His coach, Doug Beal, in his first Olympics in 2004
Well Doug (Beal) was so innovative he invented the two man pass. Doug surrounded himself with the absolute best coaches in the game Our staff was Doug, Hugh (McCutcheon), Rob Browning was our stat guy, Marv Dunphy and Carl McGown. It was ridiculous. We got a lot of support there, so that was awesome. Doug’s delivery is pretty dry, so at the time it was hard to receive. A little bit dry, a little bit sharp but virtually everything he had to say I came to appreciate so much as I matured. So I think as a younger player it just seemed like a hard environment at times, but as I matured a lot of things he said like, ‘You don’t just get to win,” became like staple truths and tenants that I hold to. And what he has gone on to do as our CEO in leading USA Volleyball, I think it’s been phenomenal.
It’s really amazing to me how there’s certain people who just have it out for him for what I would consider very selfish self-serving reasons. I think it’s very hard to please everybody but I think as a volleyball community there is so much gratitude we should be showing him in the amount of respect he receives across the world, and rightfully so, is really intense and impressive and when I come across people in our sport who have this personal vendetta, I can very quickly identify them as self serving individuals that can’t be team players, that don’t have a greater picture in mind. Now I understand that he comes from an indoor background and it probably took some time to fully appreciate how to best serve the beach community and I think he has come a long way and doing well but he has always tried to surround himself with the best and when people get that and work together as a team, that’s why USA volleyball has gone from a 5 million dollar operation to a 25 million dollar operation under his leadership.
I think with Doug there could have been a little more relational development towards younger players. I think that that team didn’t have a ton of continuity maybe from the top down and I think that we could have cleaned up some relational issues but honestly when I think about that quad I think we had a great finish. We were not about a 4th place finish. Brazil was, by far, the best team. I think Italy was the second best team. I think Russia was the third best team so relative to our level I think we had a good finish. I hate saying that, I mean I wanted to win a medal but I think that maybe communication wise, finding ways to help us young guys receive those messages earlier so it wouldn’t have been on me maturing to really receive but there could have been some tactic or delivery that could have been a little bit more tactful for me as a young player. I don’t know I haven’t really thought about it so I’m trying to put it together.
His coach in his second Olympics, Hugh McCutcheon
The culture that Hugh created was just predetermined and thought out and he had a plan and it started with us writing a mission statement in 2006 which we did begrudgingly. I don’t think we as players saw value is spending two days in a hotel room trying to craft a mission statement but it became absolutely instrumental and informative to the culture. I think Hugh kind of saw that there was some relational gaps in the earlier quads but I think he made it a value and a priority to build and encourage each player to relationally connect and he established right away the concept of, ‘Look, we are all going to be treated fairly but that doesn’t mean we will all be treated the same.’ So the way that he treats Lloy and Lloy’s practice plan is one way and Reid’s is going to be another way. So there’s this idea of it’s going to be fair and equal but it’s not going to be the same and he was going to get to know each guy individually.
He also built a system to where he helped manage risk and so different guys had different roles and everybody kind of understood their role and we became extremely fundamentally sound and so we worked in such a way where there were very, very, very few practices, I can maybe remember two in the entire quad, that I would call throw away practices where we should have just grabbed coffee. That is phenomenal to me that that mission statement became our daily litmus test and gage; did we take a step towards this or away from it? Staying the same, through Hugh’s eyes we were either taking a step forward or taking a step back. I just think that he was instrumental in building that culture and those relationships.
We happened to be in a spot where a lot of us were in positions around the world to rise up and be the best. We became one of the best passing teams, we had the best setter, we had the best opposite and we had some of the best middles. I mean it was great. I think as a coach it’s hard to identify what’s going on in real time. There would be times that it would seem that collectively we would be panicking a little bit in a time out, but without fail when Hugh would go and watch video he would come to us and know exactly what needed to happen and the changes we needed to make. I think that when we went through pool play in the Olympic Games we learned a lot as players in Hugh’s absence. In timeouts we would be down often to start a match 1-7 or 1-8. Nobody was saying a word. We just all sat down and got some water took a break and went back out. Literally I just remember it being quiet and nobody was panicking and as a player it’s just really comforting to recognize that nothing needed to be said, we were going to approach this next point the same, irrespective of the score. We were here to do a job and that job is to do everything we could to win the next point. I think that was really powerful experience to go through and I think it helped in his absence because it was hard to play without him there. He was our leader and all the stuff he was going through, our hearts were with him and his family and that was just such an unbelievably painful thing for them to be going through.
