in the third with all the momentum pointing to a fourth set win and the booking of tickets to Caspar, Wyoming for Nationals.

24-17….24-18: palms got clammy, heads starting to fill with doubt. 24-19…24-20….24-21…. Two timeouts by Western but the bleeding persisted. 24-22…24-23…24-24. Finally a service error gave the Lady Mats a set point, only to see Eastern dig in and score the next three points and take a 2-1 set lead.

Every coach’s nightmare.

But this is a different coach, at least from last season.

Lorayne Chandler was ending just her second year at the helm of the Az. Western College volleyball program and she couldn’t let it end like this. The year before, her first year as a college head coach, she saw her team go a substandard 11-12. The year before, as an assistant coach to the program while simultaneously coaching the local high school varsity team at Gila Ridge, (talk about grinding!), Western had gone 21-7 and earned a place at Nationals.

Now, a year removed from her first season, and staring a huge disappointment in the eye, she settled the troops. Under her guidance, Western had won their first 23 matches of the season, running through most of the Az. Community College Athletic Conference like they were late for prom. But this night, this match was a crossroads for this young coach who self described, was learning on the fly.

AWC Libero Sofia Lopez waited to hear what her coach would say. “During games, she was the same. She trusted us and in every rough time we had, she knew exactly what to say to make us react and start playing our game.”

That they did. They responded to their coach by taking the next two sets 25-20 and 15-6 and booking their trip to Caspar.

How much can change in a year? For Chandler, it was more above the shoulders for her and her team.

“My philosophy throughout my first season was ‘don’t fix what isn’t broken,’” Chandler recalls. “I tried to keep everything from class selection to practice regimes almost identical to the previous season. Biggest change I made was implementing mental training sessions with the team. I am a firm believer that female athletes play better when they feel confident and comfortable in their own skin.”

With a losing record her first season, the first one in 8 years, Chandler regrouped. “I spent a lot of my off-season contemplating what kind of coach I wanted to be. My first season, I mirrored Jason (Smith, the former AWC coach) and other coaches in the conference, by sitting on the bench during the majority of the matches. This season I decided I am way too competitive of a person to sit along the wayside. I felt more in-tuned with the matches and the athletes by making this change.”

Following the volleyball coaches mantra of there are no small things, Chandler saw this as a key. “My first year we lacked the leadership necessary to win matches. I believe my ‘bench sitting coaching tactic”’ would have only worked if I had the leadership on the court. But with me on the bench and no one on the court to step up—the writing was on the wall.”

“This year I spent more time developing leadership skills with my team captains both on and off the court. I also tried to make adjustments in my own leadership. Recruiting plays a huge role in how well each season will unfold. Our returning sophomores played at an extremely high level for us, which encouraged our freshman to also level up.”

She also made a change in the practices. “I realized running identical practices year to year did not allow me to help my players grow. I hit a learning curve once I started customizing my practices to my players versus my ‘practice book.’”

With a Masters degree in sports psychology, Lorayne used those lessons to directly affect her team. “This season I tried to stress the ‘family’ aspect of team sports.” Many of AZW’s athletes are from other countries and she felt the team played better when everyone got along. “I spent a majority of each week having individual player meetings so I could learn as much about my players as possible.”

“We stressed the need to ‘fake it ‘till you make it’. Obviously, teams have their share of conflicts. We encouraged the girls to develop a certain level of respect for each other on and off the court that allowed them to work together, regardless of outside ‘drama’, during practice and matches. We made sure the girls understood, just like their real families, conflict happens—address it and move on.”

After a stellar high school career at Pettus High School in Texas, she took her defensive skills to Richland College in Dallas where she played for two years before transferring to Texas A&M and graduating in 2009. She spent a year with the TCU volleyball program in 2010 before her move to Yuma.

With all of her comeback success, including being named the Conference Co Coach of the Year, she relied on her coaching staff…all one of him: Roberto Madrigal who’s English is a second language. “Roberto attended each practice, weight training session, and match throughout the season. In practices we utilized his volleyball skills to challenge the team. Roberto played men’s volleyball for his university in Mexico. I especially utilized Roberto’s bilingual skills. In situations where I needed my Spanish-speakers to get the message quick and efficiently Roberto would step in and assist.”

