One of my favorite volleyball memories

A long time ago, I was but a wee lad, starting off in the world of coaching.  I’d never played before, so I could not rely on that for help.  I had to learn by asking questions, reading books (like Ari Selinger’s).  Along the way, I had the opportunity to be an assistant for Jim Stone at Ohio State…and this story goes back to my second year working under him, 1993.

Ohio State was selected to participate in the Big 10-Pac 10 (God only knows how many teams were in those conferences at that point…numbers aren’t the strong suit of Big 10 schools, y’know?) Challenge up in Ann Arbor.  It was OSU, Michigan, some team I don’t remember, and…Stanford coached by Don Shaw.

My job was stats–in my prime, I really was faster/more accurate with two clipboards on my lap than a coach with a laptop…I’m still proud of that.  I’m sitting there next to Linda Grensing on the bench with Jim Stone one more seat down.  Things are going well, it’s a tight match–Ohio State was very good, but not yet to its ’94 peak while Stanford was, as always, Stanford.

We’re on the R2’s left, Stanford on the right.  The match is close (sideout scoring) when Stanford picks up 2 points and then a third…which is where the story gets rolling…

The R1 was bad.  He was old and struggling to keep up with the speed of play–and later I found out (and felt bad) that he was one of the big names, the heroes, of volleyball officiating.  I just had the misfortune of seeing him someplace he shouldn’t have been assigned…  The R2 (floor official) deferred on everything to the R1 (official on the stand).  This was in the era of tight ball-handling calls and unfortunately, he was calling things loose and then tight, then loose and tight…it was a mess.  Well, he missed a pretty bad call.  Stanford’s middle (one of the Odens, I think) crushed an overpass down, but caught more net with her hand than a tuna in a trawler haul.

No call.

Jim blew up (which wasn’t a common occurrence).  There was no doubt he was going to pick up a yellow card.  And when you’re an assistant, you just sit there, look down, look around, but you keep things serious.  I mean, you’re boss is *mad*.  So after at least a minute, the R1 finally gives him the yellow card.  Honestly, he deserved it much earlier into his tirade.  

But. There’s. More.   A regular yellow-card isn’t a fond volleyball memory, right?

Before sitting down again, Jim turns to the R2 and in a gym currently quiet, loudly asks, “I just want to know how he can miss a call like that?”  (Absolutely could be heard over on the ref stand, I am sure of it…it was one of those moments where a gym suddenly goes deathly quiet for no reason whatsoever….)

That’s when Don Shaw stood up, took a step towards the R2 and Jim.  The R2 couldn’t really answer, so Shaw did instead:  “That’s easy.  He’s blind.”

Boom–yellow card for Don Shaw.  Man, how I wanted to giggle.  It was a great line,  perfect comedic and/or dramatic timing.  Nope–had to stay straight-faced.  But, oh, how I wanted to smile or laugh.

In my entire time around volleyball, going back 28 years now, I’ve never ever seen that happen anywhere else.  Both coaches receiving a yellow card for criticizing the official on the same play.  Stanford won the match, they won in ’94, too, down at the Final Four.  Oh, well.  Good times, nonetheless!



If this sort of thing amuses you, consider hitting the “FOLLOW” button to get regular updates or weird, random thoughts.

Also consider reading my book. Like Heck She Isn’t a Volleyball Player, 27 essays designed to get you to think ‘outside the box’…without breaking your bank account.  It’ll be the best $4.99 you spend on coaching/teaching stuff today.



Argument Time: The Greatest Rock Band of All-Time

Back in the 1980s, a baseball analyst (Bill James) created something called “The Keltner List”.  That was a list of questions, all able to be answered with a straight yes or no, to tell you if a player belonged in the Hall of Fame without resorting to esoteric statistics.

See?  The thing is, there’s a rock band out there that you can make an argument for it being the greatest of all-time and yet–it’s not in the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, even though the band has been around 40+ years and remains active.  That’s right–still active, still creating good music (unlike the Rolling Stones), not on an oldies tour of state fairs (Chicago, Beach Boys, REO Speedwagon, etc).  And yet?  No respect.

There’s a pretty simple answer for it–they aren’t native English speakers.  In fact, did you know, there are NO non-native English speaking groups in the Rock Hall.  Could you imagine the Baseball HOF with no Marichal or Clemente (or this year’s Vlad Guerrero selection)?

If you know rock, know some history, you’d recognize the band as The Scorpions (which has produced three of the six greatest guitarists in rock–>the Schenker brothers and Uli Roth, the other three being Terry Kath who founded Chicago, Jimi Hendrix, and Eddie Van Halen).  That’s like ignoring Tom Glavine and John Smoltz and only thinking of Greg Maddux!

In any event, let’s look at the Keltner questions:

1 – Is/was The Scorpions ever considered as the best band in rock?  Did anybody ever suggest they were?  No.   (The suggestion is/was made, but only across central/eastern Europe.  In English-dominated languages, never…but should a HOF devoted to music be restricted to artists from Britain-Australia-Canada-the US??  No!)