The murder of Hugh's Father in Law in Beijing
I think initially there is a little bit of fear. There had been terrorist threats, we didn’t know if this was an isolated incident. And certainly once they tried to assure us it was isolated then it was just kind of like sorrow, this is awful, and kind of does put things into perspective. Knowing Hugh and all the work you put in, the last thing you want to do is mail it in. The only thing we could do was what he trained us to do. That was the best way we could help was just play hard, play smart. That was our mantra, it was basically a pared down version of our mission statement. So that’s what we went out there and did. The first match against Venezuela we almost lost but we stayed in there. I think that was the most emotional, the most difficult. And then slowly it was just kind of like you know what, the best thing I can do is just be focused on this right here. This is the fort that we can hold down while he’s gone. I think that gap between what was happening real time and on the video analysis obviously closed and we were able to be working simultaneously. I think he’s making all the right moves of on the fly, I think it’s great.
On crafting the 2008 Mission Statement
He led us through the construction of a mission statement. We did a little bit of small group things. What are we setting out to do, that was the first thing. Our mission statement reads something like “We are setting out to win the Olympic Games in 2008 in Beijing,’ and to the rest of the world we had no business saying that. We had no business writing that. If the rest of the world would have seen that, they would have laughed at us. We weren’t trending, we weren’t on the rise, we weren’t the next hottest team or the team to look out for in 2006. So we made that our mission, this is what we are setting out to do.
And then we went through a process of saying , ‘That’s our goal, how are we going to get there?’ What are things we think we could be the best at? Well, we can be the best at competing, we could work the hardest, we could be students of the game, we can be great teammates; all of that language was in there, That’s what we held to, and there was a lot of values that stemmed from that mission statement.
You know when we talk about team work, it was a highly eclectic and maybe semi-confrontational group, a very competitive group. You would have thought we were all playing for thousands and thousands of dollars in a simple wash drill with the amount of competitiveness that was going on but Hugh had a very specific value that we adopted that was honest and direct communication, that we were to be forthcoming and if we had something to say to someone, we said it. If we didn’t have the ability to say it for whatever reason then it was our responsibility to get over it. It wasn’t allowed to fester, it wasn’t allowed to go to a third party so that sort of culture built into this beautiful working culture that got the most out of every rep and got us to work together as a team, and that was super efficient as roles were defined.
I don’t know what the stats were but it felt like we knew when we needed to risk and when we could just play smart because we were so confident that we could score real points. From Clay’s (Stanley) serve to our block and defense, we knew that the game was never out of reach so by the time we got to the Olympic games and we were down 8-1 at a time out, we knew we could score real points and I think that really helped us in recognizing that we were always in the game no matter what the score was. The best compliment that team ever received that I heard was that you never knew what the score was by looking at how they were playing. You couldn’t tell if we were down or we were up. We had one way of playing, it was professional, competitive and it was passionate. But you could never see by our faces if we were up or down, that was the best compliment I ever heard.
McCutcheon- Standards v.
The standards remained the same. There was no content of like, ‘Okay, Reid and Clay, you need to work this hard.’ The standards were all the same. The roles maybe were different. I don’t know that it ever happened but Lloy obviously did a lot to bring his family to Newport Beach when it needed to happen. There was going to be some flexibility with practice times or with his start date to the National team versus a newer guy. A newer guy might be told, ‘Hey, we’re starting on this date and you cannot go home and see your family, you’re 22 years old, that’s not possible. But Lloy, you’ve got children and you’ve got a family.’
Hugh was unbelievable at making the families feel like they were a part of the team and I think that was awesome. My wife felt like she had a jersey on, that’s how much he made the families feel like they were always with us. We’re in this together. Your support system are all in this together so there were not players-only events, especially as it related to outside events. To me, that’s just a little bit odd because we spent so much time together as players that if there was going to be a dinner and we’re at home, I mean you’ve got to include our support system because they’re in this with us.
