‘Participation Trophies’ are a good thing

Well, if anything, you read the title and you’ve already made up your mind, most likely that I’m wrong.  Fair enough–but I’m not wrong.

I’m not really sure where the term ‘participation trophy’ came from or why it became a pejorative/insult.  Most likely, the same people who try and use words like ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ as insults–and don’t understand the meaning or value of those words either.  In any event…

Participation trophies are exactly what the term means–awards given to individuals (usually children) playing sports (or any other activity), not for winning or success, but simply for participating.  For a majority of Harry-Hardass coaches, that’s just wrong, plain wrong, and back in the good ol’ days(TM), that crap would never have happened.  Never.

Except memory is selective.  I mean, somewhere around here in my house, there’s still a certificate my father got for participating in a city poetry contest when he was a freshman in high school in 1955.  I know I’ve got a couple Little League trophies here, including one from a year I just rode the bench getting to play only the mandated two innings/week (because the coach wanted to win and I was 8 in a league of 8-10yr olds). That was 1977-78. Yeah, not great examples–let’s go with a more common example of a participation trophy.

Every high school in America awards varsity letters.  These aren’t awarded based on winning–these are given for participating in a certain number of contests or for going out for a sport in every year of high school.  Nowhere in the criteria for a varsity letter do you see ‘must have won a state title’ or ‘must have reached the conference championship game’ nor do you see ‘must have started for a team with a winning record.’ 

The argument I get against that is, “But that’s different!”  Sure–because you value your varsity letter.  It’s important to YOU.  That kid halfway across the country you’ll never meet, never coach–it’s easy to poo-poo his trophy or ribbon as pathetic, that participation trophies are for losers–because it means nothing to you!  That’s hypocritical.  

Another example?  Look around at everyone who wears t-shirts for various 5k/10k races.  Those are participation awards, too–“Look, I finished this race and got this t-shirt.”  What’s the difference here between finishing a 5k race and playing a full season of Little League?

The reality?  Participation trophies do matter (think how many businesses reward employees for 10/20/30 years of employment…not your greatness, just that you stuck with it).  They are important, and they have roles to play, especially in youth activities.

  • They reward sticking with an activity–that’s a life lesson, that once you start something, there will be a reward for seeing it thru until it is finished.
  • They are a reward for successfully working in a team environment–you had an opportunity at improving social skills, understanding different roles.  Again, an important lesson for life after adolescence.
  • They are positive reinforcement that encourages a young person to continue participating, not just in that specific sport, but all activities.  It encourages young people to explore interests, find what they like and don’t like.

The last one is important.  70% of children under 13 give up playing sports–because it has been made to be about winning rather than having fun–competition over participation.  Here are some other tidbits:

  • 65% of kids play so they can be around their friends
  • 71% don’t care about the score/would play anyways if the score wasn’t kept
  • 42% wish parents wouldn’t be permitted to watch
  • 93% would rather play on a losing team than ride the bench on a winning team
  • 41% have been lectured/yelled at by a coach for ‘not being competitive enough’
  • 35% intend to quit playing sports as soon as they can

See?  Participation trophies are vital–it reinforces that it’s okay to have FUN, that being around friends is GREAT, and that playing is AWESOME.  Those scoreboards–they are there for the adults…heck, club volleyball teams are now bragging about their Win-Loss records for Pete’s sake.  Seriously.  And how many kids know that W-L record?  *NONE*  Just rereading those stats makes me sad, no, actually furious–1/3 intending to quit ASAP?  “Adults” ruin everything–for their own kids and other people’s.  41% of 8-13 yr olds told ‘not competitive enough’–just…wow.

I know the value of ‘participation trophies’ firsthand.  The Creator did not bless me with athleticism.  On a baseball field, I can scoop anything at first base and can foul off 50 pitches until you walk me and that’s it.  Basketball–I’ll give you 100% effort, but can’t do anything else, I can’t golf, don’t run fast and have no hops…none of that.  Volleyball?  Hahahah…I can’t hit, can’t block, can’t pass.

By all accounts including my own(!), I suck at sports.  But those participation trophies?  They kept me active, kept me interested, so that I started playing sports simulations which led to my fascination with statistics and sports data–which helped open the door for me eventually to work with Jim Stone (and D.C. Koehl) at Ohio State (and thus receive an Big 10 Champ/NCAA Final Four ring as part of OSU’s last championship squad in ’94).  