2 – Were The Scorpions ever the best in rock within their genre?  Yes.  The Scorpions are held up as the ultimate of the ‘big hair’ style of power rockers of the early 1980s.  I suspect we could answer this with a ‘yes’ as well if we were to talk about power ballads.  Everybody recognizes Scorpions power ballads whether it is Still Loving You or Winds of Change.

3 – Was any member of The Scorpions ever recognized as the best ever with an instrument?   Yes.  Obviously this is subjective, but you could argue that Michael Schenker (who went on to found his own group as well as UFO) was/is the greatest rock guitarist ever–and then you have his brother Rudi who could claim the title in the late 1980s when Eddie Van Halen started futzing around with keyboards more than his guitar.  Oh, wait, I forgot Uli Roth…man, that’s a lot of guitar-excellence coming through a single band!

4 – Did The Scorpions affect the evolution of other bands?  Yes–because of an interview I saw a couple weeks ago on YouTube.  The introduction to ‘The Sails of Charon’ clicked for a couple guys named Hetfield and Mustaine (Metallica and then for Mustaine, Megadeth) and according to Hetfield shaped quite a bit of the material on Metallica’s first couple albums ‘Kill ’em All’ and ‘Ride the Lightning’.  It’s not a connection I would ever have thought about or known about.  Hetfield said that in concern, Metallica will always try to get guitar riffs from ‘The Sails of Charon’ in at some point.

5 – Are The Scorpions good enough that they can play regularly after passing their prime?  Absolutely.  They still do, even though their prime is now about 15-20 years gone.  There are definite changes–they rest Klaus Meine’s voice strategically during performances and the guitarists likewise limit their running around stage and they now have a replacement drummer, but if they just stand and deliver, they’re close to their peak…you just don’t get as many of the theatrics, etc. anymore.

6 – Are The Scorpions the best eligible artist in history not in the Rock Hall of Fame?  Embarrassingly so.

7 – Are most bands of comparable impact in the Hall of Fame?  Yup, all of them.

8 – Does anything suggest The Scorpions are significantly better or worse than things like record sales would indicate?  Yes.  Their impact across the non-English speaking part of the world–and not just Europe.  They remain popular in Japan as well.  You also have a song that defines an entire era of European history and culture with 1989’s ‘Winds of Change’.  Pretty much every German knows the song and its significance–most Americans know the song, but since we can’t identify all 50 of our own states, have no idea of the song’s historical importance related to German reunification and the end of the Cold War.

9 – Is The Scorpions the best artist of its genre not in the Hall?  Yes.

10 – How many #1 songs did the band have?   Gold records?  Did they ever win a Grammy?   How many nominations? None.  ‘Wind of Change’ reached #1 in every tallied market in the world…except for the US and Britain.  Gold records–only 2…because they had 8 platinum or multi-platinum albums.  They have no Grammys, but have all sorts of international honors from every non-North American continent….(no, not Antarctica)

11 – Did the band have award-winning level songs?  How long was the band at a dominating performance level?  Were they ever on the cover of Rolling Stone?  ‘Wind of Change’ not winning is silliness (like Jethro Tull winning for being a metal band…).  In terms of peak-level performance, that would be from 1980’s ‘Animal Magnetism’ through 1990’s ‘Crazy World’–nothing but platinum albums (including a live compilation album in that–‘World Wide Live’).   Within the US, no Rolling Stone cover–but it was on the German and Russian version of the magazine (I hadn’t really realized when I started this just how universal/deep the Rock Hall’s English language chauvinism would run….)

12 – If The Scorpions were a concert headliner, would it be a great concert?  Yes, even now.  Peak-Scorpions saw them co-headlining the Monsters of Rock with peak Van Halen.  That’s just epic.

13 – Did The Scorpions have an effect on rock history?  Did they change history in any way?  Within music, were they style-innovators?  Style, no.  Rock history, no.  But ‘Wind of Change’ is (with some hyperbole) credited with helping usher the fall of the Soviet Union and smoothing over German re-unification.  Germans certainly feel that way.

14 – Were The Scorpions upstanding citizens?  Are they known more for controversial/illegal behavior?  I couldn’t find anything.  They make music.  They have stable home lives with kids (and grandchildren now).  Of course, maybe the fact they aren’t doing lines of coke or chugging Jack Daniels gets held against them by the Rock HOF.  One way or the other, The Scorpions aren’t really ‘bad boys’.

So–I think it’s pretty clear you’re looking at a Hall of Fame band.  The thing is–I put ‘greatest’ in the header.  There’s an argument to be made there.  I’ll make it brief.

