Sunday, December 21, 2014

What is it Worth to You?

With a Tambre Nobles serve that scraped the top of the net and trickled between three BYU defenders, Penn. State added to its trophy case yet another National Championship, one for each day of the week now, and the 2014 College volleyball season came to a close last night.

As Club starts to get its engines firing, are you as a coach content with your coaching knowledge? Can you ever afford to take a day off from learning? Great coaches, by definition, are lifelong learners and just because the volleyball season is over at the High School and College levels, a place where many of us coaches learn and gather info from, are our resources dried up until next fall?

At the end of every season, UCLA Coach John Wooden would find something that he felt his team wasn’t as good at as it should be or something he felt he was lacking as a coach. This was back before the Internet and cell phones and google at the touch of a key, so Wooden would buy books and magazines, call and interview other coaches that were better at things than he was. He would ask questions, take notes and over a few weeks would get the answers he wanted to help his team succeed.

A recent survey by Sports Coach UK, in England, of 1200 coaches asked the question what sources of learning have you used in the last 12 months to further your professional development as a coach?

The number one answer, at 87% was talking to other coaches followed by observing and working with other coaches at 85%, reflecting on their own personal coaching sessions at 79% and using the Internet at 71%. The lowest was formal distance learning, or taking online classes of some type at just 7% and just ahead of that was Coaching Qualification classes, not unlike IMPACT and CAP for USAV members.

Wisely, a second question was asked of the 1,200. What source of learning made a significant impact on your professional coaching development? The number one answer was the Coaching Qualification Classes (IMPACT and CAP for example) at 68% significant followed by observing and working with other coaches at 66%, talking to other coaches and reflecting on their own personal coaching sessions, both tied at 62% and finally mentoring at 60% significant impact.

While they are less available, coaching clinics are a great way to energize and reevaluate what you are doing as a coach. USAV offers CAP clinics around the country and in Dec. of 2015, the Arizona Region will offer up their biannual clinic. Gold Medal Squared offers up a yearly clinic in January in Az. and there is also the Art of Coaching Volleyball clinics that are available around the country in the summer.

What is the worth of asking a more experienced coach in your club to take an hour or two out of their week, come and watch your practice and give you some feedback on it? Maybe a coach you respect or admire from another club WITH the Club Director’s blessings of course!

Have you filmed any of your practices or matches and broken them down point by point so you know where your team’s strengths and liabilities are and used that to gauge practice going forward? Is it worth putting together a season long practice plan to follow and guide you through the club waters ahead?

Grand Canyon University has a Men’s program that is quickly becoming a National power. Is it worth a phone call to the Coaching staff to ask permission to come watch practice, learn some new drills or feedback you can carry over into your own coaching?

Sooner than later, spring volleyball training will be upon us. Is that a time you can call a coaching staff and ask permission to attend some practices, scrimmages or tutoring sessions? Is it worth a drive away from where you live to hear a different coach perhaps? Flagstaff, Tucson, Prescott? Maybe even Southern California to watch the USA Team’s train in Anaheim? As an American citizen, that is your team and you are welcome to attend practices. What about a club practice from another Region on your next trip out of town or vacation?

Many great coaches also read a lot of books, articles, etc. Is it worth an e mail to a coach you admire or like asking them what’s on their reading list or any books they could recommend to you; Maybe a movie or documentary or magazine article or YouTube video or podcast?

There are a lot of learning resources online that we have asked you to check out. Is a few minutes out of your week worth what might be gained from them?

Train Ugly

The Coaches and Trainers Facebook Page

The USA Volleyball Coaches resources

The Talent Code


FIVB Education site

The U.K. study ends with this: “A coach should never be afraid to ask questions of anyone they could learn from.” A little time, imagination and some gumption is all a lifelong learner needs to stay in coaching relevance to his/her team and more importantly, to themselves.

What is it worth to you?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

My Summer Vocation: The Volleyball Gods Giveth.....

My summers in the past years have been filled with travelling the country doing high school camps for a business I work for. I absolutely love it for so many reasons. The opportunity to travel, to work with coaches and athletes of different parts of the country that are rural or inner city, to coach different styles and types of athletes and to figure out how best to get a team to “buy in” to what I am trying to convey is just four days or less. It’s the best training ground I can think of for coaching and despite the “long haul” of it, some days sleeping in airports or all day spent on planes or trains or airports with nothing but vending machines, I wouldn’t trade any of it and will hopefully do it till they fire me or I die, whichever comes first.

Last summer was my penultimate. The numbers when I finally sat down to figure them out were a bit ridiculous. In 16 weeks I was home for two days, 114 days away from home from end of May to mid September. I did 26 clinics and camps in 14 different states and two countries, (a week in Canada!). In all, 32 different stops and over 21, 600 miles travelled by airplane, train, and car and yes, even boat!

