The Tragedy of the Commons

March 03, 2009, 4:42 p.m. (ET)

I am starting with a look back into an article that remains timely in this day and age, Garret Hardin's 1968 piece called "The Tragedy of the Commons."  Many decades ago, I graduated from Colorado College with a degree focusing on bionomics. My thesis," Towards a Resourced Based Bionomic Society", was written before computers, so an IBM Selectric with correcting tape got pounded hard as 126 pages of double spaced type were created, using many hundreds of draft pages, literally cutting and pasting with scissors and tape to make the manuscript flow.  When I see what my kids can do now, that old sense of in my day "I had to walk uphill to school in snow" flashes, before I give thanks to the way I can now write thoughts and ideas on a computer screen, and not waste paper in my errors.

Later on, my Encylopedia of Volleyball was written on a rooftop in Camogli, Italy, using an Olivetti typewriter of course,  while I was in the country playing professionally along with my wife Laurel Brassey. She was a member of the 1980 Olympic boycotted team who qualified for Moscow, and we lived in a magical place, a penthouse apartment, 22 Via del Isola....built almost 1,000 years ago (I live in a house built in 1899 now, and my kids think it is ancient...), our clothesline attached out the bathroom window to a 1,200 year old castle wall. Camogli is a blend of two Italian words, Casa (home) and Mogli (wife) as it was a fishing village for centuries where the men would go to sea, and leave all their wives at home.  If you get over there, the town right on the Mediterranean Sea, southeast of Genoa, just one train stop ahead of the better known town of Portofino.  The magic of Facebook means now several of my former teammates are my "friends" and we get to see how each other is faring some 25 years later. I am happy to see Paulo, our setter, is growing the game by coaching, and others have children who are playing this sport for a lifetime.

I made the jump to a computer when Jim Coleman and I bought Kaypro "portable" computers. Using the CPM operating system, Jim had a dual 512K floppy version, while I splurged and bought the 10 megabyte hard drive.  These devices weighed 30lbs, and were suitcase sized, with a 5 ¼" green phosphor screen. Using Wordstar, I wrote coaching articles for the National Development Camps and many other groups, which I still reference today.  As Moore's law moves along ahead of schedule, I now find myself owning 1 TB drives, and using an ITouch to check email, listen to music, watch movies, and have 32 GB in device that I can hold in the palm of my hand - using a color screen that is about 4 x 2" - not that much smaller of a screen than my Kaypro, but more powerful by about 5 factors of 10. Amazing, yet more amazing things are happening on the horizon, you only need to go to and see what the future might bring.

So that long historical introduction, brings me simply to the impact I felt when reading Garret Hardin's piece back in the early 1970s.  It comes to mind in part as we at USAV are dealing with spam and the creative ways spammers attempt to force you to read their mass emails.  Just this week, our filters were getting so strong, words like "document," and phrases like "If kids" are being blocked, for reasons that took us awhile to determine why.   I think all coaches should read about the Tragedy of the Commons as part of background in Game Theory - and while you can google it up, I suggest starting with Wikipedia's entry at:

This comes to mind in part because of the work the Positive Coaching Alliance is doing in creating such great National Conversations on Good Coaching. The most recent one is on "Working the Refs" and can be read and commented on by clicking here.   It also shows insights into why A-Rod and so many other sportspeople enhance their own body through chemicals as the US Anti Doping Agency and the World Anti Doping Agency fight to keep up with these physical, and illegal, enhancements.  USADA has some great reading material free of charge which you can print, use, hand out to your programs, especially in their "Clean Sport and You" program. Some solid optimal Dietary intake information, and interesting ethical topics and more can be found at:

Off to Iowa in a couple of days to speak with over 300 coaches at their State Volleyball Coaching clinic put on by Championship Productions. I am coming in early, to work with the Iowa RVA on some boys development projects, and whatever else they think we can do to grow the game while I am local. Mary Wise is speaking too, always a treat to hear her thoughts on the game.  Thanks for all you do to help athletes have a great time playing volleyball and learning life skills to boot.

Feel free to comment below and share your thoughts with everyone, or email me at


The following comments were made on our previous web platform and have been transferred here to maintain the historical record.

On March 05, 2009 Chuck Rey wrote

It would be fitting for the times if John's "Encyclopedia of Volleyball" was on Wikipedia... ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- Teaching Life Lessons Through Volleyball

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