“Roberto and I seemed to have a lot of the same ideas. Typically when I asked for his help he would say what I had already been thinking. This gave me the reassurance that my thoughts were at least in the ballpark. We occasionally had hiccups with our language barrier. But with so many Spanish speakers I’ve learned to coach and talk in a way that includes more visuals than speaking cues.”

Chandler’s Lady Matadors are restocking this season after she’ll graduate six. She’ll help them with their school work and assist them if they want to play on into a four year school. But Lorayne’s biggest advantage is from the ears up. With her degree, she utilized her athlete’s biggest muscles to reinvent a program that disappointed all last season. “Understanding the ‘why’ has always been of interest to me.”

AZW Libero Lopez agrees. “It was undoubtedly better and I guess it is all about experience. This year, most of us knew how the season was going to be and she knew the problems we could face. All this together made us a great team and the Region Champs.”

Chandler’s ability to push the right buttons has given this collegiate coaching fledgling some confidence and street cred going into her third season. “Allowing my athletes an opportunity to discuss their fears and successes in a nonthreatening environment gives me the opportunity to learn what makes them tick." 

"This in turn, allows me know what buttons to press.”

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Lost Meaning of the Tryout...

This is a guest blog by the Glendale Community College head coach and longtime club coach Lisa Stuck. 

I have been involved with AZ Region Junior Volleyball many years and over that period of time, have witnessed a gradual and disturbing evolving trend. Each new season this trend seems to worsen and this year was no exception. Tryouts are no longer tryouts.

The Region has decided to allow “open gym dates” prior to tryouts as an opportunity for players to shop other clubs and make a more informed decision about which club they like best. In theory, I understand why the Region decided to allow the open gyms. These open gyms, however, seem to have turned into something unintended.

Players and parents attend open gyms in an effort to negotiate positions on teams prior to tryouts. They want assurances and promises, and sometimes leverage clubs against each other to get the best result. Coaches are on the phone, texting and calling until the wee hours of the night trying to secure players prior to tryouts. Coaches sometimes talk poorly about other Clubs and Coaches in an effort to sway players.

Players want to know, “Who is coming to the tryout”, “Who else is already on the team”, and “How many players do you already have”. Players will also tell coaches what positions they will and will not play. Parents want to know if their kid is “Your #1 setter, or “Your #1 outside” etc., and what type of playing time they will get. Players want assurances if they show up on tryout Saturday, they will make the team. They want a commitment from Club Coaches ahead of time, but aren’t willing to make one themselves.

This year, open gyms felt like I was at a car dealership trying to negotiate a sale, or at a giant swap meet watching people bicker and barter over who could provide the best deal. In the week leading up to tryout Saturday, there was so much leveraging and deal making going on, it felt like I should’ve been working on Wall Street.

The day of the tryout was unlike any tryout I have ever been part of as an athlete or a coach. Players that said they were coming, no showed without any explanation. Players that were at the tryout, knew they were already on the team, and the 2 hours blocked for tryouts would only be about 45 minutes. Tryouts are a formality now; a courtesy so the Region can say we had an official tryout. In reality, the tryouts now take place at the open gyms. The integrity of the tryout has been lost.

I miss the days when players had to show up and demonstrate their ability, work ethic, and worthiness at a tryout. Coaches could then see a player’s best effort. Everyone at the tryouts had the same opportunity to prove themselves. There were no negotiations, no promises, no bartering. Some kids made the team, and some kids didn’t. There were no guarantees.

In today’s youth sport climate, no one wants to:

· Have to try out for a team

· Worry about not making a team

· Not be on the BEST team

· Have to compete for playing time

· Have to play a position they don’t want to play

There is something to be said for having to ‘bring your best’ under pressure and perform. That’s why we have tryouts. Although, I know we no longer live in that climate, I wish there was a way to get back to the integrity of the tryout process. With so many different Clubs, I don’t know if it’s possible, but I do know…. I miss it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

ito ay lamang ng isang laro...

It’s just a game.

We use this phrase to soothe overwrought athletes who just missed their serve on match point. We tell it to Parents when they get too frisky in the stands. We tell it to officials who throw their yellow cards around like cut lumber in a forest. And we say it to ourselves when coaching the better team and we come out on the short end of the scoreboard.

