To Build Up or Tear Down - Lessons in Volleyball IQ

Feb. 03, 2010, 4:54 p.m. (ET)

Before dawn last Monday morning I was on my laptop, connected to USA Volleyball's office with Office Communicator, when I saw I was getting a call from an unknown number and area code. I answered, and found myself talking to Byron Shewman, head of our Starlings USA program. He had been in Haiti for over a week, first heading down there with a medical team which has since left and he plans to stay longer, and fly back on a military transport somehow.

He wanted USAV's help with sitting volleyball especially for women, as so many Haitians are having amputations from crushed limbs. Too many are getting infections, and he had a kid die in his arms last night. We talked about the horror beyond words, but then moved to looking to build hope and work together, just like we did in starting Starlings. USA Volleyball's Junior National Championships reached out over a decade ago to be the place the Starling Nationals could begin, at very low cost. Now we are looking at how the upcoming World Sitting Championships this July in Edmond, OK, and Starlings Nationals in June in San Diego, CA, could be a place for Haitians to build towards and play in. After all he has done and does around the USA and Mexico, this former USA National Team player is pushing his own limits by now doing all he can in Haiti.

I found myself reflecting on other stories and ideas I use to help players teach themselves better. In the past summer camps I have done, I teach both the coaches AND the players motor skill learning. A good hour or more, guiding them to understand WHY we are doing the games and techniques, and especially the importance of deliberate practice and mindful learning as we call it now. My story is about the math of attention time - for when I have 12 players and a 2 hour workout, how much time can I average with each player giving them individual teaching/attention?  Since the answer is 10 minutes, the key is not to just get good during those times (which I would like to think are important) but more importantly to get good at the OTHER 110 minutes I am looking or teaching somewhere else. If we as a team only get good when I am watching you, we will not be very good. So the camp shirt I would wear had the writing "ARE YOU LEARNING STILL?" on the back, to remind them to stay mindful and keep focused even when my back was turned to them.

I also share with teams the story of what it takes to build something up vs. tear it down. Often, I am in the gym, so I start there, asking, "What did it take to build this gym or school?" 

The answer is YEARS, from starting fundraising and planning, through months of construction to final payment....PEOPLE - Hundreds of them, from architects, land levelers, excavation crews, concrete pourers, frame builders, roofers, electricians, plumbers, floor layers, designers, painters, heat/air conditioning experts, computer programmers and so many more working in a timeline and together to make it happen... INTELLIGENCE - degrees in all these areas of importance to make sure the stress loads are safe, the wiring is correct, and hundreds of years of accumulated knowledge and training.

Then the final question is...what does it take to tear down this place? The truth is, ONE DAY, using ONE or TWO people, with a wrecker ball and a bulldozer and no diploma in anything, just the knowledge of how to swing or push something to the ground.

The volleyball family, around the world and in America, marvels at how one nation can win three gold and two silver medals in one Olympics/Paralympics, and many come to seek to learn from our federation. All the while, USAV seeks to improve, share best practices, create and share new ideas, and do the hard work through the countless staff and volunteers at the regional level. To that end, I enjoyed spending several days late last month with nearly two hundred other coaches and leaders from around the USA (and three other nations who came over), as coaches listened and shared their ideas on becoming a better teacher, while building our sport. What these growth mindset coaches were doing was growing their own Volleyball IQ, and learning how to better empower players to grow their IQ as well.

Some of the time talk was about bell curves and standard deviation. In volleyball IQ, 50% of any group is below average in intelligence when compared to that group.  When we lump all players and coaches in the nation together, the fact is that 50% will be below average in VB IQ. The best impact we can do to help everyone is to share what the top players and coaches know, and share it with those who want to raise their IQ. We know that if our HP Pipeline is strong and broad (as initial ability does not have much of a correlation to final ability in players and coaches) and the players keep working to increase their VB IQ....well, as Bill Walsh so aptly put it  The Score Takes Care of Itself - the title of a great book he wrote that is on my increase my VB IQ reading list, and my just finished blog using that same phrase. 

Last month the USA Volleyball Board of Directors announced that beach volleyball will get even more support, and the NCAA announced earlier this month that "Sand" volleyball for women is an official emerging sport. Some now will likely think USAV is "jumping on the beach bandwagon." Those are the ones whose VB IQ in history is on the low side. They do not know of ...the ways USAV Regions supported grass and beach volleyball in the 1970s with outdoor directors, officiating training, funding of events and more... the fiscal sacrifices made by USAV with the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games to get the IOC to make the beach game in 1996 an Olympic discipline of volleyball... the initial work USAV did to bring the beach game to the college ranks over a decade ago...the way USAV and the USOC supported the pro beach game with millions of dollars through fiscally challenged times from 1999-2001.

