Saturday, April 25, 2015

Let's Get Better...

As the regular season comes to a close, it’s easy to look back and generalize on a ‘good’ year or a ‘not so good’ year. Maybe injuries, chemistry, parents or just odd circumstances kept you from reaching the preseason potential you had for your team.

While it’s time to maybe reflect, it’s also an opportune time to gain valuable feedback as a coach.

End of season surveys can be incredibly valuable, perhaps painful to read and understand and perhaps of no value at all but there aren’t very many opportunities for coaches to get feedback directly from athletes and parents in a short and relevant window like the end of a season.

There are some surveys already built. An effective and very comprehensive download can be found at ‘USOC Coaching Effectiveness Tool.’ Within this one document is an Athlete section, an NGB or in the case of club volleyball, the club or the Az. Region, and finally, a coaches self evaluation. There are other surveys you can download from other clubs, other coaches or even coaching programs dealing with youth sports.

Another is the USA Volleyball Pre/Post Season Evaluation Form which is a generic form that can be filled out by athletes, parents, club personnel and even you!

The essence of this exercise is simple: to get better. As coaches, it’s our job to get better; better at practice plans and managing relationships with players and parents, playing time issues and dealing with our administrations whether club or school. To sit pat, to not try to gather feedback makes you the same coach you were last season. The problem is that the game changes constantly, the players change constantly, social norms and communication outlets change constantly. If you don’t keep up, you’ll find yourself on the outside looking in.

Part of an end of season survey that is needed is courage; you are probably going to hear things you don’t want to hear. Criticism that you are apt to take personally but it’s no secret when dealing with 10-12 girls for a sport that only allows six at a time to play, you are not going to make everyone happy. That said, ask questions that YOU need answers to?

What do YOU want to know about YOU as a coach? What questions would you ask a coach that you were being coached by? What components do you want to hear about: practices? Tournaments? Travel tournaments? Is there parts of your coaching you would like feedback on specifically: communication? Professionalism? Feedback to players?
This is YOUR survey. Get the answers you want but keep this in mind. If you want honest answers, give the respondents a wall to hide behind. If they want to put their name on the survey, so be it but ask them to get them to you in an anonymous fashion to ensure a purer feedback to your coaching abilities.

Going forward it’s a good idea to give your team’s infrastructure feedback opportunities a few times during the season. Does that mean you meet with every parent and athletes one a week or once a month? Probably not, as time for everyone is limited these days. A mid season evaluation is easy and can give you some feedback early on to help head off problems that might be arising.

Either way, don’t be afraid of what will be said about you. Take the feedback as useful information to further your career. Use this tool to get better for your fall season. Watch other more experienced coaches at camps and clinics and see what they do well, and maybe what YOU wouldn't like if YOU were their athlete.

Let’s get better. Our athletes deserve nothing less than our best. We owe it to them.

"...A Good One..."

On May 1-3, one of the state’s unique volleyball talents will end her career wearing the blue and red of the University of Arizona.

Madi Kingdon finished up her indoor career at Arizona in December with a career match in the NCAA’s second round against a BYU team that went to the National Championship against Penn State. She is headed to Gulf Shores, Alabama next week to compete in the AVCA Sand Pairs Championships before calling her Wildcat career finis.

While there are many players who have left a volleyball footprint in our state, Madi’s is a bit deeper than most. She was the hammer for her high school coach Amber LeTarte. “Madi led her team to three State Championships at Sunnyslope High School, one of which had no seniors on the team.” LeTarte lauds. “She is one of the most determined, competitive, hard-working, intimidating, explosive and impactful players I have ever coached. A solid all around player, she strives to be the best and let's nothing stop her from obtaining that goal.”

Kingdon looked at several schools after Sunnyslope but saw something in Tucson and wanted to be a Wildcat. Four years later, she looks back on a career in which she played more matches and sets than anyone is school history and finished second in both career kills and digs for a storied Wildcat program. She ended her indoor career with a program career best 111 double digit kills matches including all 34 matches in 2014!

