Notes from the U.S. and Netherlands

By John Kessel | June 30, 2017, 4:54 p.m. (ET)

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I spent Memorial Day flying back from Amsterdam, 24 hours in en route, leaving a place where the Dutch Underground were battling in World War II three-quarters of a century before me. Now, I safely move from there to my home in less than a day, not taking a week or more by boat as it did then. So when my flight is delayed out of Houston for five hours, it simply is not that bad.

I was there in no small part to honor my father. He was a captain in the U.S. Navy in WWII and did not talk much about the hell they all went through. The one story he told me that made him cry was about two Dutch captains/ships he had befriended in a shared convoy in the South Pacific. They travelled together with escorts due to enemy subs. As they neared the final leg of the journey toward invading Japan, the two Dutch captains told dad they were going to rush ahead, as their troops needed the supplies and help, and leave the convoy early. Dad spent the night trying to change their minds. They did not. The next day, they found out that both ships were torpedoed and sunk with no survivors. Dad felt beyond awful. I have always put the Dutch at the top of my support list in their honor.

At the USA Volleyball Boyce Banquet on May 24 in Minneapolis, I was once again inspired by this year’s award honorees – Olympians Kim & Elaine Oden (All-Time Great Player Award), both of whom are still giving back to the sport; Paralympic Coach Bill Hamiter (All-Time Great Coach Award), Debby Colberg, widow of Gary Colberg (who convinced us that Gary has been reincarnated as her black lab puppy); and my longtime USAV coworker Margie Mara, who recently retired and was totally surprised by her Frier Award, the highest honor given by USA Volleyball.

Oden sistersBoyce Banquet group

The photo of all the award winners includes Bertha Lucas, 99, who has an award named after her, Mike Hulett, Doug Beal, Cecile Reynaud, Stew McDole, Kerry Klostermann and the Frier “announcer,” hysterical as always, Becky Howard. 

I returned to Netherlands to speak to the NVVO, the Dutch coaches’ association, at its 35th annual clinic. I first spoke there in 1992. Many of the nearly 200 coaches in attendance had heard me speak many years before. One shared that he still focuses on keeping things game-like while another asked “How did you keep learning over so many years?” As one of my first slides is “Ancora Imparo,” that was an easy one to answer. I also told the story of the founder of judo, who despite being 12th-degree black belt, asked to be buried in a white belt – the belt you begin the sport with (see more in this blog from working with the Pittsburg Pirates earlier this year).

Netherlands group photo
Netherlands group photo 2Netherlands Junior Team

All my time was in the gym. The best parts included an afternoon training the Dutch youth national boys’ teams. I stopped them from running and got them playing 2 v 0 and no-jump, Two-Ball Revivable (aka Chaos) instead. I spent time with Jamie Morrison, former U.S. assistant coach, on his first weekend as the Dutch women’s head coach. As part of the clinic, we watched the Dutch men’s team qualify for the FIVB World Championship for the first time in 16 years in a 3-2 win over Austria.

McKenzie Kessel Instagram

Arjen Schimmel, a coach I have kept in contact with over the years, saw my daughter’s Instagram post about knowledge being golden. He commented, “That was your dad’s mantra this weekend… you learn most through teaching… so true.” 

While addressing how the amygdala opts for fast and easy to deal with fear, 1996 Olympic men’s gold medal coach Joop Alberda shared the fear and how they overcame it in the locker room prior to the gold medal match vs Italy.

That match was a 3-2 slugfest taking over three hours. It brought on rally scoring for all sets in 1997 to keep matches more in the two-hour time frame. This change has grown the game around the world, especially in the United States where junior matches/tournaments, played best 2 of 3 sets, no longer take over a day to finish. While 61 percent of 3-of-5 set matches get done 3-0 internationally – a problem for TV. The FIVB is experimenting with ways to lengthen them (playing best 4 of 7 to 15pts, with more upsets probable), we see all 2-of-3 set matches end within an hour, and keep tournaments on time. More on this no doubt over the summer as the testing goes on – which also includes jump servers must stay behind the endline on landing and back row spikes similarly must land behind the 3 meter line – the intent there is to increase the number of rallies.

Thanks to some great hosts – Judy Praska and the North Country RVA, Shanee Boyle and Gateway RVA, Jaap Boom and Marous of the NVVO; being gone from home for nearly two weeks was worth it. I did miss watching son Cody play in the U.S. National team Red/Blue Scrimmage and many friends playing sitting and age group at the U.S. Open, but sometimes you can squeeze everything in, and sometimes not.