Leadership and Coaching: Be Careful Who You Wish For

I’ve been married a long time. When you are out and about, you often see people who are drop-dead gorgeous, headturners…male or female. You look and then you get smacked by your spouse, right? You can justify it as ‘window-shopping’ and such. For most, that’s all it is…just a moment of looking because you KNOW what you currently have is better. The thing is, for some, window-shopping becomes a ‘test-drive’ and then a trade-in for that new model…and stretching the metaphor a bit, then you often see a bunch of ‘buyer’s remorse’.

So there’s a story that in some form goes like:

There’s a soldier off at war and while there, he exchanges correspondence with a woman at home as pen-pals. When the war ends and he is safe and heading home, they agree to meet at the train station. He says he’ll be in uniform and she says she will wear a red dress and white hat. The day comes, his train arrives, and he waits outside the city station. Approaching are two women one several steps in front of the other. The first woman is straight out of a fashion magazine, radiating complete natural beauty. The soldier notices the second woman approaching. She is wearing red with a white hat. The woman is wearing makeup applied just off and it is clear her clothes have seen much better days.

As the beautiful woman passes the soldier and smiles at him, he says “Good day, ma’am” but nothing more. He then steps towards the woman in red and introduces himself and that he was here to meet her and was looking forward to sharing dinner with her. The woman smiles and says “No, the woman you really want just went past you. I’m her friend. She’ll be waiting for you just outside the movie theater. We were just concerned that you would be as nice in person as it seemed in your letters.”

The soldier and the first woman had a lovely evening and are now married happily for more than 30 years.

–Yes, there are holes in the story like “Why didn’t they exchange pictures?” and so on. That’s not the point.

So how does this matter for coaching and leadership.

Commitment is important. Your word is important. Others can take your money, your job, strip you of everything physical–but your word…that’s all you. Part of leadership is showing your concern is *genuine*–that means being truthful. It means avoiding temptation and backing away from commitments you’ve already made.

You see that all the time with college coaches, especially the D-1 level. A kid commits, promised the world, and then six months later, they get told the scholarship’s going to some other kid instead, that the coach’s word (given when the kid is only 15) doesn’t hold now because the kid is 17 and didn’t grow as tall as expected or whatever. From a true leadership standpoint, this sort of behavior by coaches is unacceptable.

What it means within college sports is that ‘committed’ is nothing of its kind. It means “I’ve decided–unless something better comes along”…and that’s not commitment. Worse, other athletes know that scholarship offers get pulled, players already on campus lose scholarships, so how can you trust that coach’s word? There’s absolutely zero genuine concern there for the athlete–it’s 100% self-interest on the part of the coach. That is not leadership no matter how you stretch the word.

But I think all coaches are guilty of this–internally at least. Isn’t that part of recruiting? You have a really good 5’10 hitter, but you go out recruiting for a 6’2 hitter even though that all-conference 5’10 kid has 2-3 more years of eligibility. Do you forget to appreciate what you have while thinking what you COULD have with the 6’2 kid? Obviously it is all different because coach-player relationships are limited to a fixed number of eligibility-years…it just feels the same.

The central point of this is–be careful what you wish for, the grass is always greener…, appreciate what you have not what you don’t….just like your mama always told you.

I’m convinced that integrity and honesty is key for real leadership. Leadership is not found on a scoreboard or win-total. It’s in how we approach the promises we make regardless of temptation in other regards–and in a profession (coaching) where employment-status is often determined by wins and titles, this means showing real leadership, maintaining integrity is challenging, and the ONLY person who can keep you on the straight and narrow is YOU, yourself.


So coming back to this (again) and thinking…I think most coaches WANT to act with integrity but fear drives them to do ‘whatever it takes’ to win on the scoreboard…fear of being fired, fear of what other coaches are saying, etc. Can you motivate others to do the right thing when you, yourself, are motivated by the wrong thing?

How do you mentor others (coach or athlete, leadership in general) in these sorts of situations? It’s easy to point out what is right–but the temptation, the ‘better’ alternative, is available then and there.

I’d love to have answers–but I don’t think there is one. My path to integrity is not going to be the same as anyone else’s. I just wish more people would get on the path so we could pave it and turn it into a multi-lane expressway!

Error #9?: The breakpoint of a set

I think there’s generally a magic number for volleyball in terms of how many errors you can make in a game before you reach a tipping point and send your team to defeat. I know it exists for the program I coached. The question for me then became whether this number holds true across different volleyball levels.

Primarily, I’m looking at unforced errors–the ones where the opponent, generally speaking, did not have to do anything to score the point: service errors, BHE, net violations, attacks hit into the net or out of bounds. One coach I spoke with said he thought it was better to focus on positive-points, that earning them was a better way of looking at things. I’ve decided to disagree…not because earned points are bad, but now we have to judge the opponent’s talent and tactics as well. Was it earned or did the opposing defense make a bad read? –too much judgment for me.

To be clear–this isn’t necessarily stuff to mention to players. I think that depends on your athletes in the moment and their skill level–making players fear mistakes, making them tentative is a bad thing. Another coach I respect for his insane knowledge emphasizes creating scoring opportunities. I think teaching how to create or maximize scoring chances is critical…but I would spin that a bit–reducing unforced errors increases your chances of scoring a point from 0% to anywhere from 0.1% to 99%.