Her coach Dave Rubio summed up Kingdon this way: “There is a reason why Madi was one of top three players I have ever coached. She was the hardest worker in practice every day, had a sincere interest in being coached and she never put limits on herself. When your best player in the gym also happens to be your hardest worker; everyone else will fall in line!”

We sat down with Madi a few weeks before her U of A career was coming to a close and we let her talk about her successes, her future and everything in between, in her own words:


“I think I get my confidence from my Parents. My Dad is kind of quiet and stern and my Mom is very outgoing and comfortable with herself. They've always taught me to be who I am and don’t apologize for anything: you are who you are.”

“I started playing in 7th grade at Madison Meadows in their league and I was serving underhand. One of my friends was like, you’re tall, you should play for Madison Meadows on their team and I said okay, I’ll try and I was a middle and I played middle my first year of club when I played for Rob Recio. I played 16’s for Storm. Then I played for Terri (Spann) for three years on 18’s but I didn’t play my last year of club. I graduated early and came here. That helped me prepare for my freshman season.”

“I think when I got into high school and I made varsity. I made varsity all four years. I didn’t play much my freshman year; I was a right side at Sunnyslope. We got to the semi finals of state and I was playing and I thought wow, let’s see where the next three years takes us. “

“I think playing beach helped a lot. I also think just going out to open gyms and playing at the draw, like every Friday night during high school. My curfew was 10 p.m. but if I played in the draw I could stay out past 10 o clock. So I was just always playing volleyball and I think that helped out a lot, especially at the draw, playing against guys on a guy's net. I was used to balls being hard driven at me and I wasn't just playing against girls my own age. So I think that helped a lot.”


“I’d say my best coach was Terri Spann. She was really good at holding people accountable and she always taught me that there’s always someone watching. So if you were taking reps off or not doing your conditioning the right way, there was always someone watching. I think that really instilled a sense of work ethic in me.”

“I think Dave (Rubio) really helped me with my attacking all around and not just hitting every ball straight down like I wanted to when I first got here. So, throughout my four years I think I've progressed into a hitter with more range instead of just trying to hit the heavy ball all the time.”


“It’s the work you put in. I know that when it comes down to even the smallest things, like running a sprint or doing a little competitive game, I always have to win them. That’s just my competitive spirit. I’m also like the biggest trash talker because I always want to win. I think that comes from Terri and Margie Giordano. When I think about competitive or competitiveness, I always think about Margie. In the gym one day before club practice, we were playing this game and we were playing with Margie, it was her senior year at ASU, and she was talking so much trash and how we were the worst competitors and nobody wanted to win and I was like, I will never let anybody be more competitive than me or outwork me because of that.”


“My best memory would probably be my last match against BYU. I had 33 kills in my last match which was a career high so I thought that was pretty cool. In my junior year, we swept USC at home when they were ranked number one in the country. That was a pretty big win for us. Oh, I have one more. My freshman year when UCLA won the National Championship, we beat them both times we played them.”

“I've played beach at U of A for two seasons now. I would say last year as a whole was a highlight because it was the inaugural season and just being a part of that was cool.”


“I think that for a lack of a better team, players today are softer, you know the girls coming into the sport. The way that I was coached in club, we had conditioning and people would run until they literally were throwing up and you couldn’t complain about it. I think now the girl’s have a sense of entitlement and their parents are always sticking up for them. It’s just the way that girl’s are now when they come in their freshman year. I think the girls that don’t have that sense of entitlement are the ones that fight through it and get better because they've put in the work to be there and they’re not just handed things.”

“I would tell parents not to be as involved in what their kid is doing, not to talk to the coach and whenever their kid is having a problem, not to run to their aid. Let the girls take care of their own problems with the coach, I think that’s important. Parents are too involved now. Especially coaching club, I have realized that.”


“Most of my good friends are from when we played club together. I have a lot of friends here at U of A but most of them are volleyball players. It’s hard to make friends outside of volleyball when that’s all you’re doing. When I was in the indoor season, taking the minimum 4 classes, 12 units, you take the bare minimum because that’s all you have time for. My schedule would be 2 or 3 classes a day, if you’re hurt you have to go get treatment, then you have practice for 2 to 3 hours a day, then you have lifting and you have to travel on the weekends and you have to do homework and everything on the road or in your hotel. I think it’s good definitely for time management and for getting your priorities straight."