It’s just a game……

Last year, USA Volleyball sent a couple of coaches over to the Philippine Islands for one week to work with some organizations looking to expand volleyball and its life lessons into their athletes, schools and communities. For both coaches, it was a life changing experience.
So USAV went back, this year for TWO weeks. The focus for this excursion was to be more coach’s education, work with the deaf and hard of hearing and with persons with disabilities. Much of the trip was assembled by an amazing woman named Geraldine (Dina) Bernardo. You will learn more about her in an upcoming blog but the catalyst behind the team’s success and most of the opportunities rests with her. 

(Dina Bernardo on the right)

The schedule, put together by the U.S. Embassy in Manila through the Sports Envoy program and their partners: SWEEP (Sport for Women’s Empowerment and Employment Program), Sport 4 Community, PADS (Philippine Accessible Disability Services Inc.) and USA Volleyball, was ambitious to say the least: sixteen different clinics in 14 straight days. The U.S. Embassy suggested in their press release of the two weeks that over 1000 athletes and 300 coaches were connected with in three cities: Manila, Cebu and Baguio.

You hear great coaches talk about the journey. In this particular coaching pilgrimage, they would be 100% right. Much was to be overcome. Language barriers were leveled, discomfort replaced with peace. The barriers of a developing nation opening its arms to clinics with only outdoor venues, dictated daily by traffic in a city of 20 million people, the relationships of local administrations to the cause and weather: from the tropical heat and humidity to typhoon like rain and wind. In addition, a population of coaches who had scant previous training in coaching let alone volleyball and those traditions that had to be unwound and untied.

And so the journey began.

An orphanage the first day under a sweltering sun and 90%+ humidity took some skill training of the 20+ into a rousing game of 9-man volleyball so more kids could play. As was the case with every clinic session that the team does, the athletes were fed lunch or a snack after the clinic. These young people ranging in age of middle school to high school brought back memories of the previous year with a thank you song for the staff and then an impromptu dance party.

The staff worked with coaches in a township called Paranaque the next day. We talked about the science of motor programming and the use of cell phone video to help athletes find their form. The coaches tried their hand at organizing a practice and presenting it to their peers and they learned sitting volleyball as well. The appreciation of the coaches is palatable in everything they say and do. We forget sometimes all that we take for granted in our sport: proper equipment, volleyball balls and coaching options and education. These folks are limited in them all.

Day three took us to the Philippine School for the Deaf for a coaching clinic that began with a country wide earthquake emergency drill. The coaches bought into the ideas of using more science to teach the game and they responded with school administrators by trying both standing and sitting volleyball, enjoying the chance to compete against and with each other. After lunch, the kids came, lower and upper grades for two hours each and the coaches helped the team train their skills and hone their opportunities to play. In the end, these deaf and hard of hearing athletes put on a hip hop dancing presentation that had everyone cheering.

Early the next morning, the team crowded into a 7 person van loaded with t shirts and volleyballs and headed 5 hours north to Baguio in torrential rain. The four women in the van; Jen, Jaemie, Mildred (but she prefers Dred) and Bunny told of how they met as we drove. They had all been on the same college volleyball team and Jen and Jaemie had been on the same high school team too. Dina had been in touch with Jen to work for her and Jen brought them all along. It has been a good partnership for the past 4 years or so and they are affectionately known as the “Sweepers.” They take care of the organization, the translating, the registration and help run courts, keeping the humor and enthusiasm to pitched levels. They are unsung and just another example of young people to which this is NOT just a game! They relish the fact they change lives with each clinic they do.

(The Sweepers: Jen, Bunny, Dred and Jaemie)

Baguio is a city built for 30,000 that supports over 100,000. The city is built through the hills and with the different colors and architecture looks from a distance like legos. In 1990, over 1,600 people were killed when an earthquake leveled much of the city. Today, with the buildings on top of each other crawling up the mountain sides, it’s both beautiful but somewhat frightening to think about. 

The team spent the morning setting up and the afternoon holding a coaching clinic. What started in the classroom finished on the court. These same coaches came back the next day to finish the clinic at a different Baguio school in the morning. At one point, the coaches were asked, after hearing the basics of the science of motor learning, to come up with a practice plan for their team. In every case, the coaches spent 20 minutes or more running and stretching. Again, this outdated concept was a tough sell to these coaches who have traditionally done this with every practice and every sport.