Those participation trophies?  They helped me as a grade school and 12u club coach–because not everyone is blessed with athleticism–I knew why those kids were playing, that they needed confidence and positive experiences, that they needed to be encouraged to stay physically active–even if it they moved on from volleyball to other activities.

Those participation trophies that suck?  They encouraged me to try new things–to participate.  I learned I like boardgame and role-playing games that way, learned that LARPs aren’t for me.  I found I liked old-school, bolt-action paintball, but don’t care for paintball with automatic weapons or laser tag, either, for that matter.  I learned that singing and theater aren’t for me, though improv is fun, writers groups aren’t for me–though I love writing.  All of this comes from those participation trophies, those little ribbons from when I was young, more than forty years ago (that’s right, all the whining about kids today–and there were just as many ‘participation trophies’ 40 years ago and I’d be willing to bet 60 years ago, too) and the subtle encouragement to keep going with things I liked but may not have had talent in–or yet to develop a latent talent in.

So before you keep mocking participation trophies, consider the wise Cherokee words: “Before you judge, walk a mile in the other man’s shoes.”  Remember that not everyone is blessed with speed or agility, strength or power, but as coaches, as teachers, we should encourage them to pursue their passions, to participate, to do everything to foster the goals of amateur athletics–and if you go look up the mission statements of most of those amateur organizations, you won’t find a mention of a scoreboard, y’know?

 

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Time is not Renewable

Last month was my 25th wedding anniversary—the days before selfies and all that jazz (ancient history).  Within eighteen months, we were parents and that’s been going on ever since.  Once you’ve got kids, your identity changes, you become “Erick’s dad” or “Mike’s mom” rather than Mr. and Mrs.  Even at home, you refer to your spouse by their family role most of the time.

 Some couples are able or willing to farm-out their kids for extended period or have money to throw around to take extravagant vacations with everyone.  We didn’t have those luxuries—partially because of finances, partially because of other activities—as a coach, I spent summers working with my team or working camps for other people to make extra money.  Julie taught summer-session for the same reason, so it turned out the only time we could get without kids along was if she came along to a volleyball camp with me.  That’s fine, but it isn’t really ‘vacation.’

Time changes things.  I coach college now and Julie’s now a department chair, so she works all summer—but now has the ability to take vacation time whenever she wants.  It meant we had an opening last month to go on our first real vacation together in something like 23 years.  It was a great time.  We didn’t do anything significant, didn’t take pictures of one another—we just spent a ton of time together.

On the way back as we were riding Amtrak back past Denver, I realized something about being married, our trip, and (since I write a lot about it…wait for the shock….) coaching and the relationships we maintain in life.  Maybe some of it is profound, maybe some of it is just turning 50, maybe it has been there all along and I’ve just been too dense to consider it.  All of those are possibilities.

You see, in life, people are constantly rushing around on vacation.  They have to see Site X, get to Place Y.  They need souvenirs for themselves, for people back home.  The item substitutes for the experience—and that’s reasonable because things fade from memory.  Time does tricky things to our mind.  The thing is—those items are ‘permanent.’  We have them, they remain until thrown out.  If we break one, we can always go back and get another.  Items are always replaceable.  When you get down to it, everything on this planet, everything we own—it is all replaceable.  Except for one thing.

Time.

Time should be precious to everyone—once it is gone, it can never be reclaimed.  It is a luxurious feeling to take that one-hour nap (I love naps), but you don’t get that hour back later on.  Ever.  Sitting here in front of a keyboard—gone forever for the sake of communicating to whoever reads this.  

 There is no greater gift on this planet, in existence as we know it, than to give someone time.  To talk with them, to break bread with them, to put an arm around them, to teach, to listen, to coach.  You give the person that time and it was theirs forever.  The catch?  It’s mutual—in return for time you will never get back, they are sharing their precious seconds-minutes-hours with you as well.  Appreciate that sharing.

I don’t always, but I’m getting better, trying to at least.

And while writing on time, consider listening to this, what became one of the two or three greatest Twilight Zone episodes of all time: Time Enough at Last

Have you hit the ‘follow’ button?  You should.  That way you’ll get notified more of my Pulitzer-Prize winning work appears.  Or if you want completely refined essays on similar coaching topics, check out one of my books!

