Friday, September 30, 2022

Getting in the way...

In December of 2021, the Az. Region hosted our "Education Weekend." Despite over 1000 coaches in the region, only 22 attended and only 16 finished the 2 1/2 day clinic. One of these 16 was a young coach from Tucson, a former player, who had just started working with her middle school team. 

With an open mind and willing to make changes, you can read here what it has brought her and her program.

I wanted to let you know that the school season started a little more than a month ago and I have been implementing what I learned at the coach training from back in December. Practices are dedicated to either playing speedball or doing full bump/set/spike practice, which is very different from what I was doing before. 

The girls are not only getting in maximum touches, but they absolutely love practice! I haven't heard "When can we...." which I did get in the past. We are still working out the logistics, but we have mostly figured out how to get two nets between the basketball hoop poles so there are practically no lines anymore. Not only did we not cut any players this year (we have 21 on the team), but they all are getting the entire practice at a net.

This season we are also 4-1 with still more than half of the season to go, where in the three previous years our best season winning record was 3 games total. There are a few reasons why they are doing so well that are out of my control, but I feel like I am now supporting their experience instead of getting in the way of it. 

I can see exactly what they have been doing in practice applied in the game and they are even running plays now, which they never did before because I was so focused on bumping lines. Because of everything I learned, I am finally feeling like I have some idea about what I am doing as a coach. I want to thank you again for organizing the training and to let you know that even almost a year later, it is still extremely impactful and was without a doubt worth the time and expense to attend. Also please pass along my thanks to John, Marouane, and all the other presenters.PS We had an unfortunate season ending ankle injury with one of our players and I am planning a practice dedicated to sitting volleyball so she can play with the team again. I would not have thought about that without having heard from Whitney!

Monday, September 5, 2022

...The Same River Twice...

 "Alexa, make me a better coach..."

Why wouldn't this work? 

We can ask Alexa to play me side 2 of Pearl Jam's Vs. album in it's entirety at the volume we want, when we want by just asking loudly.

We can get on the phone and order pretty much any food we have a hankering for and it will be delivered to us within the hour to our front door.

We don't have to  wait for next week's installment of our favorite television show, we can just download all the episodes and watch them in class, or on our bathroom or lunch breaks. 

We don't have to take the film down to a photo processor to get our prints an hour later. We can just pull up the thousands we have on our phone right now AND send them to anyone in a split second.

We can jump into a group text and sit in the comfort of our bedrooms while we chat with our friends without all the messy facial expressions, voice inflection or learning how to read people. We can just chat on our terms.

We can hop on a number of social media spiderwebs to see all the good things that happen to our friends or teams, but not nearly as often do we see the losses or bad moments. These are too traumatic. Losing isn't in the playbook!

"Alexa...I'm waiting..."

It's not anyone's fault. We are in a society based on me, my time, my comfort, my likes and dislikes and my tolerance for those around me.

Not just the kids you are coaching, or the Parents you will be involved with this season, but your co coaches, your assistant coaches, your Club Director.

So if no one will tell you this, it's time someone did.

Watching a video is a miniscule part of being a better coach. Listening to podcasts is a step. Volunteering to assist a coach or a team is a step. Reading is a step. Not just coaching books, but science journals and asking questions are steps. 

The good news is that all the things we talked about up top are also things that can help you in your quest. It's easier than ever to hear great coaches talk via podcasts and YouTube. It's never been easier to read a book or listen to it. You can watch volleyball online at almost every level with minimal cost and high speed internet. 

But Alexa isn't the answer.

Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher born in 544 B.C. said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

Experience is the ultimate teacher, in both success and failure. But it can't be gathered from inside our bedrooms or inside our cars or all from our phones. 

Meet us halfway. If there is a clinic you think will help, find the excuse TO go. If there is a coach you want to see or a team that interests you, make the effort. 

We ask so much of our athletes all season and beyond. Why shouldn't they expect the same from us?

Magic Beans and Fairy Dust...

Bill coaches a medium sized high school team in New Jersey. He did a 4-day camp the week before tryouts and two scrimmages to see his team together, experiment with some different line ups and situations, try to find leadership and help solidify some decisions going into week one with as much concrete information as possible.

