Thursday, December 26, 2013

2013 High Fives.....

As we wrap up 2013, the top 10 lists and best of and worst of lists flood TV channels, websites, face book pages, tweets, magazines and newspapers. Our sport has our athletes of the year, teams of the year, etc. But how about we just give a high five to some deserving stories of 2013.

So put your hands up and let’s give a high five to:

 We’ve missed some great accomplishments of both individual players and teams, but take this list for what it’s worth; an exemplary cross section of what makes our sport great.

Best wishes for a safe and Happy New Year from the Az. Region.

Friday, December 6, 2013


With so many people and teams written about over the summer, the Region decided to check back with some of our blogging subjects to see how things turned out for them.

In our Blog entitled “Jess” written about an outside hitter in the small community in south east, Washington, Jess’s season went very well. Her team finished the season as District and League Champions with a 17-0 record and went to the State tournament. Jess’s coach Steph said without a hint of hyperbole, that “She is a joy to coach! She was our strongest outside hitter and usually led the team in kills and digs.” Jess made First Team All League and was in the paper after every game. Coach Steph said, “A quiet but strong leader, she makes the girls around her better in so many ways, but the biggest one is she is good all the way through. She prays with and for her team before every game, grateful for the game and opportunity to play. Love streams from this kid; love of volleyball and her family and her team. As a coach I am grateful to have the chance to know her and coach her. As a mother, I am glad my daughter calls her friend. “

In our blog entitle “Biesh,” Jessie was transitioning to coaching after her collegiate career had ended. She was the C-Team coach for her high school and she proclaims, in her positive style, that it was a great first year. “I learned a lot about coaching that age group and I enjoyed every bit of it! And of course I loved assisting with varsity. It was crazy how much the girls improved and how they ended their season so well.” Biesh said.

But it didn’t start out all rainbows and ponies. “The worst part was probably the first week of coaching the C team. There wasn't any chemistry on the team and half of the girls had no idea what they were doing which made the best part the end of the C team season and seeing how close our team chemistry was and how much each girl had improved.” She also helped the Varsity’s Washing State tournament. “It was a lot of fun and the girls did great.”

Jessie’s future plans are in motion already. “I'm actually moving to Vancouver the beginning of January. My boyfriend of over 3 years is a football player at Portland State and so I'll be about 15 minutes from him. I will be applying into an education program to teach K through 8 after I finish all the prerequisites. I'm honestly so sad that I can't coach next year but my boyfriend and I would love to move back here after we're both done with school and I will definitely want to look into coaching here again. Obviously many things can change, but those are my plans as of now!”

In our blog “Nettie” we followed a young coach trying to change the culture of the same high school that she attended. “This years team was such a great group of girls,” coach Nettie Hawkins proclaimed. “They were very dedicated and focused on personal and team goals and that even though we did only win 3 games they were pleased with the way things went and know what needs to be done In order to get further next year.”

Trying to find that combination that will keep her Port Townsend girls inching closer to a winning culture, Nettie said, “I can't say there were major things that were changed, but the dynamic of the team was changed as my star setter went on exchange in Spain for a year. So with that everyone was getting used the new system and getting used to new hands, they did quite well adjusting. Next year I have eight returning players as well as my setter will be back, so there are big things to come.”

From the blog entitled “Coaching Pirates,” Coach Tera Paulson talked about her struggles with a young team from a tiny town and also trying to turn the corner on a losing culture. Coach Paulson saw her team finish 19-9, a District Championship but fell in the first round of the Regional tournament. “Our girls came absolutely fired up to play in the District championship match. We had a few ups and downs throughout the match, but fought back like we had all season and won the match 3-0. The girls picked up their passing and stayed aggressive at the net and it paid off. It was our schools first District Championship in 18 years!”

Paulson talked about the culture difference from years past. “The girls, for the most part, had confidence in their ability and never gave up. We had a lot of slow starts to matches this year but the team never let that get them down. In the past, the team would have folded and lost quickly, this year the girls fought hard and played point by point. There were numerous matches we would get down by 8-10 to start, only to come back and win the set.” That fighting spirit might be credited to a group to young to understand pressure. “We didn't graduate a single senior so hopefully the future holds more success stories!” Paulson said. “The future holds whatever this group wants it to hold. These girls have the potential to be North Dakota State contenders but we cannot be satisfied with where we are at. Every team in our district, in our region and in the state will spend the next year getting better. We must also spend time in the gym improving our skill and working hard to be able to compete at the highest level in ND. I have no doubts that this team can accomplish great things....and I think I am finally getting them to believe that as well.”

Finally, in our blog entitled “The Competitive Cauldron…Jersey Style” we talked to Coach Colleen Henry about the character cauldron she created from scratch. She said her results were mixed. “We did it 2 more times after the original.” She noted. “I think it helped some people come out of their shell and to admit weaknesses. I did notice quiet girls speaking up more and some more supportive actions. However, I don't think anyone made drastic changes. Kids on the bottom stayed on the bottom, and the ones on top stayed on the top. Only movement was a place or two in the middle. I also noticed warped perspectives. For example, two kids are friends, and they rank their friend higher than most of the team in a category. Or someone they don't get along with is ranked low in a category whereas most scored the person as higher. I think that I would not make mandatory scores, for example 1, 1.5, 2, etc. and have them put a decimal if needed, because I think there was a perception that we were better in some categories than we actually were. I thought our team was weak on communication this year. I would say 75% of team was very quiet on the floor. However, one of those quiet girls would score a 3 and think she was doing ok, when in reality she should have been a 1.3. The girls said they found it hard to give 0s. A lot of the team was so similar that they found it hard to differentiate between the middle numbers so I think going forward having more variety in score would help. I would say it helped in small ways, but with adjustments, and if I did it more frequently, or it counted towards play time, I would see more use and improvement.”

