No Substitute for Hard Work

By Karch Kiraly | April 06, 2018, 11:11 a.m. (ET)
Karch Kiraly
Karch Kiraly warms up with the U.S. Women's National Team at the 2017 USAV Cup


Originally published in the spring 2015 issue of Volleyball USA

It was great fun for me to watch Shawn Olmstead and his underdog Brigham Young team churn its way through the NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship tournament in December 2014 and face Penn State in the finals. It reminded me of all the hard work that I put in as a teenager when I played for Shawn’s father, Rick, on the volleyball team at Santa Barbara High School.

I got my first taste of coach Rick’s effort standards during the fall of my 10th-grade year. He gave every player a voluntary workout to do during the offseason so we would be well-conditioned to begin practice after the holidays. The school had a small stadium, with 10 rows of stairs, and the workout was built around running and jumping up and down those stairs over and over. All told, each workout probably took us up and down those stairs 100 times, and there were a variety of different sets to keep it interesting – and grueling. We did two-legged hops, right-leg hops, left-leg hops, sprints. If I had to estimate, I’d say each workout was in the neighborhood of 1,000 jumps.

Working Together

One thing I remember is that we never did the workouts alone. We teamed up in groups or pairs so we could push each other. It’s always easier to go through difficult challenges with somebody else sharing the burden of effort.

Once the season began, the hard work continued. Coach Olmstead was so committed to making sure we were in better shape than every other team on our schedule that he would have us work out for a couple of hours before matches against weaker opponents. He might have us run a couple of miles, but being the good guy that he is, he didn’t want the visiting team to feel bad, so he made sure we did our pre-match workouts on the back streets so the other team wouldn’t see us as they drove to the gym.

The lessons I learned playing for coach Olmstead have never left me. Regularly, those were tougher workouts than the ones we did under legendary coach Al Scates at UCLA, and it paid off. My senior year in high school, we were section champions, the highest title that you could earn in an era before state championships. Seeing how much my teammates and I improved from being in top physical condition and by making each minute in the gym count made me understand at a young age that the more effort you expend, the better the results will be.

In the USA gym, we live by the same code. We attempt to make every day count to its fullest. We try to relish every activity, every minute, every contact as an opportunity to learn and to improve.

I often quote Marv Dunphy, the (now former) men’s coach at Pepperdine and my coach on the 1988 Olympic gold medal team, who likes to say, “If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.” By that, he means that you’d better work really hard because there are a lot of other teams out there working really hard to try to accomplish the same goals.

Keep in mind, you’re not going to feel great every day. Sometimes your body doesn’t feel 100 percent. Sometimes the gym conditions aren’t ideal. In our gym, it’s often hot, particularly during the summertime. So the question we ask ourselves is, can we exert as much effort on a day like that as we do on a day when the gym is the perfect temperature? Or can we exert as much effort on a day after we had a rough night of sleep? Those are great tests. On the U.S. team, we want to be able to do good work under lots of conditions, not just when we feel good.

Hard work is never a part-time job. It’s an always job.