Camp ended and he was ready. His outside hitter was a beast, and she was also a team leader. Although she had only been playing for just barely a year, she had blossomed as an athlete in volleyball and the team was better because of her.

Two days after camp and one day before tryouts, the outside hitter was playing football with her brothers. A hard pass, a late hand and she broke a finger on her attacking side. She was done for a good part of the season.

Bill was angry, then disappointed and then in reorganization mode. What to do now?

On February 4
th, the Phoenix Mercury became one of the betting favorites to win a WNBA title even though the season was still months away. They had acquired a seasoned post in Tina Charles to a one-year deal with the pure intent of this being an all-in go at the trophy. All Stars Brittney Griner, Diana Taurasi and Skyler Diggins-Smith were ready to lead this team to it’s fourth Championship with the deep and star studded talent fashioning the box score.

Two weeks later it all began to unravel.

Center piece Brittany Griner was arrested in Russia where she still sits today, at the writing of this blog, in a Russian prison, found guilty of drug charges. The team was distraught and played distracted and affected for their new coach. Charles asked out of her contract after just 17 games because she didn’t think she was getting the ball enough. Taurasi suffered an injury and despite, somehow, still making the playoffs, Diggins-Smith also left the team the last two weeks of the season. What had begun with such high hopes crashed into a 2-0 sweep in the playoffs.


As Coaches AND Parents, we have stories we tell ourselves. “This team is good enough to win it all.” “My daughter is the best player on this team!” Rarely do those stories flesh out into reality and yet we continue to tell ourselves these fairy tales over and over.

As coaches, we must prepare for the worst. In 1988, Paul Westphal was a 37-year-old ex player looking to get some experience and coached Grand Canyon College to an NAIA Championship. What is forgotten is that late in the season he suspended two of his best front court players and highest scorers for team violations. Despite being short AND shorthanded, Westphal used what he had and beat the favorite Auburn-Montgomery 88-86 for the Championship.

Did Westphal expect to lose two crucial players as the playoffs loomed? Probably not but he did what great coaches do: he prepared for the worst! He had plans ready just in case.

If your best player goes down tomorrow, do you raise the white flag and cry foul? Or do you have another option? Do you have back up plans after back up plans ready? Are your players ready to play one position or volleyball?

The chances your high school or club season will go exactly as planned is a winning Lotto ticket. Think, as coaches and Parents, all the things that could DERAIL your season, then work backwards to help stem those tides. Bad grades, family emergencies, injuries, burn out, Parent over involvement and disruption, coaching change, etc. And in all of these, you an still not account for everything and anything that might happen. Life is random.

Your expectations of the narrative we tell ourselves is just that, a narrative. Our lives are full of them, daily. When things don’t meet the expectations of our narrative, we become disappointed, even though often our expectations are rooted in magic beans and fairy dust.

Be realistic, see beyond the obvious and understand that which has become clear to every great coach and parent in the world. 

Life teaches us humility.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

"One, two or three contacts and don't let the ball hit the floor..."

 Send it over the net in 1, 2 or 3 contacts and don’t let the ball hit the floor on your side.

She started with that simple formula. She was a college basketball player who was offered a job coaching High School basketball BUT was told she would also have to coach volleyball.

She didn’t know anything about volleyball. She had never played the sport. So she enlisted the mother of her best friend who was a volleyball coach, travelling hours to her home the day before the season started to copy drills, learn the game and come up with any idea on how to coach something she didn’t know at all.

Another coach described his journey
. “I became involved in volleyball when I went to college with the intention of being a basketball coach and happened to go to a school … that doesn’t exist any longer, and it happened to be a school that was very good in volleyball. Just randomly got involved in volleyball because of that. I never took a volleyball class before I got to college, so I transitioned from basketball to volleyball while I was there. I just took a couple classes and learned how to play and was on the team and had terrific mentors that were open to sharing their passion for the game with people who knew nothing about the game.”

Another coach graduated from a high school in Indiana and a classmate was coaching the JV team at their alma mater. This coach casually offered his services not thinking she would ever call. This fan of the game, who used to go watch his sister play, he got hooked as the JV team he was helping with went undefeated as did the varsity. The next year he jumped to another school and a coaching journey saw the rubber hit the road.

