Wednesday, 29 May 2024

Back to My Iowa Grassroots

I have returned to the place where my coaching journey truly began, a land filled with the nostalgic cries of nighthawks at dusk. It has been years since those times, and yet the 17-year cicadas still fill the air with their incredible songs that emanate from the trees. During my recent visit, I had the opportunity to connect with youth coaches in Cedar Rapids, sharing ideas and insights. The journey continued as I spent a day with 80 amazing kids and their dedicated coaches in Mediapolis, a small town with a population of 1,584 according to July 2008 demographics.

Embracing the Creative Spirit

As we traversed the back roads of Iowa, a Graffiti Barn caught my eye, brightening up the lush green farmland. This artwork reminded me of the creative side we all possess, the desire to leave our mark and express our ideas. I couldn’t help but reminisce about my time at Graceland College, where the generous McDole family provided me with endless opportunities to learn and grow. I would spend summers in Lamoni, IA, trading the dry mountain air of Colorado for the humidity and heat of the Midwest.

A Melting Pot of Talent and Inspiration

Graceland’s gym became a meeting ground for influential coaches from various walks of life. Byron Shewman, now leading the esteemed Starlings USA volleyball program, Chris McLaughlin, the driving force behind Punahou’s remarkable volleyball program in Hawaii, and Miles Pabst, an Olympian from the 60s and University of Oklahoma coach, were just a few of the incredible mentors who graced the tartan surface. These individuals, along with others like Glen Davies, Jerry Sherman, Rod Schall, and Hank Van Arsdale, left an indelible mark on the volleyball community, shaping the sport for generations to come.

The Birth of Volleyball Camps in the Midwest

Stew McDole played a crucial role in revolutionizing coaching in the Midwest. Long before it became a common practice for colleges, Stew introduced camps in Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa. Inspired by my early experiences coaching in Carpentaria, CA, I was eager to share my knowledge and passion with others, and Stew wholeheartedly embraced this vision. Even during economic downturns, he went to extraordinary lengths to ensure his staff remained employed, mortgaging his own home to support them. Together, we embarked on “satellite camps,” venturing into the smallest towns and conducting three-a-day sessions. Our dedication knew no bounds, with our only respite being a 24-hour break to catch a movie or do laundry before moving on to the next camp. These intense and action-packed summers became the fabric of our coaching journeys, collectively amassing over 300 camps.

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A Culture of Collaboration and Growth

Each evening, like-minded coaches would gather, sharing stories, ideas, and insights. The level of intensity and open dialogue was unparalleled, fueled by our mutual trust and boundless creativity. These nightly meetings allowed us to review the day’s training sessions and brainstorm ways to make the next one even better. It was a testament to our shared commitment to continuous improvement and enriching the lives of our athletes.

A Lifetime of Ideas, One Day at a Time

Over 30 years have passed since those formative experiences, yet the desire to share my knowledge has never waned. I relish the opportunity to pack a lifetime of ideas into a single day, working with both coaches and players alike. Summer construction may pose logistical challenges, but it provides us with opportunities for creative problem-solving. As we navigate through mazes of building materials, we find a haven where we can showcase videos, share cutting-edge research, and delve into innovative training ideas.

Growing the Game, One Court at a Time

In our quest to expand the sport, outdoor courts often receive less attention in the United States. However, I firmly believe in their potential. A single tennis court can be transformed into six training courts, providing a valuable space for youth and camp programs. With a length of yellow rope and a well-tied trucker knot, we can create a training environment that nurtures young talent and fosters a love for the game.

Stories of Resilience and Rebuilding

During my trip, I had the opportunity to visit areas affected by last year’s devastating flood. I witnessed the strength and resilience of individuals like Lori Forrest Gray, a former player of mine from UNM who lost her home. The Pink Flamingo restaurant, a symbol of hope and resilience, stands tall, ready to serve once again after a year of rebuilding. This flood, reminiscent of the tragedy New Orleans faced, highlighted the countless homes submerged underwater. It was a somber reminder of the power of nature and the resilience of the human spirit.

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Unforgettable Moments and Lasting Impact

As I traveled through Iowa, I made sure to experience the unique attractions the state has to offer. From Snake Alley, the crookedest street in the world, to the mighty Mississippi River, which marked the end of the influential RagBrai ride, there was never a dull moment. The landscape, adorned with cornfields stretching as far as the eye could see, was a beautiful testament to the state’s agricultural heritage. Amidst the laughter and camaraderie, we indulged in the Iowa classic of “walking tacos,” creating memories that will last a lifetime.

A Day Filled with Laughter and Growth

At the Mediapolis gym, we started the day with a vibrant display of enthusiasm. Kensley, the earliest arrival, earned the first award, setting the tone for a day filled with passion and dedication. The two-court gym, masterfully set up by Steve Reinschmidtt, one of my former USAV interns, became the epicenter of our activities. Although we had prepared long spans of rope to serve as “nets,” the players couldn’t resist the temptation to pepper before the official start of the camp. By the end of the day, we had erected over 360 feet of net across six regulation courts, enabling the participants to accumulate tens of thousands of contacts through passing, setting, hitting, and most importantly, enjoying themselves.

Fostering a Culture of Collaboration and Support

As the day drew to a close, we sought to end on a high note. We devised the concept of an energizing exponential chain of victors, a competitive cool-down activity. The rules were simple: each winner would have the entire losing side from their previous contest cheering them on in subsequent rounds. What began as 1v1 matches quickly evolved into 2v2, 4v4, and 8v8 encounters, with the gym reverberating with the roar of passionate supporters. The final showdown, whether it was a game of Ro-Sham-Bo or a balance war, created an electrifying atmosphere that left everyone grinning from ear to ear.

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A Journey Well Worth Taking

I extend my heartfelt gratitude to Steve, Michelle, and the entire Iowa volleyball family for welcoming me back to the Avenue of the Saints. It was a trip that reaffirmed my dedication to the sport and reminded me of the enduring sense of fulfillment that comes from sharing my knowledge and experiences. Even if it meant taking a vacation day, spending time in the gyms of Iowa was an endeavor that proved to be more rewarding than I could have ever imagined.


Q: How did you start your coaching journey?
A: My coaching journey began in Iowa, where I had the opportunity to learn and grow as a coach. It all started thanks to the McDole family at Graceland College, who provided me with invaluable opportunities to run preseasons and develop my coaching skills.

Q: What made your coaching experiences in Iowa unique?
A: Iowa offered a vibrant and supportive volleyball community. I had the privilege of working with influential coaches who left a lasting impact on the sport. The collaborative and open environment allowed for continuous learning and growth.


Returning to my coaching roots in Iowa was a truly nostalgic experience. From connecting with youth coaches in Cedar Rapids to spending a memorable day with passionate players and their dedicated coaches in Mediapolis, the trip reignited my love for the sport. Throughout my journey, I encountered incredible mentors, experienced unforgettable moments, and witnessed the resilience and spirit of the Iowa volleyball community. The trip affirmed my commitment to sharing my knowledge and fostering a culture of growth and collaboration. It was a journey well worth taking, reminding me of the profound impact the sport has on individuals and communities alike. To learn more about my coaching experiences and stay updated on the latest news and insights, visit my website –