Thanksgiving 2011

 

I love places:

like the earth barely covering

the stem of the tomato plant

on the balcony sunning

or other ones with names:

Jeremy’s Run near Luray

where one morning April

a brook trout beautiful

rose speckled from darkness

to the whirling light

off a Panther Martin.

There are some places,

the Appalachian trail,

or Route 1 north of Mendocino

that are too big for me

to comprehend.

I am better off with little

streams like the one

falling out of Turquoise lake

toward the Rio Grande

South of Taos leaning

into the mid day sun

or on Guadalupe plaza

where Gringos, Navajos, hippies

and touristas feather in

and out of store fronts,

small fish on coral.

Have you seen Pea Ridge

in Northwest Arkansas

covered with fog smoke

in March lifting from cannon

fired a century and a half ago?

I am so happy I saw it

before everything I own

had a camera embedded in its skin;

I cannot survive without naming

the grasses that part

fresh and gold green

beneath my feet

or calling to killdeer,

milkweed, spiderwort, obsidian.

The naming of things

is the first to go

followed by story and recollection,

and then the places themselves

fall away into a fen of ambivolence.

Meganser, ash fall, Northern Lights, crayfish.

We have been given a lifetime

to learn to love

the world we live with.

– Terry Pettit



When Do You Leave Coaching?

Assuming that you are not booted out the door, when is it time to leave the coaching profession? There is no right answer. It depends on what has motivated you throughout your career, whether or not you have developed a passion outside the coaching profession, whether or not you have the talent and experience to be successful in another business, whether you can afford to leave, and for some of us, whether or not we can give up an addiction.

Maybe another way to approach the issue to ask when should we consider leaving the coaching profession?

One of the things that complicates thinking about retiring or a changing professions, is that while coaching volleyball in general is not a lucrative profession, if you have coached long enough you probably have reached a point where it can provide a comfortable living when combined with income from camps, clinics and in a few cases endorsements and television revenue.

When I retired from coaching volleyball at Nebraska, I was 53 years old, at the peek of my professional career, with a supportive administration, and a freshmen class that was the one of the best, if not the best in college volleyball. I had a contract that stated I could not be paid less than the women’s basketball coach (who this year will have a base salary of over a half million dollars a year.) What was I thinking?

Several factors weighed into my decision to become a mentor to coaches and leave the coaching profession.

When I began coaching in the early 70’s it would take me less than a month to recover from the season. By 2000 I was barely recovering (physically and mentally) from the stress of the season when pre-season practice began in August. I was battling diverticulitis on an annual basis that became so acute it required surgery in 2002. One of my closest friends, Paul Hammel, also shared the observation when we were fishing last week, that I was a different person during the season. I didn’t ask him what he meant but I’m sure he wasn’t referring to being a more balanced human being.

In 1999, I had seen our oldest daughter Katherine play less than two or three collegiate matches in her first three years as a setter at Colorado State because of conflicts with my coaching responsibilities at Nebraska. In her junior year I left the Nebraska team as it changed planes in Denver on a return trip to Lincoln, and rented a car to drive to Fort Collins, only to discover as I was about to leave the rental car lot, that my driver’s license had expired the day before.  I rented a cab from the Denver airport to Moby gym in Fort Collins in time to get to see her play on a Sunday afternoon before returning on later flight on Sunday evening. Retiring from coaching would give me the opportunity to watch her play several times during her senior year.

In 1998 my long time assistant Cathy Noth left coaching following our appearance in the Final Four in Madison to pursue a family and other interests. It is not that I couldn’t imagine hiring other exceptional coaches, but Cathy had been a great fit for me. Her strengths complimented my weaknesses. I am what Gallup calls a maximizer; someone who is interested in pushing the core of a team to reach it’s potential.

One of Cathy’s strengths is her great sense of inclusiveness. She had the ability to tell me who had done a great job on the “B” side of the net during practice and then I could take that information and interact with and support a player that I might not recognize without Cathy’s insight.

Toward the end of my coaching career I felt that one of the things that separated the great division 1 programs from the good division 1 programs was the talent and accountability of the head assistant coaches. Cathy did not see Nebraska volleyball as Terry’s program but as our program. I did not look forward to the time and energy it takes to develop that level of trust with another assistant coach.

The mindset that dominated my coaching career was my competitiveness, or perhaps more precisely an intense focus of doing everything possible not to lose. I have seen glimpses of this same quality in many of my coaching peers such as Mick Haley, Mary Wise, John Cook, John Dunning, Don Shaw, Dave Shoji, and several other coaches that I haven’t had the opportunity to know personally.  It is not so much a celebration in the joy of winning, as wanting to avoid the anguish that comes from losing. I should note while this trait may have some value in a competitive environment it does not work so well in parenting, mental health or developing a healthy spousal relationship.

There is also what Jung refers to as a shadow side to the intense competiveness that defined my career. It is an equally intense urge to create rather than compete. I find as much pleasure in writing a successful short story or poem as I did in competing with Texas and Stanford. By 2000 I was growing tired of trying to beat people. I wanted to exercise different muscles, and different parts of my brain. I wanted to explore the shadow side of my personality and to do that I would have to leave coaching, not because I didn’t love coaching, but because coaching did not allow me the time and opportunity to explore the components of creativity that I had not been able to focus on.

It was scary. I would be making significantly less money.  I would be giving up something that I knew I could do at a high level. Perhaps most important I would be giving up my identity as the Head coach of Nebraska volleyball for something much less public, with fewer external rewards, and with a destination that I couldn’t even articulate. During my final season as the Head Coach of Nebraska Volleyball in 1999 when I went to bed each night, I grieved what I knew was going to give up. Everything had been set in motion. John Cook was hired to be my associate head coach for a year, and then take over at the end of the season.