How did you get started? Your daughter played? Someone at your city or park program needed coaches? Maybe you just wanted to assist and got caught up in the excitement and rewards of coaching young people?

The why is important. The who is important. The how is most important.

Coaches must be flexible, chameleons of social and behavioral changes in their athletes. Cultures change, society changes, attitudes, and influences change. Coaches must change with them to survive the profession.

The coach who graduated from a high school in Indiana won his first NCAA National Championship last season as coach of the University of Wisconsin Badgers. Kelly Sheffield is heading into his 35th year of collegiate coaching and is one of the preseason favorites to repeat as National Champions.

The coach who went to college to coach basketball retired last season after 43 years, 7 National Championships and leaves the Penn State volleyball program as a perennial powerhouse. Russ Rose embraced the sport as both a player, a coach and an official and his ideas and strategies are DNA for many coaches and programs across the world.

The high school basketball player who boiled down the game to two mantras is starting her 41
st year at Dorman High School in South Carolina. Paula Kirkland has won 14 S.C. State High School Championships and is poised for another this season. She admits it took her 10 years to be comfortable with what she was doing as a coach, but she has been a cornerstone of both club and high school ball in South Carolina since.

All three of these legends had to change. The things they practiced, the way they practiced. They opened their minds and never thought they knew it all. They continued and continue to learn from others, gather more information from different sources and read and listen to make themselves better.

Chances are you won’t see 35 or 40+ years coaching. But your athletes deserve nothing less than a coach who is a lifelong learner. A coach who doesn’t think they have all the answers. Your athletes are asked every practice to get better.

It’s a standard we should hold ourselves to as well.

Paula, Russ and Kelly have.

Friday, June 17, 2022

"Cold and Timid Souls..."

The Golden State Warriors won the 2022 NBA championship last night, defeating the Boston Celtics in six games. This is the fact. And now comes the noise…

Pundits will crush Boston’s All-Star and Olympic Gold Medalist Jayson Tatum because he only scored 13 points on 6 of 18 field goal attempts and he had 5 turnovers. Of course, Tatum is to blame….

Think for just a minute of the silliness of that statement. Jayson Tatum is to blame for the Celtics losing. He led the team in scoring this season, averaging 27 points and chipping in 8 rebounds and 4 assists per game. He was their best player and without him it’s hard to imagine the Celtics would have even made the playoffs.

But it’s Tatum’s fault that Golden State won.

Go back to last week and one of Golden State’s best players, Klay Thompson was only 4 of 15 in his three-point attempts in the first two games. ESPN analysts boldly predicted that the Warriors would lose if Thompson continued to play this badly.

He didn’t and the blame was redirected to the next player who was in line with the type of statistics that those who ARE NOT playing in the NBA think they should have.

Yes, this is the definition of preposterous.

But it isn’t just a professional sports infection.

The word stems from the 1100’s Latin word “blasphemere” which was to “speak lightly or amiss of god or sacred things,” the word whittled down to its current adaptation: blame.

If you have been asleep, comatose, or living in a bunker for the last 50 years, maybe you haven’t noticed. But blame is the currency of American politics, the driving force behind sports talk shows, the rationale for unforeseen and unfortunate outcomes and overall, a self-serving AND face-saving strategy for all.

Blaming others has been around since Eve coaxed Adam to take a bite of an apple, but it is becoming more a coursing lifeblood of athletes, fans and coaches of youth sports as well.

The last tournament you attended; can you count how many times YOU blamed someone else? The official? The coach? The site director? USAV rules? The club? Another player or parent on the team? Another team or coach? Just this ONE instance, this literal teardrop in an ocean of a youth sports career and we have used blame like it’s oxygen.

Have you ever wondered why? Why are we so quick to blame? The person driving slow in front of us made us late! It wasn’t the fact that I was late leaving the house and now trying to speed up for the time I wasted earlier.

The official that just called my daughter for a double isn’t calling anything on the other team and hates our team, it’s not likely that my daughter is still learning to set and is still making mistakes in the learning process.

My team lost their rivalry game because the coach is an idiot and doesn’t know how to coach, it’s not the fact that for today, for this moment, the other team was better.

Why blame others?

Noted author Simon Sinek skims the argument and comes up with this: Accountability is hard. Blame is easy. One builds trust, the other destroys it.”