 

If you’re interested in more stuff on volleyball, check out Like Heck She Isn’t a Volleyball Player available on Amazon and other internet bookstores.  It’s a collection of 27 essays on all parts of the most exciting indoor (and outdoor) sport in the world and it’ll run you less than FIVE dollars.

La Victoria trova cento padri….

Hey–how about that…a little bit of Italian for ya.  It’s important it’s in Italian because if you go looking around the internet, you’ll find that the quote igets attributed to John F. Kennedy.  It’s not.  The Italian is the real deal and the full quote is “La Victoria trova cento padri, a nessuno vuole riconoscere l’insuccesso.”  It was written in 1942 by Galeazzo Ciano, Benito Mussolini’s son-in-law and foreign minister at the time.

In English, it translates to: “Victory has a hundred fathers, but defeat is an orphan.”

In context, Ciano was talking about Italy’s performance and fate during World War Two, but it’s a quote that can help inform people with coaching, as a guide and warning.

The ‘hundred fathers’ referred to the fact that with a military victory, there was no shortage of officers and politicians willing to claim credit for the victory–Mussolini, his general staff, the commanders at the front as well as their subordinate commanders.  Confronted with defeat, you get the ‘orphan’–blame shifted between levels with Mussolini blaming his generals, the generals blaming the soldiers, the soldiers blaming the politicians and officers.

You know how this immediately transfers to coaching–when there is success, the team owner, the coach, the stars all immediately take credit, wanting the glory and profit.  If the team loses, the athletic director fires the coach to save her own job, the coach pulls scholarships, and athletes transfer schools or go become free agents.  All of those “We’re #1!” fingers pointing in the air–they now start pointing at other people–“Your fault!”

But Ciano’s quote doesn’t have to be a total negative.  How can you use it to improve yourself/your team?

The first thing is–check your ego at the door!  Team success is not about you.  It’s about your players.  Rather than be reactive and let everyone else claim credit for the success, pass credit on to others yourself:  “Thanks for saying I had a great game plan tonight, but it was the girls who carried it out.  Beth and Jody did a great job on defense, that let Katie run the offense and distribute the ball wherever she wanted.  It also helped we had so many students follow us on the trip–it made it feel like this was a home game rather than being on the road.”

You aren’t lessened by passing credit on to others and acknowledging what they did.  If anything, it enhances your true credibility as a coach.

The back end of the quote, defeat and orphans?  It’s the same principle.  The quote is about passing the buck and avoiding responsibility, so let’s reverse it, not quote to being an ‘orphan’, just to a ‘single parent’.   “It was a tough loss tonight, hard to take because we got dominated on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.  I’d love to blame Johnny for going 12-40 with 50 yards passing, but I called the plays.  He did what was asked, but when you give the wrong orders, you’re putting a kid like Johnny in a bad spot.  He’ll try and tell you he could play better, but that’s him being a great kid.  The fault’s all mine.  We get back on to the field Monday, but between now and then, I’ve got a couple days to fix the game plan so I can put the guys in a position to succeed.”

Instead of avoiding responsibility, this coach is taking it.  More important, he’s shifting it away from a player who didn’t do well.  The truth is–Johnny may have sucked with 15 ‘u’ in the spelling, but throwing him under the bus to the local paper doesn’t do any good, especially for a young person.  You may have had a great plan, but the kids didn’t execute.  No matter, you’re the coach–own the defeat, absorb the negative blows so that your athletes can thrive.

They’ll likely respect you for it because they know when they did well or not.  They’ll know why you are shifting the blame on to yourself.  With most kids, doing that will add to their commitment to the program and your long-term goals for it.

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Opening Day!

SCENE: Athletic Department Staff Room, pre-season meeting

ATHLETIC DIRECTOR: Ho! Aye!  We are ready for another year.  This is good, but…what is best in life?

Newbie Punk Coach: Hitting lines, diving drills, towels in hand working on wrist snap…

ATHLETIC DIRECTOR: WRONG!  Jim Stone!  What is best in life?

Jim Stone: To crush your opponents, see them slouching to the locker room and hear the lamentations of their fandom!

ATHLETIC DIRECTOR: That is good!  That is good!

Of course, Jim Stone doesn’t talk with an Austrian accent nor wear the jeweled crown of Aquilonia, but that’s a story for a different day.