You develop relationships with coaches as you see them year after year, even some players you remember because they are amazingly talented or hard working beyond the norm. You meet new coaches that surprise you, make you scratch your head and teach you much about our profession, both good and bad.

What I never lose touch with though, is the mythical volleyball gods. The ones that allow that let serve to dribble over your side of the net on match point, or the one that allows your tiny defensive specialist who has to play front row because you are out of subs to get a kill at the end of a match. The volleyball gods can be both cruel and generous and during my summer vocation, I saw both sides in abundance.

In Hastings, Nebraska, (the birthplace and museum of Kool Aid), I met Coach Dave and his family, staying with them during his team’s camp. Dave had two cochlear implants and was one of just a thumbnail of people in the world that scientists have shown a clear genetic propensity in his family lineage for hearing loss, making him a subject for bi annual testing in Southern California. Despite this, he is a great communicator and is quick to point out that when the world gets too loud, he just unplugs. I thought about how tough life is some days for all of us, but to grow up deaf and still be a stellar athlete (basketball) and then to coach and be a husband and father, it made me proud that Dave was in the volleyball brethren. The gods smiled upon us that week.

The next week was a camp in Garden City, Kansas with a coach from St. Louis, a coach from Oklahoma and one from Southern California. We had met at the local Sonic to rehash the day and make plans for the next when a loud siren signaled that the work day had come to an end. The So Cal coach and I questioned why a loud siren would go off at 8 p.m. when the Oklahoma coach said, “That’s not for work, look.” She pointed to the sky and we saw a slow whirlpool of clouds to the south of us with colors unable to be recreated on a palette. “We gotta get out of here,” she said somewhat panicked and we all climbed into her car and she drove: not unlike Grand Theft Auto III, till we got to the house where she was staying. The family’s TV was on and we saw bright red clusters heading toward Garden City. I stepped outside never being up close to the clouds and smell and look of a tornado, making some jokes along the way till I saw the panicked look in the family’s faces. They had been through this before and seemingly not with good results. We stayed in their living room for 90 minutes till we saw the storms had passed over us, touching down in some farmland but leaving the community unhurt. We went back to our host families. The gods once again smiled upon us.

I continued up the open heart surgery scar of the United States, going to North Dakota and then South Dakota. I stayed on a farm with Coach Nora and her family. A few days after we left, tornados down the interstate from her farm destroyed 23 houses and uprooted countless families.

A few weeks later I was in Lynden, Washington working with a team for the third year in a row. A very talented player named Kat was dominating and the talk of the gym was a magical State playoff run with seniors in some important positions and some good youth filling the lanes. On the last morning of camp, I pulled Kat into the coach’s office and we talked for an hour about what she needed to do to get recruited. She was the best hitter I had seen so far this summer and she was a D1 player if her grades were okay and she continued to progress. Five minutes before lunch, she went up for a swing and as I watched her, she came down and her knee buckled. She fell back and panic swept her face. She began to pant, “My ACL, my ACL, oh no….” The team gathered round and began to cry with her. We chased them and helped her to her feet and started the process of finding out what it was. She came back in the early afternoon and it was in fact a torn ACL. Coach Julie and I spent time with her all day keeping her involved and in the mix but it was the cruelest of fates for this athlete. The gods, so generous the first month, showed us their ugly side.

Early July I met Coach Ann whose team of farm girls and daughter Haley were one of the hardest working teams of the summer. Lamar, Mo. Is the birthplace of Harry S. Truman but it’s now an economically disadvantaged town that has lost the furniture factory in recent years, sending unemployment sky high. Yet these athletes plodded and produced, getting better for a coach who told me repeatedly she had to start learning new things if she was going to be successful. She displayed an amazing growth mindset and it filtered throughout her team. Former NAU Assistant Coach John Napier, now the head coach at Missouri Southern State agreed to come down and work with the girls for a few hours, making their camp experience more memorable. The gods were once again on the plus side of the ledger.

That weekend, I did a camp in Fawn Grove, Pa. for a former Coach and good friend of mine. It was a two day camp mixing all ages throughout two courts. I am apt to jokingly refer to girls, in a funny sarcastic way, as “bad spandex” or “little red” if they are a short auburn haired libero. On this first day, there was a young girl there wearing goggles to protect a previous sports injury. She became, in good fun, “goggles.” I referred to her as “goggles” the entire day and she smiled and giggled with the rest of the court. On the second day, she didn’t come to camp. She was a no show on day three as well. A few days after the camp, Coach Jim forwarded me an e-mail from her Mom saying in essence, I had embarrassed her daughter and she didn’t want to come back. At first, I was filled with anger and wanted to fire back a note to Mom telling her daughter to “toughen up” and how no one else had taken exception to the fun names I had thrown around. But in deeper thought, none of that mattered. I had hurt the feelings of this player and she turned her back on an opportunity to play because of it. I had just committed the cardinal sin of coaching and the volleyball gods turned to demons on that dark day of self reflection.