"I think the sacrifices I made for school and making friends outside of volleyball for my volleyball career, and winning, made that all worthwhile. I definitely think it was worth it.”

“I would do it all again. I definitely would have done my indoor career again.”


“I don’t think it’s hit me yet. I think I can appreciate what I've done but it’s just what I was expected to do. I feel like that was my job, that’s what I came here to do and that’s the kind of numbers that was expected of me to leave a legacy like that. I think every season I gave everything I had to the program so there’s nothing that I regret with my performance and you don’t always have the best luck of the draw with who you’re playing with or the situations you’re in. I think for what I was dealt, I did the best that I could.”


“I want to go play in Europe. I don’t know where I want to go. I am getting married next May in Arizona to Paul. He’s in the air force. I will come back and I think I will base whether or not I play again on my first experience. If it goes well, I think I’ll give it another shot.”

“I would go to the USA gym but I feel like I’d like to get a year of international experience first. I’d want to see where I’m at there so I could base it off of that.”

“In five years, I don’t even know where I’ll be but I think that’s kind of the beauty of it. I know I’ll be married and I know volleyball will still probably be a part of my life. I could see myself coaching. I’d be a good one! I really like the way I was coached by Terri so I think I would coach that way.”


“Anything else I want to say?”


Friday, April 10, 2015

Big Rocks...

He is the face of USA Volleyball, whether he wants that mantle and all that comes with it, or not.

He is considered by many to be the greatest player in USA history and now just three years into his taking the helm of the USA Women’s National team after being an assistant for the 2012 London quad, he has shown the USA they have the chops to win their first Olympic gold by taking the top of the podium at the FIVB World Cup.

He is gracious and knowledgeable and is deliberate in thought and practice and in our exclusive interview with him, he is humble and very appreciative to be doing what he is doing. As he said after the interview, “The best part of my job is working with so many quality people dedicated to becoming masters of their craft.”

To the left of Karch Kiraly’s desk in his office in the American Sports Center in Anaheim, Ca. is a white board. At the top is the heading, :”Big Rocks.” It is the blueprint of where he and his staff think the chosen athletes that will compete for 2016 Rio Olympic roster spots will have to work on and get better at. Serving, serve receive, defense, blocking: they are all listed with goals under each that will need to met in order for the USA to stand on the world’s most prestigious volleyball podium.

This is Karch’s next 15 months.

He talks about his recent favorite book that he shared with the High Performance Coaches in Colorado Springs in February, Josh Waitzkin’s “The Art of Learning.”

He offers up a couple of others he is reading in a text after the interview: “I'm reading 'Boundaries for Leaders', by H. Cloud, and 'Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom', by E. Greitens. Some great lines about resilience by Greitens.” He adds.

He talks about what he learned from his coaches at the high school, college and national team levels. He takes away from them all this idea to “Infect them (his athletes) with poise and calm and a fierce determination to compete really hard.”

He talks about the qualities he needs to see in the USA gym to get there AND to stay, and the qualities he’d like to see more in coaches.

He spends some time pondering how the infrastructure of USA Volleyball at the Region level could be more helpful to him and his program and while he has specific ideas on how it could get better, he’s also quick to point out how grateful he is and how jealous the rest of the world is at the pool of players the United States gives opportunities to.

After 35 minutes, he has to jump on a conference call with his coaching staff. He apologizes but knows that early May is just around the corner, and he and his staff have much work to do to ready themselves for this pre-Olympic training block.

Big rocks!

Click here for the interview.

Monday, April 6, 2015

From Russia, with Sandy....

Sandy Brondello enjoyed one of the greatest seasons in WNBA history last season.

In her second stint as a head coach in the league, Brondello who played in the WNBA for nine years and was an Olympian for her native Australia, came into a team loaded with talent that had underachieved the previous two years and was looking for help.