There are some thing here that I have not accounted for–my math/stats ability isn’t good enough, basically these numbers don’t account for strength of opponent. In a lopsided match, it’s possible to have a minimal number of errors because the other team just beat the crap out of you for instance. There’s also no accounting here for really bad unforced errors that don’t show in the stat sheet–a free ball dropping between players, a setter setting high outside while the hitter did a quick-set approach, etc.

For LLCC (314 sets of data, 88 matches)…Win-Loss Record / Win % / Total % of Sets Played

8 or fewer errors: 77-8 / .906 / 27.1
9 errors: 78-17 / .821 / 30.3
10 errors: 31-54 / .365 / 27.1
11 or more errors: 3-46 / .061 / 15.6

This only goes back through 2019 when I tracked it regularly by set. I think that there’s enough of a sample size there that a conclusion can be drawn regarding errors and winning. My team needed to keep that unforced error mark at nine or fewer, otherwise we drastically decrease our chances of winning. I wish I had the data for 2015-2018 when we were a top three program. I suspect the W-L % would remain the same–the one change would be the total sets played in each category. I also wish it because the 2017 team made an outrageous number of errors–but made up for it with an outsize number of aces and kills.

That leads to a different question for me to ponder–>what is the limit of the value of aggressiveness? Because, at a certain point, swinging hard becomes reckless and loses points. How do we track that? Can it be tracked? (I think so…and now I have time to ruminate on it….)


So what about other levels? What’s that data say?

NCAA D1 (results are match averages rather than per game)…sampling comes from the OVC, Missouri Valley, Horizon, Pac-12 Big 12, and Big 10…

Less than 8 errors/set average: 38-9 / .809
9 errors/set average: 14-21 / .400
10 errors/set average: 1-17 / .056
11 or more errors/set average: 1-17 / .056

Let me grind some NCAA D3 here…, same situation as D1…CCIW, MIAA, NCAC, ARC:

Less than 8 errors/set average: 30-10 / .750
9 errors/set average: 14-19 / .424
10 errors/set average: 3-13 / .188
11 or more errors/set average: 2-8 / .200

(With the D3 stats, there are some schools that do not report BHE *at all*…or else they have brilliant ball-handling…since they have 0 BHE for any of their matches…this means there should likely be results in the 8-9 categories that go up at least one error/set level.)

The one difference with the four-year college stats is that I couldn’t get coaches to give me per-set stats, so those numbers are from match totals and averaged. Instead of sets won/lost…it’s matches for those.

So while the per-set total I have for LLCC shows we want fewer than 9 errors, it looks like over the course of a match, four-year schools want an average of 8 or less. As a check, I’m going to go back and look at three years of LLCC data where I don’t have information per set. These are from the program’s three best years ever.

Less than 8 errors/set average: 70 – 3
9 errors/set average: 26 – 5
10 errors/set average: 12 – 6
11 or more errors/set average: 6 – 10

Again–the break is pretty obvious. The good record with 10 errors–that would be under 50% except for the crazy 2016 team.

So let’s try again with the three ‘worst’ seasons (staying in the same 25-pt scoring era):

Less than 8 errors/set average: 59 – 10
9 errors/set average: 16 – 15
10 errors/set average: 3 – 14
11 or more errors/set average: 3 – 9

The split with these ‘worst’ squads now is closer to the D1/D3 numbers.

I know LLCC played a REALLY WIDE variety of skill levels–that leads to quite a few of the -8 error matches…and some of the wins with 11+ (because I was using bench players and knew errors wouldn’t kill us–I could put starters in at any time).

I don’t have a ton of conclusions from this…just more questions.

1 – What’s the limit to aggressiveness? Where is the line between acceptable/unacceptable unforced errors?
2 – Does this relatively equal set of numbers (keep it below 8-9 errors) carry over to high school? Does it go higher to something like national team competitions or pro ball?
3 – Is there a similar ‘magic’ number that can be applied to men’s volleyball?
4 – Knowing these numbers are pretty clear–can we differentiate still between ‘good’ unforced errors and ‘bad’ ones…or is that something that should be left for practice and development? (For better or worse, the scoreboard has significance/consequences for college coaches)
5 – Can athletes be taught to turn the switch on/off in terms of mistakes?

Thoughts and comments here in the blog’s comment section are welcome.

Iowa State: Haber and the Fine Record

In the Fall of 1985, I was out at Wallace Hall in the Towers…and I’ve written about that previously. From reading that, you’d probably think I was in the wildest place Iowa State’s residence halls had to offer.

Not hardly.

My friend, Jeff, wound up in Helser Hall on a floor called Haber. Helser was renovated/changed at some point here in the 21st century–and when they did that, the Union Drive Association also changed Haber–it is now female-only.

So…about the old Haber, the Wild West of residence halls in the days before the train arrived bringing civilization with it (also known as the ’21 drinking age’).