In January I would  become a mentor coach for the nineteen sports at Nebraska and help John as he transitioned into the role of head coach. The transition would be smooth because John would have developed relationships with the players, and he would have had a season to reacquaint himself with the culture that surrounds Nebraska Volleyball.

I would conduct roundtables on coaching, work individually on coaching issues with individual coaches, and serve in whatever capacity Director of Athletics, Bill Byrne felt I might be of use. One of the things that I insisted upon was that no head coach or program would report to me. I did not think that it was possible to both mentor and evaluate a program and create any sense of trust. Bill granted me that freedom and I believe that it was critical to the successes that came out of the coaching enhancement program.

It is now twelve years since I have prepared for a season of Nebraska volleyball. I have missed preparing for big matches. I have missed the joy of seeing a player take a risk and work to develop a skill or movement that she didn’t have when she arrived. But I miss those things less and less with each year.

When I left coaching, friendships (even those in the volleyball world) transitioned with me. I am in better physical health and I have the time to day dream, read a book in one day if I want, stand in rivers with a fly rod, and on the best days write something worth reading. It is not a better life but a different life, complete with different challenges, rewards and disappointments.

I am reminded of the words of one of my own mentors, the poet William Stafford who wrote a poem titled, “On Quitting A Small College.” The poem ends with the words:

. . . I miss it now, but face
ahead and go in my own way
toward my own place.

 



Looking For Ghosts

Horseteeth Ringen. The phrase sounds like a Russian greeting in translation or perhaps a salute before tossing down a shot of whiskey at an Irish racetrack. It isn’t either. It is a boy’s name.

When I was a kid in Northwest Indiana my father stopped the car across from a vacant lot near the Shell Station on the North side of town. “That,” he said, “use to be Brown’s Field where we played pickup baseball when I was growing up. Horseteeth Ringen hit a home run here one day, touched first, second and third, and then as he touched home plate, collapsed and died of a heart attack.”

I was mortified. A little bit because the thought of a twelve year old kid having a heart attack was frightening, but mostly because this poor kid, who could be me, had the nickname, “Horseteeth.” Even with the backlash against political correctness this couldn’t happen today.

But nicknames were still around in the 50s and 60s. There was kid who played basketball at my college that was called “The Kosiosko County Jumping Jack.” My two favorite nicknames are both from baseball, one for one of the greatest first basemen of all time, “Stan the Man Musial,” and the other a pun on Musial’s nickname given to a relief pitcher named Don Stanhouse whose combination of Harpo Marx hair and primal screams led an ESPN wag to give him the nickname, “Stan the Man Unusual.”

Today most nicknames are the first letters of a teammate’s first and second names; K.D., C.J., T.K., or hybrids of the first name with a couple of letters tacked on, Kimmer, Jimmer, and Emster. I wonder if in the South “Bigun” is still popular? Horseteeth, Badfeet, Enormous Head, Slowtwitch and Smelly would be snipped off in the first encounter with organized sport, which for most kids is about three.

Some of you may be wondering if the story about Horseteeth is true. It is, but because it took place in the 1930s you are going to have to take my word for it. If it happened after 1994 you could look it up. Horseteeth would likely be on Facebook or Myspace and possibly have an account with Friendster, Linkedin, Twitter or Classmates.com. If Horseteeth’s last name was Swenson you could possibly find him on Lunar Storm, a networking site in Sweden, and if he had a true disability, not just bad teeth, you might find him on disaboom, a network for people with MS, cerebral palsy and other health issues.

But of course Horsetooth died before any of this existed. Horsetooth died before television and Pez dispensers. If he collapsed after hitting a home run in 1994 you could google his name, search for him on pipl.com, and chances are you would find an archived news story about an unfortunate kid who collapsed in a field in Crown Point, Indiana with an undetected heart defect, while playing an unauthorized game of baseball next to a Pennsylvania Railroad roadbed where the tracks had been ripped up thirty years ago.

* * *

She would be fifty-six years old now; five foot ten inches tall, although if she were still wearing the Afro she had when I first met her, her personality, her presence and her hair would make her seem much taller. Her most distinguishing characteristic besides her skin color would be the fact that she is left-handed.

Carolyn Hawkins was from Henderson, North Carolina nineteen miles and 45 minutes North of Louisburg College one of the oldest two-year colleges in the United States. Louisburg College was chartered in 1787, held its first classes in 1805, and became Louisburg Female Academy in 1815. In the early part of the twentieth century it became affiliated with the Methodist Church and reorganized as a junior college.

Carolyn and I both arrived on the Louisburg campus in the Fall of 1974, she as one of the first female athletes to be recruited on an athletic scholarship, while I was hired to teach English and coach men’s golf and tennis. Neither of us was prepared to be a part of the first women’s volleyball team that Louisburg College fielded and both of us assumed our roles, mine as coach and Carolyn’s as player, by happenstance.

Carolyn was recruited to play on Louisburg’s first women’s basketball team by the head coach, Sam White, a confirmed bachelor who had spent most of his life coaching baseball at multiple levels in small towns throughout the South. I became the volleyball coach one week before practice began when the President of the college overheard a conversation at a dinner party that I had played for a men’s team in Chicago.

Both of us assumed our roles because we were asked. Carolyn was encouraged to tryout for the volleyball team by her high school basketball teammate, Debbie Tyson, who was also recruited to play basketball at Louisburg, and who would later go on to become the head volleyball coach at the University of Virginia. I said yes to the President when asked, although I thought he was talking about a men’s volleyball team. I was no more aware of the fact that Title IX legislation had been passed the year before providing opportunity for women in sports than I was that woods and ponds North of the College were home to copperheads, water moccasins, abandoned tobacco barns, and large mouth bass bigger than possums.

Carolyn had two nicknames: Hawk and Turkey. The first was an abbreviation of her last name but also conveyed the change in alertness that came over her in competition. The second was a high school nickname that I assumed referred to her ability to become the center of good-natured kidding about her tendency to be oblivious to whatever was happening whenever she was not in competition.