  • A single (Wind of Change) that represents a historical moment completely.
  • Three of the greatest guitarists ever.
  • A voice/style you recognize immediately.
  • A peak level of performance capable of headlining anywhere/gathering attention worldwide.
  • A career spanning nearly 50 years, so that not only do you have a solid recording peak of 10 years, you have a career spanning 2/3 of rock’s existence

When we think of bands in the ‘greatest’ argument, they rarely have peak and longevity on their side.  The Beatles and Led Zeppelin didn’t last a decade, Pink Floyd has a great peak, but not the longevity, The Who’s longevity was a 100% money grab (usually to get John Entwhistle out of bankruptcy).  Chicago’s first 7-8 albums are brilliant, but then Terry Kath died and Peter Cetera became the dominating force, turning the band to pop from 1978-85 before he left and the band went into the wilderness of playing oldies venues, so you’ve got several good albums and about 15 of dreck.

I think, ultimately, it reduces the debate to three bands–peak plus sustained quality over decades of time.  Listed alphabetically:  Metallica, Rolling Stones, Scorpions.  All three have taken creative risks, all three have maintained most of their membership over the years (barring retirement with the Stones/Scorpions now), and all three have styles/sounds you can immediately identify.   Metallica was part of speed metal’s creation, the Stones were the bad boys of the British Invasion, and The Scorpions are the kings of power ballads–and you can never miss a Schenker guitar riff or solo.

So are the Scorpions ‘greatest’?  There’s obviously no way to no–but it’s fun to have the argument, right?

PS.  I think you can play devil’s advocate and throw Iron Maiden in to a greatest-ever argument because it’s got a high peak and longevity to go with it.  Just sayin’.














A Philosophical Conundrum regarding a 20-year Issue in Volleyball

Before this begins–you have to understand a term: devil’s advocate.  Within the Catholic Church, it is known as ‘promotor fidei’, the Promoter of the Faith.  His job is to play the skeptic, to cast doubt on the canonization of an individual.  Did events/miracles ascribed to the person truly exist?  Are they as wonderful as everyone makes them out to be?

Also remember, I used to teach composition and rhetoric.  I was trained to look at multiple sides of an issue.  Want an argument for Hitler or Stalin being a force for good–I can make it for you.  Give me enough time, you’ll vote for him (I mean, after all, 49% of voters supported the Russian candidate in the US 2016 presidential election…)

So now you have a combination of me being willing to make arguments on either side and me thinking about the role of devil’s advocate…which invariably also made me consider the philosophies of Jesus and the New Testament.  You’ll see why that’s important in a bit.  Bear with me.

A large part of the ‘Me Too’ movement has been outing predators, predominantly men, who have accosted young women (and some boys, too).**  Most recently that’s included team doctors at Ohio State and Michigan State, some swim coaches, and the one I saw today–a diving coach at Ohio State as well.  Those are all recent developments.  The first story I heard was nearly twenty years ago–the case of volleyball guru Rick Butler.  Rather than go into details, I’ll just put a link here to the start of the Chicago Sun-Times’ investigative story.

As a volleyball coach, I know people who defend Butler and I know many who despise him.  I understand the arguments on both sides and I also realize nothing will ever  reconcile the views of the two groups.  Where do I stand?  That is irrelevant for this blog–I’m here to offer something outside the box if possible (that’s the blog title, right?).

So back to religion.  The Old Testament and New Testament are radically different entities.  Read them.  The God of the Old Testament is angry and throws smack down on cities, regions, individuals, sometimes for reasons that seem nothing more than capricious spite.  God of the New Testament?  Apparently, he’s changed his mind on things.  OT God wants payback and delivers it with hellacious fury; NT God turns the other cheek, counselling forgiveness.

I’ve seen people comment on the situation in various forums (hiding and reading forums…it’s always tempting to appear from the shadows and take part…)–and I know from their posts in non-volleyball subjects that they attend church regularly, that they claim to be Christian (meaning that they go along with the New Testament as the primary Holy Book rather than the Old Testament).

So back to Butler.  Butler is accused and has a substantial amount of evidence*** weighing against him, ranging from accuser statements to love letters he wrote to at least one victim.  For purposes of this blog, I declare him 100% guilty.  I’ll go further.  I’ll hypothetically say there are another 20 victims from 30+ years ago out there who are too scared or traumatized to ever come forward.

And now back to the New Testament.  It teaches forgiveness, right?  It doesn’t talk about vengeance or smiting wrong-doers.   Forgiveness is different than forgetting, by the way.  Never forget–but we’re talking about modern Christianity now, not the Old Testament.

Did you know ‘forgiveness’ is used more than 100 times in the New Testament.  It’s one of the most common nouns in the Good Book.

  • Luke 6:37 “Judge not and you shall not be judged.  Do not condemn and you will not be condemned yourself.”  To receive forgiveness from God,  a man must first be willing to forgive his fellow man, regardless of what the sin or trespass may be.

There’s a large part of theological theory that discusses this in relation to punishment.  Forgiveness is not absolving someone of their sin or crime–it is more like a commutation of the punishment.  If you go back to the Reformation, look at what Martin Luther talked about (never mind his downside and problems, such as his virulent anti-Semitism), he discusses forgiveness regularly–that forgiveness is the only way to heal, to be able to enjoy a blessed life.