The Region would like to thank these coaches and players for letting us tell you their stories. It’s greatly appreciated.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Being the Echo....

In the past week, we have seen a few examples of Coaching Ethics being toyed with in an effort to gain a competitive edge.

The NBA’s Brookyn Nets coach Jason Kidd told one of his players, “hit me” while holding a drink and when the player bumped into Kidd, he spilled it onto the court. The delay in cleaning it up gave the coach a chance to talk to his team about a last shot in the game where he was down two with no time outs and 8.3 seconds on the clock.

In the perfect-world scenario, the Nets missed the last shot and lost the game but Kidd, who denied any wrong doing right after the game, was fined $50,000 by the NBA and two days later admitted he did it. “It’s about trying to win…” Kidd said.

In the Thanksgiving night football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin stepped into the path of Raven’s kickoff returner Jacoby Jones, perhaps slowing him down enough to be caught from behind. Tomlin was seen smiling on the sidelines after the play but did admit he was wrong for being on the field and said he would take the consequences. The NFL is currently reviewing the play.

In the perfect-world scenario, the Steelers lost the game anyway.

Coaching young athletes, who will see these instances of coaches being ethically bereft, might call them “competitors” who will do anything to win. The question is where do you draw the line?

  • Baseball players that use steroids and PED’s?
  • Cyclists who oxygenate their blood and use enhancements?
  • Gymnasts who lie about their age to gain an advantage with the flexibility that comes with youth?
The one thing that all of these situations have in common is that they are against the rules. Rules put in place to keep playing fields even for all. And when one person breaks the rule, another thinks they might have to in order to stay competitive. But a clear choice is made. Kidd knew his antics were against the rules and if Tomlin’s position on the field was purposeful, he did too. So do the baseball players and cyclists and gymnasts. They are knowingly breaking the rules for an advantage.

This isn’t new to sports and, let’s be honest, will never stop. As long as someone can gain an advantage over another, rules will be bent to the point of breaking, and yes, they will be broken.

But coaching young athletes, we need to keep things in perspective. First, kids are way smarter than we think and they see things we don’t think they see and they pick up signals constantly.

When you tell a player she’ll run laps if she confesses to a net violation in a match, what are you really telling that player? Touch calls in volleyball are the equivalent of Truth or Dare. Some players may feel the need to say yes, I touched that ball, but know the wrath of their coach isn’t worth it.

Take it a step farther: some coaches demand that kind of honesty in practice because this is your team and you shouldn’t deceive your team but once we are in a match, don’t say anything. The rationale from one coach was, “The officials are the professionals and they should catch it.”

Some of our athletes are as young as 9 and 10 and 11 and we are asking them to start their athletic careers, and for a lot of them, their first interactions with the world outside of school, by lying and hiding the truth at the expense of winning.

“Life is an echo. What you send out comes back. What you sow, you reap. What you give, you get. What you see in others exists in you. Remember, life is an echo. It always gets back to you. So give goodness.”

We may not want to admit it, but we are role models. How we act, what we say, how we say it are all gauged and recorded by our athletes. Asking them to lie or cheat will create the next generation of coaches that are straddling the line of competitor and cheat.

We are, truly, the echo.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Jen...My Apologies

Dear Jen,

I owe you an apology. Many months ago you were in a coaching clinic I was conducting for the Region.

I made a statement that reeked of smug and sound bite.
“You don’t set with your legs!”

You countered with how young players used their legs and as I had learned to diffuse this claim, I had a player sit down and have her set back to me, not using her legs. I asked how someone who jump sets uses their legs when they set? You were polite although I didn’t think I had won you over and the clinic went on.

Then in July, in a coaching clinic in Rogers, Arkansas, a coach who heard this tag line asked me this: “What about a shot putter? They use their legs and their arms in unison, don’t they?”

Stumped, I reached out to an acquaintance with Arizona ties and a humbling body of work and knowledge in this area; Peter Vint,  the Senior Director of Competitive Analysis and Research & Innovation at the United States Olympic Committee.

Vint is always open to these questions and to his credit, figures out a way to explain the complexities of the human body for even this coach to understand, quite a chore in itself!

His first sentence was direct and made me ashamed I had tossed around that billboard slogan for the past few years without checking with a professional. “The legs, and any body part for that matter, can and do have a direct impact on motion.”

Jen, again, my apologies!

Vint explained it this way, obviously dialed into his captive yet ill informed audience of one. “Let’s say the setter needs to impart 10 units of speed to the ball, at release, to achieve the desired trajectory and final location of the ball in the attacking zone. The 10 units can be derived from many sources and the sources are additive in their contribution.”

“So if the ball has a speed of 10, the hands could contribute all 10 units of speed or any fraction thereof. If the legs are used to elevate the center of mass during the setting action, they will impart velocity. Perhaps they contribute 2 units or 4. If the hips or knees extend at all they will contribute in some way, shape or form to the velocity of the ball.”

Vint, at this point, throws me a bone before he rightfully throws me under the big yellow bus. “Whether this is preferred by coaches or not is perhaps the next questions but it is a different question. If I heard you say, ‘you don’t pass or set with your legs,’ I would understand your intent but would feel you were fundamentally incorrect of your understanding of mechanics.”

