It’s not every day that I receive a phone call from a 12 year USA Volleyball National Team Head Coach (3 Olympics!), Terry Liskevych. I was honored to hear that he reads my blog CoachRey.com and even more so at the opportunity to partner with The Art of Coaching Volleyball. The fact is, we both share the same passion. We both love volleyball and want our game to grow. We want to enable coaches to be their best, and in turn, we hope, indirectly through our efforts, USA Volleyball continues to improve.
As Coach Liskevych pointed out on the phone call, The Art of Coaching Volleyball often provides perspective from coaches with 30 plus years of experience. I’m a coach, still an assistant coach, which is fairly new, still in the trenches, and could provide a different perspective. He asked if I would provide this perspective through frequent posts on The Art of Coaching Volleyball. I certainly look forward to the opportunity and contributing my experiences to the good of the game. Hopefully, my experience will help you.
Twenty Years Ago
I played volleyball for Arizona State University. Scott Swanson (Head Coach at the University of South Carolina) was a teammate. After college, I spent 10 years in the business world, international marketing, and continued to play in USAV indoor tournaments and AVP Qualifiers for fun. When my competitive playing days were over, the passion for the sport never fizzled. So I decided to help out as a ‘floater coach’ at a small club in South Carolina called Low Country Volleyball Club. I then ‘graduated’ to coach my own team for three more seasons. During the club off season, I was an assistant coach at the local high school, Bluffton High School. As I traveled to tournaments and sincerely enjoyed spending my weekend sitting inside a convention center as another perfect sunny 80 degree day passed outside, I often thought to myself, “How cool would it be to actually get paid to do what I love?” (All my time coaching club and as the assistant coach at the high school was done on a volunteer basis).
Luck Came My Way
A fellow beach player (Chris Keen) was, at the time, the Assistant Coach at Georgia Southern University. He decided to leave Georgia Southern to pursue his AVP dream (he’s now Assistant Coach at Nova Southeastern University followed time as a Volunteer Assistant at the University of Florida). He asked me about my interest in the position and gave my name to the Head Coach, Nicole McCray. My original plan was to coach club for one more year to see a particular group of girls through their senior year, but I couldn’t handle working a computer job any longer. So I took the Assistant Coaching position at GSU (for $19,000 per year).
This stroke of good luck soon turned south after just one semester at GSU. The Head Coach moved-on and the new coach brought in his own crew. Fortunately, I was able to stay at GSU to coach the Men’s Club Team throughout the spring. I was also able to help out at Low Country Volleyball Club again and see those seniors through their final year of school. They went on to win the USAV Palmetto Region Championships and play in Miami at USAV Nationals.
The Endless Search
To help me find that next coaching job, I broke the piggy bank to gather what change I had left, and paid for a trip to the AVCA Convention in Sacramento. Not only would I be able to attend the Final Four, but I could network with the world of volleyball coaches. I was awestruck and felt completely out of my league when the first person I saw at the hotel was Doug Beal (1984 Men’s Olympic Gold Medal Coach and USA Volleyball CEO). Then, by fate, I happened to ride up the elevator with Mike Hebert (University of Minnesota Head Coach and AVCA Hall of Fame Inductee). I honestly didn’t really know much about Mike at the time and only recognized him because he was wearing a Minnesota Volleyball shirt. I said to him, “Is Scott Swanson here?” He looked at me like I was a lost soul (the Doctor of Psychology read me correctly).
At the convention, I ran into Scott. I hadn’t talked to or seen him in over 10 years. We caught up a little on life and he suggested I volunteer at the University of Minnesota. I pondered the idea for a few months as I applied to every job opening available. Scott even introduced me to a couple coaches, but good luck was not on my side this time. So I searched my couch cushions for more loose change, booked a flight to Minneapolis in the spring, met Mike (for real this time) and I started as a volunteer coach for the University of Minnesota in the summer.
The volunteer position at Minnesota was priceless. I learned so much working at an elite program from Mike, Scott, and Laura Bush. Even Lindsey Berg returned to her alma mater after the 2008 Olympics to rehab a minor knee surgery. On the flip-side, it was a financial drain (I “worked” full time as a volunteer at the U, with no other job). But I looked at the opportunity as an apprenticeship and am confident the experience paid great dividends as I advanced my coaching career.
It was June. Even with Hall of Fame Coach, Mike Hebert (who seems to know everyone in the volleyball world) making calls for me and helping with the job search, I was getting extremely discouraged. I again paid my own way to go to AVCA Convention in Nebraska that December, I interviewed with a few schools, I didn’t have enough experience for some openings, and I actually turned down a couple positions (I was beginning to think I made the wrong decisions). They just weren’t the right fit. I did not believe I was being picky, but I had learned quite a bit from past experience. I did not want to end up in another situation where I only coach for a semester at a school. This is my lifelong career; I believed it is worth waiting (risking) a couple months for the right position.
The Eagle has Landed
After a bit of patience and a lot of perspiration, the right position finally did come my way at Winthrop University. I was actually about to fly to Texas for a position on a Friday when I received a call on Thursday from then Winthrop Eagles Head Coach, Sally Polhamus (now assistant at the University of Florida). She asked me not to accept the position in Texas?!?! I was a bit dumbfounded, baffled, and confused on what to do. She could not guarantee me the assistant position at Winthrop, but Sally has a great reputation, our phone conversation just flowed, I was sold on her from references in the coaching world, and conferred with my mentors. There were a lot of great advantages for me at Winthrop that I could not overlook. Winthrop University is a great program, Sally is a great coach, the school is located near my folks and in the USAV Region I spent a good portion of my developmental coaching years. I took a big chance, but quickly learned on my interview it was a perfect fit. Four years later, the team won a Big South Regular Season Championship, I worked with two Big South Players of the Year, and a Big South Setter of the Year.
The Journey is the Reward
Reflecting on my past six years as a collegiate coach, I would have never pictured this jagged path to my journey, but it has been more rewarding than my original five year plan. I have coached and learned under four different head coaches with direct lineage from Mary Wise, Mike Hebert, Shelton Collier, and Russ Rose. I couldn’t be luckier and hope I can effectively apply all the knowledge I have gathered into my own style for my next big adventure.
To read more from Chuck Rey check out to CoachRey.com read about his experiences as he works to establish himself as a coach in the college game.