Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Top 5 Coaches of 2012...

We finish up our list of the best coaches of 2012. Here are the top 5:

5. Daryl Sutter- NHL Los Angeles Kings Head Coach
After being out of hockey for a year, Sutter was plucked from a ranch and hired in mid December of 2011 taking over an LA Kings team playing at .500 and led them to the end of the season with a 25-13-11 mark the rest of the way, earning the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. From there, Sutter’s Kings went on a streak the NHL had never seen before in its 119 years. They beat the #1, #2 and #3 seeds to get to the Stanley Cup finals where they topped the New Jersey Devils in 6 games to win the first Stanley Cup in L.A.’s 45 year history. “He pushes the right buttons,” said team captain Dustin Brown. “One problem we had as a team before he got here was getting emotionally attached to games. He brought that emotional level up. You can do all the Xs and Os right, but if you’re not emotionally attached, it’s real hard to win in this league.” Sutter’s buttons seemed to work. Too bad the league followed this great story up with a labor lockout.

4. Dan Fisher- Concordia (Irvine) Women’s Head Volleyball Coach
Fisher took over a program in turmoil and in his first year, after starting the season 1-1, his Eagles won their next 36 matches in a row before dropping the finals of the NAIA Championship. How do you follow that up? You guessed it. Fisher’s Eagles finished up their season 38-0 with an NAIA championship. Consider the team won the title with the reigning NAIA Player of the Year on the injury shelf the last two weeks of the championship run. By his own admission, Concordia was never the most athletic team on the floor but they worked together and as the coach put it so eloquently, "We just needed to be better volleyball players," 

3. Ivan Lendl- Tennis Coach of Andy Murray
Murray had been a high level player knocking on the door for several years, but the hiring of Lendl in 2012 finally put the Brit to the top. At his home tournament of Wimbledon, Murray lost a heartbreaking match to Roger Federer but got his revenge a month later by winning the Olympic gold medal in London, topping Federer. A few weeks after that, he won the U.S. Open in New York becoming the first British player to win a major tournament since 1936. Murray says Lendl is the coach that tells him what he needs to hear, not what he wants to hear. The results don’t lie.

2. Marcio Sicoli- USA Beach Volleyball Coach, May-Walsh
It was as unprecedented as it was unexpected. Coming off achilles and knee injuries, and her partner a pregnancy and shoulder surgery, Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh-Jennings enlisted the help of old coach Marcio to help the third seeded team go a perfect 7-0 and win a third straight Olympic gold medal. Part of their success was their poise in tight matches. “I think the difference will be the team that's going to be able to be comfortable in those pressure situations, on 18-18, 19-19.” Sicoli said about their training. “I felt that our training and our psychological training has been doing really good for us."

1. Anson Dorrance- University of North Carolina Women’s Soccer Head Coach 
Coach Dorrance won his 21st NCAA Championship in 29 years a few weeks ago. Let that soak in. It would be easy to rest on your laurels after a few, but blackjack? Dorrance continues to cement a coaching legacy that rivals NCAA names like Knight and Bryant and Summit. He owns a 642-33-22 record at UNC and has build a dynasty that has also helped feed the US Women’s Olympic and World Cup teams. Dorrance, who is known for his competitive cauldron, continues to recruit not the best soccer players but the most competitive kids. In his famous quote, Dorrance defines the athletes he looks for.  “The vision of a champion is someone who is bent over, drenched in sweat, at the point of exhaustion when no one else is watching.

There were many other candidates in the conversation: USA Women's National Team Coach Hugh McCutcheon, Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly, the USA Women's gymnastics coach John Geddert and Texas women's volleyball coach Jerritt Elliot to name but a few. Let us know how we did. Contact us at Region Outreach with your feedback and suggestions. Thanks for reading! 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Best Coaches of 2012

A coaches blog should celebrate coaching and coaches; seems natural, right? But most of the pundits, publishers and those that are members of the blogosphere seem to only put their focus in their wheel house.

So we’ll try to buck that trend. Please enjoy the Top 10 Coaches of 2012 presented by Arizona Sidelines.