The Phoenix Mercury responded to her setting a WNBA season record with 29 wins and just 5 losses. They swept the conference semifinals, won the conference finals 2-1 over the defending champion and then swept the finals 3-0. Brondello was named the WNBA Coach of the Year and Diana Taurasi was named Finals MVP and first team All-WNBA along with teammate Brittney Griner who was also named the WNBA’s Defensive player of the year.


Always on a quest to learn more from the best coaches in the world, Arizona Sidelines sent Sandy some questions while she coaches a professional team in Russia (That Taurasi and fellow team mate Penny Taylor play on) and she gave us some great insight into her Championship season. (Be advised that this interview is a bit laden with basketball references, but you will be able to easily extrapolate the coaching ideas and philosophies from Coach Brondello)

Can you give us a typical in season day for you including how you devise and execute a practice plan?

Sandy: “A typical in season day would usually comprise of film before practice which is usually focused on us if it is the day after a game. I am a coach that pays attention to the little things, like positioning on and off the ball, off ball activity, screening, things like that. I aim to highlight areas that need improvement. I believe that watching breakdowns of our game is a great tool to improve team play. The more they hear and see me talk about the specifics, the quicker they will become instinctful on the court. “

“Video sessions may range from 10 to 20 minutes. After this we go to the court for a 45 minute to 1 hour practice. Practice is devised around defense with a focus on our next opponent and the players we will have to defend. While the core of my defense is consistent, I do like to take away individual players strengths, like a player’s right hand if is dominant, so we do a lot of work on breakdown drills in pick and roll action.”

Let's talk about relationships. You and Diana Taurasi have known each other for a while but you had to get buy in from Brittney Griner, from Candace Dupree and the rest of the team. Do you treat them the same? Differently? How do you find what motivates each player?

SB: “Being a former player, I understand the importance of building relationships with all players, getting to know them and vice versa, and understanding what motivates them and what does not. Everyone is different and thus I do treat players differently especially when it comes to constructive criticism. Not everyone reacts the same and it is important to know that and find out what works best so that you can get the best out of them at any given time.”

“I try and communicate as much as possible to players, whether it be feedback about a previous or upcoming game, or generally to ask them about how they are. I think if you can show them you care for them as individuals it definitely helps the BUY IN factor. While I believed in my ideas for the team and how I wanted them to play, having coached Dee (Taurasi) in Russia and having played with Penny made the transition as Head Coach of the Mercury a smooth transition. If your best players believe in your system, it definitely helps the others accept their new surroundings easily. Regardless of this though, this team was motivated and committed to winning which made my job much easier from the very beginning.”

What did you see when you got to this Phoenix Mercury team that you felt needed to be changed right away and why?

SB: “Playing and committing to the defensive end! The Mercury teams of the past were capable scorers and games were usually in the 90 to 100 points range. While I did not want to change the pace of the game offensively, defense was my main emphasis from day 1 until the day we won the Championship. We have some very gifted and smart players that I knew could execute a game plan and make it hard for the opposition to score. I was clear in my instructions with how we wanted to defend different actions, something they may not have had in the past. Obviously have Brittney in the middle helps our defense and our length was an issue for many teams so we used our length and versatility to our advantage. But the biggest KEY was that they BOUGHT IN from day 1, accepted their roles and played hard and together at both ends of the floor. They were an unselfish team which enabled us to reach our full potential!”

Who are your coaching role models and why? And is there any quotes or advice you got from them that stuck with you?

SB: “I have learned something from every coach I have worked with either as a player or as an assistant coach over the years. The most influential coaches though are Tom Maher, Ron Rothstein, Dan Hughes and my husband, Olaf Lange.”

“Tom Maher was about doing the little things well on defense. I remember one of the first sessions being coached by Tom with the Australian team and he is yelling at me about 'secondary hand pressure'. I had NO idea what he was talking about at the time but the more I understood what he wanted from me and us, I realized how simple yet effective his nuances were to be a great defensive team. As a coach, I realize that if you can teach the basic fundamentals of the game, it will come easier to everyone.”

“Ron Rothstein was my coach with the Miami Sol in 2001-2002 season. Ron was a great teacher of the game especially on offense. He really simplified the game, and helped me understand how all parts must work together to be the most effective team.”