On a team of fifteen players, none of whom had ever played organized volleyball, her number was eighteen, which was only possible because we made our own uniforms from shirts and cloth bought in Raleigh. The numbers were sewn on by a lady who was friend of Dr. Ruth Cook, who served as Louisburg College’s first senior women’s administrator, and who watched women’s basketball and volleyball competition from a lawn chair perched on a stage in the gymnasium.

Because we ran a 4-2 with the setter positioned at the net in the middle of the court, Carolyn was both a left side and right side attacker, although using those terms would indicate more tactical preparedness than was actually the case. She was the first player in the history Louisburg volleyball to spike the ball, and by the end of her sophomore season was probably the second best attacker in a state that has as many Division I schools as any in the country.

Her development as an attacker allowed her to earn a full volleyball scholarship to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when she graduated from Louisburg with her junior college degree. She may have been the first black female athlete to play volleyball for North Carolina, which was located 55 miles and an hour and a half from Louisburg depending upon which two lane roads you took, and how many men with hats on were driving below the 50 mph speed limit.

She was not the first black athlete. Phil Ford was running the famed four corners offense for Dean Smith and Tarheel basketball. Local rival North Carolina State had recently won its first national championship with David Thompsen whose vertical jump challenged the laws of physics. Duke had not yet become Duke. The ACC was becoming the best men’s basketball conference in the country. Women’s volleyball, like women’s sport in general, was like a small amusement park ride on the edge of the state fair.

If Chapel Hill seemed like a charming, progressive college town that might appear on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post to most people, it must have been a culture shock to someone raised in Henderson, North Carolina via Louisburg College. Small towns in the Piedmont were in parallel universe waffling between 1775 and 1955.

Farmers still played marbles at near dusk in Rocky Mount. The owner of a small breakfast café that was my first restaurant meal in Louisburg talked about darkies while he was cooking sausage on the grill. Public sanitation did not include the black neighborhood on the other side of the river. White folks vacationed and golfed at Nags Head or drove South to Myrtle Beach. Black folks fished with worms in the Tar River.

1975 marked the second year for integration at the High School. Four drugstores were located at the same intersection on the square in a town of two thousand people. The movie theater had been closed for several years. Entertainment outside of high school sports was still segregated. People rooted for State or Carolina for different reasons. White people because they were alums, black people because of David Thompson, Charlie Scott and Phil Ford.

The campus that Carolyn Hawkins moved to was bivouacked in the twentieth century. Chapel Hill was actively recruiting black athletes to compete with North Carolina State; The Carolina Coffee shop on Franklin Street welcomed blacks as did the men’s store across the street which provided the men’s basketball staff and players with a as deep a discount as you can get on the dress suits players wore when they traveled. (On most college campuses in the 70s, discrimination was not primarily black and white, but football and men’s basketball on one plane and every other sport on another. To some degree this continues at many major institutions.)

1976 was Carolyn’s first year at North Carolina and my last year at Louisburg before moving to Nebraska. We competed against each other that Fall at Louisburg with Louisburg winning in straight sets, and Carolyn playing well for the Tar heels. After the match she was more “Turkey” then “Hawk” mingling with her former teammates, laughing while being both the center of attention and affection.

I could tell she missed the intimacy of Louisburg, but I was also reassured because her head coach at North Carolina, Beth Miller, was a very caring coach who would provide all the support Carolyn needed to succeed in an opportunity that none of us could have dreamed of two years before. Beth told me that while Carolyn faced the challenges that any student does from moving to a major university from a small liberal arts two year college, she was confident that Carolyn would ultimately succeed and graduate with a degree from one of the most prestigious schools in the country. And she did.

She played her senior year but then I lost track of her, partly because I was consumed with my own challenges at my new coaching position at Nebraska, partly because there was no internet, no cell phones, no texting, no twitter, no facebook. I would run into some of her former teammates who entered the coaching profession at clinics and conventions, and following hugs and embraces our first interaction almost always was, “Have you seen Carolyn? Do you know where she is?” And then we would retell stories about how we could get her to perform at a higher level in practice if we had someone come in and pretend to video tape her for the Raleigh evening news.

In the early 1980s one of my best friends, Terry Davis, a former basketball and volleyball coach at Louisburg High School told me he thought he saw her walking down the street in Greensboro, North Carolina but by the time he doubled back she was gone.

There were reports, with no attribution, that she had joined the military, and then for a year or two there was rumor that she had died, either in an accident or perhaps in military service. With the advent of the Internet, several of us have tried to find her. Her family is gone from Henderson. I phoned the administrative offices at Louisburg College and they do not have any records indicating that she ever attended the school. I was so dumfounded I couldn’t speak.

Beth Miller lost track of her as well. There are over forty Carolyn Hawkins listed in Linkedin living in North Carolina. There are hundreds on Facebook, none of the images have her countenance or smile. Of course she could be married with a different name. She could be living in Europe. Pipl.com does not list any death records that would correspond to her age, but she could be deceased.

I’ve explored the best people search engines: Google, 123 people, spock, and spokeo. There are pay sites that are probably more thorough but I have been hesitant to use those resources for a couple of reasons. After two years of searching for a former high school teammate, I finally found a phone number and address and there was a 99% chance that it was him. His relatives all matched. The age matched. Everything said it was him. But I hesitated. Why?

Something in me said that perhaps he didn’t want to be found. He hadn’t check in at his high school or college website. He hadn’t contacted any of our mutual friends. He or anyone from his family hadn’t been seen at class reunions in over thirty years. Two years before I called someone that I thought for sure was him based on a picture on facebook. Same bone structure. Same interests. Same age. The gentleman laughed, appreciated, and understood my passion to find my friend. But it wasn’t him. That is one reason. And the other reason . . . perhaps she is gone but as long as I don’t know for sure there is hope.