My friends, that smell you have picked up on is the smoking gun!

“The legs WILL contribute. How much is a function of the technique used, which by itself may be a function of upper arm strength.” Vint then, as if typing this with Jen standing in front of his desk, adds, “In this way, a u12 girl may need to use her legs to a larger extent than a national team male because she does not possess the upper body strength to deliver all 10 units with her arms.”

We can debate when to teach setters to jump set and/or not use their legs for a unit of the set speed, but that is for another blog.
This is a public apology to Jen and to those who I misinformed with an infomercial mentality. I took their serious question and answered it with a smugness and flippancy of the uneducated. I apologize sincerely.

As a coaching instructor for the Region, you should expect more than cute answers and pat phrases. You should expect scientific answers and when I don’t have them, I should get them for you.
We talk about how many coaches look past the science of our bodies and our sport and continue to follow traditions that are both inefficient and sometimes even counter productive. My glass house is in need of repair these days.

Jen, I am sorry. I will be better at my job going forward.

You and the other coaches of our Region don’t deserve anything less.

Eric Hodgson

Arizona Region of USA Volleyball

Monday, October 28, 2013

Thank You Fall League Coaching Staff....

Tonight, a gaggle of dedicated coaches who have given up their Monday nights for the last 8 weeks will step on the court for the last time as the coaching staff of the Arizona Region Instructional Fall League.
Players that didn’t play on the middle or high school teams, for whatever reason, came out to Court One and were put together by skill level and every week, were trained in one skill and then played the last 90 minutes of the practice.

These coaches were from all walks of life and in all different places in them.

There is Rob, a 49 year old senior Loan officer and a 16’s club coach who came on board to, “Expand my coaching knowledge.”

Kirk is a 52 year old Auto Claims handler who is an assistant coach for a club team in Phoenix. In his second go round with the Fall league, Kirk said, “I had the pleasure of being a part of the Fall League last year, and I couldn’t wait to do it again! The kids come with such enthusiasm and a willingness to take instruction that it is a great pleasure to be on the court with them. I love seeing them progress from awkward to smooth, from unsure to confident. It’s also a great opportunity for me to meet other coaches and learn some new techniques and drills to bring to my teams. It’s a positive, low-pressure environment where the focus is on learning and playing instead of performance and competition, and the kids respond very strongly to it, which makes it easier and more fun to work with them. What’s not to like about that?

Becca is a 22 year old business development assistant and student. She is just starting her coaching career.

“I'm going back to school for physical therapy, and hope to be a pediatric physical therapist in the future. I thought learning to coach would be a great opportunity so that I could gain experience working with kids in an active, instructional environment.”

Joe is a 49 year old engineer who is also a club coach, but said, “I enjoy working with other coaches to share ideas and coaching philosophies. I also enjoy any opportunity to help a player advance their skill.”

Scott is a retired airline pilot who now calls coaching volleyball his profession. The 66 year old coaches club as well and said, “Anytime I am around coaches or student athletes I learn volleyball.”

Dani just turned 22 and works full time as a registered nurse. “I'm coaching at the Fall League because I love everything about volleyball and want to learn more. Last year in 2012, I was an assistant high school sand volleyball coach and assistant for the J.V. and Varsity Volleyball team.”

Karina is a 43 year old accountant who is also in her second year with the Fall league. “The reason why I enjoying coaching is I love volleyball and want to show kids how to play. I want them to understand the techniques they need to be able to play in college and love the sport as much as I do. Any time there is an opportunity to help kids learn volleyball I am there.”

Elena is a 22 year old student and former player who wants to get into coaching. “I wanted to coach Fall League because I had no idea which age group I was interested in coaching at first.”

Allen is a retired 65 year old who, “Just wanted to build my coaching knowledge.”

Jarrod is 13 year veteran with the Phoenix Fire Department. The 34 year old coaches 7-9 year olds and 10-12 year olds through their schools. “I like it because the girls are already playing for their school pride! I jumped in last winter season to cover for the coach who needed a break. I turned around their record drastically and had a good repoire with the Parents and Players who have requested me back ever since. The Volleyball bug has bitten me hard! I have been putting myself in any and all the Coaches clinics I can find. I took IMPACT at the Volleyball festival and I have been to Volleyball tournaments and camps so I can learn the art of coaching volleyball. This is why I was interested to be a part of the fall league for more exposure. I have enjoyed the fall league.”

Coaching isn’t the glorious profession that we think it is most of the time. None of these wonderful coaches will hold up a super bowl trophy or an NCAA Championship ring anytime soon, but they are here, coaching in the trenches. Not the best players, but players that want to learn and stay sharp. They came every Monday to help kids get better, to make themselves better, and ultimately, help make our sport better.

And that, one and all, IS glorious.

Thank you Fall League Coaching staff.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Coaching Pirates...

Situated just a few miles north of the South Dakota border on highway 11 is the tiny hamlet of Hankinson, North Dakota. How tiny? A little over 900 people total in a town that features one burger joint, one restaurant, one park, one lake and a once a year mud bog that grabs the locals’ fancy.

Hankinson High School’s total population would barely fill the stands of a local high school football game in Arizona but there is some nice things going on in the volleyball gym there, and Coach Tera Paulson has begun to script a turnaround that may be the envy of her league.

Paulson, much like the rest of Hankinson, juggles a family, a career and other jobs because, as she says, “Things need to get done.” She is a physical therapist, in her third year as the High School volleyball coach and is also on the board to revamp and modernize the Hankinson library. Her husband Greg owns and operates the town’s only hotel, the restaurant, a laundry mat, is a volunteer assistant with the High School football team, a member of the town’s fire department and a City Council man. Oh yea, their first child is creeping up on 2 years old too.

