Thousands of quotes have entered and exited my tape recorder in more than 20 years of writing about volleyball. Truth be told, most of them have long since been forgotten. But some stick, and I’ve assembled 10 of those for you here.
None of what follows rises to the level of Lincoln’s “a house divided against itself cannot stand,” but they all qualify as sound advice for volleyball players and coaches who are formulating a philosophy for sustained success.
So let’s jump right in.
1. Sinjin Smith, 1996 Olympian, winner of 139 professional beach titles: “Don’t fire your opponents up. If they’re down, don’t tick them off. Let them stay down.”
No matter the sport, this is good advice. If the match is going well, why do something like shout through the net and give the players on the other side more motivation to turn the match around? Winning is tough enough. Don’t make it tougher by giving your opponent one more reason to want to beat you.
2. Adrian Crook, fitness trainer who worked with three-time gold medalist Karch Kiraly in preparation for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta: “People [often] equate power with muscle size, but oftentimes, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Muscularity is important, but upper-body power comes from the ability to generate maximum speed in the fullest, most mechanically correct range of motion, and this is achieved by acquiring flexibility.”
This echoes what I’ve heard from many trainers over the years, and it reinforces the idea that strength training is not allabout building the muscles that you see in the mirror. Chances are, you can reduce the number of curls you’re doing and increase some other area of resistance or flexibility work that will be more beneficial to your volleyball game.
On this subject, Kiraly, who is currently the head coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team, wrote recently in Volleyball USA about five exercises that build important “functional strength” for players, none of which involves weights. They are body-weight squats, side lunges, forward lunges, pushups and planks. Work these into your routine and you’ll find that everything you do on the court becomes a little easier.
3. Arnie Ball, men’s volleyball coach at IPFW, father of Olympic gold medalist Lloy Ball: “Too many people get in a position of authority and aren’t willing to get down on the floor and belly laugh with five- and six-year-olds.”
This one made me laugh when Arnie said it to me 20 years ago. I was in Fort Wayne to do a story on him, Lloy and the IPFW program, and this was his response when I asked him about his jovial interaction with young kids at a volleyball clinic put on by his men’s team. It resonates with me more now than ever because it speaks to the importance of treating everybody, no matter their age or standing in life, with respect. It also highlights the rewards that can come from going the extra mile to connect with people.
4. Aldis Berzins, starting outside hitter on the 1984 Olympic gold medal team, former USA assistant
coach: “A weak block makes for an easy tool shot. If you’re the blocker and you’re out of position, don’t reach toward the spiker. Instead, stop and get over the net. This creates three positives out of bad situation: 1. You’re pressing over the net, and even though you won’t be fronting the hitter, the hitter may hit into you. 2. Your defenders will have a clear view of the attack and that will give them a better chance to make the dig. 3. You won’t get tooled.”
I like this one because it speaks to a complaint I’ve often heard from defenders – both indoors and on the beach – about blockers who are all over the place at the net. Putting up a stable, well-formed block is almost always a better option than making radical moves one way or another to compensate for being out of position.
5. John Kessel, director of sport development for USA Volleyball: “If you’re going miss a serve, miss long rather than into the net. When you serve long, there’s still a chance the other team will play it.”
Self-explanatory. A ball served into the net will never earn you a point.
6. Doug Beal, USA Volleyball CEO, coach of the 1984 U.S. men’s Olympic gold medal team: “Good players rarely look like the game is stressful for them, and they never seem rushed because they adjust their position all the time based on what’s happening. They’re always compensating for the movement of their teammates and the movement on the other side of the court, whether it’s blocking or back court.”
Doug said this to me one time when I watched a match with him from the stands so I could pick his brain about what high-level coaches look for in good volleyball prospects. This statement highlights something that I’m sure most people understand but may not always think about – impressing coaches has as much to do with taking care of the little things as it does with hitting, passing, serving, blocking, digging and setting.
7. Karch Kiraly: “Over the years, I realized that if I’d done everything possible to prepare myself for matches and tournaments, it took a weight off my shoulders and allowed me to play without fear of losing. When you’ve done everything you can to train yourself for competition, you’ll sleep well when the tournament is over, win or lose.”
This is one of my all-time favorite Karch quotes. Yes, he is innately gifted, and the 40-inch vertical jump certainly helped him during his playing career. But what you realize when you get to know Karch is how much of his success comes from diligence and preparation.
I recently re-read a chapter in the book “Outliers” about 10,000 hours being the amount of time it takes to master something, whether it’s sports, music or anything you’re interested in learning beyond a surface level. The point is not that putting in long hours over years and years will make you an Olympic gold medalist or a concert pianist, but, as the book points out, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that tells us that if you put that much time and effort into something, you will be very, very good at it. And being very, very good at something is a good thing.
8. April Ross, Olympic beach silver medalist: “If you can be OK with the worst-case scenario, that frees you up to go into a situation and give it your all and be OK with the outcome no matter what. That's how I think about things.”
April’s quote ties in well with Karch’s quote about preparation. Losing a volleyball match or making a mistake on the court is not a big deal as long as you know that you have done everything you possibly can to prepare for success. This message is not to be confused with not putting in the work necessary to maximize your potential and then just shrugging off mistakes or losses. Big difference.
9. Foluke Akinradewo, starting middle on the U.S. women’s national team, 2012 Olympian, All American at Stanford: “On the surface, a duck looks nice and calm, but underneath the surface of the water it’s trying really hard to stay afloat. At Stanford, it may seem like everyone is a genius, but they have to work really hard to get there.”
Foluke said this to me when describing a story she’d been told during her freshman year at Stanford when she was feeling stress about the pressure that came with being surrounded by exceptionally smart students. The point: Success doesn’t come easy to anybody, even the gifted. Foluke said that realizing this helped reduce her anxiety about measuring up with her classmates at Stanford.
10. Terry Liskevych, Oregon State women’s coach, former USA women’s national team coach: “Do it now. Procrastination can be a great enemy.”
This quote is included in a section called “Life” in the 11-page “Liskevych Philosophy,” which he put together while coaching the USA team. This is one of those things that’s widely known but rarely followed, and I’ve always liked the way Terry emphasizes that putting something off until tomorrow can be your “enemy.” Think that’s too strong? Reflect on it next time you’re coming home from volleyball practice and have to research and write a 10-page paper that’s due first thing in the morning. Put that way, “enemy” sounds about right, doesn’t it?