So we tried math; in their three month season, they had 6 hours of practice a week for a total of 72 hours of practice. If they ran and stretched for the 20 minutes, they were giving up 12 hours of their practice time WITHOUT touching a ball. The question to the coaches was simple: would you want to play a team that had 12 more hours of volleyball than you did in the same practice schedule? Slow nods and then grins told us we’d at least gotten them to think about this tradition more closely in the future.

At the end of the clinic that afternoon, a coach came up and asked us if we had any drills for 12 to 14 girls with just one ball. It’s all his school had. We worked on some ideas but in the end, slipped the coach a few pesos the next morning to buy some more balls. Such is life in Baguio.

It was this night that we met a most amazing woman. Her name is Adeline Dumapong. She is the first person to win a Paralympic medal in the history of the Philippines, in power lifting. She is an incredible woman, an even more amazing story and like Dina, will be a blog coming soon.

(Jaemie and Adeline)

As was the case with all of the athlete clinics the team ran over the two weeks, the expectation of 36 athletes climbed to well over 80 by the start, all on one cement court. With ropes in hand, the team put together more “nets” and had the boys and girls be “nets” as well, which they loved as did the coaches. While we might find that ‘cute’ here in the US, there is often no place to practice or put up a net in the places worked and this simple idea of making the kids the nets went over resoundingly well.

The next morning, Adeline had gathered several coaches, teachers and administrators who themselves were persons with disabilities and who taught, coached and worked in schools and facilities for kids with disabilities. Adeline was nervous as these leaders didn’t know there was a game called sitting volleyball and didn’t know how they would respond. The team helped several onto the court, out of their wheelchairs, and definitely out of their comfort zones. They learned sitting volleyball from the ground up, playing at first and getting a true love of the game right away. Soon, as we were wrapping up, they wanted to play more. For most, it was a chance to play, to compete at something; opportunities that they seemingly got very little of in Baguio. One coach drove two and a half hours on a motor bike in the pouring rain on a prosthetic leg just to attend this morning clinic. For these coaches, for this one morning, it wasn’t just a game.

As the team packed up, some of the girls from the clinic yesterday strolled in as they had a game a bit later. They began to play 3 on 3 with 3 girls as the net, something they had learned less than 24 hours before. The Sweepers piled into the van and the team headed the 5 hours back to Manila: tired but confidant of their fresh footprint in Baguio.

On the mid Sunday of the two weeks came a visit to Bahay Mapagmahal, an orphanage in Manila for children with disabilities. There was a small room and 20 or so children awaiting the team along with Adeline who had set up the visit. She was giving back as this was the orphanage she was raised in for 10 years growing up and where she found power lifting.

A rope was strung across the middle of the room, no bigger than an American kitchen, and the children split up on sides and began to play sitting volleyball. The smiles and laughter was almost immediate and more than infectious. The children played, figuring out how to move, how to reach and to be active with their maladies, enjoying every second they could on the court. For these few hours, the game wasn’t a game at all, it was pure freedom. After, the children grabbed instruments and played songs for the team, almost all very proficient in stringed instruments. When Katy Perry’s “Firework” was played the smiles got brighter, knowing Americans would appreciate their offering. What was not lost were the lyrics of the song that somehow added to the freedom they just had playing volleyball:

Do you ever feel like a plastic bag Drifting through the wind Wanting to start again

Do you ever feel so paper thin Like a house of cards One blow from caving in

Do you ever feel already buried deep Six feet under screams But no one seems to hear a thing

Do you know that there's still a chance for you 'Cause there's a spark in you 
You just gotta ignite the light
And let it shine Just own the night Like the fourth of July

'Cause baby you're a firework Come on show 'em what your worth
Make 'em go "oh, oh, oh!" As you shoot across the sky-y-y

Everyone shook hands and hugged and as the team headed to the car, the entire school gathered in front of the SUV saying goodbye again, making faces and smiling brightly for a few more pictures. For a few hours, the team had made a difference. Tears indistinguishable with sweat ran down faces into smiles as the night closed in and the new week was upon us.

The clinic starting week two was for the Pasay School District and it encompassed roughly 20-25 teachers and coaches. The Director of the district was there to say a few words and introduce the team. He told us he had 65,000 children in his district- 65,000!!! His schools ran double shifts, his coaches made pennies or volunteered but still this day, they sat and learned and became engaged and then went out into the humid heat and played for much of the afternoon. The next day, at the same school many of the coach’s kids came to a clinic for the younger grades and then the older. The coaches used some games and techniques learned the day before and the kids stayed engaged and busy for the entire day. There was supposed to be 50-60 but as stated, earlier, it grew closer to 100 in each session. No matter, the team ran a rope, had games going almost from the start and helped the athletes with technique, feedback and kept everything positive. The Director asked if the team was coming back next year as he wanted to bring more coaches and kids.

