A few weeks ago I had the chance to go down to Anaheim to spend some time with the USA Men as they played some friendly matches against Iran, as kind of a tune-up for the World Championships. John, Matt, Andrea, and Mike were nice enough to let me have complete access to everything they were doing while I was there – I got to be a part of practices, film sessions, pre-game warm ups, serve and pass, post-game discussion, and in-match communication. As you can imagine, it’s a real treat to get to be around the program, and it’s a really solid group of guys.
I was left with the following impressions:
- It was a real surprise to see how many Iranian fans came to the matches. The first night at the Galen Center they were hanging from the rafters. Super loud, super enthusiastic, and so appreciative for the chance to cheer for their team. They were completely classy and did their country proud with how they handled themselves.
- The athletes in our national programs all have a really, really solid work ethic. Many are physically gifted in ways that most of us will never experience, but at the top, all of them know how to work. They grind it out in really tough environments with their professional teams, and then they come back and compete like crazy for one of the 12 or 14 roster spots on the national team. They deal with injuries, a really tough travel schedule, new teammates, new coaches, and all of the randomness of volleyball life simply by working hard and being tough. It’s impressive to see them go about it.
- Even at the highest level, coaches and players are still working to perfect fundamental skills. They simply don’t settle for “good enough”. They understand that the more efficient they can become, the greater their chances for success.
- When all is said and done, it still comes down to serve and pass. The teams can that do both skills well almost always win.
It’s interesting to note that we as coaches are basically trying to accomplish the same thing at any level: to get our athletes to commit to our team culture, to work hard, to compete, to get invested in the learning/improvement process, and to be mentally prepared and strong when it comes time to play. It was a wonderful privilege to be around a team that is doing all this at the highest level. And I sure was proud to get to wear USA on my back, even if it was just as a coach.