So then, if you take Jesus’ healing of the palsied man as a metaphor (rather than fact), Jesus is ‘forgiving a sin’, thus restoring the other man to full life, giving him that ‘blessed life’.

Forgiveness is a divine act, releasing the forgiver AND the sinner from past actions.

And back to Butler.  In my role of devil’s advocate/promotor fidei, I’m not interested in those proclaiming his innocence.   Like I said–I’m presuming 100% guilt and more acts that are publicly unknown.  No, I’m interested in the “Christians” who believe him guilty and want him punished.  Shouldn’t there be forgiveness by Christians?  Time has passed–shouldn’t those involved forgive?  Again, not forget–forgive.

Has Butler changed from the man he was in the 1970s and 1980s?  I have no idea.  Should this even matter for another individual’s views?  It is not his faith/beliefs in question, but those of Christians.  The argument is from the religious standpoint.  Presuming guilt, if you are a Christian, shouldn’t you offer forgiveness to him?  Isn’t that your responsibility to your faith?

I’d love to hear what people think in terms of the theology.  It’s easy to be Christian sitting in a big, clean church or a gated community.  It’s easy when everything in your life is going well….but you read your Bible and you see Jesus among the lepers, working with the poor and downtrodden, even washing the feet of a prostitute.  He’s not there in a mega-church or a cathedral.  He’s in the trenches with those who suffer–and those who cause the suffering.

Can this be a civil conversation?  I’d like that, but I’m skeptical.  Civility withers on the vine of social media.  It becomes right vs. wrong, a fundamentalist, polarized world, and yet…the world is never so black and white.  We live in gray tones with every decision.  Thus, how does a person of faith reconcile the requirement of forgiveness with the alleged (or proven) acts of men such as Butler, Nasser, or Pryor?

Have you forgiven Butler?  As a Christian, there are two possibilities:

  1. Butler is innocent, thus there is no need for forgiveness.
  2. Butler is guilty in which case the Christian faith mandates forgiveness.

Other faiths?  They carry a similar message.  Buddhism does not mandate forgiveness, but extols forgiveness for the required integrity and strength of the act, that forgiveness prevents bitterness–it cleanses the spirit.  Islam permits revenge in an Old Testament sort of fashion, but also extols forgiveness–that he who forgives will be rewarded commensurately by Allah.  In Hinduism, forgiving someone who does not repent is seen as an act of the highest nobility.

So again–if he is guilty, have you forgiven him?


**The Me Too movement has also sought to eliminate more subtle forms of discrimination.  I note that here, though as a word of caution, be aware that some radicals within that group have publicly declared that they do not care if innocent men are hurt along the way if it advances the cause of ‘equality’ (whatever that’s supposed to mean)…I’d caution the advice of the Founding Fathers–it is better that a hundred guilty men go free than see a single innocent man wrongly punished.

***Much of this evidence is public record, mentioned in the Sun-Times article, or has been posted in certain coaching forums such as Facebook’s Volleyball Coaches and Trainers or the Women’s forum of Volleytalk.

A different consideration of bigotry/racism

I’m not going to say racism as you see exposed in places like Charlottesville is acceptable.  It’s not, no way, no how.  Jim Crow and segregation–disgusting, reprehensible, and against the ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence and the hopes of many when the Constitution was created.

And yet, bias based on skin color continues.  And will continue to do so, no matter what is tried to eliminate it–education, shaming, punishment/fear.  Why?

I was thinking about this Wednesday–I had someone call me ‘racist’ because I think a wall on the US border with Mexico is foolish and anti-American.  I was told that I didn’t care about the “basic nature” of us Americans…which is true–I care about humans, whether Mexican, Canadian, Illinoisan, or European; of course, the fact my mom’s family didn’t arrive in the U.S. until 1953 and I am technically a first-born American MAY have something to do with that attitude.   –as another aside, the person making the accusation is actually a certified “Christian” minister.  Really.

On the other side of the racism-ledger, you have some minority leaders trying to stir trouble by saying only whites can be racist.  Bwah??  Why not?  Racism is just the belief you’re better than someone, generally based on skin color–or religious affiliation, etc.  Why would someone yellow/black/green be exempt from those views?  –>they aren’t.  Clearly they missed the Japanese Empire at the very least and it isn’t like Zimbabwe’s had fair policies since it was granted independence either.  It’s a silly thought, meant to stir up a specific segment of the population–to maintain personal influence rather than anything to help civil political discourse.