The team headed back to Paranaque the next morning to work with the kids from the coaches we had worked with a week before. The kids were as young as 5 and 6 and as old as High School Seniors but there were, as per normal, way more than anticipated. Skills were gone over and we used the older players to mentor the younger ones which they embraced wholeheartedly. They worked on skills with the younger players from attacking and passing to setting and defense. We taught them all sitting and then let them play over a rope in small court games to accelerate touch counts. The coaches from the week before were there and helped, using some of the coaching thoughts they had gathered 7 days earlier.

The team hustled to the airport right after the Paranaque clinic to grab a flight to Cebu, 90 minutes to an island of 6 million. Upon arrival, we met another amazing person who would once again challenge the idea that this is “just a game.” His name was J.P. Maunes and he was the founder and the action behind a group called PADS, (Philippine Accessible Disability/Deaf Services). In just his four months there, JP had gotten the nightly news to add a sign language translator and in the Philippine’s Presidential election, he helped polling places to be more accessible for persons with disabilities to vote, some for the very first time. J.P. was a mover and shaker in this community and yes, he is an upcoming blog as well. He wore a white shirt that said simple, ‘Able Bodied Nation.’ 

(J.P. on the right)

We headed to a local arena in Mandaue City in Cebu the next morning. There we addressed over 70 coaches of Special Education and PWD classes and schools and after some basic coaching thoughts, taught them sitting volleyball to take back to their students. There were several PWD in the gym who had come with some of the teachers or were teachers themselves. What happened for the next few hours was simply magic. These teachers and PWD, mostly men, got on a rope we had set up and with some basic training and rules, let loose. It was obvious that for most if not all, they had not had a physical outlet of fun in a very long time. They served tough, blocked serves, talked smack across the nets and became raucous and totally enthralled. The laughter at one point made J.P. emotional because he hadn’t heard that sound coming from these folks in forever. 

The afternoon hosted a clinic for deaf and hard of hearing athletes. Again, skills and play were the norm and then they tried sitting as well, enjoying mixing in with the PWD men who had refused to relinquish their court because they were having so much fun. One of the deaf boys asked to take a picture with Jen and then started crying. We thought he was hurt but he said he was just happy. It’s not just a game…

The next day J.P. got us to a Cebu suburb called Pajo. There we trained more coaches and PWD and deaf and hard of hearing students. The team used the model from the day before putting up ropes to handle the large amount of coaches and athletes. The day we arrived in Cebu, J.P. had brought a couple of his favorite athletes with him and both showed up this day to learn sitting volleyball.

Dexter is in his early 20’s and has an affliction which doesn’t let him use his legs below the knees. He had a wheelchair most of his young life but in the Philippines, there is very little access for PWD. There are rarely ramps into buildings, the sidewalks and roads are uneven and often unpaved. After going through this for so many years, Dexter made an incredible decision. He gave up the wheel chair and began walking on his knees to get around. He has thick rubber pads on his knees, like long volleyball knee pads, and he walks on his knees where ever he goes. He is stared at, he is slow and deliberate but he says he can go where he wants to now and he’s not at the mercy of wheels. 

(Dexter and Daisy)

Daisy is also early 20’s with Phocomelia which is an abnormal growth of limbs or a limb, in her case it’s her right leg which is half the size of her normal left and is supported with a crutch. Daisy is beautiful, charming, loves to dance and tried sitting volleyball for the first time this day, helping the littler kids and working through her own learning curve. She never got frustrated; she never gave up and just enjoyed her time on the court. She would shank a serve and smile and ask how she could get better. She is the youngest of 10 kids in her family and despite her life on a crutch, she is a vocal and effective leader in her local community for women with disabilities and works with J.P. to offer more programming and help make their daily lives better. She was an incredible ambassador for the PWD community and hopefully for sitting volleyball for years to come.