The standards never change. But there might be different rules. Like Lloy, Tom, guys who have displayed self control and maturity and are of a certain age, Hugh’s not going to tell them they have to be in bed by this time but if you can’t have a couple of beers at dinner…? It’s not going to be run like a University or a College team, with those types of rules. But if you’re just out of college and you really haven’t proven the ability to handle yourself or be a professional, you have to earn that right. Those are sort of those things that were going to be treated fairly but not the same.
His third Olympic Coach, Alan Knipe
That was a tough quad. I think it was tough for everybody. If there was a quad that I would like to get back, sort of redo, I would like to redo that quad. Knowing what I know now, there are several things I would like to do better. There’s more that I would change about what I did than Alan. Playing as a professional volleyball player, there is no off season. As great of a life as it is, it can be very demanding. Typically what happens after an Olympic games is you’re just thinking next summer I just need time off because we’re all going to go to our Pro teams. As soon as the Olympic games are finished, within 48 hours typically, 72 hours maybe, we are getting new gear and moving into new apartments somewhere around the world that is not our home. We’re transitioning from this experience that was amazing and starting with an entirely new team, new season with zero breaks. The reason I say this is to set up our mindset when we won the gold in Beijing.
Nobody was thinking about what sort of time frame they needed at the break, everybody was saying, ‘That was amazing! Brazil had just dominated the world for five years, six years and now we can do that; enough of us are returning, we can do that. Let’s rival Brazil. Everyone, we are going to be here day one, 2009. We’re going to go win World League; we’re going to win it all.’ So we all go to our teams and we find out in December, kind of the first domino to fall, is Hugh saying I’m moving over to the girl’s team. So okay, that’s a bummer but we thought at the time we were kind of self operating. We can do this; self operating. We didn’t quite understand the impact of that at that time. Then it took Doug and USA Volleyball a while to name the new coach. I think they named Alan as the head coach in April and we’re coming back in May. That’s like 8 months, 9 months from the finish of the Olympic Games to naming the head coach and it just sort of seemed like it took a little bit of steam out of that mindset.
Alan hadn’t been on a trip with the A team in the 8 years that I had played. I knew Alan through his reputation as the head coach of Long Beach and a ton of positive stuff of him and Long Beach and people who had played for him and had nothing but good stuff to say but I personally had no contact. It just sort of started on that foot and I thought that could have been better. It just seemed like it took forever to make that decision.
Essentially the dynamic that developed over the four years was a disconnect between the 2008 group and the group that wasn’t a part of that experience. I think we lacked leadership. I wish I knew what I know now about leadership so I could have been a better leader and understood the dynamics that were happening. We had played in a highly rule specific environment where rules were defined. Hugh helped manage risk for us by developing rules like no matter what is going to happen, no matter who is attacking , somebody has the responsibility of tip coverage. There is never a question of who it’s going to be and no matter what- the ball never falls. Another rule was we never miss two serves in a row. Another rule was you never allow a guy to hit line on a triple block. You never miss a serve on game point. So he decided to play the numbers game and manage risk for us. We went on to play in that system and we went on to win so I don’t think that group was cocky. It certainly was not about, ‘Oh we won this so we’re going to go out and win everything.’ There was a drive and I think we totally recognized that. Like Doug said, ‘You don’t just get to win.’
What ended up happening was, as young players started to filter into the system, they weren’t accustomed to those rules and Alan didn’t have those same rules, and even John: they don’t manage risk the same way, it’s a different framework. Without ever having that big conversation like, ‘Hey guys, you played this way but we’re going to play a different way,’ there was never sort of that systemic dialog; ‘Okay, this is the system we’re going to run. It was okay, you older guys you continue to run in your system but we’re not necessarily going to reinforce those same things to this younger group.’ And over time that created a really big divide between the older and younger guys. So John took two years off and became an Assistant two or three years into the London quad and by the time he got there, he’s calling meetings with all of us, Alan included and said, ‘Hey, I see a really big divide between old and young,’ and I think what ended up happening was us older guys, out of just sheer frustration, would just blow up on the younger guys. The younger guys were like, ‘Oh my gosh, these older guys are just so angry and bitter and just jerks.’ But in reality, we just played a certain way and didn’t necessarily understand the new way to play and the young guys, bless their hearts, were just trying to fit in.