“Dan Hughes gave me my coaching break and for that I am deeply embedded to him. He is a great leader, communicator and mentor. He gave me a platform to grow as a coach during the time we had together.”

“However, my biggest role model is my husband. Olaf (Lange) was a Head Coach from a very young age, 25, and I learned a lot from just watching and discussing everything with him that went into preparing a team whether it be player development, practice planning or scouting of an opponent. He has always been a great student of the game, watching and learning from other successful coaches and programs. He is a great sounding board for me as a Head Coach!”

Finally, what advice would you give coaches, young and old, to help them become better coaches and leaders?

“The best advice I would give is to keep learning from other coaches and teams but most importantly keep learning from your own team! Don’t be afraid to change something if it means helping the team perform better! We are all on a common journey and the more teamwork we have, the more rewarding it will be!”

“I feel like I become a better coach each year due to the many different experiences I have coaching around the world both in practices and in games and with the different players we have would encourage all to gain as many experiences as you can and don’t stop wanting to learn.”

Brondello’s Mercury being their season June 5th to defend their WNBA title. Thanks to Sandy for her efforts to answer our questions from the other side of the planet.

Saturday, April 4, 2015


It’s chaos. It’s out of control and random. It’s fast paced with very little feedback. It’s effort, it’s problem solving, it’s everything you want from your players.

Nestled in the rolling green Malibu hills, a short gaze from the Pacific Coast Highway lies Pepperdine University. Stand on the soccer field and you can see the Pacific Ocean the length of your peripheral vision. Tucked back into campus is the Firestone Fieldhouse. There, on a breezy Tuesday afternoon, the Pepperdine men’s team was at it. Blocking drills, serve and serve receive, the team going through the paces, surfing a six match winning streak with #8 USC coming to town that Thursday, and Cal Baptist on Saturday.

The practice settled into Coach Marv Dunphy’s pace: lots of contacts, lots of motion, concentrated feedback and no coach talking for more than just a few seconds.

Then came the USA Drill.

Teams start with a serve but must get three points in a row. Dunphy keeps things game-like by tossing balls off the court, at player’s feet, out of the net and even into the rafters: if it happens in a match, Dunphy wants his boy’s to see it in practice. The balls are entered quickly and without feedback because it’s more important to get the reps. The teams are totally engaged, chasing balls, figuring out how to get a swing out of a ball that was held captive in the rafters for a delicious few seconds. Finally, the team that scores the three points in a row: U-S-A gets to receive a serve from the other team to keep their point, or lose it under the duress of pressure.

At one point during the drill, Dunphy tosses a ball 25 feet off the court. The left back player gets a late start on it and while he lays out and dives for the ball, misses. Dunphy walks over to him and says, “You got that up the other night, you have to get that up here.” Dunphy trots back and launches the ball 30 feet off the court. This time, the player runs it down, brings it back, and a long set and a big swing later, the ball meets floor on the opposite side with a resounding thud. Mission accomplished.

We’ve written here before about Dunphy. He is a legend and if you don’t know of Marv and his accomplishments, you are in dire need of a Google search and 20 minutes. He probably had a hand in inventing this drill and he comes to life even more than usual while running it.

His team would pop USC in straight sets two nights later, handle Cal Bap and is playing well. “Yea, I like this team” he says in a confident but reserved tone. The Waves are poised to challenge for yet another National Championship.

Coaches come to Dunphy’s practice all the time and he welcomes them with open arms, telling them to come into the player huddles and watch video with the team. Marv is an open book and the Pepperdine Waves are an extension of his commitment, hard work and love of the sport.

While you may not be able to venture the third of a day it takes to battle the traffic to the Firestone, reach out to coaches you can get to. University and College coaches are usually very receptive and often times happy to meet with you, discuss what they do and why. It may not always be what you do or say as a coach, but hearing all points of view is a valuable coaching tool unto itself.

There’s a lot to learn and see, you just have to search it out.

"Why can't they all be like this?"

It’s been 5 years.

It started with 28 teams in 5 courts in Wickenburg High School and its neighbor across the ravine, Vulture Peak Middle School.

