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Ohana & Play

Dec. 31, 2010, 11:28 a.m. (ET)

Happy New Year everyone….I am thinking about the chance to give young players a love of the game is perhaps the most important job of any coach along the path of each athlete’s development. This fostering of passion for volleyball is made easy by the very nature of this game, its amazing uniquenesses and its position as the ultimate team sport. So when a child begins to play, it also means the family begins to discover those same qualities, and the best coaches take the time to teach both the child and the parents.  The USA Volleyball Parents as Partners Initiative is a new part of helping USAV Junior Volleyball clubs promote this discovery process.  Go to http://promiseofgoodsports.org/ to learn how you can bring this training to your program. The material prepared to help parents and players connect, including a long standing tradition in my coaching of having the kids teach skills and cheer the parents in a “game” are very valuable to helping parents be better partners to your program. More than one older junior player has said at the end of this special parent training session – “That was the best volleyball time of my life…”  It really can be that impactful to the team around the team.

Family….  No matter where I travel in this world, I cross paths with families who are making a difference in our sport. In August in Bolivia, one of my host families owned a dedicated volleyball facility, five indoor and six more outdoor courts, and bought 8,000 volleyballs to give away to teachers and programs growing the sport in the area of Cochabamba. Mom, dad, and all their children played and now either coached or were doing some sort of volleyball leadership work.

The Epperson family, founders of the Volleyball Festival, have been making family a highest priority in every experience and event they are involved in. If your team is looking for a season ending event beyond the USAV Nationals, you can’t go wrong taking your girls (the event is not a boy’s competition) to Phoenix after school finals have ended for all our states, and joining over 500 other teams in a long standing family run and focused celebration of our sport.

Taylor Storch’s family…this family sets a new standard for how to make the best from a tragedy that no parent wishes to experience. For those who have not heard of this remarkable volleyball family from Texas, the short story is that they lost their 13 year old daughter in a ski accident right after attending the Colorado Crossroads qualifier this year, and donated all her organs. Since then, they have campaigned tirelessly for organ donations, setting up their own website - Taylor's Gift - while her former JO club has done some wonderful things as well. Perhaps one of the most moving moments I have seen on television occurred this year when her parents visited the donor recipient of Taylor’s heart, and listened to it beat with a stethoscope… I still tear up even just writing about it…

The Sato and Oden families….each putting multiple members on Olympic teams, Kim-Elaina-Bev Oden and Liane and Eric Sato, along with brother Gary who assistant coached our men’s gold 1988 team, and has returned to give back to the sport coaching the national team again now towards London 2012. What great, child empowering parents these two families demonstrated from the start of their children’s junior volleyball career to the pinnacles they reached.

The Van Zweiten Family – FIVB beach players at senior and junior and youth world competition levels. Home court of Phil Dalhausser. How can I help my kids get better indoors they asked me long ago. My answer remains the same to all - Build a court in your backyard - in their case a lighted SAND court, since they live next to the beach in Florida...and gold medalists blossom. Oh, any yes, sons who are named Mr. Florida Volleyball for indoor high school too. In your free time, travel to Africa and use volleyball to help kids and families become healthier and happier people. Those are the Van Z’s

We are Family… last month the 1980 team returned here to Colorado Springs to be inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame. Over half the team showed up, including Debbie Green our 5’ 4” giant of a setter who returned after the boycotted Olympics to set our USA women to silver in 1984, Captain Debbie Landredth Brown who at 5’7” led the team both on and off the court and now gives back to the sport coaching at Notre Dame, and Terry Place Brandel, who flew over from Germany where she has been living and coaching for decades. This group’s theme song was always Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family…” as they bonded in being world ambassadors and the number one team in the world, only to see a governmental decision take away their right to play. So many of the team members are coaching collegiately still giving back to the sport. USA Volleyball gave each of them a current national team Mizuno uniform with their 1980 last name on the back, which prompted huge smiles, as these USA athletes had played in an era where the only name on the back of your uniform was USA… 

I live in Colorado, where I can enjoy the seasons. My father roomed in college with a fellow many skiers know - the great ski filmmaker Warren Miller… Today it is below zero, fresh snow on the ground and I am watching an amazing film about family – The Edge of Never - where a young  son goes to ski the same run in the mountains of Chamonix which claimed his father – and he is being taught and shown how to do it – in whole method, not part mind you – how to ski the steep by none other than the father of steep skiing, Anselme Baud – just a year after Anselme lost his own son on the same mountain when a serac broke off killed his 24 year old son.  It is a powerful film about teaching and family across the ages – and has a GREAT soundtrack too. I have skied all my life, as have Cody and McKenzie, and we are just back from skiing with extended family in the Vail valley. This is the same valley where in the summer I have played Father Daughter or Father Son volleyball doubles on Father’s Days.  The same area where we ski Aspen, then I play with my son, then against my son, in the Motherlode, a volleyball family town and event that I have been playing in or visiting since winning in 1974. A decade ago a wise coach from Iowa brought some 6-8th graders to this event...to play doubles in advance of their high school careers, and I got a chance to talk to them about the love of the game. This year my daughter played against those same players, now in their 20s, who continue to play after college – something we all can measure our impact on our players by – how many keep playing this sport for a lifetime.