10. John Speraw- UCLA Men’s Head Volleyball Coach

Speraw lead his University of CaliforniaIrvine Anteaters to their third NCAA National Championship in six years with a 3-0 sweep of USC at the Galen Center. Speraw accepted the head coaching position to his alma mater UCLA a few weeks after the Championship and hopes to live up to the high expectations that the retiring Al Scates left there. In addition, Speraw has been involved with the Men’s National teams, the Pan Am teams and is well versed in the International game. Had he made himself available, all fingers pointed to Speraw as the next Men’s National Team coach but he will be at the helm of the Bruins for the near future.

9. Jimmy Pedro- USA Olympic Judo Coach

Six years ago, Pedro brought together the 20 best Judo athletes in the nation and created a high performance plan in conjunction with USA Judo and the USOC. The fruits of that labor came together as Kayla Harrison won the first Olympic gold medal in Judo in US history. The back story is how Harrison, who was sexually abused by her previous coach, came to trust and finally credit Pedro for his efforts in her gold medal performance. Pedro showed both a long term vision and the ability to connect with individual athletes and has been the major force in putting judo on the US sports radar.

8. Lin Dunn- WNBA Indiana Fever Head Coach

The 65 year old Dunn won her first WNBA title guiding the Indiana Fever to an upset win over the heavily favored and defending WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx. Add to that her best post player and second leading scorer, Katie Douglas sprained her ankle and was unable to play. Dunn said about the upset and the fact her team rallied around the fallen Douglas, “A lot of emotional things came into play here that somehow overcame talent.”

7. Todd Schmitz- USA Olympic Swimming Coach of Missy Franklin

At 33, Schmitz can lay claim to guiding Miss Franklin to four gold medals and five total in her first Olympics, at the ripe age of 17. The secret of his success? It’s not what you would think. Schmitz is committed as a coach to rest and play. When his athletes get fried in a work out, he stops the laps and sets up an impromptu water polo match. "A lot of this is about simply playing around in the water," he said. "That's what kids do naturally, and the play engages the mind and gives the swimmer the tools to figure out the right way to move their body." Schmitz made sure Franklin attended her boyfriend’s prom at the expense of a workout. Clearly, Schmitz sees the potential pitfalls of burnout in young athletes and his training methods and priorities have a proven bag of gold in Franklin.  

6. Mike Krzyzewski- USA Men’s Olympic Basketball Coach

Tough to sell this choice, right? Think about this; in a world of athletes more concerned about the ‘me’ instead of the team, a world where the Olympic team made a combined $230 million in salary the YEAR before the games, a world where statistics are as tightly affixed to player’s mentality as a heavyweight title belt, Coach K got these mega stars to buy into a team mentality, playing tough defense, working together and putting aside personal gain for a gold medal for the United States. His job with the group is an amazing example of buy in and the implementation of a far greater goal of the team over the ‘me’. 

Check back in a few days to see the top 5 coaches of 2012. Feel free to give us your feedback on our selections at Region Outreach

Friday, December 21, 2012

Lower Your Voice and Raise the Level....

It started this week with an e mail from a player in Savannah, Georgia who was in a camp I had done over the summer. When asked how her club season was going, she said, “It’s awful. All our coach does is yell and scream and curse at us. I don’t even want to go to practice anymore.”

She’s in eighth grade.

Chatting with a coaching friend on Wednesday, she said one of her players came up to her on their court amidst several other courts of activity and said, “That coach on the court next to us, the one that keeps screaming, is making me uncomfortable.”

Is this what’s next for those coaches?

It’s baffling to understand why some coaches feel it necessary to yell and scream at their players and teams. In an article for, Michael Linsin says that teachers will yell at their students for one or more of the following reasons:

1. They don’t know a better way.
2. They don’t trust their classroom management plan.
3. They don’t enforce their classroom rules each and every time.
4. They take poor student behavior personally and feel the need to scold.
5. It works initially (though the effect lessens over time and comes at a high cost).

What makes it even more baffling is how those coaches would feel if THEY were getting yelled at in heir work place. In fact, polled workers to find out what it is that fills them with workplace-related angst. The top answer? Getting yelled at by the boss, 26%! 

As has been argued for decades, if yelling is the best teaching tool, then kindergartens and first, second and third grade class rooms would be full of screaming teachers. Is it like that where your daughter or son goes to school?

On a personal front, raise your hand if you like being yelled at…… You mean you don’t like to be the center of negative attention, be belittled in front of peers and disrespected? Huh…go figure!