Off to Weare, N.H. where I met a Coach Jeff and stayed with him and his family in a house that dated back to the late 1800’s. The girls were fun and worked hard. On the third day of camp, I got an e mail from a dear friend who said his fiancĂ© had died the Sunday before. I was completely stunned. I had just seen them together a few months before and he talked about her often. I called him and we talked for 30 minutes. I could feel the weight of the sadness in my hand holding the phone and it took everything I had to hold back my tears. I don’t think I helped much that day but if he’s reading this, I hope he knows he has so many more friends like me in the world there for him when he needs us. The gods were becoming a black cloud and I needed to shake them off.

I took the bus from Concorde, NH to Boston; a 90 minute trip. I had a free weekend and had never been to Boston. As I arrived and figured out the subway to get to my hotel, I kept hearing that the fireworks were going to be tonight; July 3rd instead of the 4th because of the expected rainfall from hurricane Arthur. Knowing I would never have a chance like this again, I threw my bags into the room, took a quick walk around Harvard and headed to downtown and the Charles River, a jigsaw puzzle picture in itself. The news kept repeating 10:30 the fireworks would start, over and over. At around 9 p.m. the police began to walk the river walk to change shifts and positions when a spontaneous round of applause started to follow them along their walk. People shouted “Boston Strong” and the officers were clearly choked up by the display of respect and affection. At 10:03 exactly, the first booming salvo was released. 10:03 I thought to myself? Why would they start so early? I suddenly realized that downtown was about to be hip checked with hurricane winds and rain sooner than later. I dug in and watched the colorful extravaganza for another 25 minutes then jogged to the train, encountering angry Bostonians who had been told 10:30 but were hearing the booms as they ran from the trains to the Charles. Back in my hotel room, I turned on the TV and saw downtown, right where I had been just 20 minutes before, being deluged. Perhaps the gods had given me a glimmer of a rare rational thought on that night, or maybe I was just lucky!

A few weeks after Canada, I spent a weekend in Springfield, Mass. I went to see both the basketball hall of fame and the volleyball hall of fame. They were light years apart in both presentation and funding but both were invaluable as they brought me back to the days of youth, remembering players and moments in both sports.

I went next to work with Coach Kathleen in Mendham, NJ. I had worked with her 4 years before and was excited to see her again. She had a libero named Kat, (I know!), who was a splitting image of a young Logan Tom. They could have been twins. I sent her picture to several coaches and USAV people I knew just to make sure I wasn’t crazy and nearly all came back with “Logan!” Coach Kathleen’s team was a mix of youth and seniors but were trying to find an identity. They did! Despite losing a ton to graduation, they girls came alive late in the season with a couple of dramatic come from behind upsets and wound up getting to the quarterfinals of the State playoffs despite a very low seed. Coach Kathleen never gave up on them, held them to a high standard and didn’t let them hear or believe the idea that they were in ‘rebuilding” mode. The gods might have smiled upon her, but in this case, she was her own destiny.

In early September, another dear friend sent an e mail out. Her husband, who had been battling blood cancer for the past year and who was in a hospice most of December, was cancer free. It was unexpected, and a glorious ending to a chapter of a long novel filled with pages of hurt and heart, sacrifice and resurrection. I was beaming when I got the e mail and figured the gods were going to end the summer grinning.

A few days later, I got a call from my daughter that my grandson had crashed his bike and cut his heel right around the Achilles tendon, requiring 14 stitches. I hated being so far away when they needed me but he braved through it and despite 6 weeks of a boot and crutches and bandages, he and my daughter both showed their inner strength and got through it. The gods were testing us still!

I ended my summer in Northern Washington, doing a camp for the second year in a row in a sleepy seaside town known as Port Townsend. I wrote a blog about Coach Nettie last year and the job that she is doing there. Again, with destiny in her hands, she guided her team to a 12-5 record. Remember, this was a team that two years ago didn’t win a match! Nettie’s team bought into her and her work ethic and the former punching bag of the conference because the slugger. The volleyball gods ended the summer on a high note.

There were many other stops, many other stories. 21, 606 miles later, I am a smarter coach, a better person and carry with me memories that could fill another 20 blogs. Those 16 weeks, while sometimes so tiring and trying on both physical boundaries and patience, were the best training this coach could ever gather. The volleyball gods giveth and they taketh away, but they are always active and present if you are willing to engage them.