Racism starts young, like the first day a baby can focus with its eyes.  It’s a practical thing, genetics actually.  A baby cannot care for itself.  Mom provides care, food, etc., and without communication skills, the easiest thing for that baby to recognize is the face and an easy-to-see characteristic (before the eyes are capable of real focus)…like skin color.  That gets reinforced by Mom’s family.  They have the same skin color (most times…I’m aware of blended families, etc…but I’m thinking the overall picture while acknowledging there are numerous families as exceptions).  Since Mom permits Grandma, Big Sis, Dad, Uncle Joe help with diapers, burping, or eventually spooning food, since they share that same skin color, that becomes a ‘sign’ of security to the baby.  They are psychologically conditioned for this.

When that child gets to be 1-2, the toddler uses skin color to discern potential danger.  Grow up black and someone white approaches–it becomes obvious, that person is a stranger and you should be careful.  Vice-versa on that, too.  Skin-color/’racism’ becomes a survival mechanism when the child’s parent is not present–so it is not inherently a bad thing.  It’s something that was once, or maybe still is, needed for survival.  (Think of the emphasis given to kids on ‘stranger danger’…but why wouldn’t that be programmed genetically anyways for species survival?)

The problem is–this biological programming, essential for millennia for babies’ survival into childhood/adolescence, is now perverted by society as the child grows and becomes capable of discerning others’ attitudes, capable of critical thinking–and this happens just as soon as the child knows there’s more to the world than skin color.  They see people interact (regardless of color), they see differences in tone and language; children are constant sponges of everything around them–they absorb everything.  That includes the negative, so that what should wither and die–doesn’t.  It becomes Charlottesville, it becomes the scenes of the Civil Rights movement, the murder of an Emmett Till, the spark for Black Lives Matter.  It leads to further intolerance, things like the murder of a Fred Mangione or the bombing of The Otherside Lounge because those people were homosexual.

Because it is biological, we’re not going to get rid of people evaluating based on skin color, so we need to minimize the potential damage it can cause to a child’s growing maturity.  Personally, I think the best way to do that is diversity in schools and cultural opportunities–especially with younger-aged kids.  This goes on, but it’s a work in progress.

And there is progress!!  It may not seem that way with the way the internet spreads news at the speed of electricity, sends images worldwide or with Russians and North Koreans spreading fake hate news gobbled up by undiscerning readers.  Using twenty years of data from the FBI and putting the oldest at 100, crimes based on race have fallen quite a bit:

  • -20 years:  100
  • -15 years:  84
  • -10 years:  76
  • -5 years:    61
  • Last year: 48

The one thing NOT in this category (at least that I can tell) are potential incidents involving the police one way or another.  But since I’m toodlin’ through FBI stuff, what happens if I just look at ALL hate crimes rather than the category of race/skin color?  Does that change those numbers much?

  • -20 years:  100
  • -15 years:  94
  • -10 years:  84
  • -5 years:    78
  • Last year: 53

So the numbers are close.  My conclusion is that we’ve made more progress in terms of tolerance based on skin color than other factors like sexuality or country of origin–the ethnic origin stats for 2001 through 2011 are a giant spike…I’d wager all attacks on Muslims and those of Mid East descent due to 9/11.

The one thing for sure–there’s progress towards the great goal of American as truly a melting pot of cultures and individuals.  As demographics continue to change–and an older, less tolerant generation vanishes into the history books–I think progress will come faster and faster and at that point, maybe bias on skin color will return to being nothing more than a biological protection for babies and infants.

I’ll finish with a random, related story.  Long ago, my oldest child was in kindergarten and the teacher spent a week talking about the basics of discrimination.  She mentioned Martin Luther King, Jr. and then mentioned Rosa Parks being denied a seat on the bus.  Talking about Parks, the kids (25 of them) were completely and utterly confused.  It frustrated the teacher for a couple minutes–and then one of the kids just blurted, “Mrs. B—, who cares she was black?  If she was old, they should have been nice and let her sit!”

Yup–those 6-yr olds didn’t care about skin color…only being nice to their fellow human beings.  If we teach children to be nice, we will reap the reward for ourselves and the world around us and we can keep ‘racism’ where it belongs–as a tool for infants/toddlers. to stay safe.

The Big Difference between Men’s and Women’s Volleyball

Here we go, the bi-monthly VB post.  I suspect this is going to make people defensive, try and justify keeping things secret for years for competition’s sake.  Feh.  That’s crap.   

Since the title notes a difference, you’re thinking I’m going to discuss the power or physicality of the two sports or maybe even how they are officiated.  Nah.  Those don’t affect the growth of the game or its level, not really.  (Not for this blog’s purposes, anyways)

I like to do research on a lot of things about volleyball.  For that research, I can get a ton of the information I need from my own teams statistics or videos.  For basic statistics like kills, attempts, or digs, I can find that information for almost every college in the country.  That’s good to a point.  I have no problem grinding numbers for myself…sometimes it leads me to ask more questions, think about things differently even if I find no profundity otherwise.