So, my friend Jeff was assigned to Haber…and on the first night everyone had moved in, they had a mandatory house meeting. This wasn’t to discuss school policies or rules…nope, this was to assign nicknames–after which, no one was referred to by their regular names–really. I learned about this a couple days later when I asked if anyone had seen Jeff or Evan (another person I knew) and I got nothing but buffalo stares…once I knew their floor names, then I had no problem.

Because Evan had a crew cut and a really receding hairline, he was declared by the seniors to be “Bullhead”. Jeff looked like he was 15 and was a redhead–someone noticed his resemblance to Ron Howard, so he was “Opie” from that point on. The only other name I remember was an assertive guy about 6’2, 240 big into weightlifting and had been a wrestler/football player apparently in HS…and not overly bright. Shockingly, his name was ‘Jocko’.

So then–what exactly did they do of note…:

  1. At the end of Spring 87, several Haberites had gone to Missouri and purchased significant quantities of fireworks–a lot of bottle rockets. So on the last weekend before Finals, they decided to launch the rockets down the long length of their ‘L shaped’ hallway. While fun, this did not satisfy them. So–since that year’s RA wasn’t around, they drew a bull’s eye on his door and taped nails/pins/sharp things to the front of the bottle rockets and launched them down the short portion of the corridor and played darts with the RA’s door as a target. Really.
  2. The following spring (May, 88), Haber had another RA that had the audacity to follow rules. While he was away one weekend, a couple floor members took the foam fire extinguishers on the south end of Helser Hall and using funnels, discharged them all under the door of the RA’s room.
  3. Residence Halls have quiet hours. Foster had 24-hr courtesy hours. Those didn’t exist for normal floors, so Haber was loud. They were supposed to be quiet by 10pm(???) during the week and 1am(??) on weekends. Nope. Jeff mentioned that in their floor budget, they had a fund for paying for noise violations. They budgeted several hundred dollars per year to pay for these.

And the biggie…requiring multiple paragraphs…:

One of the Haber residents was a research assistant in the Chemistry Department (how they found time to do real work–I have no idea…at some level, I suppose I am a bit jealous of their ability to party AND get academic work done). Well, he “acquired” a couple hundred feet of surgical tubing.

NOTE: Foster House highly endorses surgical tubing for fun and games (as president-in-exile I feel I can use present-tense there on the endorsement).

Haber decided to use the tubing like the twine for rope, wrapping three different LONG strands around one another to maximize strength. The total length of the tubes unstretched had to have been 20-30 feet…on this, I don’t know–but….

The next step was to wait for the RA to be gone at class–because everything was going to be HIGHLY illegal at a toss-out-of-housing level. With the RA gone for the afternoon, the next step was to remove the windows from the Haber den. –Haber was on the top floor (4th) of Helser, facing Friley (which was five floors). You know what–let’s get a map in here:

South Helser, South Friley, and a map scale…Haber’s the bottom portion of Helser

So the windows were removed–but because Helser was an older building, the windows were attached to reinforced metal beams that were at least 6″ in width…capable of withstanding quite a bit of stress. The Haberites now took the intertwined surgical tubing and secured one end on the northernmost middle beam and then the other end on the southernmost middle beam. In the middle of the tubing, the miscreants now attached a pouch. They were ready.

They were, but the story isn’t quite there. I should also note that several of those involved had made sure to grab a piece of fruit from the cafeteria for the past couple meals–so they had 12-15 apples and oranges with them. These fruits were now brought to the hallway.

Figured it out? What they’d done is turned the windows/den into a massive slingshot. Oh…wait…it didn’t work yet–because the tubing stretched enough that the den door was in the way…no problem, they removed that, too. NOW they were ready.

Several now pulled back on the tubing slingshot, placed an orange in the pouch, and released the tubing. The orange flew–over Friley Hall, reaching Lake Laverne. (Remember–I left the scale on the map…for JUST this reason). They launched another fruit and another–apparently all reaching Lake Laverne.

Until they didn’t.

It has to be tiring to pull back that much tubing to get that much force–I mean, there’s a reason armies use cannons and explosives rather than hand-cranked ranged weapons, y’know? And since it was afternoon, there were cars driving along Welch Ave/Union Drive–and one of them had an orange bounce off its windshield. I suspect after being startled, the person was rather unhappy. They noticed it hit and the direction it flew off the windshield–so they knew it came from the west–Friley Hall. Now the feces would hit the rotary oscillator.

Except Friley was all intact…at which point the campus police went to Helser. The culprits had time to scram but they couldn’t put the den back together again. The windows and door were off and there was the slingshot still secured to one of the posts. Oops. Left with no choice–the Union Drive Association fined the bejesus out of Haber–removal of windows, removal of the door…about $3,000 if I recall correctly (though only $50/Haberite when you break it down).

And as you’d expect–Haber’s denizens wore it as a badge of honor, setting the record for a fine imposed by the UDA/ISU. Yup…and it’s wild to think what Haber was like before the drinking age transition…

That’s what ultimately killed off bad behavior. With the advent of a 21-drinking age, people moved off campus and the residence halls became dorms with most students moving off campus quickly instead of having on-campus communities of friends.

The thing is–I’m actually sad it all went away. I get the bad behavior and squashing the crap out of it…but it also ended the sense of unity/brotherhood that came from many of the floors/units.

Bittersweet, it seems.