Two years ago, the Hankinson Pirates won a total of 7 matches. Paulson, a year into her transformation of the program, remembers, “When I first took over the program, we were not competitive and had not been in the top half of our district in about 10 years.”

In the first week and a half of this season, the Pirates knocked off the defending state champions, defending district champions and the preseason district poll #1 team despite being picked #2. “It is funny to think that we are 8-3 right now and 2 years ago we only won 7 matches the entire season!” Paulson says smiling. 

Hankinson has 19 athletes in their program…total. There are no seniors this year but the program fields three teams. There is a C-squad (which replaces a freshman only team), which is 9th and 10th graders combined. Their Junior Varsity is 9th, 10th and 11th and the varsity is 9th-12th with an occasional 8th grader although they don’t have any this season.  

Per North Dakota rules, Paulson juggles her 19 players and gets the most FOR them. The girls can play 6 sets each night so typically C-Squad and JV players overlap quite a bit as they play best two out of three sets and then my younger Varsity starters all play one set of J.V.”

Paulson has created a new atmosphere in the Hankison gym. “I am lucky in the fact that the girls have really bought into my coaching style and work hard and very rarely question what I have to say.” Tera says. “Since I took over the program the girls have started playing in two spring tournaments, they have attended team camp together and I’ve also brought in outside coaches in so the girls can hear new ideas other than mine.”

Paulson also knows that talent is a key to success as well. “I got lucky that I started with a young group of phenomenal kids that are willing to work hard and compete.  It used to be that if you were a senior, you got to start or play a lot.  I have not been afraid to start 8th and 9th graders and now we are seeing the benefit of that experience.” She is amused saying out loud,  “I keep thinking that we are older now but I start two freshmen, three juniors, one sophomore and my libero is a sophomore as well. We are not older, just more experienced.”

Paulson, who spent time in Phoenix coaching some years ago, says the program’s biggest challenge in having so few athletes is getting 6-on-6 playing time. “If I take 12 kids at the Varsity level, that only leaves 7 for my other coach to practice with.  Also, it is difficult to get 12 kids at the same level so that we can play competitive game like drills and challenge the better players. That said, my younger athletes have benefited over the past couple of years because they have been forced to play with the older girls and now again, we are seeing the benefits from that.”

Small town life may cause numbers problems at practice but Paulson relishes the small town atmosphere by the relationships she has nurtured with her athletes. “Absolutely the biggest positive to having so few girls is that I know all the kids in my program.  I know their parents, their siblings, who they are friends with, who their boyfriends are; we are a very close knit group.  Many of the girls will come to me with their issues, problems and emotional needs; not always what I love to hear but at the same time it’s important for them to know there is someone to listen.” Tera sighs, “I clearly recall being a sophomore in high school, getting put onto the Varsity team and all the pressures that came with that, whether real or perceived.”

In a gym culture that used to play safe and hide from challenge, these new Pirates have bought into the jump serve in their gym. “All of our varsity kids are jump serving.  We are only serving around 85% at the moment but the girls have really embraced it.” In a demonstration of the new culture, Tera saw a few of the girls started to struggle a little bit with their jump serves because of bad tosses. “We sat down and discussed whether we wanted to continue with jump serving or switch back.  I had them close their eyes and then raise their hands to answer; only two are not confident jump serving in a match but no one wanted to go back to standing on the ground.” She says proudly, “I thought that was awesome! I was very impressed and very happy that was the response I got. I think over the next year and a half, it will really come around as they gain confidence serving in games. ”

Big picture thinking in a small town has given Coach Paulson a team she sees wreaking some havoc in future. “I don't lose any kids between this year and next year so it should be a great couple of years.”

“I think one of the aspects that I take pride in the most is that the girls know and understand how much I care about them, not only as my players, but also as people.” Paulson explains about coaching her Pirates.  “They see the amount of time I put into planning practices, spring tournaments, camps, open gyms, and other opportunities just to make them better and for their benefit.”  

