Tuesday, 28 May 2024

Developing Amazing Leaders and Citizens

From John: “I may have retired but I’m not leaving the sport! You all should look here for possible new blogs at a later date. And come learn from us up at my legacy project at www.bisonpeaklodgecolorado.com.”

I’ve been discussing the process of learning and development during webinars and podcasts for several USAV regions and other sport organizations lately, and I thought I should share some of those today.

Coaching Philosophy

When we get a chance to step back from in-person coaching, we all should reflect on why we do what we do. For me, it’s simple: to develop both the whole athlete and the whole coach, not just the volleyball player or teacher. That’s the reason for my blog of more than 10 years: to guide the discovery of how we can be better at influencing kids. As our influence is never neutral, I focus on developing leadership skills. Schools nowadays teach less about citizenship. Inspired by the Leadership Development Center at the U.S. Air Force Academy (where my stepdaughter coaches), I have added citizenship to my Developing Amazing Leaders philosophy. Doing the right thing, being a better citizen, is critical. We must make these off-court actions part of our process.


“Time is what we want most and use worst.”

  • William Penn
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I appreciate everyone who takes the time to read my blog, as time is precious. I hope it makes a difference in your process as a coach or parent. Much of coaching is learning, and I argue coaching is more a learning competition than an athletic one. We must keep striving for more effective and efficient ways to coach.

I Love to Watch You Play

Nearly a decade ago I addressed the importance of this phrase and concept in a blog. It is in part specific to this topic for parents as part of the car ride home. During this pandemic, I realized that my role on the bench as a coach during competition is the same … and I miss seeing kids play. Many of you know my son plays pro ball in Germany. I watch him play online each weekend. With COVID-19 canceling the season, he now trains in Colorado with us at our legacy project for first responders and veterans on an artificial field originally designed for clinic use. He built a gym from all the natural materials on the property, including an elk-antler pull down bar and bars and dumbbells from wood and rocks. I still love to watch him and his sister play together, and I share this idea for a way your club and programming can get parents and kids to play together: Parent/child doubles tournaments.

Reading is the Most Important Skill

Many coaches have come to see their best all-around players are those who spend time playing doubles. When William G. Morgan created the game, he even had rules for playing 1×1, 2×2 and even 3×3 or more. In these virus-impacted times, I also suggest playing with a 2-meter line which the players must play behind while attacking and passing. This keeps the two teams apart and allows more practice reading the ball. I would include a rule saying the ball can only go over the net inside your opponents 2-meter line if you contact the ball below the top of the net. When playing versions that normally require switching sides, instead play two games to 15 points or so and change sides at each game’s end, switching sides by going opposite sides of the sidelines. I can’t say it enough: doubles at any age will get your players better at 6×6.

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Diversity and Inclusion

For more than 20 years, USA Volleyball has partnered with and helped fund Starlings USA. It is now led by Lucy Jones, a small staff and a new board (of which I am a member). The mission of Starlings is to positively impact the lives of at-risk girls through the sport of volleyball. There are programs for sister clubs, starting new programs, and otherwise helping economically disadvantaged kids who want to play volleyball. The Arizona and Southern California Regions of USA Volleyball have been particularly supportive, and one of the strongest programs remains led by April Claremont in the Navajo Nation, which has been hard hit by COVID-19. In these days and times, reach out to partner your club with this well-established and impactful diversity and inclusion program at www.starlings.org.

Here are a few excellent resources aimed at learning how to have these uncomfortable conversations. Just as we ask our players to “get comfortable being uncomfortable,” coaches, as leaders, must learn to be actively anti-racist rather than passively non-racist.

  • Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man with Emmanuel Acho of the Philadelphia Eagles
  • Inside Out Initiative – Staying Connected: Social Change
  • Against the Rules Podcast with Michael Lewis – How getting into college is only the first hurdle for underprivileged students

And finally, consider taking the RISE pledge, as most USA Volleyball staffers have. Rise is a nonprofit organization dedicated to harnessing the unifying power of sports to improve race relations and drive social progress. The pledge reads:

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“I pledge, to treat everyone with respect and dignity I will not tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind I will speak up whenever I know discrimination is happening And I will stand up for victims”

I encourage you to visit the RISE website and take or retake the RISE pledge to end racism.

Never be a Child’s Last Coach

In closing, I again share a past blog from a decade ago about never being a child’s last coach. As we seek to grow our sport in these unprecedented times, we know volleyball can be someone’s sport for a lifetime. Yet too many players stop playing our sport if they fail to make their school team, and most don’t know there’s a national championship for players 79 and over. You are a great coach if all the players on your team play again the next year. Even if you never win a tournament or a title, if you give your players a love of the game, you have done your job and then some.

Stay safe and remember, your influence is never neutral.