Perhaps no greater place where family matters is seen in Hawaii – where Ohana reigns along with the Outrigger Canoe Club (OCC)  – Do you realize NINE Olympians hail from the Ohana state by learning and playing at just one small club? A club that does not recruit as it is a members only club with a long waiting list, but where the culture of play and passion for the game gives all ages the chance to thrive and shine.  OCC’s kids’ court sits beside the two regular courts, a court that is smaller, with a lower net, but right next to the court where the adults play and mentor by doing.  It is a culture of family in the Pacific, where aunts and uncles play and teach even the youngest of nieces and nephews, giving them a love of the game through playing. Then there are huge clubs who recruit constantly yet have had no players reach the Olympic level – So, as oft noted, the coach who knows why beats the coach who knows how, I have taken a look at the “secrets” of the Outrigger family.

  1. They play. Nuff said.

  2. They start with and play a lot of doubles. Many indoor clubs see this as a threat – what, no coaches? You can pick up bad “habits” – your “technique” will suffer. Usually this is heard from coaches who have not played doubles volleyball – they come from other sport backgrounds, never even played volleyball, or only have an indoor focus, and they simply do not have a clue to what wonderful things can come from playing outdoor doubles.

  3. They model the spirit, attitude and skills of adult players, not solely junior players

  4. They are family – with father and mothers playing with sons and daughters, aunties and uncles playing with nieces and nephews, and friends playing with family.

  5. They don’t recruit – they develop the players they have to be the best they can be.

More and more on the mainland we see clubs rise to high rankings largely due to their year round recruiting of the best players in their area. It is a fascinating process to see these recruiters – not really coaches – in action, “signing” players up with promises of volleyball glory, well ahead of any tryout opportunity those clubs who actually do tryouts can make happen. It is the American way, yet those families who put their child into such programs often find out that once their daughter is not tall enough for such programs, they are tossed aside and ignored, despite what contributions they may have made over time. Take time to know the PEOPLE who lead the programs you are looking at, not the club size or promises they might make.

These larger recruiting clubs often systematize as well, reminding me of the great soccer coach quote that “to systematize is to sterilize.”  You see the value of play lost as the “value” of instructor dominated training is promoted - where too often the coach is the central figure, not the players who should be being empowered. Deliberate practice comes from within, not the demands of a coach. We see that kid's hopscotch and tag games have been replaced by speed ladders and sprints…where someone can make money by selling you a “method” even if it is not founded on motor learning principles. Jumping over anything you can jump over is being replaced by official jumping hurdles… We need more free play time, on and off the court, more “street volleyball” as doubles at the OCC shows works, more warm up with simple games to play – even with the game of Four Square – including wonderful head fakes and deception, spin shots, winners stay on lessons of life…Remember – we want to train GAME-like – not DRILL-like.  You simply need to go from simple games to more complex. It really is that simple and is based on principles and science as all things we do in our sport should be...

I am going to go stay on my family theme and remember the delightful lessons of the importance of family as seen in Lilo and Stitch again, and watch it tonight on New Year’s Eve.  If not seen in awhile, I suggest you get your team together and share it….

You know, someone said I am a work-aholic, as 7 days a week i am working to grow the game…I want to clarify that, thanks to TED.com, I know now I am a work-a-frolic, and thankful to be doing what I love to do.  So go out and thrive, and to those who give you such “Criticism Resistance, Axxholes and Pressure,” simply smile and say, have a good day, for I chose to.   

In closing, I want to share a quote I am going to teach my 14er team which begins regional USAV tournament play in two weeks – I will not be courtside, as I will be in San Diego teaching the great Starlings USA Volleyball family, some 50 clubs strong, at their National Directors Convention, as we do a CAP course for the coaches and directors from all over the USA. They too will hear this quote, as Dutch Meyer said something to the effect of “We will fight them until hell freezes over…then we will fight them on the ice.”  I hope to instill relentless pursuit and joyful unending competitive spirit into my player’s hearts, and such a quote is part of that attitude…

Let us know how we can help you grow the game, as a member of the USA Volleyball family. Email me at john.kessel@usav.org anytime. Some great things are in store for 2011 which you will soon be hearing about. Again, happy new year everyone!

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