So why do I do this? Am I looking for someone from my past or am I looking for myself in my past. With a former player it’s different. Even when they are fifty-six it is like looking for a lost child. There is a sense that I should have made more of an effort. That I should have made sure that she was doing okay. I should have been there when she enlisted, got married or disappeared.

To some degree Carolyn Hawkins represents the first generation of young women who had the opportunity to compete. They played before there were accurate statistics or records. They played before there were media guides or youtube. For the most part, their pictures are not in trophy cases and they are either to busy to attend or not invited to reunions. They are becoming ghosts. But they still live in their coach’s mind. If I saw her today coming around the corner, if by chance I am lucky enough to find out that she is alive, healthy and doing well, this is what I would say:

Hawk, how are we doing?

Terry Pettit is the author of Talent and the Secret Life of Teams, available at www.terrypettit.com



How Can We Justify Intercollegiate Athletics?

I believe that the purpose of a university education is to teach students to learn how to learn, and to learn how to take responsibility for their own development. There are other things that take place of course, the memorization of scientific tables, learning how to write a readable essay, the reading of great and not so great literature, the socialization that comes with living in dormitories, fraternities and sororities and the introduction of the arts and music through required attendance at recitals and exhibitions. But all of this to me is secondary to the idea that idea that a college education is one place that we can go to learn different ways we can take accountability for our own development.

For the sake of the argument, let’s assume that you agree with me. If so, what is the purpose of intercollegiate athletics? How can we justify spending millions of dollars on a small percentage of the student population?

Some might argue that we can justify football and men’s basketball because they provide entertainment for the university and local communities, and in some cases generate revenue that allows other students to participate in the competitive arena.

If revenue is the primary justification for an athletic department, universities, we would be better off taking the football budget and investing it in Berkshire Hathaway, Apple or Google. If entertainment is the primary goal then we could take the money and have cirque de sol troupes visit the campus quarterly and provide free tickets to every student, faculty member, administrator and donor.

The best justification that I can find for the amount of money that we spend on intercollegiate athletics is to come back to my original premise:if a university education is where we go to learn how to learn, then an athletic department can be a laboratory for that endeavor. Intercollegiate athletics can be not only a cauldron where we learn about ourselves, but where we learn to take responsibility for our own development, where we learn the principals of leadership and teambuilding, and where we learn how to take action based on those principals.

My vision is that coaches have the potential to build a culture that promotes self-actualized leadership, one where student athletes progress from being directed and coached to becoming situational leaders who become passionate about their own development. The first step in the process is to give student athletes a framework for making better decisions.

Hear is a list of values that a coach or athletic department might consider when developing a compass for decision making:

Integrity
A strong work ethic
Teamwork
Tolerance and respect for our teammates, opponents, and people outside our community.
A willingness to be uncomfortable in our pursuit of excellence.
The last value interests me in particular. Given the nature of contemporary culture where many incoming student athletes have had even their smallest problems solved by their parents, we have to begin by changing the mindset that accompanies the people we are coaching. We have to educate both them (and their parents) that if we are doing our job we are going to create a supportive environment but one that continually challenges student athletes to take responsibility for themselves and their personal development.

Our first task is to teach our players how to make better decisions. Imagine that the values that I listed above were like the directions on a compass, and that we taught our athletes hold each decision that they made up to those values. (Imagine a wristband that each player wore that listed the core values; a compass for making decisions.)

At the end of a tough practice the head coach decides that he will push the team through a series of shuttle runs to develop fitness and mental toughness. The player has a decision to make. Do I glide through the exercise, working hard enough to stay ahead of a few other players so as to not draw attention to myself, or do I push myself as hard as I can? Which decision is consistent with the values and behaviors that my teammates and I have committed to?

Is there integrity in giving less than my best effort? No.

Do I have respect for my teammates if I do not work hard? No.

Am I honoring my commitment to be uncomfortable? No.

It is more likely that team members (and coaches) will hold themselves accountable to difficult tasks if they have already committed to specific behaviors before the challenge is before them.

Does this mean that everyone wearing a wristband will automatically become a great teammate? No. Does it mean that everyone will automatically give his best effort in every drill? No. But even when they do not choose the behavior that is consistent with our sense of purpose, they will be aware of it. Our first goal is awareness. Our next goal is not to be perfect but to be better. What we are trying to do is to move from directing a player into the appropriate behavior to coaching a player who has already committed to specific values and behaviors that give her the best chance to get better.

As coaches we tend to see our most difficult challenges in physical terms: blocking footwork, defensive pursuit, a strong left side attack in endgame, etc. . . . but every behavior that we hope to create on the court is preceded by a decision in the brain. Leadership is making decisions based on predetermined values. We have to train leadership as consistently and as passionately as we do transition footwork or any other sophisticated response that leads to success. Leadership cannot develop until we first teach our team members how to follow a commitment to healthy values and behaviors.

Terry Pettit is the author of Talent and the Secret Life of Teams which can be ordered at (www.terrypettit.com).



A Coach In Full – by Terry Pettit

There are two things that can happen as an exceptional coach moves into the last third of his career. He can get stuck by refusing to adapt or he can make some seemingly small but significant adjustments that allow him to become an even better coach.

Most of us get stuck. We don’t alter our vision of how to recruit, train or play. We push down harder on the unique talent that allowed us to become a good coach in the first place without addressing changes in technique, in the culture, in the size of athlete it takes to compete.

When this happens frustration can turn to anger and we began explaining our predicament in terms outside our control. Our lack of success or progress is framed by the conference we’re in, the lack of a BCS football team, the kids that aren’t coachable, the lack of minorities in our community, or the focus of the athletic department is on women’s basketball.

Whether or not a coach has the courage and will to adapt will determine if he spends his final seasons talking about kids he coached ten years ago while dumping camp money into a SEP IRA, or putting himself in position to be as uncomfortable as he was when he was a developing coach. If he chooses the later he may discover that a behavior or philosophy that once was beneficial may be at the heart of why he is stuck today.

