We Hire the WORST Coaches

By John Kessel | April 24, 2012, 12 a.m. (ET)

No matter where a parent looks, every club program will state something to the effect of “We have the BEST coaches…” They then usually add next a list how a coach “played at college” - D1/2/3/NAIA/JC …it does not matter, they were a COLLEGE player for gosh sakes. The list then mentions that the coach coached at school levels - mostly junior high or high school – and sometimes even college, and, in time, they also, or only coached club.. My question is – what certifies that they are “the best?” In this ever expanding world of marketing and hype, do you think any program would proclaim “We have just average coaches!” …or “Our coaches are learning how to coach by trial and error on your child, please come join us!” ...or "We hire whoever will apply even if we really don't know them".... or the title of this blog, "we hire the worst coaches!" Do you think that the fact that the program has a winning record, means that the coaches are skilled? More likely in club volleyball, the record is due to the recruiting work of the club, taking the best players from the smaller clubs, with promises of superior training, and even the magic word…”scholarships.”

Rarely do you see what these “best” club coaches’ college degrees were in, and if they do, you even more rarely see that they had a teaching or physical education degree. This last point alone has been a change I have seen in my over 40 years of coaching coaches; it used to be if you asked the clinic attendees how many had PE or education degrees, the percentage was over 75 percent. Now it is under 10 percent. I remember doing a clinic in Anchorage, on behalf of the late, great Liz Hooe (who sadly passed away last year due to cancer), where the percentage was 100 percent PE teaching degrees. That was decades ago however…

So why do parents allow their children to be taught by uncertified coaches? The coach is dealing with the mind, body and soul of your child. Would you let an uncertified doctor treat your child? Be happy with a school district which let your child learn from uncertified teachers? Trust your legal matters to a lawyer who did not pass the BAR? Trust a bus driver for your kids who did not have a bus driving license certification? Heck, I don’t know about your state, but in mine, the person who I pay to cut the hair of any family member, has had to have 1,000 hours in training before being certified to cut a single hair off my head…my hair after a horrible cut, grows back. Does the spirit and passion for being active and playing volleyball grow back as easily? I think not….

Yet in the majority of coaching found outside of USA Volleyball, we let uncertified coaches deal with the lives of children for hours a week, for months and even years at a time. Even more amazingly, the vast majority of volleyball programming done in the America, also does not background screen their coaches. USA Volleyball screens every coach, official, and even the chaperones who will be around junior players. We do it, even if it costs more money, because it simply is the right thing to do.

Here are some facts from the screening service. We have been background screening coaches for over half a decade. Some 500 coaches so far have failed the screening. Last year, we denied 84 adults, and the screening service had alerts that they had to check deeper into for 2,100 officials, coaches or chaperones who had some sort of serious criminal record. Even though these 84 people knew they were being checked, they still tried to coach or officiate in USAV junior programming. What club wants one of the 26 people who applied but were previously convicted of violence, or 10 convicted sex offenders/crimes against children, teaching in their program? USA Volleyball sure does not and we know informed parents would not. We have millions of convicted criminals who are out on parole or after serving their years in jail, who are banned for life to be able to coach or officiate USAV juniors for their convictions and/or transgressions against society. Sadly, most sports youth programming does NOT screen all the adults working with kids, and thus by default they condone letting these dangerous adults to possibly work with the children.

Bill Neville, our gold medal winning assistant coach, once reminded me that his son was only going to be 15 years old once in his life, and he did not want some self-titled “coach” to use his son as a guinea pig for their own learning about coaching. The great John Wooden encouraged everyone thinking about becoming a coach to get a degree in teaching – for as I have noted time and time again in this blog, coaching, and parenting, both should follow the laws and principles of TEACHING. You know, that one that says elementary school kids should all do physical punishment like wind sprints or pushups after they make a mistake in class, as it is a “good way to learn the lessons we teach…” NOT….but still in sport after sport, “coaches,” not teachers, have the belief that “it works…”

Recently I watched and apple not falling far from the tree in a post contest diatribe, where the coach simply blamed the athletes for the problems. CLICK HERE to see this rant. Rather than understand Coach Wooden’s important concept that states - “You haven’t taught them, if they haven’t learned” - this paid (I am not sure I would call him “professional”) coach vented personal demons of frustration. These talented, Division 1 level players with clearly high skill sets and averages compared to the average population, had performed well below their mean, and the coach listed those poor percentages, player by player, in astonishment that such below average performances could even happen on the team. Those of you who have read my blog enough to know the science of regression to the mean, know what likely should happen in the next match – and I can simply say, yes, it did, these skilled players regressed to their mean, performed better and…the coach then was able to justify the rant, showing that the players had ”learned a lesson…” There goes another coach, fooled by randomness….and the players suffer for it sadly…