August 1!!  If you’re following the rules, that’s Opening Day, babyyyyy, for NJCAA programs.  Is there a better non-holiday day during the entire year than your first day in the gym?

The floor is fresh off being waxed and varnished, it’s time to break out new practice balls, issue gear to players and hear the squeak of brand-new shoes on a brand-new floor.

It’s the time when everyone is undefeated, when hope springs eternal.  Everyone is healthy, everyone’s excited–it’s like Christmas’ Eve only it isn’t over in just one night.  You get to enjoy it right up until your first contest (which is an awesome day as well).

Every year, it’s a beautiful day, the best life has to offer.  And yet–sometimes it can be even better…the years where things click between coach and players, players all together, and you live the word ‘team’ in a way that definitions and descriptions can’t define, but everyone who was part of that Opening Day, the season that comes from it, can look back and say, “Yeah, that was a season!” and know that it is something only you as a coach and your 10-15 players will ever share, a feeling impossible to duplicate.  That starts here!

God, how I love Opening Day!  

  • To the first group I worked with at Illinois in 1990, thank you.
  • To the Ohio State staff and players, 1992-94…amazing!
  • To Mike Deterding and Craig Jones, thank you for letting me start coaching club in central Illinois.
  • To the first group I coached at St. Anthony, it’s always interesting to deal with a first-time head coach
  • To the 2000, 2001 teams there, you were screwed by a horrible official in 2000, handled it with class and dignity (and I will always be proud of you for that), then turned around, worked hard, and got better in 2001–and then have become great adults.  …so proud of you! (That 2000 match is 1 of 2 I’ve ever been part of in 1,000+ matches where the official willfully/intentionally decided the outcome)
  • To the Allen administration, especially John Masterson, thanks for the opportunity…what an interesting first year that was, starting 24 hours before the first competition!!  –and thanks to Todd who volunteered to be the assistant and remains an assistant there still (in addition to being an outstanding chemistry instructor)
  • To my alums at LLCC who have built the program, done the heavy lifting, then gone on to greater things in ‘real life’.  I’ve looked forward to every Opening Day and dread the eventual day where I can’t do this any more.
  • To the 2018 team, it’s showtime.  In the illustrious words of the American philosopher, Marshall Bruce Mathers III, “Look, if you had one shot or one opportunity to seize everything you wanted in one moment–would you capture it or just let it slip?”  It’s time to find out.

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It’s about baseball, but if this doesn’t get you excited for Opening Day–NJCAA, NAIA, NCAA, you’re just…you have no soul.

Religious Liberty / The Trump Administration

So today, the head of the FBI announced a ‘religious liberty task force.’

And…I find myself unable to maintain discipline in terms of a writing schedule.  What is being done is unacceptable and is setting the United States back decades.  If you are in the US, it is absolutely your moral responsibility to agitate against what is happening.

Why?  All the director is doing is protecting people whose religion is under attack, right?  Of course, Sessions means Christians who, actually, aren’t under attack.  Rates of attack on Christians on a per capita basis are much lower than against Muslims or Jews.  It’s only if we look at totals do you see Christians ‘persecuted’–that’s because 70%+ of the population identifies as Christian.  Duh.

Sessions specifically notes the case of Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a homosexual union, was sued, and had his case go to the US Supreme Court where the Court ruled 7-2 in his favor (though on narrow grounds).  Phillips’ defenders argue that because his version of Christianity opposes homosexuality, he shouldn’t be forced to make a cake for people he does not believe in–that it offends his religious sensibilities.

Bull crap.

All it took was a small case to bring about legal segregation across the South (Plessy v. Ferguson)–and then it has taken a century to recover from one of the worst decisions in Supreme Court history.  Small cases matter; they set precedents.

Thus, if Phillips has a legal right to deny service to a gay couple because he opposes homosexuality, logically, I have a right to deny service to blacks–as long as I can justify it on my religious beliefs.   I can deny service to women–because their place is in the home, not independent and free.  …that last one…there are a whole bunch of people who believe that right here, right now, in the United States.

So think about it.  Do I have a ‘right’ to deny service to someone based on gender or skin color?  Of course not.  And yet, the Trump administration is creating the framework to permit exactly that and couching it in the name of ‘religious freedom’.  Worse, he is doing it from within the executive branch and avoiding Congress completely, eliminating any dissenting voices from being heard.