* * * *

There are 329 NCAA Division I volleyball programs. If we assume (albeit incorrectly) that each team has equal resources, talent, leadership, strength of schedule and coaching, the odds of winning the national championship in any given year would be one 1 in 329.

The odds of the same team winning four consecutive national championships are 1 in 11,716,114,081. Just for the fun of it lets say that out loud: One in eleven billion, seven hundred and sixteen million, one hundred and fourteen thousand, and eighty-one.

Of course division 1 volleyball, is not played on a level playing field. In thirty years of NCAA women’s volleyball tournament competition only ten schools have won a national championship. In some years there are only a handful of teams that have a realistic chance to compete for the title.

As the 2010 season began most people outside the Big 10 conference believed that Penn State, with the graduation of All American setter Alisha Glass and National Player of the Year Megan Hodge, (both currently playing with the US National Team), plus a preseason injury to sophomore outside hitter Darcy Dorton, would probably not allow Penn State to contend with preseason favorites Stanford, Nebraska and Florida.

Big Ten coaches had a different point of view. They were focusing on Penn State’s returning All Americans, senior right side player Blair Brown and senior middle blocker Arielle Wilson, as well as superb floor defenders Alyssa D’Erico and Cathy Quilico. They also knew that Penn State would be defending its three consecutive titles with Russ Rose, the best head coach in women’s volleyball while hosting the a Regional Championship in Happy Valley. They made this observation while crossing forefingers in front of their chests.

While the Lions were training a former defensive specialist, 5’6” sophomore Kristin Carpenter to become the starting setter in a 5-1 system, Stanford, Nebraska and Florida, all decided to run a two setter offenses that can be as problematic as a turboprop; they both have too many moving parts. 6-2s struggle to maintain a rhythm, are vulnerable to back row attack and the setters in a 6-2 system can have about the same opportunity for leadership as the pusher in a two-man bobsled.

Stanford, Nebraska and Florida all lost in Regional Tournaments to teams (USC, Washington and Purdue) that ran simpler 5-1 systems. The winning teams also made fewer errors, and on that particular night outplayed their higher ranked opponents.

In the meantime Penn State was hosting a regional championship in Rec Hall on the Penn State campus that did not feature a team that was on anyone but the NCAA Division 1 Volleyball Committee’s short list for an appearance in Kansas City.

In the past two years the committee has gotten the right teams into the tournament but seems to have lacked the intuitive intelligence or leadership to place the strongest teams in different brackets. Penn State defeated a game but overmatched Duke squad 3 to 1 in the Regional Finals, the first the Blue Devils had ever competed in, and moved on to Kansas City.

As the Final Four approached, Cal appeared to be playing the best volleyball in the country. The Golden Bears defeated the Golden Gophers of Minnesota 3-0 in the semifinals of the Seattle Regional before dismantling Washington with a .364 hitting percentage in the finals on the Huskies home court.

USC, who had upset Stanford in the Dayton Regional, had enough young talent to compete with anyone, but had the unenviable task of trying to beat a great conference opponent for the third time in the same year. That dynamic helped the Trojans in Dayton but shifted to Cal’s favor in Kansas City.

Cal defeated USC in the second semifinal 3-0 as junior outside hitter Tarah Murray with 23 kills and senior setter Carli Lloyd both made strong cases for player of the year honors. Murray had 78 kills in three matches with USC this year against a team who beat the Bears twice and has one of the best tactical coaches in the country in Mick Haley.

The first semifinal with Penn State and Texas was the one that drew everyone’s attention. As one coach observed, “Texas had been a ‘friggin’ light show for the second half of the Big Twelve Season.” Head Coach Jerritt Elliot said it was the best chemistry of any team he had ever coached. All American Juliann Faucette’s bad girl routine of the previous two years had evolved into solid leadership. The Longhorns had overwhelmed Big Twelve Conference Champion Nebraska in their final conference meeting with a quick tempo offense that made the Huskers 6-2 look like they were playing Mintonette.

In the Regional Final the Longhorns overcame an inspired Purdue University team that had taken out top seed Florida in the semifinal and might have persevered in the Final if the Boilers senior setter and inspirational leader Jaclyn Hart had not succumbed to injury toward the end of the first game.

It was about halfway through the semifinal match between Texas and Penn State that 12,000 people suddenly realized, Oh “s&*t” they’re going to do it again, as the Penn State skated to a 25-13, 25-13, 25-22 victory with freshman left side hitter Deja McClendon making her Final Four debut with
eleven kills, no errors, and a .733 attack percentage.

Almost everyone outside of State College, Pa., was hoping for a Cal victory in the final and there was reason for hope. Cal had the best setter in the tournament, and prior to the finals the most effective left side player in the tournament in Tarah Murrey.

Cal’s head coach, Rich Feller, is one of those coaches who has adapted in his twelve year tenure at Cal where he has surrounded himself with talented assistants Chris Bigelow and Sam Crossen and developed one of the top programs in the Pac Ten. Taking a team that was not ranked higher than fifth in a Pac 10 preseason poll to the Finals helped earn Feller the AVCA National Coach of the Year Award.

But no one has adapted more in the later half of this decade than Penn State’s Russ Rose. In 2001, just three years after a National Championship the Lions, suffered a rare early exit from the NCAA tournament losing to Temple 3-1. Some recruiting mistakes, health issues, and perhaps coaching fatigue had the Lions on the verge of being stuck.

For years Penn State’s best teams had featured two aircraft carriers, a setter and three role players. No one likes to coach the over achiever more than Rose, hence a Penn State roster that looks like a mixture of international quarter milers with a club soccer team.