Over that like 4 to 6 year period, when John became the head coach, as an older guy, I had to adapt to their style of play which was really crazy to me. It was a really difficult process for me to go through but I’m thankful for it, it’s made me better and more understanding. I’m glad I was pressed but it was really hard to not say, ‘Hey guys, this is how you play and compete because I’ve been here for 8 or 10 years.’ I’ve got to learn how to play their style, what their mentality is. The younger generation was not confrontational, it was not a value to not be super direct and I had to be positive; there was a lot of adaptation. So when I look back on, what I would call that quad that I would like to take back and redo, I look at myself and I wish I could have been a better leader and could have better recognized that chasm that was taking place because we all wanted to win, top to bottom and we had the tools to win. By the time we got to 2012, I think some of us older guys finally let some of that frustration go and said, ‘You know what, the Olympics are bigger than any of us. Why are we holding onto this bitterness. Let’s find a way to lead better.” Once we did that we started performing so much better. I really wish us older guys understood all that was taking place but it was just a little bit above our experience level at the time and we had to go through that painful experience and obviously that painful loss to Italy to sort of reflect and to see what was taking place.
I think Alan understood that the National Team is a special team and there is too much of a disconnect between the people who have played before and the people who are playing now, there’s like zero connection. He didn’t do things that were huge. He asked, ‘Why are we training in California but we’re not competing in California?’ He leveraged his relationships at Long Beach and the boosters there to start hosting matches in California which is huge. It was huge for the brand; it was huge just for us to play at home. I think he made it important to say we are investing so much of ourselves into this experience and then when you move on from the National team you have no touch, so he started reaching out to alumni and started building this alumni network which I hope now, that I am an alumnus, that I’ll be able to add to that and really try to take that to the next level where there is personal contact between the players and the guys that have competed and worn that jersey. I think that should be a super tight alumni group. So I think those are two great things that Alan did and initiated.
His fourth Olympic Coach John Speraw
I think John did not want to manage risk. He wanted the players to not even think about risk and when I say risk I mean errors and unforced errors. It was his mantra to play focused, fearless, tough and together. So those four things: focused- he wanted us to develop the skill of being hyper focused. Fearless- he wanted us to be fearless. He would never talk about mistakes. He wanted guys to just go and be fearless, then tough and together. So as I said to the coaches I spoke to over the weekend; I absolutely loved both mantras. I like the play smart and manage risk of Hugh and I like the focused and fearless because I love to play aggressive so if I’m the child of those two guys, if I could live in a world of both, I would. I like both of them.
This staff put a ton of systems work in. He didn’t want there to be any grey area in terms of systems. Offensive systems, defensive systems, what do we do on this pass, what do we do on that pass when the ball hits here; there was no scenario that would take place on a volleyball court that we didn’t have a system for in place. Coaching by this staff was a lot about developing systems. Mike Wall and Matt Fuerbringer and Nate Ngo, Anton Willard, those guys spent a ton of time developing an entire systems handbook for the first couple of years of the quad and so practices became kind of retro coaching in the sense of we’re out there and we’re going through practice, and they’ll pipe in every once in a while on an individual basis if they see something that applies to the whole gym. By and large, we’re out there working hard and in our systems and the next day, after the coaches would have watched video of the entire practice, they would have selected clips for us to watch and that’s how we sort of got specific feedback. So it was high detail and high system. I haven’t’ been able to connect with John yet, we’ve been playing phone tag this last week but I think John has always valued creativity and the concept of finding ways to win, whatever it takes. If there was one thing that I think we went a little bit away from, I think it would be that concept. Down the stretch, we could have been a little bit more creative and we kind of got a little bit stuck in, ‘We’re going to win this way.’ I’m not just referring to myself, I think we had a team that was really deep. I think there was lots of ways we could have had success and I know John and I know he did what he thought was best and he has no regrets, so he’s not going to be worried about the things I’m saying and I respect that about John. But I think one of the values within in our system is to find ways to win no matter what it takes to win. We always did these little drills where there were rules and he would praise us for almost being able to break the rules, to get creative, use our brains, find the edges, Any chance we could to get an edge we did and I think we had lots of tools that we could have used to gain edges, so that was it.
Being asked about the coaching in each of my Olympics is certainly the most uncomfortable question I’ve ever had because I don’t feel comfortable doing that but I think there’s more positives and I feel fortunate to have played for all four of these coaches and certainly developed relationships that certainly will outlive volleyball, so I’m very thankful.
In his final post, Reid will talk about his personal demons, injuries and answers questions about his future toward Tokyo, 2020.