Sunday, September 22, 2013


Port Townsend High School has started their volleyball season 1-1. They were swept by North Kitsap but came back two nights later to upset rival Sequim in three sets. Port Townsend coach Hawkins said great rallies and team enthusiasm helped secure the upset.
This may not be on your radar as a volleyball fan or coach, but maybe it should be. Winning is a great feeling. It drives coaches, athletes, parents and we as coaches pore over the trappings of those that show a propensity for success and winning often.
But Coach Hawkins deserves our attention too despite that fact that she’s won three matches in the last four seasons. She deserves our attention not because she is coaching a winning program but trying to resurrect a losing one.
She deserves our attention because this basketball and volleyball player in high school and college has a birth certificate that verifies that her given first name is Nettie!
“My name Nettie isn't short for anything, like I am usually asked.” She says smiling. “I had athletic parents for sure, but nothing about that helped in the decision to name me Nettie! I guess it's just a fantastic coincidence, and an old family name.”
Nettie’s Port Townsend Redskins have started their season off at 1-1 but there is much to be excited about. The history of PT Volleyball isn’t storied. “Volleyball at PTHS has always been a sport that people in our community enjoy coming to watch and learn because there are so many amazing aspects of volleyball.” Nettie explains. “There have been a few years a while back where they went to state, but never placed, as well as made it to districts but no further. When I took over the program in 2008, the previous two years they had two different coaches, who only happened to step in because no one else was interested.”
After a successful college career in both basketball and volleyball, Hawkins came back home to Port Townsend. “When I first moved back home in March and saw the job opening I couldn't have moved more quickly to apply, and that next August we started the season. I was nervous to be taking over a weak program as a 23 year old as head coach. It certainly was a challenge, but nothing I couldn't learn along the way.”
Situated at the extreme northeastern end of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, Port Townsend is a town of barely 9,000 people and is in an area less than 10 square miles. (To point, the Greater Phoenix area is over 2,000 square miles) PTHS is one of the smallest 1A schools in all of Washington but they play in a league of 2A and 3A schools. Their geographic location and the transportation budget of the school dictate the Redskin’s league and schedule. “It is very frustrating, but at the same time I think it has made my girls stronger playing against larger schools. I take the talent that shows up on the first day of practice where the big schools get to pick and choose.” Nettie says. 
Some high schools that our Arizona athletes play for will cut 20-30 or more girls just on their freshman teams. Hawkins dreams of having issues like that. “Coaching at a small school has so many positives,” she says smiling broadly, “But the one big negative is the lack of students and athletes. On a good year I have 25 girls turn out but on a bad year I might only get 12 to try out; enough for one team. During volleyball season I also have to compete with girl’s soccer, swimming, cheer leading, and cross country. The girls that would like to play on one or more of those have to choose and some sports are more affected then others. There are also very few athletes that just play one sport. Most of them are 3 sport athletes, so volleyball might not be their number one focus.” 
She shakes her head, “Some years it has been a challenge even courting two teams, but we make due.” A few of her players have played club ball, but being multi sport athletes makes that tough as well. “We also don't have very many opportunities for playing club in the off season. They have to travel about an hour or more if they want to continue to play.” Nettie says.
As you can read, Coach Hawkins, who with her husband is expecting her first child in December, isn’t one to make excuses and doesn’t allow that of her players either. “My first 3 years we were winless, and I would always question if this was something I wanted to continue doing. But at that point I had given up on my personal feelings towards a losing record and realized that these kids and this program need me and I won't give up until it has been turned around.” Nettie declares. 
“I teach my teams to love the game as much as I do and to respect everyone around them, and of course sportsmanship.” Hawkins says. “Each year will be better then the last and slowly but surely we will have a thriving volleyball program.”
Coach Nettie Hawkins reflects on her playing days in college and has always loved the passion and level of competition, the things she continues to bring to her teams. “I love to educate my players about my great experiences; on how much more fun the game is when you love everything about it and are twice as competitive. We compete everyday in practice and games and the next day we talk about it! I think constant communication about the sport, whether it's positive or negative, in the end will make them not only better players but better all around people.”
Coach Hawkins overall record as the coach of Port Townsend High School is 3 wins in four years, all of them coming last season. The team is already 1-1 this season. If you want to follow the Redskins, click here
Thank you Nettie, from all of us Coaches.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

"The 5 Characteristics of Recruits..."

Arizona Sidelines sent out an e mail to roughly 75 college volleyball coaches, from community colleges all the way to the top D1 schools in the country asking them this question:

“What are the 5 characteristics you are looking for in your recruits today?”

Here's what we got!

What you see is a Wordle, a fun way to emphasize the words most often used in a speech or writings or normal conversation. For our purposes, we plugged in the answers from the Coaches and on occasion, in order to make the Wordle more emphatic, changed some of their wording to fit the wording of their peers.
For example, talent, athleticism, athlete and athletic ability were all labeled Athletic Talent in the Wordle to make the case of its importance. In fact, Athletic Talent was the number one characteristic of the coaches, coming up 10 times. Competitiveness came up in 8 responses, Good Teammate, Academics and Work Ethic in 6, Character, Technical Training and Coachable in 5 each.

Former USA Men’s Olympic Coach Marv Dunphy, now the Men’s coach at Pepperdine put his five down this way:

Drive- I can fix just about everything else but if an athlete is not driven, good luck!
Toughness- There is a difference between competitiveness and toughness, I like tough kids.
Can they be on the court when we compete for a National Championship?
The ability to read the game.
Character- I can have one knucklehead in the program, but not two!

Kevin Hambly, the head coach at the University of Illinois and former USA Assistant Women’s National team coach listed his five:

Have the athletic ability to compete at this level
Play hard
Good Teammate
Good People
Do I want to coach them?

Gonzaga Head Coach Dave Gantt sent back this:

Academic Preparation
Volleyball I.Q.
Work Ethic
Growth Quotient- How much room between the current level of play and the projected level of play?

So what can we, as Junior coaches, take from this?

Athletic talent is sometimes there, sometimes not. We can’t coach a kid to be 6-2 or have the eye hand coordination of a magician at the ripe age of 13. That usually comes with the package. Technical training is an absolute for a coach as is the best and most efficient way to train it.

But competitiveness; Do we foster a practice that helps bring that out of players? Do we reward our athletes for their work ethic and being a good teammate or do we turn the other way because those things don’t necessarily lead directly to wins…or do they?

Don’t we owe it to our athletes to focus on good character, being coachable, a solid work ethic and climb on board to praise excellence in academics? Great players that want to play in college will because they are great players, but can “good” players get the opportunities because of their strengths in these other areas?