At some point Rose decided he liked competing for national championships more than he liked kids with headbands in the front row. Now, everyone at the net has national team size. Rose, more than any other women’s coach has adapted the simplicity of the men’s game to the Nittany Lions M.O. The outside sets are deceptively quick, and each attacker focuses on one primary attack. It is an offense built on efficiency and tempo and it works in part because of the ball handling skills of Penn State’s liberos and defensive specialists.

Coach Rose has always had the right kids in the right position. He has always trained defense, pursuit and covering as well as anyone in the game. His players have always been low error with a great understanding of how Penn State wins. He doesn’t get in his players way and he doesn’t put undue expectations on them with hype. He also doesn’t create a dependency where they are looking for an emotional handout after each point. He has done all these things throughout his career but for the past four years he is doing it with a different breed of cat and at a twenty first century pace.

Known for sarcasm that can approach cynicism, Russ Rose would be a great guy to have in the foxhole next to you unless you were about to die. He wouldn’t tell you what you want to hear. But the sarcasm is softer now and is overshadowed by the simplicity and consistency of his message. Oregon head coach Jim Moore when asked what Russ does best, said, “He has the ability to tell his truth to his players without them rolling their eyes.”

There is a saying among coaches that we need to have our athletes train like women, with great focus and attention to detail, but compete like men. When it counted the most Penn State played without fear and Cal played as if it was not sure if it could win, leading to a fourth consecutive national championship for the Penn State Nittany Lions, 25-20, 27-25, 25-20. McClendon, Brown, and Wilson combined for 46 kills, and McClendon won her first NCAA Finals MVP award.

There are hundreds of reasons that Penn State has achieved its remarkable record in the past four years. The Penn State campus is located less than a day’s drive from more than a third of this country’s population. Inconsistent support for volleyball on the East Coast has helped Penn State mine some of the extraordinary talent that has graced State College in recent years where the nearest volleyball program that has reached a National Championship match is over eight hundred miles away. Hosting a regional helps, upsets help, and the lack of a dominant team all played parts in Penn States 2010 National Championship. But make no mistake; Penn State’s Russ Rose, a coach in full who is decidedly not stuck, played the largest part.

Penn State Wins Its Fourth Consecutive National Championship



Volleyball Bids Duke Adieu

Volleyball Bids Duke Adieu– Terry Pettit

On September 18, Horace “Smitty Duke”, age 68, a setter-hitter for the 1968 United States Olympic team that upset the Russians in the Mexico Olympics, the setter the Mexicans called “el hombre de las manos de oro,” the man from Texas who was a four time All American baseball pitcher for the University of Dallas, who could play every position on a baseball field better than any of his teammates, the man who was selected to the All World Volleyball team at the World Cup in Czechoslovakia 1966, the man who was the only non-West Coast male on the U.S. 68 Olympic team, the man who died his hair red along with teammate Mary Jo Peppler when they played professional volleyball for the El Paso – Juarez Sol in 1975, the man who was a legend in Texas because he chose volleyball over a career in professional baseball, the man who made the single greatest attack I ever saw in volleyball, died from prostate cancer in his home in Unicoi, Tennessee.

The play: It was 1971 at a USVBA tournament at an event center St. Louis, Missouri. Smitty Duke was playing for the Dallas YMCA, his home club when he was not playing internationally. He was stationed at right front in a 6-2 offense, attacking from the right side in the front row while setting when he was in the back row.

A free ball came over the net and was passed to the back row setter. With the middle attacker up in the air for what the volleyball world called a Jap,(a quick set in the middle) the setter backset the ball to Duke. Smitty had several options. Because the block was split he could spike the ball cross-court for a kill. Because the ball was set to the pin he could have easily wiped the ball off the outside blocker with a simple wrist -away shot down the line. Even a tip would have scored easily.

Instead, he chose to wipe the ball off the inside hand of the blocker which would require the ball to travel a minimum of thirty feet for the shot to score. The shot was hit harder than any attack I had ever seen. After deflecting off the opponent’s inside hand the ball traveled laterally for three courts while still rising and hit the wall thirty feet above the floor. Play stopped on all five courts while everyone but Smitty Duke thought about what just happened.

Why did he do it? He did it for the same reason that he chose a relatively minor sport over a much more lucrative option. In a state where football and baseball received all of the coverage and notoriety, Smitty Duke was famous for choosing volleyball. He didn’t do it because it was what the situation called for. He didn’t do it to draw attention to himself. He did it (both the choice and the shot) because he could.

Terry Pettit – Author of Talent and the Secret Life of Teams, available at www.terrypettit.com

Smitty Duke 1942-2010



Yikes: A Social Network for Bad Coaching

Bingo Hermann – Assistant Coach – UKA
I want some advice. We went 3 and 23 this year and I think the head coach is going to get fired, which is really unfair, because in the video we got of our freshman setter from Slovakia you couldn’t tell she only had three fingers on her left hand, and what I want to know is when the head coach gets the footballarooski, what are my chances for the head job?

Wally Fodemski – Yorkville Window Replacement College:
Sometimes I deliberately turn in the wrong lineup just to see how my team handles it. Also, I like to order applesauce at Burger King. Same thing.

Guenther Stinkfowl – Tammy Faye Baker University
Give each of your players a few bucks depending upon how good they hit the ball. This is not so good idea. This is what my athletics director tells me. But what I don’t get is why it is good for basketball player?

Tammy Lou Turnipseed – Chatahoochie Community College
In the last four years we are 527 and 3 and I can’t get an xxxxxxx
interview at a xxx xxxx Baptist college. What’s up with that?

Boyd Webber III – Wyoming Institute of Technology
On recruiting: If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it is probably a duck . . . or a coot . . . or a grebe or maybe a dwarf dressed up as a blue winged teal . . . or maybe some sort of pigeon mutation or . . .

Shirley Cleavage – Mount Pleasant
Has anybody out there ever used Member’s Mark Volleyballs? My S.W.A. says they are OFFICIAL. They look like xxxxing soccer balls to me.