FINAL NOTE: The cover image has the den windows involved…though the Haber sign is now ‘girly’ rather than what Haber had 30-35 years ago.

Leadership and Coaching: A Little Mentorship Quiz

-a single sheet will do. It’s meant to show gaps in your knowledge…help you with your understanding of leadership.

This isn’t mine. It popped up while I was writing a book review for The Strategy Bridge. The internet is interesting in its ability sometimes to show you things of interest…annoying at times, but useful here. Ultimately, this relates to Colin Powell, but also writing from Col. Thomas Gordon, USMC (ret.) and LTS Joseph Shusko, USMC (ret.).

  1. Name the five wealthiest men in the United States.
  2. Name the last five Heisman Trophy Winners–or five winners of the Ballon d’Or.
  3. Name five Miss Americas.
  4. Name the five winningest active pitchers in baseball.
  5. Name five living women with Best Actor Academy Awards.

How did you do? 25 names, so really, to not flunk, you need at least 15. How’d you do?

Yeah…well, I scored 5/25.

So let’s try another…:

  1. Name five teachers who influenced you as a coach or in your job.
  2. Name five people who taught you something specific you consider important.
  3. Name five friends who have helped you through tough times.
  4. Name five people who have inspired you.
  5. Name five people who have made you feel appreciated for who you are as a person.

Scored 25, didn’t you….right? And it probably didn’t take you half as long to answer them. Ultimately, deep down, we realize that hoity-toity credentials are irrelevant. Money accumulation is irrelevant. What matters in the everyday world is who cares about us and how they shape us.

  1. Mrs. Williamson (kindergarten); Mrs. Miller (3rd); Mrs. Loula (6th); Dr. Kottman (college history); Jim Stone (Ohio State VB)
  2. Wally Carlson, Guenter Doil, Jim Dietz (my dad), Herbert Haas (grandfather), Chuck Matthews
  3. Erik Johnson, Eric Canfield, Dave Pieart, Baron Heintz, Julie Dietz (she deserves mention everywhere actually)
  4. Annika Black, Cara Anderson, Jacob Walker, Morgan Hauser, Carl Costas
  5. Kiersten Anderson, Kinzie Nielsen, Paula Porter, Deb Richardson, Yazin al-Shaer

The 2021 Blog Recap

It seems good to organize everything once a year. 2019 is here. This is 2020. And this post is a list of all the 2021 posts–organized into types of post in case you’re looking for a specific topic!

Insurrection in the capital
The Filibuster Must End
An Observation on Political Dynasties
Random History Things I Remember
Life in a Texas school….coming soon to a theater near you.
Fixing Voting in the US
Second Time Dealing with Racism
2021 / Kansas-Nebraska
When did the US lose Vietnam?
History Repeats–and we repeat ignoring it

Women’s History Month – Elizabeth van Lew
Women’s History Month: 23 And Me
Women’s History Month: The 6888th Battalion
Women’s History Month: Jackie Mitchell

Black History Month: Muhsin Mohammad, Role Model
Black History Month: Carl Costas
Black History Month: The Syracuse 8Black History Month – The Complicated Story of Moses F. Walker
Black History Month: Shirley Chisholm
Black History Month: Charlie Neal
Black History Month: Jack Trice
Black History Month: The 6888th Battalion

The Easter Message
The Value of Listening
25+ observations (not quite Andy Rooney)

Playing 6v6 and ways to score
The End of It All
Taking Inspiration from Your Athletes
Pass Quality and Hitting Efficiency (updated thru COVID21 stats)
Wake-up calls exists…momentum, not so much
The Black Sock of Marshalltown
Beginnings, Endings, Legacies
Power is more important than control

Shifting Paradigms
Breaking Old Habits: Timeouts
List of Coaching Ethical Dilemmas
The Jordan Rules, Uniform Rules, and Rule Principles
Freedom of thought in volleyball
Being Right vs. Getting It Right
Trust in Athletic Relationships
Categorizing Players: Jordan, Pippen, and Kerr

Leadership in Coaching: Initial thoughts
Leadership in Coaching: Leading through Mentoring
Leadership in Coaching: 5-4-3-2-1
Leadership in Coaching: Two quotes from the SHAEF commander
Leadership in Coaching: The Success of Dusty Baker
Leadership in Coaching: More Ike and a Story with a Red Card
Leadership in Coaching: Golf Balls, Bearings, Sand, and Water
Leadership in Coaching: Character issues
Leadership in Coaching: Holy crap, I am the sand!
Leadership in Coaching: a Matryoshka Doll
Leadership in Coaching: Initiative
Leadership in Coaching: Unexpected issues
Leadership and Coaching: The Cold Hard Truth
Leadership and Coaching: The Chicago Bears (and how not to develop talent)
Leadership in Coaching: Evaluating Movies
Leadership and Coaching: The Grizzled NCO
Leadership and Coaching: When to do ‘nothing’

Family Memory (XV): House of the Rising Sun
Family Memory (XVI): The Bank and the Great Depression
Family Memory XVII: Papa, the bicycle, and France 1940
Family Memory XVIII: 1940, Artillery, and the Officer who Hated Cigarettes
Family Memory(XIX) – 12:01am, June 14
Family Memory(XX) – The End of the War
Family Memory (XXI) – The Storm
Family Memory (XXII): The Crypt
Family Memory (XXIII): What Brothers are For
Family Memory (XXIV) – The Kid Walking Home from Sacred Heart school
Family Memory (XXV): Time with my grandparents

