Saturday, February 18, 2017

"Nah...that's a girl's sport!"

From the corner of your eye, you could see it. Bright pink, the size of a softball and it came fluttering across the crisp morning air and plinked softly into the sand right next to an ASU Sun Devil beach player.

With that, Coach Keenan gathered his six foot eight inch frame and strode across the court picking up the mini volleyball where he had chucked it. He saw something he needed to give feedback on and managing three courts is like being the ring leader at Barnum and Bailey. This was a way to garner attention and not lose his place. Eighteen sand players joining Keenan and his staff in an effort to turn a program in its infancy into a National powerhouse.

The stories surrounding Brad Keenan are to say the least, unconventional. He was the stabilizer and at times comic relief in an indoor season gone awry. He has orchestrated and been in the thick of Nerf gun battles and Super Soaker wars with his team. He is quiet and reserved and as you will hear, somewhat superstitious. But what Brad Keenan is most is a Beach Volleyball Coach.

Here is his interview with the Arizona Region on his past, how he got to ASU and how he intends to coach the Sun Devils in the midst of the country's beach volleyball tsunami.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Place of Becoming...

The Phoenix Suns were demolishing the L.A. Lakers. They were up by 30 points in the fourth quarter. The Suns, mired in the conference cellar were on their way to just their 18th win in 57 games. The Lakers would add this 39th loss to a season that now saw them just a dribble ahead of the Suns in that cellar. If ever there was a “why bother” game, quarter, moment, this had to be it.

But first year Lakers Coach Luke Walton, a branch from the Golden State Warrior’s sapling dynasty doesn’t understand “why bother.” He called a time out with three minutes left, another a minute later. The score was out of hand and the Suns won by 36, the largest margin in the 302 times these teams have met since the Suns inception in 1968.

After the game, Walton scolded his team for their lack of competitiveness but when asked why he was still taking timeouts down by 30 or more, Walton became introspective. “I told them we don’t waste opportunities, whatever the score is. There is a reason we play a lot of young guys. We want them to experience these things, to learn from and to be able to grow individually and as a group.”

He went further, saying, “If we’re just going to go out there and just do that, even if we are down 30, what’s the point? We’re not learning anything from that. The timeouts were just a reminder that these are still opportunities we can use to get better and not to waste them.”

Walton spent 2 years with the Golden State Warriors who won the NBA Championship his first season there and lost in the finals last year. In this short time, they have reinvented the way basketball is played and Walton has learned much from his former mentor Kerr.

“His overall view of the way coaching should be done and taking in the human element of what’s going on here,” Walton said in an interview after his first year with Kerr of what he's learned. “I think that’s been incredible for me to see and learn from. A lot of people think, this is sports, guys are being paid millions of dollars, so you bring them in every day and grind them and make them into the best top-shape athlete they can be. But the reality of it is these guys have families, there’s pressure, there’s stress that goes, so Steve does a great job of making practice fun and making it competitive.

“His whole thing is playing loose, playing fast, but playing disciplined at the same time. We’ll play music at practice. We’ll do all sorts of different activities. A lot of it he got from Phil Jackson and Greg Popovich, but just working with it every single day has been a great learning experience for me.”

Now with his own team, a collection of talented youth, he focuses on learning with the intent that the winning will come. He has standards that he adheres to, mainly being competitive and giving 100% effort when on the court, but he understands that these multi millionaires, who still have no reason to shave every day, are still learning the game. One year of college, high school where they were mythological in their abilities over their peers and even before that, in AAU programs where they were coveted and coddled, they have lapsed into bad habits that Walton sees to daily.

At the 2017 HP convention in Colorado Springs, USA National Team coach Karch Kiraly said this amazing quote: “I’m not good enough, we’re not good enough. But that’s okay because this isn’t a place of being; it’s a place of becoming.”

As the big qualifiers and tournaments come up the calendar quickly, lest we forget that for most of our athletes, this is still a learning process. Even in the NBA, the world’s greatest athletes, they are never done learning and the coaches never done learning AND teaching. It is constant, it is relentless.

And it’s why we get up every morning!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

"Everything happens for a reason..."

It started many years before but came to fruition with this...

A man she had known told the 7th grader she was thinking pipe dreams if she thought she'd ever make it to the Olympics.

She proved him wrong...three times. It's what she does.

And on the journey to her fourth, she died. She told the campers this weekend, "That was the Stacy Sykora that died." The two camps looked puzzled when she said it, but after her 3 hours of court time had come to an end, she told them her story.

She told them about the American Dream: a small town girl makes it big. How hard work and persistence and extra effort can make up for where you were born or how much money you have.

She told them how she died and some parents wiped their eyes, some campers too. And she told them when she died. That she died when she was at her zenith, the best libero in the world, USA Volleyball's Player of the Year, one of the highest paid professionals in the world. She was headed to a fourth Olympic games in London.  But it came crashing down on her, literally.

The day before the February clinics, on Super Bowl Sunday, for over an hour, Stacy Sykora poured out her life. She talked about her Olympic coaches, her experiences, her philosophies and yes, her death.

She is open and shares with everyone. She is high energy and is a people magnet on overdrive. You can't help but smile as she talks and coaches. She is USA Volleyball, she is Burleson, Texas, she is America all wrapped up in one dark, thick braid that bounces off her back as she moves and coaches and teaches, her trademark since she started in the pre libero era.

She and the libero position became synonymous because they grew up together. She learned from Japanese masters of defense and serve receive and after a pinnacled career, she was told she had to change again to stay with the USA team.

And she did. Because this is what Stacy does. Things that aren't probable. Things that aren't supposed to happen. Curve balls, high and tight. She handles them, gets through them. Survives them. She exhorts often, "Everything happens for a reason."

She painted a picture in 7th grade, tears running down her cheek,  because a man said she was living in a dream world.

Stacy is. Now well into her second.