Goat Bukowski – Newark Chef’s Academy
We have an open date on Sept 5, 12, 21, 28 and October 3, 10, and 21. We will travel if you promise to return sometime soon, preferably this season. Also we need five teams for our six-team invitational on Thanksgiving weekend.

Tom Tripe – Volunteer Coach MISTAK U.
I came up with this wonderful anagram for team building. Tell me what you think of it:

T – Togetherness : We do everything together, well not exactly everything, but most things, except when we don’t.

• E – Eventually: Eventually everything will come together with our togetherness and we will start to win or at least not lose as much as we have been.

• A – A: A is our passing formation backwards in our fifth rotation because our libero who is at the top of the “A” which is near the baseline can’t pass.

• M – Mighty Marmots: This was our old nickname until one of the players looked it up on Wikipedia and discovered what a marmot is, which is not very attractive or athletic, and then we looked at ourselves and our record and decided a more accurate team name would be The Relatively Mighty Marmots, but that wouldn’t fit in the anagram.

Like:
• Tammy Lou Turnipseed
• Boyd Webber III
• Goat Bukowski

Farmville to Shirley Cleavage – Mount Pleasant
Wally Fodemski found a deflated Voit volleyball on your Turnip Farm. It was being used as a doorstop.

– Terry Pettit – author of Talent and the Secret Life of Teams. From October 5 through December 1, 2010, Coaches who order 5 or more copies of Talent and the Secret Life of Teams at www.terrypettit.com will receive a free telephone consultation with Coach Pettit on a coaching issue of their choosing.



On The Eve Of The Ryder Cup, 2010

We are sitting at the bar at Oskar Blues off the diagonal in Longmont, Colorado after watching our daughter’s team play a volleyball match in Boulder, where the linesmen were barefoot and the locals were more interested in the five-piece band than the score. Anne is sipping water with lemon while I am drinking a stout thicker than roast beef that tastes like licorice.

Next to us three men in their fifties are talking about the courses they’ve played. Nancy Grant, a former player of mine at Nebraska, once told me that only thing that was a bigger waste of time than the four hours men spend on a golf course is the time men spend talking about golf after the round, and in particular the shots they could have made but didn’t. Her husband, Mike, is an avid golfer. I completely understand what she meant and I am guilty on all counts.

On the television above the bar three Golf Channel jockeys are in animated conversation about the four-ball pairings in tomorrow’s Ryder Cup matches, which are not named after the truck rental company, but an English seed salesman who first proposed competition between English and American golfers in 1925. In recent years Europe has replaced England because through the middle third of the last century Great Britain began to be not so competitive in a lot of things, among them the Ryder Cup. I always have difficulty getting “up” for a continent.

It is hard for me to get patriotic about the Ryder Cup because 90% of the professional golfers on both teams live in Florida, do not pay state taxes, have beautiful wives (in some cases multiple lovers) who drive BMWs on their way to Whole Foods and Sax 5th Avenue. Having said that, I will watch because I am fascinated with how athletes handle pressure, although it would be much more entertaining if each competitor put up twenty percent of his own yearly income, winner take all.

Later this week I will play in one of the thousands of Ryder Cup spinoffs that take place around the country pitting local clubs against each other. I was the 24th and last man selected for the Mariana Butte Team (a mountain course in Loveland, Colorado) that will compete against 24 golfers from the Olde Course, which sits on flat land in the center of town.

Selected is perhaps too strong a word. For the second year in a row, I will be one of the oldest competitors on either team, making the Mariana Butte team this year by the skin of my teeth, by  finishing with a net 70 in the club championship when several younger golfers allowed their minds to drift to the Broncos, the Rockies, families or fixing the leaf blower. God, how I love to compete. At 64 the opportunities are getting fewer and fewer.

After we finish our meal we get in our car and begin the short journey back to home, Anne happy that we stopped and sat and talked, me with the lingering taste of molasses from the home brewed stout, and I am reminded of the sweet contentment of the children’s book written by Margaret Wise Brown which I read to both our daughters before they grew up into the world of volleyball, SATs, college degrees and marriage. I shall paraphrase here:

Good night moon.

Good night to the three men talking

Swing paths in the Oskar Blues Bar.

Good night to the spaces between the stars.

Good night Anne, Katherine and  Emma

And facebook acquaintances wherever you are.

Good night to garish sweaters and and large white belts.

Good night to my father who turned 89 this week,

Who made my first golf club on a wooden lathe,

May he continue to dream of hickory shafted drivers,

Of walking from the the green to the next tee,

Of mashies, niblicks, spoons and cleeks.



Is it a Coincidence That The 6-2 Offense Returns With Madmen’s Television Success?

For the past twenty years the 6-2 offense has had a special place in Division 1 women’s volleyball, not unlike the Studebaker that sits out in the pasture that an uncle dreams of rebuilding every couple of years. But this year, several top teams including Florida, Stanford and Nebraska are cruising through the season toward the NCAA Championship with an offense that has inherent strengths and significant challenges.

The biggest strengths:

• Siding out with three front row attackers stresses an opponent, particularly when the opposing team relies on a commit-blocking scheme.

• If one or both setters are weak blockers a 6-2 offense offers the opportunity to substitute stronger net players.

• Because not many teams run a 6-2 offense, it requires more preparation by opponents.

• In developmental volleyball it allows more players to develop in the setter position.

The biggest challenges:

• Transition with a back row setter in all six rotations can be difficult, particularly when opponent’s attack out of the back row to zone 1.

• Offensive rhythm takes a hit because it is highly unlikely that both setters set with the same tempo and set location, and always transitioning with a back row setter requires exceptional ball handling in every rotation.

• Unless at least one of the setters attacks from the front row, a coach will use most of his substitutions getting his setters in and out of the match, eliminating tactical substitutions at critical points in a set.

• It’s hard enough to find one very strong setter, finding two is incrementally more difficult.