We owe it to ourselves as coaches and to our athletes to make these things important. The payoff down the road, whether they make a college roster or not, is substantial.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Competitive Cauldron...Jersey Style

It started as a conversation at dinner a few nights before her DePaul Catholic Spartans were to take the court for their summer camp. Coach Coleen Henry, diving into her 13th year at the helm of the New Jersey high school volleyball program was engaged in the discussion about the competitive cauldron, the now infamous coaching tool developed by North Carolina Women’s Soccer coach Anson Dorrance, used in varying degrees in so many sports including volleyball. She wasn’t aware that there was a character side to the Cauldron and this intrigued her.

Henry is an analytical thinker, an outside the box coach who sees certain skills and traits in players, no matter their size or volleyball tradition and puts them in a position on the court where she thinks they will succeed. She has had much success in the past few seasons despite a dwindling student body base of which to gather her team. She is upbeat, positive and always seems to get the best out of her athletes.

Her mind clicking, she listened as to how certain soccer traits were shuffled in with character traits that would help the team learn, enjoy and sustain cohesiveness. Before dessert had come she had a plan.

The first day of camp, she asked her varsity girls to list as many characteristics as they wanted about what makes a good teammate but wanted them to highlight or number the top five on the page. She collected them after the first camp day and went to work.

Of the nearly 100 traits and characteristics she got from her 12 girls, she started to whittle. Which words were the same on each sheet, which words meant the same things. She and her coaching staff sat down and organized the athlete’s responses into five larger categories and again, using the athlete’s words, described each category.

Sportsmanship: Respect, humility, positivity, treat other teams and teammates with respect, no cursing, respect officials and coaches, attentive during team talks.

Grit: Hustle, competitiveness, passion and fire, accountability, perseverance, mental toughness, determination, works hard, never quits.

Communication: Positive, listens well, vocal on the floor, off court communication, addresses team issues before they become bigger.

Adaptability: Coachable, open to change and correction, flexible, overcomes obstacles, does what is asked of them, proactive and shows initiative.

Team-First: Supportive, committed, shows leadership, selfless, shows preparedness, encourages teammates, cheers, understands that the team is only as strong as its weakest link.

That part done, Coleen honed the scoring system she had heard from the dinner discussion. Everyone must be ranked in each category from a 0-5 (5 being the best) in increments of .5. The player that showed the least amount of that particular characteristic had to receive a 0 while the person that showed the most got a 5. The rankings were placed in the middle between those two. You also could not rank yourself and yes, the coaches had input as well.

Henry liked this idea to ensure that players wouldn’t take the safe way out and just vote everyone a 5 or a 3. Yes, this could be uncomfortable for the players as she noted, especially at a Catholic High School, girls are less likely to call each other out. This was why she liked the idea so much. It was a group ranking by each player’s peers and coaches and the score would be a genuine reflection of how each player was perceived.

She built the sheet with each characteristic and their description on it, with the scoring rules at the top, and listed each player’s name with a place to put the score. The sheets were handed out to the players and they brought them back the next morning.

In the meantime, Coleen went to It’s a site where you can take a group of words and list them and Wordle will take the list and based on which words come up more often, build a piece of art that the creator can adjust with different colors, fonts, placements, etc. Using her team’s list of traits, she came up with a Wordle picture that showed the girls which teammate traits were most important to them. This will be used for t shirts later on in the season.

Once the sheets came back, they were tallied. Every players score from every other player and coaches by category and then a composite score and ranking for the total. They were handed out right before lunch on the last day of camp and she asked each of the girls to come see her for their sheet and a quick chat.

This is where Henry is masterful. Some players received scores under a 1.0 but as she told them, this is a tool, and if this is the perception the team has of you, it’s up to you to change it. One by one, the players came up and got feedback from her, some with higher scores were still given things to work on. Those with lower scores were told what they needed to do to improve and how she expected to see improvement in the scores the next time she gave the team this cauldron. She was diplomatic, positive and sold them on the idea of it being a tool and not a popularity contest.

Henry did say there were very few surprises to her. The girls that she thought would score highest did and the ones that weren’t as communicative or less engaged in the process of what the team was doing were lower. But this was a chance for the athletes to be judged by each other and she liked what she saw.

Coleen says she’ll do another one after all of her scrimmages in a few weeks and another one after her first tournament or two. She understands it’s an experiment but in order to continue to move the program forward, she is willing to take some chances….outside the box.

Sunday, August 4, 2013


In our continuing effort to inform and update coaching education and resources, please check out the following:

Volleyball coaches in the area are invited to attend free coaching forums with the Arizona State University volleyball staff on August 14 and 21 in Wells Fargo Arena.
Head coach Jason Watson will be offering two coaching forums immediately following a Sun Devil volleyball practice. The team will practice from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. and from 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. the coaching staff will talk with attending coaches about the ASU volleyball practice structure and field any questions asked.
The forums are free and open to coaches but students of recruitable age are not permitted to attend.
Workshop Schedule
August 14, Wednesday: 7-8:30 p.m. | Wells Fargo Arena
August 21, Wednesday: 7-8:30 p.m. | Wells Fargo Arena


VolleyVideo is a simpler and cheaper DataVolley for iPads. It allows you to record video of your team or players, or other teams (for scouting reports), and then organizes them by rotation and serve or receive. You can then watch and share these videos in any order, allowing you to, for example, view all plays where your team serve receives in rotation 3. Click here for a quick youtube video describing the application, or search "VolleyVideo" on the app store to get it.

