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.