Iowa State, My Dinner with Paul
Iowa State, My OTHER Dinner with Paul
Iowa State: Poker with Paul (and the guys)
Iowa State: Paul and Cyberball
Iowa State: Westgate and the Turbo Toilet
Iowa State: My First Two Weeks of College (R-rated) or “Wallace Hall, The Residence Hall Sodom and Gomorrah”
Iowa State: Reggie and the Water Tube
My friend, Erik
Iowa State: The 23rd Birthday…
Iowa State: Foster and Star Trek: TNG, 9/26/87
LTD (V) – August, 1986
Iowa State: Smitty’s Underwear Incidents (and revenge)
Iowa State: The Dateless Wonders
Kottman (IV)
Iowa State: The Nudist Christian Church (really!)
Iowa State: Brian, Smitty, the Apple, and the Cordy etching..
Iowa State: The World’s Shortest Official House Meeting

Music and History
Baseball / Rock ‘n Roll Comparisons
Great TV Show Openings
Yadier Molina –Not a Hall of Famer
Put Down the Phone
Leadership in Coaching: Evaluating Movies

Leadership and Coaching: The Power of Positive Thought

So I was reading my favorite weekly magazine, The Economist. Every issue ends with an obituary. One of the recent ones was Colin Powell. I had not realized he was a “C”-student along the way. Go figure.

Since I’ve been doing stuff on leadership, when I see quotes or information about people, I’m automatically sifting it in my mind. I think it is helping with my weltanschauung…but the quotes are not directly sticking…just reinforcing “genuine concern“.

So right there in the obituary are two quotes from Powell regarding commanding troops:

1 – Don’t take counsel of your fears.
2 – Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.

I really like that last one–and it shouldn’t be stretched beyond reality. That’s not Powell’s intent. If soldiers see their commander doesn’t 100% believe the plan will succeed, they will not give 100%. They will not think of the team (squad, platoon, company, whatever)–they’ll revert to being an individual within a group.

Is that any different than with sports teams?

Think about how many times you hear about momentum or ‘playing with confidence’. Aren’t these sort of attempts at explaining what Powell’s talking about as well?

I think it’s important to separate optimism, however from ‘overconfident’ or ‘cocky’. Those are different. Optimism is about believing your team will do its best within its abilities. It’s a belief that your players will give 100% all the time. It’s the ability to think in terms of smaller goals against great teams–we’ll force them to call a timeout, we’ll be the first to five, the first to ten and realizing those are victories; it’s taking those same benchmarks and using them as encouragement for when your team is better but not quite equal–but with more than a 1% chance of victory. It’s a way of maintaining quality when you are the better team.

The problem I have with it–it’s not guaranteed to trickle down within a team. I know a team that over the past three seasons has gone 66-0 against unranked teams but only 8-41 against ranked teams. Clearly they are better than the unranked teams and they aren’t being upset by any of them–yet limited success against ranked teams. 40%+ of the matches are against ranked teams…is the coach scheduling too tough? Or is that schedule a belief that the players can do it (and therefore fits the ‘perpetual optimism’ model)?

Or is it something else–an issue of getting the players to be optimistic? That has to be part of leadership. If so, then 8-41 suggests it’s not happening.

Now obviously if I have those numbers that exact, I know the team well. The answer is I scheduled that way because I believe you get better by playing a tough schedule…and because we ARE/WERE equal or better, though clearly 8-41 ain’t better.

Did I ramp up the schedule too much? I don’t think so…I checked and it was the same percentage of ranked teams we’ve played annually for about a decade. The four years prior to the above, we were 67-32 against ranked teams and 80-3 against unranked (or NJCAA D1). We played even more ranked teams (obviously you can’t always control whether teams are ranked or not)

I remain confident in the physical skills of the players I recruited–though COVID/pandemic threw a wrench into things pretty badly…but I’m left wondering about the mental focus, attitude, etc. That’s where the failure is/was. Where did I go wrong with my leadership?

Or have I evolved/gotten better and for whatever reason, just didn’t have mentally tough athletes? Did we reach the end of the season and have athletes with other priorities (dating, beer, finding a job, whatever)–were there “negative leaders” within the team with strong enough personalities to counteract me as coach? –because I’m not there all day or in the apartments, etc.

I’m not the most optimistic person all the time. I’m a cynical optimist…that’s the truth. I do believe in the best of people. I just am not sure if I was a good leader the past couple years (or am I evaluating myself by the scoreboard and not proper methods???).

As always–if this is of interest, please consider following the blog…or perhaps a donation to the Foundation. Every penny gets used to help communities and schools. Last year, we were able to take donations and increase their power by 400%…which let us get games to a dozen schools, provide playground equipment, electronic whistles for coaches, interview clothes for economically-challenged college students, and more. NONE of the donation goes to salaries or anything else (other than Paypal’s fee).