VolleyHighlight is a similar iPad application for parents to create recruiting (highlight) videos of their kids. It allows parents to record videos of their kids and save only the highlights, then sorts these highlights by type (kill, ace, dig, etc...). After a few games, a parent should have enough highlights to send out to any college coach or recruiter. Click here for a 1-minutes youtube video showing the application


A great new magazine called "Sports Performance and Tech" is a great way to incorporate new science into your coaching. For the newest edition, click here


During the last few years, our technical and analytical team has created a large amount of videos which contain technical and tactical clips that demonstrate the latest game strategies in modern Volleyball. This technical video gallery contains useful clips which are available to use for coaches, players and National Federations. Clubs, teams and federations can utilize them free of charge.
2012 Men's Olympic Games
   2012 Women's Olympic Games
   2011 Women's Jr. World Championships
·   2011 Men's Jr. World Championships
  We at the Region will continue to keep you updated on resources as we get them. In the meantime, let us know if there is anything YOU need from us.

Monday, July 15, 2013


The people in our sport…they surprise you, impress you, inspire you.

Meet Biesh.

Her name is Jessie but she’s called Biesh, short for a long last name that fits her awkwardly. She has lavish green eyes and a smile to match and she is a staple in a small community on the Washington-Canada border.

When she was born, Biesh sported funny looking fingers which were attributed to chubby baby hands. “When I was two an extended family member told my parents that my fingers were not normal and talked them into taking me to the doctor.” She remembers.  “That is when they diagnosed me with metachondromatosis.” 

Biesh explains, “Basically I have enchondromas on my fingers. An enchondroma is a benign slow-growing tumor of cartilaginous cells. So my doctors have always told me they are in my joints, but you only notice them on my fingers. I've had a lot of x-rays taken and they are all very gray and blurry because the cartilage kind of takes place of my bone. That is why I break bones so easily.” 

 “When I was young it bothered me that I wasn't ‘normal.’ She remembers.  “I would cry about it because kids made fun of me all the time. My friends tell me now that they first noticed in a basketball huddle in the 4th grade and a couple kids went home and told their parents that I had cancer. I think that my first broken finger playing fast pitch softball in the 7th grade was a big changing time for me. It's when I began to be scared about my athletic future. But, at the same time people started to realize that playing with my condition was actually tough and had respect for me.”



Despite the obvious issues related with just everyday living let alone playing a sport, Jessie loved volleyball. “I started playing in about 4th grade in just a small local league then played for my middle school in 7th and 8th grade. I was an outside hitter during those 2 years and didn't have any problems besides my hands being sore. Then I was on a club team in 8th grade and still played outside hitter then as well. That's when volleyball really became my favorite sport.”

The summer going into her freshman year Biesh went to the Volleyball Festival in Reno with the high school girls because they took two teams. “The Varsity coach became pretty interested in 4 of us incoming freshman and we all ended up playing together on JV our freshman year. She saw me as a passer, but I still played outside hitter on JV because that's where they needed me. There was a very talented group of senior girls my sophomore year. There was a really good senior libero, so I was a DS and her back up if anything happened. She got in a car accident on a game day so that was the only game that year that I actually played libero. Practicing with those girls really made me a better player though.”

She worked hard the summer of her junior season to be the starting libero as her coach had been grooming her for that the past two seasons. But a coaching change forced Jessie to see the sport differently.  “I had a big attitude with the new coach because she was extremely different from my old coach. I played DS my junior year and the coach didn't even have me serve, so I played 2 rotations in the back row. I seriously became a different person from being so frustrated and after our district game the new coach and I had a big argument which consisted of her yelling at me on the bus while everyone else was in a Jamba Juice. After that moment, I decided that I didn't care what she thought or said but that I was just going to prove to her that I deserve the libero spot.”

The team earned a bid to state and while she played well, the team was swept in two straight matches and went home. That spring, her old coach put together a club team that lit a fire under her again. She wrote a note to her new coach apologizing for her poor attitude. “I also told her that I knew I could earn the libero spot and I just wanted her to give me a chance. She and I were perfectly fine after that. I was the libero and to make sure I didn't get injured that season I bought weight lifting gloves and would also tape my fingers underneath the gloves.”


“During a little tournament, a fluke play happened and the ball shanked off of my team mate right into my left ring finger and it broke. I was devastated just because I wasn't expecting to get injured that whole season, and we also had our biggest rivalry game 3 days later. The day before the big game I tried to pass back and forth with a friend and it just wasn't going to work out. Coach had told me that if at any time I decided I could play then I would play, but I didn't want to push it.”

 “But game day came and at team dinner I decided I was going to tape it up and play. So I did. My finger was basically a ball of tape and I took myself out after the 3rd game because we were on fire and I knew the team could finish it off without me needing to stay in. It really meant a lot to me to play in that game.” Biesh says smiling. “We ended up getting 3rd in league and districts and we were on to state. We lost our first match, and won the next 3 games to get 5th place. I was voted the Most Inspirational award and the Captain award.”

 Because of her condition, Biesh decided to hang it up as a player. That didn’t last long however. “A couple of months later I knew I couldn't stop playing. My setter and I sent out film to quite a few coaches and a local College coach was extremely interested in us. We ended up committing there and in the first 2 weeks of conditioning and practice I injured my shoulder really bad and 2 weeks later got mono.”

Biesh also was being coached by coaches that were, in her words, so up and down. “The head coach would only swear at us in timeouts and tell us how embarrassing we were.” She says dejectedly. “That was a terrible experience. I finally healed up and played in the final Community College tournament and played well. We tied for 7th but I promised myself I wouldn't go one more year of being ‘coached’ by that terrible lady, so I moved back home.” Biesh is now the JV coach at her former high school, sharing the better coaching experiences she has had along her journey and when watching her in action, hitting all the high notes.

