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.