Leadership and Coaching: When to do ‘nothing’

I read something on ‘the butterfly effect’ recently–it was something I was exposed to back in 6th grade. Awesome science-fiction but I didn’t get it at the time, not like reading it now causes me to think.

Butterfly effect: Basically something REALLY small or profound like the death of just one butterfly can have long-term massive repercussions.

I turned this to coaching/leadership. I think one of the stereotypes we have of leadership is that the leader is a go-getter, that they are out front, obvious and visible. A leader is active, gives feedback constantly to her team, etc, etc. Watch a basketball game–who is standing barking at the players…that’s the head coach, the leader. Volleyball–same thing, but there are exceptions. Watch Penn State play–the assistant coaches are up doing the talking…the head coach is sitting, calm, jotting comments in a notebook (or writing his order to-go at the restaurant for afterwards….I jest!). To an outsider, the assumption is immediately that the person up and talking is in charge.

ASIDE OBSERVATION ON SOCIETY: There are exceptions to this. Go watch sports and officials/event staff. If there is a male coach and a female coach, invariably they will make the assumption that the man is the head coach rather than the assistant. One of the first signs you can tell that event management is on-the-ball is that they know in advance who does what for visiting teams/programs.

There’s no question Russ Rose was in charge at Penn State (VB coaches know that). So really–it shows that you can lead without being loud, you can lead without eyes being on you. Leadership can be quiet.

And leadership can come from doing nothing. I think that’s critical especially with younger athletes. Does a coach need to prove his knowledge at every point in a practice–or to demonstrate he can hit a ball really hard or dig the 8th grade team’s best hitter?

Another aside: The blog is free. It’ll stay that way, but if you read it regularly–would you consider donating to my Foundation at http://www.dietzfoundation.org? It’s 501-c-3, tax deductible for you, and donations go straight to helping teachers or people looking to become teachers. Even if it is just $5/month, you’d be surprised how much can be done with that…if 100 people did that every month, I could endow a college scholarship annually with just that money…really. Please think about it.

I had a “teacher” who scarred me–made me hesitate getting involved in education (teacher is in quotes because real teachers don’t do what she did) because of her words. They have a trickle-down effect. Hers were massive but just one statement from you as a coach such as “That wasn’t good” or “I’m disappointed” can do real damage…and enough kids have been told they are ‘disappointing’ that if I can’t think of a replacement word for it, I refer to it as ‘small-D disappointment’ instead of ‘big-D disappointment’.

Words have power. Sometimes they have the power to help. Sometimes they are vicious and harm. Leadership is knowing when to keep your mouth shut as much as it is to say something.

Leadership is also realizing you’ve said something boneheaded or hurtful and acknowledging it, making amends if possible. That’s taking responsibility for your own actions.


Maybe this is like psychological reinforcements (positive and negative). When you say something, take action to benefit others–that’s positive leadership. When you choose to stay quiet or take no action, permitting your group to work things out independently, instead of criticizing or saying something harsh–we’ve removed ourselves as an obstruction, thus this would be ‘negative leadership’.

–the problem with that term though is that no one ever uses positive/negative reinforcement properly anyways, always confusing negative reinforcement with punishment…so does it help in trying to understand effective leadership to create a term ripe for misuse?


I’ve come back to thinking about this the past few days (and edited the tense of Russ Rose’s coaching). The question is “When is doing nothing beneficial?”

I think in terms of interpersonal drama between players–a coach should do nothing–right up until it affects on-court performance. Players have to have the opportunity to learn how to handle relationships for good or bad. I also think that if a coach inserts herself into a situation, it is just as likely to cause problems as bring about a solution–inevitably someone will interpret the coach’s action as choosing a side or playing favorites–which leads to further drama beyond the original situation.

I think there’s value in ‘nothing’ during a game as well. Coaches tend to be uncomfortable with dead air. There’s this primal-coaching idea that there should be constant talking and chatter between players, coach-player, and player-coach. I’m not sure why though. Isn’t that what practice is for–to work out the bugs, fix the problems, so that they can go out and play? The problem is coaches feel peer-pressured into micro-managing…multiple sports.

Do you really need a coach to provide the insight that Dana Rettke is going to hit a slide? Do you need to call a serving zone for your player as a reminder to not serve Morgan Hentz?

Watch basketball coaches–when is the last time you saw a coach sitting back and not pointing out what to do or calling a play? Baseball managers are calling pitches from the dugout. The only NFL quarterback to call his own game this century was Peyton Manning–otherwise everything comes in from the sidelines until a team runs a ‘hurry-up’…

Oh well…I don’t really know how to quantify the value of ‘nothing’–and not sure how many coaches would try and work it into their gameplan. When I explain it, I get a lot of skeptical looks, a lot of “Okay, whatever”…as coaches go back to their comfort zones.

Family Memory (XXV): Time with my grandparents

When I was young, I got to stay at my grandparents in Keokuk, when younger, with my little sister along as well. As a parent, I realized that this was not meant as a privilege for us–hah, this was to give my parents a break from us kids! Of course, I also look back now and realize it was a huge gift to me as well, the chance to spend time with two of my three living grandparents and be spoiled rotten as the favorite (because I was both the first grandchild and the best…these are immutable points of history).