As you drive into the driveway of the high school, you can see the round monolith that is the top of Vulture Peak, a challenging hike into the Wickenburg desert that offers a grandiose 360 degree view for those that can scale its 3,660 feet.

This year, the “wooden” anniversary of the Challenge, it became even more obvious why this tournament has been so successful.

How successful? This year, 112 teams played in four divisions on 19 courts in three different cities and 5 different gyms; a 75% growth in just 5 years.

There’s a lot of conjecture as to why this tournament has taken off as it has. It offers teams that aren’t playing in the Region’s National Club Qualifier a chance to play in a close and inexpensive two day tournament. It gives a free t shirt to all athletes and coaches. It awards medals to first and second place in each age division.

But it’s more than that…

Seeing the potential growth, the Wickenburg school district rebuilt a two court gym at Hassayampa Elementary school two years ago giving the city 2 more courts of play. As was told to the Region, the district needed to do this but the Vulture Peak Challenge was the impetus behind the build.

Early on, the restaurants in Wickenburg would close at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturdays. A Region phone call would ask some to stay open till 9 or 10 p.m. to accommodate those teams playing late so Denny's wasn't the only dinner option. They put on staff, kept their doors open and worked with us gladly.

The host hotel sets aside rooms for our teams and staff and officials. We have sold out their hotel the last 5 years. The economic bump the city of Wickenburg gets from the tournament is palpable.

As the tournament started, some of the courts were missing flip score charts. Scrambling, all the sites got them except Hassayampa. They were short one. No problem said the Wickenburg Athletic Director Bill Moran. He set up the electronic scoreboard even though, as he admitted, he had no idea how it worked, but as he said, echoing the City and School District’s cooperation with the tournament, “We’ll figure it out.” They did, crisis averted.

This year, a snafu with rooms had two officials out in the cold (well, chill). The manager of the hotel came down at 9:30 p.m. and solved the problem. There wasn’t an “I can’t help you” in her vocabulary.

For 3 team ties, the tournament’s footprint is a “Queen of the Court tournament” making the players settle their place on the court instead of games and points. While it didn’t happen this year, it’s an exciting and unique part of the Vulture Peak Challenge.

In Prescott, the Yavapai College team officiated the matches as part of a fund raising push for their program. With Region officials mixing in, they plowed through the schedule. The players all took an extra three hours out of their busy college schedules to get some extra officiating training from two National Officials that live in Prescott.

Region officials who sign on for this tournament accept a pay cut in order to keep the tournament fees low and often work all day with snippets of breaks to stay hydrated and fed in between matches.

The office staff formats, bundles t shirts, handles teams that drop the day before the tournament and do all this while STILL running one of the more crucial tournaments on the Region’s Junior Girl schedule the same weekend.

And what about the athletes themselves?

How about Jessica with the Desert Valley 14’s team that called her own touch late in a close game: her coach smiling and beaming, proud of his player.

And how about Ashley from Arrowhead’s 14-SWAT team who, wanting to play more, offered herself up to the Desert Stars Flagstaff team who was missing their 6th player because her mother had delivered a baby the night before. Ashley stepped in, donned the Flagstaff jersey and played middle with them all day so they wouldn’t be forfeited and the 5 girls having wasted a 2 hour drive that morning.

As the 14 Gold medal match started, two teams from Tucson were scheduled to officiate. The site directors, staff and the clean-up crew stepped in and reffed the last match giving both Tucson teams an hour head start on their drive home.

If this was an OFFICIAL Region tournament, a lot of what happens in the Vulture Peak Challenge wouldn’t fly. But this is what we call a “fun” tournament. It’s somewhat sad that ALL of our tournaments can’t be called “fun” but because certain rules are enforced a little more loosely, and the objective is to get teams to play and have a good experience, it’s a bat signal to the volleyball community and they respond.

Most of you won’t ever host a tournament let alone one of this size that shows no inkling of getting smaller anytime soon. But this is a collective effort: people giving up time and money, solving problems instead of finding ways to avoid them: parents and coaches and athletes and officials working together for the greater good.

One parent that left Wickenburg high school after her daughter’s final match asked her husband, “Why can’t all the tournaments be like this?”