Pole Vaulting and Ebay

By John Kessel | April 10, 2013, 10:48 a.m. (ET)

I had the honor in January to be the first non-polevaulting speaker to address the National Pole Vaulting Summit in Reno, Nevada an event that had been going on for over 25 years with over 2,000 attendees. The motto of the session was “Encourage, Engage, Educate and Inspire” - four great words that meet together to make any sport a better situation for the kids. It was here that I learned two new quotes that I speak of every training session since then – with thanks to this remarkable group of pole vaulting coaches. “Don’t ever allow the pressure of competition to be greater than the pleasure of competition,” and “your job is to show up at practice with a smile on your face and my job is to send you home with a smile on your face.”

The day before, I was in Phoenix, AZ speaking with the nearly 200 Sport Court dealers from around the world, to share with them the materials and programming USA Volleyball does for grassroots volleyball. Sport Court back in 1988 joined USAV to change the course of volleyball tournaments for kids and adults, when the USAV Equipment Committee worked with the SC staff to create a standard anchoring system. It was one that did not require drilling into the floor and that was able to be transported, set up and taken down in a short amount of time. They are still the leader in developing flooring systems for both indoor and outdoor spaces and have sold courts for use in over 100 nations around the world. Every convention center and college coach should send a thank you card to Sport Court and the USAV Equipment Committee for the way they have help us all grow the game together.

Bob Fraley, Fresno State University head coach, started the National Pole Vault Summit 22 years ago with 23 attendees. He started it as 16 kids had been killed in the pole vault, and he wanted to get people together to do something about it. They began first by looking at the safety aspect and he still gives a talk about the legal duties of coaching. This picture of the opening session shows a raft of Olympians who were on hand to interact with the athletes, coaches and parents, a chance to learn with the stars. The 1960 Olympic gold medalist was there, along with those from 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012.

Twelve runways and pits all jammed into one facility in Reno, so new young and new vaulters could watch and be alongside the best in the world. One of the speakers described pole vaulting as the “beach volleyball of track and field…” another stated that on a scientific basis, pole vaulting is the most technically demanding discipline of track and field. I would agree only to say that it has to really be decathalon, since they not only polevault but do nine other disciplines. To that end, 2012 silver medalist from London Trey Hardee was also present, to share and learn.

The other interesting session I did recently was with Ebay’s top worldwide leadership, including their CEO and over a dozen of their senior vice presidents. They came to share and interact with Olympians, Paralympians and other members of the US Olympic Committee last month at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center. For almost two hours I shared my thoughts on coaching and leadership development, the science I know and my experiences in Olympic and Paralympic Games since 1984. Our own Katy Holloway, who the stats/facts would show is the best woman’s ParaVolley player in the world right now, also shared her thoughts over the past eight years about going from a Division I level basketball center, to world level sitting volleyball player.

I think perhaps the most interesting topic of discussion revolved around measuring/determining potential. They were frustrated to hear that we had not found a magic bullet or solution, as they too found nothing that was successfully determining the leadership and level of success in new hires. I know that for me, I focus on a player’s work ethic and positive attitude first and foremost. Other topics, all found in this blog in most cases, included regression to the mean, leadership mentoring, training in reality, catching them doing things right, recovery vs. being tired, and too many others to list. Some great questions from the group kept things going until it was time to go compete in ParaVolley, and they did that with gusto as well. The global standard and work world the Ebay leadership works in is fascinating to me, and I was honored to share ideas that come from the coaches and players at the grassroots to Olympic and Paralympic levels with them.