Developing Amazing Leaders Too

May 03, 2010, 9:44 p.m. (ET)

Some of you who have taken an IMPACT course from me, by webinar or in person, know that when we get to Chapter Four and start talking about developing a coaching philosophy, that I share mine in three words – “Develop Amazing Leaders.” From that, you should understand, following the principle of being consistent in your coaching, why I do not signal to players from the bench, fingers behind a clipboard, where the serve must go. I want the players to make that determination, not me.  This game is played by the players and so we need to empower them better than we traditionally do.

For the last four great days, US Paralympics has put on a symposium, bringing around 250 leaders in the disabled sports movement together, to share best practices on a wide variety of topics – all under the same title as my coaching philosophy – "Developing Amazing Leaders Symposium."

That this follows less than a week after the USOC Training and Design Symposium, means that I have been in hog heaven, interacting with some of our best thinkers in sports, and have a backlog of ideas to share with everyone helping us grow the game.  I would ask you to go to Daniel Coyle’s blog to get a heads up on last week’s gathering – for I have been lucky to be sharing ideas with him and he is a far superior writer on the topic of Talent Development - Thanks Dan, for sharing with us all.  Readers of my blog got a heads up on both these events, and they will happen again, about the same time and place next year, so start making plans.

It is also boys HS Volleyball season, and I have been coaching my son’s team a Palmer HS, where we have two “varsity” teams – one comprised of senior classmates. Districts are tomorrow evening and the latest challenge is, so is the Rotary Club Champions Award dinner – where three members of the volleyball team are getting honored for their success and leadership in varsity sports – Tucker for track, Cody for tennis and Gavin for soccer. Right now, it looks like we will play a match at 5pm, change in the car to get to the ceremonies, dinner and all that, then, change back in the car en route back to the gym for the final 8pm match. With all the International Baccalaureate stuff going on with testing against the rest of the world, it is amazing how good these young men have gotten at playing volleyball over the last 10 weeks. From never having played, they have been challenging and even defeating teams with boys who have been playing club volleyball for years.  Success really has been the journey – and with the other team basically all underclassmen, and doing well also, there will be a team next year to keep the tradition going at Palmer, thanks in no small part to our Team advocate, Kerstin Fracassini-Rieff.

It is also spring, which in Colorado means this symposium has experienced, under the main tent set up on campus, sun, rain, snow, thunder, and wind – and the chance to see the aspen trees on the OTC campus renewing their bright green leaves.  The biologist I was trained to be, before moving into sport, has always loved this amazing tree (Populus tremuloides) and it seems symbolic of what we are doing with Olympism and this Paralympic movement, as we grow the game. Hang with me on this…you see, some think that the largest living organism is the Blue whale, which is pretty big at half a million pounds. Others, thinking out of the box might say, the giant Sequoia, which weighs in at 4.5 million pounds. The thing is, the largest (in terms of mass) single living organism is an aspen “tree” – named “Pando” (Latin for “I Spread”) – made up of some 47,000 tree trunks, but all sharing the same root system and singular set of unique genes.  Pando, a nickname for Paralympics perhaps, weighs in conservatively at over 13 million pounds. The growth of the Paralympic movement and awareness, under the leadership of Charlie Huebner and the US Paralympic staff, is seen in the partnerships and cooperation found in this symposium. 

So enough of the biological science, other than to say, if you want to learn more, read this article called The Trembling Giant, from Discover Magazine back in 1993…So what else can I share that was new to me?

Here is a smattering of thoughts taken straight from my notes:


April Heinrichs, who is working now with our US Paralympic program, including the USA Sitting men and women’s teams, shared this nugget phrase that I liked – It is why we have posters, quotes, stories and more on the grassroots section, and in our Volleyball USA magazine. The point is, you need to actively seek it and not expect it to come to you. The proactive coach side of me liked that a lot…


A dad and his daughter, Kevin and Hannah Salwen (Hannah happens to be a high school volleyball player) from Atlanta, GA, shared their story about the power of giving.  A chance moment led their family to selling their large 1912 Southern mansion, and taking half the profits to give to a chosen charity as determined by a one family member, one vote system. They chose a Hunger Project in Ghana,  as It is about leadership, empowering the people on the ground, with all work done is done by villagers – where they are not donors, but investors, and the people are not recipients but partners. They noted how the people know what to do, they just are short on the resources, and also that “the man” also should be “a woman,” in many of the leadership roles. The power of half is simply finding something in your life you can do with only half of, and giving the other half to a deserving cause. The book by the same name is online all over, worth a look for sure.  