Want to contact the FBI directly?  Here’s the link to the phone numbers of their field offices:  CONTACT INFO

Your senators?  Here’s the list: US Senators

Representatives?  Here you go: US Representatives

This isn’t about conservative or liberal–this is about an attack on individual liberties, civil rights.  When you begin to deny the rights of one group (gays), there’ll be another (border walls, anyone?), and then another (black anthem protests?), another (journalists), and another.  If you want to help more, consider the ACLU.  They defend all rights, atheist, Nazi, Christian, voodoo-ist…because they understand that once you permit attacks on civil liberties, it’s a quick descent away from the values this Republic was founded on.

Get. Involved.

 

 

Vietnam War movies

Up until its end, Vietnam represented the longest running conflict in U.S. history.  Of course, for perspective, we’ve now been in Iraq and Afghanistan 50% longer and with no end in sight (I mean, once you’ve spent $1,000,000,000,000 on a couple little wars, what’s another $1-2,000,000,000,000 among taxpayers, right?).  Given the way Vietnam tore American society into polarized bits, I guess it should be no surprise that the same has happened to our society over the past fifteen years.

It got me thinking–what films are the best representation of the Vietnam conflict?  Do they tell us anything about the era in which they were made–and that time’s opinion of the Vietnam conflict?  Are we able to learn from them anything useful to inform us on American society of today?  The films here below don’t always do that, but I consider them significant for something or another.

The Green Berets, 1968:  At the height of the war, this John Wayne film was released and is ultimately the only gung-ho, pro-war film out there.  It’s over the top in being pro-American, but it’s the only movie I can think of that shows ARVN Rangers in action (with George Takei taking time away from his role as Lt. Sulu to play the Ranger leader).

Go Tell the Spartans, 1978: One of the best anti-war films of the post-WW2 era.  It is a twist on the tale of the 300 Spartans (hence the title).  It is worth taking the time to seek out.

The Deer Hunter, 1978: Really, the first movie to deal brutally with the effects of coming home and the aftermath of combat.  He had a short career because he died from cancer–but ANYTHING with John Cazale in it is great (every movie he did was nominated/won an Academy Award)

The Odd, Angry Shot, 1979 An Australian Vietnam movie–it’s more about the boredom of being on a base and only rarely fighting.  It pokes a finger in the eye of Americans though and ultimately, the stupidity of fighting in South Vietnam.  People forget that the Vietnam War saw commitments from other nations allied to the US such as Australia or South Korea.

Apocalypse Now, 1979:  A modern retelling of Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.”  It’s horror at a more personal level.  You’re either going to think this is brilliant or despise it.  For me, I can’t help but think of Martin Sheen playing this character in every role he does later throughout his career.  There are great one-liners in this, but it isn’t a realistic Vietnam.  Is it?

It’s a few more years down the road until you get to the next batch of great Vietnam movies.  Those would be:

Full Metal Jacket and Gardens of Stone in ’87 and then 84Charlie MoPic two years later.  All three are radically different films.  Full Metal Jacket is two halves, one of Marine training and men pushed to their limits in one form, then the second is Hue during the Tet Offensive and men pushed a second way to the breaking point.  Gardens of Stone is about soldiers guarding Arlington just after Tet and the desire of a younger soldier to see fighting before its over and an older one knowing that war is not glorious and that there are thousands of young soldiers who were itching to see combat now buried under Arlington’s white stones.

84 Charlie is the first ‘first-person’ movie I can remember.  The film is told from the lens of a military cameraman (his designation is ’84C’, thus the movie’s title), so you are limited to seeing what the camera sees.  People give horror movies credit for this, but it’s really 84 Charlie that went there first.

The last two are different as well, each focusing on a single ‘battle’.

We Were Soldiers, 2002: Mel Gibson starring as Hal Moore in a role based on his book “We Were Soldiers Once…and Young.”  It’s about a nasty battle in the Ia Drang Valley in the fall of 1965, less than six months after the first US forces have officially entered South Vietnam.  Unlike a lot of war movies since it is 30+ years from its subject, it presents both sides fairly and also tries to show the cost back home.  It doesn’t glamorize war.  It is really the point where the war is portrayed as history rather than a visceral reliving of events for people who actually participated in the war.