Sometimes though, what I’m looking in to requires more technical information, things that Sports Info Directors don’t put on school websites.  These are the things that most coaches use or have heard of–things like S/R Passing Average (even if it’s using a 0-3 scale rather than a more accurate 0-1-4-5 scale), First-Ball Sideout Percentage (FBSO%), etc.  Normal (i.e. casual) fans wouldn’t look at those or don’t understand them at all–sort of like casual baseball fans not understanding IsoPower or spin-rate.  Of course, some of the advanced information is potentially useful to an opponent, so I can understand why you wouldn’t want it out there publicly during your season.  It would be bad for it to get out that your OH-1 passes 1.65 on the left in serve-receive and 2.54 on the right.  That WILL get used against you.

–And this is now where we come to the issue…

When I need information, I have no problem contacting coaches requesting that info.  I’ll send emails, make phone calls–always from my office phone and email so that there’s no question that I’m at a college level.  I explain the information I need–and also that I am happy to receive their information from last year or several years ago rather than the current season’s if they feel they could suffer a competitive disadvantage by giving me the info.  

The last time I did this, I reached out to 50 women’s  and 8 men’s programs at the NCAA D1+2 level.  (There aren’t a ton of men’s programs out there and I was only interested in the D-1/2 level at that point…)  Guess what?

  • I received the requested data from 6 of the 50 women’s coaches.  (12%)
  • I received the requested data from 7 of the 8 men’s coaches. (87%)

That’s not a typo.  A couple of the women’s coaches didn’t want to part with ANY information because it would help opponents (I’m not sure how…I just wanted totals of things…ugh), but mainly the women’s coaches ignored me.  That’s been the case every time I’ve requested information from women’s coaches.

The men’s coach who didn’t send the data?  He sent an email back, said they didn’t have the information–he’d just taken over the program and apologized for not being able to help.  He then asked specifically for me to let him know if I needed anything down the road when doing research.  So 7 sent the info and the 8th contacted me with an apology.

Do you see the difference?  One group of coaches willing to share information–treating coaching knowledge as ‘open source material’.  I think the logic is that everyone will move jobs, take the info with them and spread it anyways, so why not do it all openly in the first place?  Men’s VB is a close-knit community it seems to me and this is the result.

With women’s coaches, it is always much more secretive.  That’s NOT a comment on women coaching–men coaching women’s volleyball are just as unwilling to provide help as female coaches, but I don’t get why your 2014 FBSO% in Rotation 4 is top secret information.  I think this sort of secrecy stunts the growth of the sport.  Not just at the college level.  This goes on at the high school level here–I’ve talked with a few HS coaches about mentoring/helping younger coaches and had one coach, one of the 10 winningest in state history, directly say, “Why would I help her?  That’s not my program.  Making them better makes my job more difficult.”  Yup, a 55-60yr old woman refusing to help a 24yr old woman struggling in her second year of coaching….

Bwah.  This is hypocrisy on a bunch of levels.  Which is it going to be–“grow the game together” or “Screw you, I’m keeping my uber-doober secret practice strategies to myself”?  It can’t be both.  If we each work to improve one another as coaches, the sport gets better.  The old saying IS true: “A rising tide lifts all boats.”  

This is part of the reason why I decided to start blogging again back at the end of May.  If the object is to make the game better, we need to discuss it openly, have a good back-and-forth with open minds.   I want to make others better–because in that, I’m going to push myself to be better.  I want to make others better because the true value of sports (teamwork, pushing yourself to find new limits, sportsmanship, friendship) can help make the world a better place.

To that end, so that we can actually grow the sport (because I believe in that wholeheartedly), hit the “FOLLOW” button the side, so you can see what I’m thinking (50% history, 50% volleyball), share it with others.  Open minds, get coaches, players, teachers, students to go, “Ahhhhh!” with new ideas.  They may be outlandishly crazy…and they may even work.

PS.  This is something that seems to be ‘unique’ to volleyball for some reason.  Very little is kept hidden statistically in other sports.  Advanced stats/metrics are readily available for college football and basketball, baseball (college or pro), hockey, soccer, the works.  Why is volleyball different?  –it’s not just the money…metrics are available for women’s basketball.  It’s almost as if D-1 coaches have no desire to grow the game, only to maintain their position in terms of prestige.  Would that attitude change if pro ball came to the US and succeeded?

Hey–speaking of unabashed self-promotion:

If you’re interested in more stuff on volleyball designed to make you think, maybe give you some insights into your own coaching,  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’s going to cost you five dollars.  Yup–five.

The Folly of Absolutism and Abortion

Simply mentioning the word ‘abortion’ is guaranteed to close minds, especially in the United States, not least because almost no one pays attention to what Roe v. Wade actually says…and more of that is a-comin’ soon with a Supreme Court nomination fight underway.

When I taught Composition, I started the semester asking students to write an opinion paper providing their opinion (duh) on the subject.  Were they ‘pro-life’ or ‘pro-choice’ (this was almost thirty years ago…so you can already see that some things never change….)?  But as a teacher of writing and critical thinking, you should know there’s something coming….  The catch?  For their final exam, they were given the same topic, but had to argue the opposing point of view.