Twenty four years ago I put the most important stuff I knew about teaching volleyball into a book called IMPACT. 23 editions later, it remains a place that research I find, - thanks to our partners at the USOC and around the world, that is appropriate to this level - is then included. The 2012 edition of the manual is different this year than last. And will continue to be new. Last month on a Friday night I stayed late at the office, until 11pm – trying a new way to deliver this science and facts to some 50 new coaches, not by webinar but interactively using GoToMeeting. USA Assistant 2008 gold medal coach Jamie Morrison (and current assistant on our #1 in the world USA Women’s team), jumped on for about 15 minutes of sharing lessons and answering any questions. Later in 2012, you will see that you can take IMPACT on demand, further helping new coaches begin the certification process.

We ask USAV new coaches to spend 4-5 hours learning about many facts, not opinions, in risk management – Why should our injury report form have even one single slip on a water bottle, clip board or sweatshirt on the floor, for our goal is that there is ZERO – We get them to write, and re-write their coaching philosophy, after spending an hour sharing thoughts and insights into what the skills of coaching really are. We spend over an hour teaching the science of motor learning – something you can get a PHd in, and take for several semesters at the college level – but we share the principles and most important research of why we should train randomly, and teach the whole skills, and what this means to drill design. Note to those wanting to learn more – email me at john.kessel@usav.org and I will send you a copy of Dr. Steve Bain and Carl McGown’s superb article “The Superiority of Whole Training over Part.” We address parent issues, and share information on beach volleyball, Paralympic, Special Olympic and Deaflympic volleyball and all the things leaders in our sport – starting with coaches -- should know. It is not just about juniors, volleyball is a lifetime sport, and we want the coaches, and players, to learn to love the sport so they don’t stop after high school, but ALL play in college, varsity or intramurals, and as adults long after their college days have ended.

When a parent has to choose volleyball programming, you should know if your coaches are certified. Not trained by experimenting on past children, and this year’s group, but certified, through the USAV co-sponsored National Federation of High Schools (NFHS), or by USA Volleyball or the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB). You see, you have a choice of programs.

Why USAV? We set the standard. And if you want to know more of what we do, CLICK HERE to download a solid summary that shows why everyone should be supporting USAV as the National Governing Body, because we do so much more as part of setting the standard….

Advance note prescript....VERY soon you can click on our partner in where Olympic journeys begin, the US Olympic Committee, and see the work they have done, with quite a bit of USAV staff assistance, on the important "Safe Sport" website - click and see if it is working, likely by May 1st... http://www.safesport.org/

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


On April 24, 2012 Jim Dietz wrote

        John, This is absolutely correct, though I will take exception to "Hey, our coaches don't have any
        experience". We actually DO tell parents that for our non-travel teams. We are honest and up front
        about their inexperience--and then make sure to explain that we are teaching them to coach and
        supervising them, that mistakes will be made and we will help correct them. We've done that now for
        four years and our non-travel program continues to grow. But it returns to your central point--TEACH!!!

On April 25, 2012 Rod Cooling wrote

        I've been coaching volleyball at the high school level for 5 yrs. now and this past winter I became
        active as a club coach... I was informed that a background check was mandatory and I asked why I
        needed that if I already had a background check done in order to to get my coaching certification...
        Before anyone could answer my question, I thought about it for a second and answered my own
        question with, "You know, when you're dealing with kids, you can't be too careful. All it would take is
        one to slip through the cracks, and that could potentially ruin someone's life." Keep up the good work
        USA Volleyball!!! Maybe IMPACT should be mandatory for high school coaches too.

On April 30, 2012 JJ Utchen wrote

        John: You nailed this one. I was watching a semi-final match on Sunday at the Reno Far Westerns, and
        the first thing out of the coach's mouth when she called a time out was, "God D-it, girls." After the time
        out, the girls did better, and I know she believed her rant made the difference. We are in the 21st
        century now and should be beyond this, and the fact a woman was ranting really upset me. Most of us
        gals were coached by old school, negative response, male coaches who were more interested in their
        wins than their players' improvement. If she hated that approach, as I did, I would hope she'd try to
        break the chain of verbal abuse. Surely we can do better than this. We should also make sure we
        recognize the positive coaches out there who give up countless hours making sure their girls and boys
        yearn to come to the next practice to learn some more. It is about the teaching.