The Post, 2017: Wait, what?  Yes, a newspaper movie’s here.  This is the story about the Washington Post’s fight to have the Pentagon Papers see the light of day (the leaked papers showed the government had been dishonest and was fighting beyond SVN in Cambodia, Laos, and even the coastal waters of North Vietnam).

All of these are ways to learn more about a war that is now more than 40 years in the past.  The youngest American combat veterans are now all 65 or older.  Vietnam continues to affect America–look at the divisive politics…it’s no coincidence that the main actors all were 16-24 or so during the height of the Vietnam war, so it is important to understand the conflict and the ripples it still generates in US society.

 

If you like history stuff, it’s a different war, but consider reading my The Five Days of Osan.  It’s a fictional account of men in Task Force Smith during the first five days of American involvement in the Korean War…and it’s $4.99 on Amazon.  Really.

 

 

USAV HP and Me (too)

For better or worse, I have a habit of playing with words.  There should be an obvious allusion to a social movement within that title above.  That’s intentional.

Chances are, you’ve read some of the other things I’ve written which means you know I’m a middle-aged Caucasian male with a bad sense of humor, eclectic taste in music, movies, and politics, with an irrational/obsessive passion for volleyball.  If you didn’t reach those conclusions already, well…take my word for it.  Along with that, I try and keep a few other things in mind for myself at all times–an open mind, an awareness to ‘wrongs’ (and a willingness to agitate to fix them), etc.

That brings me to USAV High Performance Volleyball.  I didn’t do HP this year and I figured out why (that comes later).  Please realize while reading this that the High Performance program/system does its job magnificently–it identifies talent across the entire bloody continent, organizes it by skill level, trains those kids into a potential pipeline to the National/Olympic program.  Given the *embarrassing* lack of a professional league in the US (a rant for a different day), the HP pipeline does great things.

Better still, having worked HP camps for a few years, I can tell you that the “IQ” aspect, the classroom teachings on nutrition and life goals, are great, and the module on bullying should be used across all sports programs and not just within the various national team organizations.  The kids who go to HP camps receive quality training without time wasted on making posters or performing skits.  Every minute of time is spent bettering VB skills and IQ.  USAV HP is serious volleyball.

Again, I want to re-emphasize this–the development of athletes within the High Performance program is outstanding and the people I’ve worked for in the national offices out in Colorado work hard, work to the point of frazzlement, and care greatly for USA Volleyball and growing the sport in general.

So with all that praise–you have got to be wondering, “So what is the complaint?  Why aren’t you doing HP, Dietz?”

There are two primary reasons, the first of which, I don’t have an answer for.  The second is the more serious.

PROBLEM 1 – I’m old, I’m white, and I never played volleyball, so I don’t get considered for any open college positions (another argument for a different day) and I suspect it’d be likewise with high-level teams within USAVHP.  When I was young, that stuff bothered me.  Now, I’m good with it.  I help kids through club and at LLCC, getting more of an opportunity to make a difference with those than I would if I was coaching D-1, etc. so I’m at the right level for my personal preferences.

So anyways, the first problem at the camps is ego.  I got tired of hearing coaches talk about how they were unjustly assigned to a young age group or a lower skilled group–that the kids they were assigned were beneath them as a D-1 or elite club coach.  Speaking up to argue that assertion once, I was told my club isn’t known and I’m a juco coach, so my opinion counts for zero.  Yikes.  But it gets worse.  Worse is the attitude towards coaching colleagues who cannot further that coach’s march up the illusory career ladder.  Yeah, I coach at a juco…I suck.  Yeah, she’s a high school coach/teacher…if she knew anything, she’d be a 17-elite club coach, she sucks, too,…blah, blah, blah.

Beyond the fact that a lot of coaches remain non-D1 by choice (like I said, I’ve found a comfort zone that lets me coach, write, and currently be in the process of starting up another business interest in addition to co-directing that club), I’ve got a bigger gripe for those individuals:  It’s not about you.  It’s about the kids.  The USAVHP cadre tell every coach to check their ego at the door–you aren’t on your school’s time, your club’s time, you’re on USA VOLLEYBALL TIME.  Don’t talk volleyball around the kids that promotes/criticizes any other college or club program.  Period.