Biesh explains the love of the game and her competitiveness kept her pushing forward against a high tide of pain and adversity. “There was no way I was going to quit. It killed me to watch when I had broken bones, so I would just play as soon as I felt I could. I was extremely close with all of my teammates so they would encourage me and helped me work through all my ups and downs with injuries. It was extremely hard though; every time I got injured I would just cry at home because it was SO frustrating. My parents were the best at encouraging me during those times. Our community here is awesome as well. I had so many people; my basketball coach, teachers, parents, younger girls and more, that always could bring me up when I was down about it.”

“One of the great pieces of advice that really sticks out to me is a conversation I had with my basketball coach. I was having a hard week and told him I didn't understand what was going on with the way I was playing. He told me that everyone has their bad days but that it's still trying your best and pushing through those times that will make you better. He always related basketball to real life and so he went on to say that I will have to do that in my future with school, jobs, family and much more.”

She is realizing how true that advice was. “I have to be extremely careful when I am playing sports or doing anything with my hands because my fingers break so easily. So basically doing everything I love; volleyball, Crossfit, other sports, I feel like I am taking a risk which is really frustrating. They also get very sore, so it affects me when I am using my hands a lot because the next day I will feel like I can barely move my fingers. That can get hard with work, but I just have to stretch out my fingers a lot so they aren't as stiff.

“The day I played libero in our rivalry match with my broken finger is when I came to grips with the fact I can’t change my condition so I will just have to deal with it the best I can. Now I am absolutely not bothered by having this condition. It's something I can't let affect me negatively. I keep learning more about it as well, so that helps with understanding what I need to do in my future to make it the best it can be.”

When you walk into her high school gym, the place where she now is guiding younger players toward their own dreams and goals, there is a color picture on the wall next to football players and other sports illuminati of the school. At the end, the last picture you see is of Biesh; pony tail defying gravity, green eyes hypnotized on an incoming serve, and a pair of large black gloves encasing 10 fingers taped to discomfort.  

Above the picture simply says, ‘Biesh.’

The people in our sport…they surprise you, impress you, inspire you.



Losing sight of the shore.......

Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore. - Andre Gide

 Change: some people welcome it, most are annoyed or terrified by it. In a player’s parlance, being taken out of our comfort zones. We’ll ask a player to change their footwork or hold their hands differently in serve receive but do we ask the same of ourselves as coaches?

 If you have taken and IMPACT or a CAP class in the last few years, you know that USA Volleyball’s stance on stretching before practice is DON’T! It’s a waste of valuable court time and according to over 300+ studies, could actually impair performance of your athletes. This isn’t because USAV doesn’t like stretching nor had a bad experience in a yoga class; it’s based on scientific data and analysis.  Yet go into a gym and watch a practice and more times than not, what will you see?

 As coaches, we need to embrace change. Sometimes we will change a drill, a way to practice, or a player in a different position and sometimes it works and of course, sometimes it doesn’t. But the question is, are you willing to try?

 Michael Andrew is a 14 year old swimming sensation who stands at 6-4 and 178 pounds. He has broken 32 national age group records and is working toward an Olympic berth in the coming years with his father as his coach. That in itself can sometimes be a difference maker but Andrew has been training using a new theory of training called Ultra Short Raced Paced Training (USRPT) developed by Dr. Brent Rushall at San Diego State.

 In his training, he says goodbye to traditional USA Swimming practice lore of massive yardage and uses shorter training sessions of sprints, usually none more than 50 meters at an intense pace. The theory is that the method produces far less lactic acid that makes muscles ache and shut down allowing more intense short training bursts.

 Two words often slapped together are Science and Fiction but as sports goes further into how to make athletes better, stronger and faster, and the better ways to coach these athletes, the fiction becomes less so. Many coaches are looking to find an edge over their competition by looking toward science through research papers and utilizing their physiology and kinesiology departments at their schools.

 Aaron Nelson is going into his 21st with the Phoenix Suns and the last 13 as their head trainer. He has used individual approaches with athletes and cutting edge science to help make the Suns athletic staff one of if not the most recognized in the NBA.

 Nelson has implemented a glassed in room full of cardio machines that simulates 10,000 feet above sea level. He has also used and gotten results from an anti gravity treadmill, which allows players to rehabilitate from injury or surgery with 80% of their body weight removed.

He also now uses an on-site cryosauna which uses blasts of nitrogen gas every 30 seconds for 2 and a half minutes to bring the temperature down to 300 degrees below zero which promotes healing and improves energy. “The science is bio-mechanical.” Nelson said recently in the spring 2013 edition of Thrive magazine. “At 180 degrees below zero, the body changes from frostbit to survival mode- the brain thinks the body is going to die, so it sends all the blood back to the core where the vital organs are in an effort to keep the body functioning. You get a huge amount of oxygenated blood in the core and once you get out of the cryosauna, it goes back out into the peripheral limbs so it’s a flushing of the system.” Not the standard ice bags and cold plunge for the Suns with Nelson at the helm.

 Atul  Gawande in his amazing book about the medical field called ‘Better’ talks about the importance of change. “Look for the opportunity to change.” He says. I am not saying you should embrace every new trend that comes along. But be willing to recognize the inadequacies in what you do and seek out the solutions. As successful as medicine is, it remains replete with uncertainties and failure. This is what makes it human, at times painful and also so worthwhile.”

 As coaches, we live in that world: sometimes painful but hopefully worthwhile. Continue looking to other coaches, books and writings and conversations with athletes and staff that are NOT volleyball coaches.

 Changing the way coaches think about change….we can all do better.