On May 04, 2012 Kurt Trout wrote

        I 100% fully agree!!!! (Will be graduating with a Master's in Education very soon! lol) The only thing I
        would possibly proffer, is that (as a impact instructor) we have 2 levels of coaches. 1) the coach who
        wants to win, gets paid a lot, coaches at big club.... they need to be FORCED to learn researched
        teaching pedagogies. 2) the mom or dad who is knows NOTHING about vball, and if they don't coach,
        their daughter will not have a team. Because of this, I would like to possibly see Impact split into two,
        or maybe somehow offer differentiated coaching level accredications..... Sometimes as I am teaching a
        lot of good learning theories to my brand new coaches, their eyes are glazed and I am WAY over their
        head. On the other hand, I want to tape the higher level coaches down to the chair, and FORCE them
        to write their coaching philosophies, then discuss how they either just lied or have no idea of what they
        are doing!

On May 09, 2012 John Harman wrote

US National Volleyball, Soccer and a few other sports are not in trouble because of the Coaches! It is
        simple MATH. We have eliminated minorities with our 'CLUB SYSTEM" Pay to Play and they can not
        afford it! We have reduced the size of the USA Talent Pool. WAKE UP!!! Are then ANY CLUB TEAMS IN

On May 11, 2012 Norm Dawson wrote

        To John Harman, There is a National Junior Volleyball Club organization by the name of Starlings that
        has numerous affiliates throughout the country, and their mission is provide an avenue for lower to
        middle income players to participate in club volleyball. It is a non-profit organization. My family, with
        our three daughters, have been participating with Starlings for 10 years, and they are a wonderful
        organization. I live right next to Inglewood, and while there is not a club in Inglewood itself, there are
        several in the surrounding areas - West LA, City of Los Angeles, South Bay, and Cudahy just to name a
        few. If these peaks your interest, please visit their website at www.starlings.org. A list of all the clubs
        nationwide can be found there.

On June 26, 2012 Al wrote

        Kurt, USAV does offer the CAP level courses to advance coaching knowledge and provides a deeper
        understanding of the game. I wish that the Cap level courses were not as expensive as they are as 
        some clubs do not offer to pay for the advancement of their coach's education.

On July 05, 2012 DeJoe wrote

        I agree that seeing a list of one's playing accolades does not make for a good coach but it also can't be
        discounted. Life's experiences make up a big part of who that person is going to be. Some people are
        capable of translating those experiences into positive coaching. This article seems to primp itself a little
        too much. I've done some IMPACT training and don't recall it being a memorable experience if not
        somewhat boring and don't think it made me a better coach. A lot of it was common sense material
        and you either have it or you don't, it's not learned. I've gained my knowledge and insight from great
        teachers of the game which is what you see in sports when a coaching tree all leads to a master of the
        game. We are not all going to be philosphical like Phil Jackson. I have an engineering job without a
        college degree by learning on the job. I have seen plenty of engineering students with degrees be utter
        morons at the job (engineering degrees are a dime a dozen). From a technical standpoint, sitting
        through another round of the science of motor learning would be excrutiating. Sorry, John. Your stuff
        may work for some, and hurrah to those that it does, but hopefully it never becomes mandatory for all
        volleyball coaches. I do agree that background checks and sports medicine courses should be
        mandatory for all.

On July 16, 2012 close wrote

        I could agree with john especially at the younger ages. Im not convinced that the knight reference is
        directly applicable to junior volleyball. Ncaa div 1 bball is a big business played by men. Especially at
        the high levels, I think a coach is within his rights to demand a competitive attitude. I think it is fine to
        call out those who dont try in public if necessary. Coaches are teachers i agree but sometimes the best
        teacher is a good long painful look in the mirror. Clearly, that is what knight was focing these kids to
        do... and they turned things around after that rant. Im not saying that using that technique should
        become the norm, but i think there are a myriad of buttons that a coach can press to affect behavior...
        this one should be used advisedly. Life is full of opportunities and consequences and shielding kids
        from either just isnt exposing them to reality or making them strong. If positive only messaging made
        people perform better, the army would do it.

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