Renowned author Brene’ Brown scuttles blame into two quick points. “Blame is simply the discharging of discomfort and pain.” And, “Blame is faster than accountability.”

The Harvard Business Review talks about blame as “the germ that spreads and is the goal of protecting one’s self-image.”

And in a wonderful article from a few years back, Andrea Blundell in the Harley Therapy counselling blog gives 5 valid reasons for blame:

  • 1.      Blaming others is easy.
  • 2.      Blame means you don’t have to be vulnerable.
  • 3.      Blaming others feeds your need for control.
  • 4.      Blame unloads backed up feelings.
  • 5.      Blame protects your ego.

Unpacking these ideas gives us a sense of why we are so quick to blame others. But there is a moral casualty from our behavior that festers under the surface.

Our children, our athletes become victims.

Blame stokes the furnace of the “poor me” attitude. The athlete that is misunderstood by their coach, hated by the officials, chided by the other parents, not the coaches favorite. “Why should I work hard? No one on the team gives me the ball anyway!”

This mentality is a hop, skip and a jump from walking away from sports, perhaps forever.

Are their coaches with favorites? Of course. Is an athlete hated by an official? Perhaps but highly unlikely. Other parents treat this athlete badly? Maybe, but a better explanation is that kids can hear what they want to hear.

The bottom line is that every mistake on your life can be blamed on something or someone other than you. That is the reality of blame.

But when you see coaches take the blame for a loss, or players stepping into the mouth of the media lion, there is something refreshing and courageous about those moments. Probably because they are so rare.

As always, the mirror is our best teacher. Next time you want to blame someone, stop. Remember that young athletes are not professionals and are still learning. Remember that officials are not perfect and miss things. Remember that professional athletics are and will always be random. Remember that a jump shot in basketball is not automatic and that a swing on a volleyball court isn’t always a point.

But most of all, remember what Theodore Roosevelt said in his famous quote. Appreciate the effort, the hard work, the commitment. And those critics that spend their time and make a living criticizing others don’t deserve our attention:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Sunday, May 22, 2022

"What are you willing to do?"

There is nothing simple about coaching. 


Managing personalities: athletes, parents, staffs, administrations, it's a full time job BEFORE you get to the practices and match management. 

But certain ideas and methods help. Are you a coach of science or habit? Are you a coach of ego or inclusion? Are you a coach that loves what you are doing or always feels undervalued and underappreciated.

Another principle comes to mind in this chaotic world we are balancing daily.

Volodymyr Zelensky is overseeing the invasion and destruction of his country. Russia attacked Ukraine in a highly anticipated military juggernaut in early February and since those opening days, President Zelensky has been the face of freedom, courage and integrity in a country the world saw just a few months ago, as helpless and doomed.

He has, more than any other world figure in recent memory, transformed this once thought to be slaughter of his people by Russian forces into a nail biting, give and take daily struggle for freedom. The underdog is alive and well at the moment!

Zelensky has captured the hearts of the world with his courageous videos. He has lowered himself to take meetings with important US political figures, (many of the Americans looking for an election photo to bring in more fundraising), and has begged and pleaded for help from the US and other western countries, putting his ego aside for the good of his people and his nation.

It is too soon to tell how this war will be reconciled but Zelensky is now cemented in history books and social media memes as a beacon of courage and integrity.

Why has he taken the world's imagination? Perhaps it's because we have little to no one in power these days that is courageous and demonstrates integrity.

Coaching 12-14 year old's, it's hard to imagine how they will view the U.S. political system. What President will they write their essays about in the coming years that won't create havoc within their family or social circles? 

Currently, rife with lies and mistruths, we are voting on our future with people willing to sell their souls and convictions for high donors and opportunities for election results. We have government positions being decided by a "big lie" that even it's perpetrators know (and have slipped to say) is fake. 

Integrity is a missing ingredient in our leadership around the country and the world. Not just in politics but in business and of course, sport. Daily examples of doping, cheating and less than model behavior saturate our hunger for online content. None of this is new of course. In this global theater now just a swipe away, we have instant access to the foibles in our jean pockets.

We choose to vote for those that affect our daily lives and so some of these principally devoid mouth pieces will be overseeing your state, or maybe your school board or local municipality. In this, you have a choice to vote or not.