• In sets that go beyond 25 points, the team either ends up running a 5-1 offense or playing a 6-2 offense with a front row player who is not a strong attacker / blocker. In either case the team is not playing to its strength a the most critical time of the set.

Why do teams do it?

• Florida’s strongest attacker is also an outstanding setter. Junior POY candidate Kelly Murphy is a unique talent who has the ability to take over the match as a right side attacker and also has the potential to be an international setter. By running a 6-2 Coach Wise is trying to leverage the strengths of her most talented player.

• Nebraska’s two left handed opposites, 6’5 senior Lindsay Licht and 6’5 freshman Morgan Broekhuis, are an example of John Cook trying to exploit not only his talented right side attackers, but take advantage of the fact that most teams do not defend right side attack as well as they do left side attack. When the back row setter digs the ball either lefty is ready to attack out of system sets from the libero.

• In the mid-90s Stanford’s Lisa Sharpley and Carrie Wendell were not only strong setters but may have been the Cardinal’s best two all-around players on a team that featured several All American’s. Coach Shaw’s team could morph seamlessly between a 6-2 and 5-1 offense that required an opponent to be unusually alert if they hoped to compete.

• The rise of bunch blocking has reduced the attack percentage in the middle third of the court, encouraging teams to set faster to the pins. Four outside hitters seems like a better strategy than three to some coaches, particularly if they haven’t developed middle attackers that can hit the slide.

Note: For a high school coach this might be a legitimate observation. For a college coach to not recruit and develop athletes who have the potential to hit the slide, which has been the most successful attack in women’s volleyball for over thirty years is like conducting a symphony without drums . . . . or violins.

When teams shouldn’t run a 6-2?

• A weak blocking setter. Saying that your talented setter is a weak blocker is like saying that Philadelphia Phillies pitcher and Cy Young candidate, Roy Halladay, doesn’t hit many home runs. When coaches start talking about what they look for in a setter some of them begin with size and left handed attack. Nonsense. There are two overriding priorities with the setter position. Does she know how to lead and does she know how to win? If she doesn’t, then no system is going to make up for those deficiencies.

• Since I don’t have a great setter I’ll run a 6-2 with two average setters. Since you don’t have a great middle blocker would you play three?

• Well I’ve got two setters and the senior is almost as good as the sophomore plus her Dad is the athletic director. No comment

Conclusion

• There is a place for the 6-2 system in high school, college and international volleyball. (In particular I like the idea of a hybrid system that combines a 6-2 in serve receive and a 5-1 in transition with back row attack.) But if you are considering a traditional 6-2 offense, you might reexamine your reasons for doing so before you push off from shore. The benefits are usually obvious, but thar be dragons just beyond the horizon.

- Terry Pettit, author of Talent and the Secret Life of Teams @ www.terrypettit.com



Why I am not buying an iPhone . . . Yet.

My first cell phone was a Motorola bag phone that had the heft and design features of a brick. It was 1995 and I made three calls for the year while receiving none. I didn’t memorize the number and I certainly didn’t give it out. The last thing I wanted was to have someone call me when I was recruiting or fly-fishing.

I thought about that last week as our family considered the options available today, particularly smart phones like the iPhone and the Droid. Anne and I had deliberately not upgraded our phones in three years so that when our daughter’s two-year contract was in synch with ours, we could consider other cell phone plans, in particular ATT, which has a monopoly on the iPhone.

I have had several people tell me, with a countenance not unlike lighting a cigarette following sex, that they believe the iPhone is mankind’s greatest invention. Now to be sure none of these people lived during a plague, polio outbreak, or had personal family members consumed by the Donner party, but even so, their enthusiasm seemed to make their lack of perspective almost endearing.

When I ask them why they believe an iPhone is a more significant achievement than a Porsche Speedster or a Mizuno seven iron, two inventions that I am particularly fond of, they respond the iPhone is important because of its versatility. The iPhone already has a hundred and forty thousand applications.

Beyond (yawn) GPS, calendar, camera and recording features are cleaver options I never would have thought of, at least after eighth grade. There is an iFart application. There is a dog whistle and an application you can click to hear your favorite Star Wars character say a signature phrase. Before you finish reading this someone will have created an application that sounds like Spock farting while dog whistling at the same time.

There are dating applications for cross dressers searching for transvestite crane operators. There are applications that can translate your dog’s barking into Portuguese. Want to make a hamster casserole? i-Rodent-for-lunch has you covered. Should you be bitten by a black mamba there is an application that tells you the five most important things to do. Number 5. is to bend over and put your head between your legs and kiss your sweet ass goodbye, but only after naming who will inherit your iPhone in the i-Am-about-to-die application.

So how much would it cost to be able get a phone that can reserve a table for four at the L’Esguard restaurant in Sant Andreu de Llavaneres, Spain, where what one iPhone blogger had what she called the “worst meal in memory.”

I could trade in my customized Sprint Samsung with duct tape holding in the battery (I call it my Samsung Urban Model) for an entry-level iPhone for $200 plus an extra $15 a month for a data plan that would allow me to become more self absorbed and introverted, especially in public spaces or across the breakfast table. For the three of us (i-Abacus please) the total would be $600 plus $45 a month for the life of the plan plus a one-time upgrade of twenty-five dollars, and the slight inconvenience of not being able to call anyone in a major American city between four in the morning and eleven o’clock at night because the call is likely to be dropped because so many iPhone users are using the I-Stand-by-me application which offers opinions on whether or not Goofy is a dog or who would win in a battle between a gorilla and a python.

Which raises an interesting question? Could a python digest a Motorola bag phone? Unfortunately I don’t know the answer because there is only one place that might offer an opinion, and unfortunately I decided on a more modest upgrade to an LG Remarq which only cost me fifty bucks, if you count the hundred dollar rebate which should show up before the next comet named after a female president lights up the evening sky.