When I spent those one or two weeks during summer at my grandparents, it’s not like they filled the days with excitement–they weren’t rich. I know now initially they were saving money to help put my youngest uncle through college and that they would use vacation days at other points to go see my Uncle Helmut or a few times to go on longer vacations (including one to Frankenmuth, Michigan where I got to go along). As a kid, I didn’t care. I spent the day reading or playing solitaire boardgames…though I remember a couple summers where my grandmother was part of a ladies group that played dice games (bunco?) and sometimes cards (usually ’31’, but there was something else, but never pinochle or euchre). After work, Papa would sit in his chair, read the afternoon paper and watch the news (I was there with them when Elvis died…I remember I was rolling around on Grandma’s cylindrical footstool) and if the weather was nice, we’d play catch or maybe Jarts (lawn darts). We’d repeat that every day until it was time to go back to Davenport.

And then…I turned into a teenager and wound up wanting to spend time with friends during the summer and stopped those long visits to Keokuk. I don’t think they were disappointed. They understood growing up…but my first drive outside of the Quad Cities when I turned 16 was to Keokuk to visit them and when Julie and I got serious–Keokuk was the second place we went (after meeting Mom first up in Davenport).

Today, I woke up early (I’m writing this at the end of September–don’t really know when I’ll make it go ‘live’) and we had the windows open and I heard the birds and the breeze and it made me think of my grandparents.

It made me go and find one of the first two poems I ever published. (This was #2) I wrote it originally for a Writing class at a sucky university–that class (taught by an ex-nun named Birgit Kelley…I STILL remember her name) made me realize I could be good at writing. It was the first thing I wrote and permitted others to hear and give feedback on.

This is the published version. I wouldn’t write it like this now–I’d do it differently…but that’s 30 years of life and experience saying that. This was definitely me at 21.

Daybreak in Keokuk

Slowly the mind begins
to rise while the chirp
of crickets hang in air.
An old floorboard gives way under someone’s step.
The burble-plop of boiling coffee
and the faint odor of oatmeal.


Á cupboard squeaks open. 
Grandma putters about in her little kitchen.
Hazy talk comes through
the half-sleep of a childhood dawn.
The birds begin the morning shift,
singing, replacing the cacophony
of crickets on the graveyard shift.


A floorboard nearby,
the scent of after-shave
as my grandfather strides over
my body on the sofa cushions
on the main room’s floor.
A click of metal, a groan of wood
as the door opens.
The thunk of a door shutting
and the bolt clicking back into place. 
Footsteps fade to nothing
as Papa goes to work.


Putter, putter. 
Putter, putter. 
The sound of coffee pouring. 
A cough followed by chimes.
A car passes outside with no muffler.
Putter, putter.


Putter, putter.
The hour early, my mind drifts back to sleep.

Leadership and Coaching: The Grizzled NCO

Full Metal Jacket…the way things used to work when bullying was permitted in training (it doesn’t work out too well for Lee Ermey’s character if you watch the movie…). I put it with this because it is likely the character most people are familiar with in terms of being a non-commissioned officer.

Armies have officers and their authority goes from admirals and generals down to ensigns and lieutenants. Below them are the regular guys, the enlisted personnel who actually do the work. Just as officers have ranks, so do enlisted personnel who begin as privates and seamen and with experience, can rise to become sergeant majors and chief petty officers. Those sergeant majors and CPOs are lower in rank than a newly-minted 2nd lieutenant (2LT) and those guys with 25+ years experience now get to take orders from that 21-yr old just out of college and officer training. Those senior guys are called non-commissioned officers, shortened to NCO.

That got me thinking about leadership and coaching. (Shocking, huh?) It got me thinking about a huge mistake that’s widespread by a TON of coaches (especially younger ones).

When I was a kid, I loved reading the book Starship Troopers. It was Heinlein’s last book aimed at adolescent boys–but its themes are anything but adolescent. In it, there’s a key piece of advice and it has stuck with me through decades. It’s given to a cadet officer sent into the field–when you’re in charge, the best thing you can do is ask your senior enlisted men for their advice and recommendations. If you don’t ask for their advice, you’re going to cause a lot of worry and concern.

So how do we apply that to coaching?

I had an opportunity to bring a ‘grizzled NCO’ into my program to help. Did I take it? You frickin’ bet I did. In 2009 or so, I was contacted by Joe Reuben. He was in Springfield at the time–he’d helped found the largest VB club in Atlanta, played professionally, served as a USAV and PAVO official with a decade more experience at VB than I have (and remember…I had 20 years in the game at that point). The funny thing–and why I mention this–is that I was sort of a ‘last resort’ for Joe. He’d reached out to each of the four-year colleges seeking to volunteer. He asked at least three different high schools. None were interested. Of course, in a couple instances, Joe had been doing volleyball longer than the coaches he was asking had been alive. Zero interest.

All I can think is they were worried about his knowledge and that they did not want to be in a gym where the assistant knew more than the head coach. Oof. Consider the opposite of this–multiple Stanford coaches made sure to keep Denise Corlett on board as an assistant. Stanford had a moderate bit of success with Corlett active in the program.