One man in a wheel chair who had been at the clinic from early in the morning stayed off to the side and the back of the proceedings, maybe just taking it all in. Toward the afternoon, when the play got louder, he ventured closer to a court. Finally a ball came toward his chair and he scooped it up. He tossed the ball up and served it over the rope to start a rally. He moved a little closer and served again, and again, and again. At one point, a ball came back to him and he stuck his arms out to pass it. He was now into the court and smiling as his team wanted him to serve every ball.

Just a game?

As the day wound down, the deaf students executed a flawless hip hop dance routine and soon everyone, including the team, was involved: dancing, shouting, singing and extolling the virtues of persons with disabilities everywhere and celebrating life. It got to a fevered pitch with everyone in a circle yelling and singing and dancing. Finally, as the song ended, J.P. got in the middle and yelled, “Let’s hear it for PWD!” and the loudest roar in Cebu echoed over the bay.

The final day in Cebu was spent with many of the same folks from the past two days, including Dexter, in Dragon boating, which is a form of rowing in a specific style of boat more common in Southeast Asia than in America. The team grabbed oars alongside PWD’s and we raced into the bay, taking turns at 10 stokes, 20, 30 50 and even 60 at a clip under the barking rhythm of the boat’s leader. Arms burned, the sun was torrid and the water a cool respite, but the men and women on the boat didn’t notice any of it. They were on the water; someplace many of them, as they climbed from their chairs and crutches, probably never imagined they could be. Working together as a unit, the ultimate team, they powered this 20+ seat hopped up canoe over the water, gliding at times through the small breakers and the wakes of the water taxis.
As soon as the team came back to shore, another group, including Ms. Daisy, went out and trained as well. They came back and the team and the rowers all talked and took pictures under a big shade tree by the dock. The group of PWD struggled at times getting in and out of the boat but J.P. built a transitional seat that made it easier. One thing this team member has learned in the past two years is there is nothing the Filipino people can’t do and being around the deaf, hearing impaired and PWD these two weeks, that idea has become concrete. The team gathered together for one last good bye and as we headed toward the van and our flight back to Manila, we saw Daisy, floating in the bay, effortless and peaceful, finding a place where her crutch wasn’t needed, her disability not in play. It was the perfect ending to our Cebu excursion.
Our final day was in the suburb of Tondo. On the outskirts of Manila near the docks, the town and its inhabitants scrounge for survival. They pore over bags of garbage for food, clothing, shoes and anything they can clean up and sell. Poverty is the norm and human trafficking is routine. In the middle of this ‘war zone’ is a purple building called, appropriately, the Purple House which is home to 411 students of Tondo who have to earn their way in with behavior and a commitment to education. They are schooled and fed daily from private donors and corporations. The clinic was only a half day and only for 30 or so of the students. It was played on a slab of green cement that was the size of a basketball 3 point line with a stage behind it, 3 feet higher. Again, the kids managed to figure out how to navigate the skills games we offered and they had a wonderful 4 hour respite from their daily lives. A few times in the past two weeks, the team introduced ‘Queen of the Court’ to the athletes and having never played it before, they devoured it. Tondo was no exception as they continued to play as the team packed up to leave.

One smaller girl who looked to be 9 or 10 was wearing canvas shoes that had such thin soles, you couldn’t help but think her feet must be getting bruised. She jumped around with everyone, played every drill and never complained once, something that is the norm with these amazing kids. You couldn’t help wonder where she had gotten them.

The team, at least the American part, was headed home. It was hard not to realize, while long days and short nights were the norm, just how much work had been done in these two weeks and the ‘Sweepers’ had been the nucleus of the atom. There aren’t enough Thank You’s for these folks that for the second time in two years, have allowed USA Volleyball to come in and change lives, make friends, grow our sport and do something that coaches long to do every day: make a difference. Dina, J.P., Adeline, Jen, Jaemie, Dred, Bunny, Alvin: these are the heroes without capes. The ones that walk past you on the street: everyday heroes.

It’s just a game. When you hear that phrase uttered the next time, stop the person saying it and tell them it’s not. It can be transformational, it can be uplifting and inspiring and educational. It can redirect lives and give confidence to those in need, and reaffirm the honor and dignity of others.

Sadly, some coaches do make it 'just a game.' But if you are reading this, you are probably in it for more. It doesn't ever have to be 'just a game' unless you want it to be. You have the ability to transform lives, help facilitate great experiences and raise confidence and self awareness. You, coach, have that power!

It’s not just a game. It can save people.

I know. It's saved me.