I think that’s important–in any discussion, for there to be real progress, you have to understand the other side and where they are coming from and how they reached their points of view.  Unfortunately, the willingness to discuss is receding from American civil society–that’s the fault of fundamentalism and absolutism.

So, to show the folly of taking a complete black/white view of ANY issue, especially one like abortion, consider the following two situations.  You have an either/or choice.  There are no ‘Yeah, but…’ permitted, no exceptions–we are dealing with absolutes here.

As context, please understand that the fundamentalist position on abortion is that a fetus has equal value as a human and that life begins at conception.

Situation 1: Your wife is in her third trimester of pregnancy–or perhaps she has started labor (this doesn’t matter for the scenario).  The doctor tells you it is serious–she can save your wife or save the fetus.  Who do you choose?

Are you really choosing the fetus?  If all life has equal value, what did you just declare about your wife’s value?  …or should she have the final say–since it is her life on the line?

–the problem is, that if we accept that she should have the final say because her life is in jeopardy, we’ve established the logic that a woman has the right to determine events within her own body (which is a pro-choice argument).

Situation 2:  You are in a burning clinic.  A woman has left her baby while going to the bathroom and can’t get back to the room.  In the same room, there’s a container of 50 fertilized eggs/test-tube babies, all ready to grow.  The fire is spreading and you only have the time to grab the baby *OR* the test-tube container.  Which do you grab?

Again–does anyone leave the baby?  Do you even think more than 0.5 seconds about it?  No, not if you’re honest with yourself.  Heck–put it out to sea…save a drowning baby or retrieve a container–no one goes after a container, but we all know adults who would risk their own lives to save a drowning baby.

–the problem is, if we accept that life begins at conception and you save the baby rather than the fertilized eggs, you’ve effectively murdered 50/100/1000 human beings.

Thus, the reality is that banning abortion is not the right choice and arguing for such a ban, claiming to be ‘pro-life’ is an attempt to pull on heart-strings (who is NOT pro-life because life is good, so opposing life must make you evil….) and not something that should ever be done.  Emotional appeals are the resort of arguers who can’t sustain a position with facts.

To be clear-I’m not arguing for abortion on demand or interested in valid arguments pro/anti abortion.  I know the arguments on both sides, I do my research.  What I’m arguing against is absolutism, fundamentalism, the idea that there is no middle ground, that abortion must be a 100% evil or else a 100%-available procedure regardless of circumstance.

There IS middle ground, there is room for valid debate–but to return to that point in our culture, we must first fight the addictive hate of seeing everything as us vs. them or that anyone opposed to us is automatically evil. 

If we go back only to the 1980s (before the Gingrich-led radicalization/polarization of Congress), you can see how this works.  Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, et al. had differing views from their Democratic counterparts like Tip O’Neil or Daniel Moynihan and yet government functioned.  They realized the folly of absolute positions, that effective policy comes from discussion and compromise, that, in the words of Moynihan, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts”.”

Work to help find that middle ground again–the area John McCain searched for in working across the aisle before his death.  And if you’re one of those all-or-nothing fundamentalists (far left or right)?   Well, you’re an enemy of the Republic.

The Cost of Club

If the objective of a travel sport is to improve the skills of a young athlete, then there shouldn’t be excessive profit involved…unless the objective is actually capitalist and to make a living doing this stuff.   I have no problem with capitalism–I have a problem with dishonesty.  Claiming you are doing something for a noble purpose while bankrolling a ton of money, that’s not noble.

This came about because of a comment I read somewhere that paying $10,000/year for club is a good investment. My snarky response here in my blog is–sure…a ‘good investment’ for the director’s retirement plans!  But while I love snark and sarcasm, I think it’s more important to look at real numbers.  So here we go….

Let’s presume certain things:

  • The club does not own it’s own gym, but has access to four courts of space three times per week.
  • That space is available for 5 hours/night, meaning we can run three teams per court (overlapping so they can play one another for 6v6, full-game scrimmaging), and still have time for some individual position training (if that’s your fancy).  –I am intentionally not putting two teams/court/90-minute block.
  • Thus, we are presuming 12 teams (though with 4 courts and 5 hours, you can comfortably double that to 24 teams)
  • I believe in playing time, not maximizing money.  We’ll consider each team has 10 athletes (I’d prefer 9, but dividing things by 10 is easier for the math side of life)
  • We will pay coaches/directors $15/hour.  For tournaments, $100/day.  (This is roughly the equivalent of a $34,000/year salary–not great money, but certainly better than being a line-cook at McDonald’s)
  • Because 90% of young people do not wish to go to school more than three hours from home, we will not travel to tournaments beyond that radius.  So let’s do ten tournaments plus a qualifier.
  • The season will effectively go 30 weeks.

So…with all that, what do we get….