Alan Goldberg puts out a website titled Competitive Edge. In a recent post, Goldberg talks about yelling. He writes, “There’s an odd belief in parenting and coaching circles today that by somehow raising your voice more, the message that you’re trying to deliver will be better received. You know, the louder you speak, the easier it goes in. Unfortunately, the opposite is more frequently true. Yelling at kids usually distracts them from the game, turns them off to the sport and shuts them down, performance-wise. Coaches who yell at their athletes during games are off base. Contrary to what you may see on TV, yelling is not the best way to motivate your child-athlete to scale new performance heights.”

Emotion can often overtake a coach, at practice or during a match but as a coach, you have some things you can do.

First, do you have a coaching philosophy in place that when called upon during the trying times can help lead you in the right direction. Be the coach that lives with their philosophy and won’t abandon it at the expense of some rough patches during a long season.

Do you have a sounding board? An assistant coach or a team Captain you can ask whether or not your behavior and demeanor is acceptable or not.

Finally, do you fully understand that you are coaching a sport that is incredibly random, that is based on decisions made in fractions of seconds and skills that require years to master?

It’s also not so out of place to remember the “golden rule” when coaching, and asking yourself if YOU would be comfortable being coached by you in these moments. Would you be okay being yelled at, berated and made to feel small?

One of the great pieces of advice Hugh McCutcheon, the most successful U.S. Coach in Olympic history said recently was, “If you yell all the time, how will they know when you really are angry?” 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Thumbs up or facing each other....

And so it began...

My assistant coach and I began a mini debate at practice about the virtues of pushing your thumbs to the cieling when you press for a block as she had been taught playing for her Junior College and Univeristy teams. The other side was to lead with your palms over the net and fingers spread but middle finger to the cieling, thumbs facing each other.

After our debate, we decided to take our question to the tight knit volleyball community for their opinions.

A Senior member of the USOC's Competitive Analysis and Research department had never seen a study done of the virtue of hand placement on the block but did say, "My gut tells me thumbs up creates a wide lateral area while middle up creates a higher vertical area. Perhaps it's a function of the blocker limitation; if they're shorter or not the greatest jumper, perhaps they need the extra inch 'middle up' gives them."

The biomechanical side covered, we started asking coaches their opinion. An assistant coach from the Big East conference who has given presentations on blocking for USA Volleyball was solicited and he replied, "Thumb up is what we teach for a couple reasons: 1) safer because this technique lends toward leading with the palm of your hands when penetrating over the net to block vs. fingers leading; 2) one has a more natural ability to angle their wrists thus allowing the palm of their hands to face the middle of the court."

Another call went out to a coach from Florida with some extensive USA Volleyball coaching background. His take was, "Common perception is that thumbs up locks the elbows to create a sturdy blocking platform. We don't specifically train one way over the other. We just tend to focus in sealing the net and holding the block as long as possible."

I had heard the thumb up locks the elbows argument before but wasn't sure that was a biomechanical certainty. Back to the USOC Competitive Analysis and Research department asking that specific question, to which he replied, "I don't necessarily think 'thumbs up' locks the elbow, per se, but I wouldn't argue over the rest of it."
A coach from the West Coast Conference fired up,"The ball knows angles, in this case the angle of your hand. So I say get over with big hands and make sure they're facing in the court."

Another Coach weighed in, a former National team assistant who has coached at just about every level. "I prefer hands over the net! But to answer what you ask I like thumbs up. Your hands cover a little more area but most important if your fingers are up and you turn your hand in (to deflect the ball into the court) it opens a hole in your hands (try it). If your thumbs are up and you turn your hand in it doesn't open a hole because your hand kind of pivots around your thumb (try it). Also, your thumbs are the strongest parts of your hands , by far so I like the idea of exposing that in the middle of my block."

A first year coach with an extensive background brought this to the party,  "I have always taught thumbs to ceiling. There are a couple of things to consider here: 1) thumbs up serves a similar purpose as a shoulder shrug in passing. The shrug serves to lock in the platform into a ready position just before contact. Rolling the thumbs up essentially does the same for your blocking platform. 2) thumbs up also aids in placing the hands in a correct position to redirect the ball back into the court, aka, you're not as easy to tool! 3) consider also what method of blocking is being used. Thumbs up may not be as feasible a position for the hands during a swing block movement where as in a static block method I believe it's vital."