Heck, one coach thought so little of me as a coach that at a later HP camp, when he wound up with a kid assigned to him who, within his hearing range, said she was coming to play for me–he took her aside to persuade her he could find her a dozen other places  ‘better’ than playing for a coach like me*.    So much for being on USA Volleyball time, right?   Of course this is an extreme example–I get that.  But it’s not the only one.

*Kid got to play in two Final Fours, a national title game, moving on to a full-ride scholarship at a school with a great volleyball program AND academics.  Her total bill for college?  $ZERO$  

Faced with this repeatedly, why should I continue working ‘with’ those people?  I can stay and do my own camps, work with other coaches who treat everyone as equals.  Heck, there’s a GREAT group of coaches around my area, people I like dealing with on a regular basis:  Mark Tippett at Lincoln College; Kristy Duncan at Illinois College; Danielle Doerfler at MacMurray; Ashli Wicker over at Lake Land; and the other member of the growing League of Bald Coaches, Jim Hunstein at Blackburn College.  Just a shoutout to those guys.  There are a bunch out there just like them, working their own camps, helping kids, treating other coaches respectfully, too.

PROBLEM 2 – This is where the ‘Me (too)’ part comes in.  For better or worse, there’s a perception that too many head coaching positions in the sport of volleyball are filled by men (more arguing on a different day).  Logically to me, if you want to increase the number of women in leadership positions, they first need  ‘training’ in being a leader–stuff like coaching for HP or being an administrator for a full camp.  (HP does this wherever possible–the problem is NOT with HP itself).

See, #2 is a big problem, but I don’t know how to fix it and I’d also bet good money that if there was a good way for HP to catch this stuff, it would.  The problem is, sexism, just like racism or ageism, is sneaky, hard to catch, easy to deny/claim something was misheard.

So I know some female coaches who have worked HP tryouts and camps.  Several I know only did a couple years worth of HP work before deciding to stop.  I asked a couple of them ‘Why?’ and was surprised when I got the same reasons from both.  Worse, once I thought about it, I’d either noticed the same things and let them pass or didn’t notice them in time to speak up, then made the mistake of saying nothing afterwards when I did notice things.   Since I did that more than once, I’m pretty upset with myself.  It made me want to write this from a sense of atonement or shared responsibility in some fashion.  I’m not perfect and we all have to be accountable for snuffing out things like ‘Problem #2’:

  • Male coaches corrected female coaches constantly when the female gave instructions
  • Male coaches were more interested in flirting with female coaches than coaching (to be fair, I saw some female coaches happy to flirt back OR instigate things)
  • Male coaches used forms of physical intimidation, things seemingly innocuous like tossing to himself and pounding it straight down on a woman’s height net, etc, then bragging about their prowess (this also could be considered a more overt form of flirting/spreading peacock feathers)
  • Belittling career choices made by the women–that they do not coach full-time, therefore shouldn’t be given significant responsibility within the HP system–it was not fair that they (men) were answering to female coaches since they were college/elite coaches themselves and ‘above’ the women based on their current employment.

What do any of those four things have to do with helping young people improve at volleyball???

Heck, a different female coach was told she had no business coaching boys and another coach was told she was ‘too young’ to be a coach because she wasn’t yet legal drinking age followed with the chaser, ‘USAV must be desperate to let a girl your age coach.’

Grrrr.  This makes me want to punch people.  It doesn’t help kids and it doesn’t make the world a better place.  It doesn’t help develop coaches, doesn’t give younger coaches positive leadership experiences.  Just as frustrating, I don’t know how High Performance can fix this.  Cockroaches will scramble when you shine light on them, but you can’t lift every rock.  It just sucks–it takes away from the good USAVHP does for girls and boys volleyball skills in this country.

*****

Post-script observation not related to the argument above, but about HP.  I don’t like the fact that clubs out there that label themselves as “High Performance” and then go around in combinations of red, white, and blue apparel.  It’s willfully deceptive.  It’s an intentional effort to confuse parents/young people–to make it look like the club is part of the HP-Pipeline program when it isn’t.  It’s no different than me forming a volleyball club called “A-Five” instead of the real A5 club in Atlanta or “Circle Cty Indiana VBC” instead of Circle City VBC.  You know the difference with those shenanigans because you know volleyball, but few parents of 12u or 14u children get that sort of thing.

USA Volleyball–you guys should just ban clubs from using that as part of their name.  That’d solve things straight out.