And in the case of our athletes, we have a choice as well. While usually not held to a vote, we can decide to hold ourselves to a standard of integrity or decide on a scorched earth policy of team well being vs. what it's worth it to get the win at the next National Qualifier.

Have you ever told a player one thing and then did something contrary to what you had said earlier? Have you ever cheated on the score? Bullied an official or a scorekeeper? Have you ever watched a ball land in, saw the lines person call it out and then agree because it benefits your team and gives you a big point?

Rob Evans, former ASU basketball coach used to ask coaches this question: "What are you willing to do?" He was asking to what level will you go to cheat to win? In basketball, with three officials, the game is called with much more autonomy than in volleyball. The human element is a central part of the game. Would you grab a player illegally to slow him down? Bump a player to knock the ball loose? Argue a call where you knew you were wrong with the hope of getting a call later in the game?

In our sport, would you put your college graduated Assistant Coach into your 16's Regionals match for the advantage? Would you fix your roster so you could have one of your clubs best players play on two teams? Would you allow a player to play that was ineligible? All of these are examples of what has happened just in our Region.

Some coaches would call this "being competitive." Coaches with flexible morality refer to the oft quoted, "If you aren't' cheating, you aren't trying." But imagine your son or daughter watching this behavior. Are you comfortable with this? Especially if your son or daughter is directly affected by this fracture of integrity?

What can you do tomorrow, next week, next season to be that moral compass for your athletes? Can you tune out Parents that want the win at any cost? Can you teach your athletes that a win won fairly is a win they can be proud of and a loss where they gave their all is worthy of praise as well?  Can you make the right call, even if it hurts your team? 

Using Rob Evans' question, "What are you willing to show integrity to your team?" What things do your athletes do that you can point out as shining examples at every practice? 

How can we make integrity as talked about a quality as "the big lie" is talked about as an election strategy?

You may be coaching 12 year old's, but your athletes will not be with you their entire athletic careers. They will become students in high school and college and transition into voting adults, hopefully looking for the candidates who show the integrity and courage they learned as an athlete.

What are you willing to do?

Friday, April 8, 2022

Tis the season...

A Club Director from the east coast called this week for advice. He had two coaches on the same team that had basically “checked out.” They were coaching from the bleachers, just yelling, negative, berating their athletes. They had two weeks, four practices and two tournaments left but fewer and fewer players were showing up at practices. The team was disbanding before everyone’s eyes because of the behavior of the coaching staff.

This week, a close friend and coach found another job and was done with coaching. Even though she has a month left in her season, a season in which she was asked to coach one team and assist on another, she was fried. She was at a tournament almost every Saturday, 4 hours a night during practice nights and it had taken its toll. She was done with her coaching job in club and in high school.

Tis the season. Burnout, malaise, boredom for all. While some teams are competing for championships and medals, most teams are quietly slipping into the off season abyss.

As a coach, this can be the hardest part of the season. The same kids, same attitudes, same drills, same practice plans: it all adds up to, “NOT AGAIN!”

This dangerous month is most perilous for your athletes. Will they see you as either a coach who is still working to make practices efficient and productive or one who has punched the timecard and is just trying to get through these last few weeks?

If your son or daughter was on the team, how would you want your coach to behave?

If you are doing the same drills you have been doing all season, think of the idea of Bernstein’s “repetition without repetition.” How can you do this drill differently but get the same result that is engaging and fun for the team?

What skills can you introduce that will engage your team and push them out of their comfort zones?

What non-volleyball practice can you come up with that will be fun and engaging for them? Sitting volleyball? Basketball? Skills contests with prizes? Let your imagination run wild.

It’s easy to tell a coach to stay positive, stay engaged, engage your athletes. But a team that has struggled or hasn’t been very good all season might have the mentality of the Los Angeles Lakers this season after their disappointing campaign: let’s just END this!

But you still have the opportunity to hold value to one of John Kessel’s pillars of great coaching: Don’t be a child’s last coach!

You have a few weeks left. Push yourself to learn how to better teach a skill you aren’t comfortable with and teach your athletes. Find a smart, efficient game like drill you have never done before and try it. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t but you will never know unless you try.

You ask your athletes every day to give you their best, to work hard and be engaged. They might ask the same of us.