We build these dreams for elite athletes seeking to medal and kids in backyards just beginning their journey. Charlie Huebner CEO of US Paralympics said this phrase repeatedly, for it is true for all of us who coach. Tim Wood from UCO also shared a quote I had not heard, so I get to include it here.

“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.” T.E Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia 1888-1935


April Heinrichs, US Women’s Soccer great, shared how she learned over time the need to keep communicating, and to find out new and better ways to communicate – she even attended the social networking presentation on Twitter and Facebook, but don’t be looking for any tweets from her, or me, soon.  


This line is said to many military personnel as part of the process to get them to come out for the sports in any part of the Wounded Warrior program.  Next week Andy Pai from CAP will help me run the Sitting Volleyball portion of the Warrior Games here at the OTC – with four Army, and an Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps team in competition over 3 days. Some 200 athletes will be competing so make sure to drop by if you are in the area.  CLICK HERE for more information on the event.  


Cathy Sellers with USA Paralympic Track and Field showed a great picture of three 14 year old gymnasts, each one about 6 inches taller than the other. I think we should carry this concept forward and take pictures of our USA Select National team and super impose them over those making the Junior National Team. Development rates vary so much for humans, we need to do a better job keeping our younger players in roles and playing volleyball for the love of the game. Now the biologist in me might want to start talking about the differences of growth rates of plants, including some bamboo which will sit dormant for years, then shoot up by a foot a day or more, but we have had our fill of that side of science.

            HAITI’S FIVE A’S

Jean Chevalier Sanon, President of the Haiti Paralympic and Special Olympic Committees, was just there to learn and connect. Yet early on in a session, the he stood up and shared his “Five ‘A’s” that he has learned about that which his nation needs to do to recover from the earthquake…

1. Acceptance of self

2 Affirmation – have to take action

3. Autonomy – do things on your own

4. Accessibility – things to permit all to be involved

5. Accomplishment – take both small and big steps to return to normalcy.

He said the whole nation is disabled and sleeping and we need to wake up the nation so people can feel alive again. Life is a gift, and they need help in advocacy programming, to get back to life again. Byron Shewman, Director of Starlings USA, just returned last week from his second trip to Haiti and continues his efforts to build a disabled sports center in the capital, with sitting volleyball as a main focus for rehabilitation, inclusion and fun. Go to to find out more on how you might be able to assist him.


Over and over again, stories were shared about how athletes just want to belong, to be included, even if they are disabled in some way. FYI, the numbers shared were that 54 million Americans are disabled in some way, with 21 million being physically disabled, some 3 million of those 21 and under.

USA Water Polo coach Terry Schroder had a guy come to speak with the team who had no arms or legs and after the talk, it was, “Let’s get in the pool,” and he played with them….

Two time Paralympic gold medalist swimmer Kelly Crowley was in tears looking at a picture of herself standing poolside in the FINA World Championships, in her Team USA swimsuit, after bantering with Michael Phelps and others, and just getting a chance to compete with the team.  

Attendees spoke of how they could get able bodied tennis players to compete against wheelchair tennis players as part of training, and of course, everyone can play sitting volleyball, as getting on the floor to sit and play the game that way is a great leveler – so many programs use it, with or without a gym.

            CARRY ON

Monday’s closing general session was perhaps the most powerful of all, as ESPN’s OTL producer, the coaches and two wrestlers of the great story “CARRY ON” joined us to speak about their journey. Leroy Sutton and Dartanyon Crockett were high school seniors last year, and disabled but varsity competitive wrestlers. The story is too good to even attempt to tell here, just go watch it at ESPN by CLICKING HERE.

After watching it, and sharing with your teams – as I will again tonight as part of our possible last practice, know that Leroy is now in college in Arizona and part of the USA Paraylympic Powerlifting program on his way to US Nationals, while Dartanyon moved last month to the Olympic Training Center here in our hometown of Colorado Springs. He began training in Paralympic Judo, won Nationals and is preparing for the Paralympic Pan Ams in Orlando Florida later this year….including an extra day to go to Disneyworld for the first time in his life.

Thanks for your help in growing the game and let us know how to help you, or share some best practices below, or by emailing me at