So now-go look at a ton of volleyball programs, NAIA, NCAA, whatever. Look at the programs with young head coaches. Check out their assistant coaches. Notice it? Almost none have experienced/older assistant coaches. Now think about the programs with brand new head coaches. Look at the assistants. Notice? –same thing. First-time head coaches are bringing in young assistants, most likely stepping into assistant positions at that level for the first time as well.

The advice from Starship Troopers is the same advice given to new officers NOW in the real, non-fictional military. You’re a new officer, you lean on the experience of your NCOs. If you look at military history, you’ll find that the most successful armies in history have ALL relied on the quality of their NCOs for success (and when they are killed in war, those armies all begin to suffer higher casualties and lose far more often).

So–why do volleyball coaches ignore this? If you look at basketball, there are a ton of old-hands working as assistant coaches. Football? Same thing. Baseball? No different. And this doesn’t change at the pro levels for those sports either–experience is sought, cultivated, and hoarded in assistant positions. Just not volleyball.

I think this is a failure to lead.

Leadership requires confidence and a knowledge that you, as head coach, don’t know everything. Not bringing in experience to assist suggests fear and a lack of confidence–that it’s more about asserting authority than aiming for success.

Want success as a VB coach? Bring in experienced (even retired) volleyball people. Let them use that experience. Stand back and be quiet, observe. Showing your athletes that you’ll let your assistants take charge, show what they know, use what they know for the good of the team will increase their respect in you–they’ll follow you more readily…and the consent to be led is a HUGE part of you becoming a successful leader.

So back to me and Joe.

Joe’s work schedule meant he couldn’t be at practice all the time. He could make it for an hour or so. So I adjusted how practices went. When Joe couldn’t be there, we went over a lot of technical stuff, I’ll call it the ‘mental’ work of what we were trying to do. When Joe got there, I’d turn the team over for 30-40 minutes of ‘Joe stuff’. I’d tell Joe what we’d been working on and then he’d start with stuff that complemented what we’d just been discussing.

Joe’s a *high energy* coach. He’s 150% caffeinated. Awesome and ALWAYS with a smile. The girls loved me stepping back because it was always a change of pace and each year, after getting used to things, it got to the point that when he walked in, there’d be this huge “JOE!!!!!” or “HI JOE!!!!”

I wasn’t doing anything wrong, they weren’t slacking before he got there–it was just a difference. But I think for a ton of coaches, that would be intimidating to have this daily shout-out to the assistant walking in, a total outpouring of excitement/love. Nah–it was great. It was good for the team…because they saw me step back and let Joe be Joe. They saw me step in sometimes to emphasize something from the previous hour, they saw Joe and I talking during drink breaks discussing what he was going to do next.

So if you think about your team–if suddenly a Jim Stone or Karch Kiraly (or a Kirsten Booth, Jen Oldenburg, or Amber Warners for that matter) walked in and said “Hey, can I be an assistant but nothing more than that?” –would that intimidate you? Would you be worried about your authority as a head coach because of who those guys are?

–I think that’s an important thing, too, to think about. You’re still the officer. The experienced person is the NCO. You’re still in charge–and that does NOT mean you simply do what that NCO/experienced person suggests. It is YOUR vision for the team, your vision for where the program is heading.

So there’s a balance needed–the knowledge that the head coach is in charge, but that it’s critical to have assistant coaches with a ton of experience to rely on for advice but that they are not in charge. Giving the NCOs opportunities to use their experience will help their morale, their leadership skills, and further the team’s success.

When I am able to coach again, there’s going to be someone who fits that grizzled NCO role if at all possible…just not Lee Ermey.

Family Memory (XXIV) – The Kid Walking Home from Sacred Heart school

College always lets out before grade schools and always goes back after. I was still home in January, 1987, before heading back for the second half of my sophomore year. Mom was at work and my sister was at high school–and then doing whatever with her friends afterwards.

I was loafing with plans for the evening (as always) with friends before they, too, returned to school. So I was sitting in a recliner reading when there was a noise out the front window of the living room (northwest side of the house). I wasn’t sure what it was–it was just unusual that there’d be something in the bushes there–too early for birds, no woofing so it wasn’t a dog, or anything like that. I turned to look and….

It was an 8 year old boy walking home from Sacred Heart school up the street. He was facing the house’s bricks, his back to the street. He had his pants down to his ankles, his winter coat unzipped. He was taking a whizz against our house. Now, in hindsight, he wasn’t trying to cause trouble–and sometimes, you gotta go, you gotta go…so MAYBE I should have just let him do his thing, return to his friend out on the street’s sidewalk, and go about the rest of his afternoon. Maybe.

Should Have.


I stood up, staring at the kid’s side, and I knocked on the window. Tap, tap, tap. The kid looked up, not realizing anyone was home, and his eyes bugged out Looney Tunes style and he took off for the street, jacket still undone, pants still down with him struggling to pull them up, getting them pretty muddy as he skedaddled from our yard. Out on the sidewalk, he got them pulled up all the way, never looked at the house, and as soon as the ‘WALK’ sign went on, ran across the street and on his way.

I wonder if the kid ever urinated in public in college or did something like that again somewhere else–or if he always looked for windows after that point…and I wonder, if he’s still in Davenport, if he passes the house, does he still remember that day with a bit of laughter?