When I was team leader in 2000, I watched as the vast majority of the nations competing, had no coaching and limited support, but USAV made sure to get credentials and let the athletes chose coaching support, video taping opponents, setting up extra training times on Bondi beach, and even bringing in replacement athletes to train against and be there should an injury occur late, across the dateline and a day's flight from America. An article today called "Coach Tickets Denied" show five coaches with seven of the 10 USA Team speed skaters will not be credentialed in Vancouver..."   but USAV made sure beach teams got their chosen coach credentialed. The beach department has gone from part time to several full time and now will grow again. We are in our second decade of HP Beach camps, and hosted the first US Junior Olympic Beach Volleyball Championships for boys and girls 11-18 years old and under in 1994.  Jumping on a bandwagon is not what a National Governing Body does - and in the case of USA Volleyball, we have been successfully working to grow this discipline far longer than those who like the simple task of tearing things down, will ever know.

John Wooden said something powerful by titling one of his great books "You Haven't Taught Them if They Haven't Learned."  I guess we just need to keep teaching what has been done some, but we are more focused on what we can do today, and lead and plan for the success and growth tomorrow - in large part by helping junior volleyball at all levels.  When I learned to play, there was no Junior competition, so we played against and with adults. When juniors were beginning the Regions, the adult players supported the junior programming fiscally. Now, after a decade of costs going up for everything - club fees, gym rentals, airlines, hotels and so much more, for the FIRST time in 10 years the USAV national office is going to get more money from individuals to grow the game even more. Yet some seem to think that is wrong.

Seems like one more chance to teach. There is a YouTube lecture series titled "The Most Important Video You'll Ever See"  - the actual title is "Arithmetic, Population and Energy."  In it the professor notes that "The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function." He guides us all to "Just remember Seventy (70)" as the time for something to double is 70 divided by the percent of growth. So since I have skied all my life, I can relate to his noting that Vail lift tickets have been going up at 7% a year. Thus per the equation you get 10 years for doubling. So....

Tix Cost
$5 1963 opening of Vail
10 1973
20 1983
40  1993
80  2003

And the forecast at 7% is...

160 2013
320 2023

So there is a cost of living increase annually calculated by the government. Take that annual increase and you can see when a doubling will happen - not just an increase. It is an important fact to know, and I strongly recommend watching the whole lecture. At the volleyball level, when gyms raise rates by $10 an hour or more, programs grumble and pay it for the many, many hours per team, even though those getting the money do not help our sport grow any more than before. When airlines charge hundreds extra to move a person from one place to another and back, and $15-25 for one bag to travel one way to a tournament, people and programs pay and the airlines make money but not a penny goes to help grow our sport. It is time to spend more to grow our sport - in all disciplines, indoor, beach, Olympic and Paralympic, even though we do not have a USA pro league (which is a long history topic for another time). 

I am fascinated by how another team sport, basketball, (where the NGB is USA Basketball which opts not do memberships, leaving it to the AAU to organize), has decided that the NCAA and the NBA can spend about $4 million annually to:

"positively influence all boys and girls who play the game, to continue growing the number of those who do play, and to help all players develop both personally and on the court.  The initiative will focus on five central objectives:  - Building strong communities;  Educating athletes; Supporting coaches; Developing officials; Events for youth competition." 

I wonder, why does the NCAA and NBA need to do this? When you go to Google, and just type in seven letters, "NBA NCAA" immediately get suggested "NBA NCAA Youth Basketball Initiative." Amazing. No wonder they call it iHoops.

USA Volleyball as an NGB does our sport 24/7, and only our sport. People can chose to ignore what has been done and shared by members of the overall USAV family, never look at the USAV website and say nobody helps my group, or you can have that growth mindset and seek to learn from all the information shared in clinics, webinars and the website for players, coaches, officials, parents and fans. I may be preaching to the choir here, for those who read this blog want to help grow the game and thus clearly have a growth mindset. In any case, I hope you all focus on teamwork and cooperation needed in building. Some may opt to ally with those who want to take what USAV develops - but not join USAV, to seek to rip apart things - and call it "choices," to even have a vendetta or share misinformation -  and be a warlord in one's backyard, but this does not a nation, nor a sport, build. There are so many other sports and options for kids today, that we all do need to work together to give kids the chance to make our sport their sport.