A final e mail of the day on the topic trickled in late last night from a PAC-12 Assistant Coach. "I don't talk about either. I try to keep it simple. The ball knows angles. So, if you're a right side blocker, your outside hand needs to be turned in a little bit, and your inside hand should be straight. To often blockers hands are "in the shape of a ball" which creates bad angles. Asides from that, I just talk about big strong hands getting over the net. Doesn't mean I'm right, but that's all I talk about with our kids (who aren't very good at blocking yet)."

More than anything, I wanted my Coach to know that I valued her opinion and that instead of just taking the easy road and teaching how we were taught, let's go the extra mile. Questions are good, challenge is good, research and opinions are good! It's what helps makes coaches life long learners.

The volleyball community is a small one and many coaches are very happy to share their opinions and research with you. If YOU have a question you would like answered, let us know at the Region Outreach. We'd love to help! 


Friday, December 7, 2012

"All in..."

Arizona Sidelines sat down with ASU head coach Jason Watson this week. On the docket was Erica Wilson, the Sun Devil's outside hitter who played middle her first three years at ASU. Jason tells how he and his staff went about the change and why it worked. "We don't get to the NCAA tournament, we don't get 20 wins if Erica is not on the left."- J. Watson 

At the end of the 2011 season, we were creating all these point scoring opportunities but we couldn't score points. In looking around, here is the most physical kid that we have. She’s pretty dynamic, clearly athletic enough, so let’s move her. I really didn't discuss it with my staff. I just kind of rolled in to the start of the spring and said, “We’re moving Erica to the left side.”

So first week in the spring, “Hey Erica, guess what, you’re now a left side. I hope you’re okay with that,” and she was like, "Yea, let’s do it!" And part of it was, when we sat down and talked with her, there wasn't too much of a debate going on, we've got to be all in on this. There are going to be days when this is a really, really good idea and there’s going to be days when we look at each other and say what the heck are we doing here? We can’t be like that. You are now a left side and there is no going back. So we've got to be all in. This isn't a case of, let’s HOPE it works out. There is no option, this has to work out. We did that because we didn't want to be straddling this fence of uncertainty so I just felt it was easy for all of us if we just said from the get-go Erica is a left side. There is no further discussion. Let’s go, Erica is in on this.You know, at the time we’re reading all this stuff about how it’s okay for kids to make errors because they’re getting better so we shared that with Erica; if you’re not making mistakes, you aren't getting better. So off we go.

The first couple of weeks we’re doing it, we’re like WOW, she’s really, really good. And I think the first couple of weeks it’s like the honeymoon and life is great. Then we get into the dog days of spring and all of a sudden this is getting a little harder and this is different and our setter went down so now somebody else is setting and so the location of the sets is different and all of this stuff is different and it gets harder. And it was brilliant! It turns out it’s hard being a left side and turns out you get lots of sets. Turns out you get set when the game’s not going well and she got a lot of experience dealing with that in the spring. So it was good.

I think that was part of her buy in. She’s going to get all the sets and here we are, 15-14 playing Cal on the road and who do we set to win the match? We set Erica and she wins the match. In Washington, we’re up in game four and who do we set to the win the match? We set Erica and Erica gets a kill. I think she likes that. It’s her competitive nature, I think that’s one of the things she wanted to do.

We knew going in that the highs were going to be high and the lows were going to be low and we knew she was behind the curve when it came to managing the game. We knew that and we were okay with that and I think you have to be okay with that. The last thing she needs is for us to be yelling at her about stuff; "Hey, don’t hit it out…" Well thanks coach. She knew that. What we had to do was give her the tools to get better at some stuff and we were playing catch up, we all knew that. There were some days where you were like, oh boy…ooooohhh boy. And then there were some moments where you were like, YA! We don’t get to the NCAA tournament, we don’t get 20 wins if Erica is not on the left.  Last year, we had 9 wins with outside hitters with a better resume and who have played the position longer than Erica. I think that says volumes for what she’s done. It’s a pretty nice story.

If you would like to read the entire interview with Jason Watson as he discusses his teams rise this season, managing practices and the definition of success, e mail outreach and we'll send you the entire interview.