  1. We are using 60 court-hours of space per week at $75/hour per court for space rental.  We are paying $4,500/week which is $135,000 for the club season.
  2. We have it set at 12 teams, so 120 athletes.  That’s $1,125/athlete for court time.  (Of course “elite clubs” are putting 12-14 kids/team–that would knock the per/athlete cost down to 803.57-937.50/athlete.
  3. For coach pay, we have 30 weeks of 3 practices (90), but we then subtract out tourney days (10) and the two practice days missed heading/playing at a Qualifier.  That gives us 78 practices, 156 hours–$2,340 per coach.  The coach is at ten tourneys, so that’s $1,000 and then $300 for the three days of a Qualifier. If we provide a hotel at $150/night for the Qualifer ($450) and a $50 per-diem for tourney days (50×13=650), we are adding another $1,100 of expense per coach for a total of $4,740/coach.  12 coaches, 3 directors (admin, recruiting, technical) getting paid the same or covering expenses:  $71,100, or $592.50/athlete.  Total so far per athlete: $1,717.50.
  4. Gear for players?  I found a package online including 2 Spandex, t-shirts, 3 uniform tops (admittedly I can’t tell if it is ‘nice’ fabric), and shoes for $199.99.  $200 is round though, so this works for me.  That’s $24,000 in gear plus let’s budget for annual purchases like balls, nets, pads, or iPads for stats/video.  We’ll call that $10,000/year.  That’s $34,000 now for gear and accessories, $283.33/player.  Total per athlete now: $2,000.83.
  5. USAV registration fees, other office type expenses…let’s call that $100/athlete, a website–need one of those, right?  Let’s pay that guy good money–same as a coach.  All this is $12,000 + $4,740 or $16,740…$139.50/athlete.

Basically, I’m out of even cool things that are actually necessary for a kid to have and we are at $2,140.33.  It’s nowhere near $10,000.  It’s not close.  But, Jim, you didn’t include a family’s travel expenses and hotels….   At $300/night for food/hotel, choosing to go up the night before to the other tournaments (and clearly eating/living well), we’re adding, by family choice, another $4,200–and still not at that $10,000 mark.

The only way to get up that high is travel around the country to as many ‘national’ tournaments as possible.  But who does that serve?  A large majority of athletes who become college athletes play at schools within driving distance, yet clubs mandate playing at tournaments 8-10 hours of flight time away.  That’s not about helping athletes–that’s about image, prestige, marketing–>and convincing kids to come pay your prices. 

What about the truly great athletes?  Well, I’m going on the common-sense idea that Penn State, Arizona, Minnesota, Florida, those guys (or girl–Mary Wise!!!) are working to find out about those 6’4 setters out there and the 6’8 outsides.  They will find the great athletes regardless.  It’s not like Tennessee ignores the Crossroads Qualifier in Colorado or UCLA won’t be attending Mid-South or the MEQ.  They’ll see kids even if the kids aren’t jetting all over God’s creation.

An effective, player-focused, club can be, should be, run for under $2,000 in club fees and under $3,500 in total family expenses.  Heck, we run ours at under $750 and I’d ballpark parent expenses at maybe $1,500 on the upper end.  We’ve had players talk to D-1 schools (which is for some reason the holy grail of parent aspirations), we’ve had players go to pretty much every level–NCAA D1-2-3, NAIA D1-2, NCCAA, NJCAA.  Our travel teams are coached by  current or former college coaches* managing teams, so that $10,000 training?  We’re giving that at 7.5% the cost.  How?  Why?  Because we have coaches doing it for the kids and not making a living off of running a club.  They do it because they want to help kids without exploitation.


As a parent, consider that–ask what the goal of the club is?  Do they encourage activity in multiple things like drama or basketball?  Or do they insist you have to focus on a single sport to get that scholarship (which is an outright, bald-faced, Trump/Goebbels level lie)?  Is that club director living off the club’s income?  Do they own summer homes or drive nice new Infinitis?

Don’t get caught up in the logic that–“Program X charges more, therefore I’m getting a better value!”

My advice?  Go find a club for the two-grand, set the other $8,000 to the side.  Repeat this for all four years of high school.  Now you have $32,000 set aside.  That alone will pay for many public institutions.  Want to save further?  Go to a two-year college.  Pay $4,000/year for tuition, get an A.A. for $8,000 total, and STILL have $24,000 left over to pay for the last two years of a B.A. degree

Ideally, this got you thinking.  Where is your heart?  The greatest advice given to me as a youth coach was by my first athletic director, Matt Hensley: “Always ask yourself, ‘What’s in the best interests of the young person’ and the answer is the path you follow.”  $10,000/year for sports is not the answer, I guarantee it.


If you are interested in more of this sort of thing, hit the *FOLLOW* button…you’ll get updates every time I have some weird, radical idea, maybe volleyball, maybe history, or maybe the best two teams in sports (LLCC VB and the Chicago Cubs)…that maybe helps you think ‘outside the box,’ too!