Thursday, August 25, 2016


They are 7300 kilometers, (4,536 miles to us Americans), and one week apart. They both train just under 250 athletes in a one week span. They both help those less fortunate and allow Parents to help to offset their child’s fees. Both camps are incredibly cheap considering it is a week long full day camp.

The other thing Leo and Brian have in common is “yes.” They say it often, they use it as a means of making things better and they entertain every question with that answer in mind.

It is the secret of their success.

Leo Van Dam almost died at last year’s Diggit camp. He houses his camp in the Saskatoon Soccer Center where the four indoor soccer fields transform into 16 volleyball courts with a day and a half’s worth of labor. But last year, wildfires forced many to evacuate from their outlying homes and the Soccer Center was used as housing for those evacuees. Leo scrambled and found another site with half the size. He brainstormed with his staff and came up with a way to train in waves at the new site. The staff moved everything over and Leo set up camp but the morning of the second day, he had a heart attack and was minutes from dying. His staff filled in for his looming absence and they got through the week with minimal issues.

This year, Leo’s health having returned, they camp was moved back a week into August and he saw the camp grow by 20% to almost 240 athletes. Back in the soccer center, the athletes were given instruction, played, fed two squares a day and the 100+ that stayed overnight in the upstairs offices and locker rooms on cots and padding got breakfast as well. Morning meetings were held and changes in the schedule were handled without argument or angst. The mood of the coach’s room was simple: We’re all in this together.

Leo helps out Canada’s First Nation population: many of the Native Canadians who can’t afford camp will get a deal from Leo, or a group discount. There are also other campers that have multiple kids in the family that play. He is a shrewd business man and he knows down to the penny what each camper costs per day in food and lodging and he loses money on many of the campers, but he sees the bigger picture.

Once the camp is up and running, Leo is a shadow. He is hoisting water bottles atop coolers so the kids can refill water bottles. He is pumping up balls, picking up restrooms, solving the 1000 small problems that come up daily for a camp his size and yet he is stealth in movement and presence.

He is given a problem and his first comment is usually, “Sure, sure. Let’s figure it out.” He has learned that nothing gets done when ‘no’ leads an answer. His camp grows, improves and flourishes with each passing year because he listens to everyone and solves problems leading with yes.

On a 10 hour trans Atlantic flight lies the Vilseck army base. It’s here where Brian Swenty teaches high school at Vilseck High. He also spends most of his summer putting together the ACE Volleyball camp for the children of American servicemen all over Europe.

His reputation allows him to take over his high school for a week. Campers sleep in classrooms and he secures every available court within a 30 km. radius. He has high schools from all over Europe attend in this, his 7th year doing the camp.

His capable staff evaluate campers and put them in their appropriate groups to get the best out of them for the week. They are long days for the coaches but he treats them well. The coaches are housed on base and this year, with the added military exercises on base the week of his camp, problems could have arisen. But they didn’t. And even if they had, Brian would have managed them.

He walks in one morning to the following: A box needs to be mailed out to Greece ASAP, a girl ordered lactose free milk but it never showed up and she didn’t have any for breakfast, some minor problems with kids roaming halls late at night, a schedule change, and all of this before 8 am. Swenty takes everything in stride, as a self proclaimed “army brat” himself, he knows what’s important, how to solve minor problems and how to reach these campers.

One of his Parents thought it would be a great idea to have the individual high schools that were attending run around the track, taking turns at holding a paper Olympic torch and then taking pictures under an Olympic rings made from metal and colored. He made it work, despite the extra time involved. He loved the idea in fact.

Later on in camp, he had been connecting with USAV's Denise Sheldon who was in Rio with the Women’s Olympic team and Brian thought about sending a Go USA message to the team from his camp, He enlisted a couple of coaches and the idea was fleshed out and executed within hours. The team saw the videos, from each high school group and loved them.

Things like this don’t happen when “no," “we can’t” or “I don’t have time for that” leads an answer.

Both Leo and Brian run successful camps and successful programs with that mantra. There are over 500 athletes in the world who are better volleyball players because of the attitude these two men have.

Next time you want to say no, stop yourself and just say yes. See where it takes you. Better yet, see where it’ll take your athletes.