Updated: Apr 6, 2020
While RPM had won multiple National Championships and I was incredibly proud to be a part of them, I still hadn't gotten my chance to be the coach in the box for one yet. I know that might sound selfish, but it wasn't that I wanted to be "the guy", I just wanted to test myself. I think that as athletes, we spend our whole lives trying to push the limits of what we can do. Whether that is in training for our sport, in the weight room, or even in competition. I believe that the best of the best aren't necessarily always the ones that are just more physically gifted than others, but rather those that have put in the extra work. The ones who have pushed the limits of what they can do over and over. They have probably failed more times than they have succeeded, but just those tiny successes that they do have keep them trying to see what else they can do. Take golf for instance. I can play an entire 18 holes and be chasing my ball left of the fairway, right of the fairway, and have to go searching for that ship shot that I hit that blew by the green. Then, all of a sudden on hole ten, I hit my tee shot within 3 feet of the hole, and there I am, wanting to feel that feeling again so i try again.
By the summer of 2018 I had done a lot with coaching. I had coached many more victories than defeats. I had worked with kids who had gone on to win the national championship, but other coaches had been in the box when they had done it. As a beach volleyball coach, unless you are hired privately for a tournament, you end up coaching multiple teams through the same event. When they play each other, you just kind of sit back and take notes and look for things they can improve on. When they aren't playing each other, you try your best to help them to manage the game the best they can. As the tournament goes on, teams get eliminated and you just hope that by the time you get to the end of the tournament you don't have to coach at all because the only teams left are your teams. In local tournaments this happens a LOT, but in national tournaments the odds of it happening are not as good.
The AAU Junior Olympics was one of the original big national championships. It also allows international teams to qualify. To even get to this tournament you had to earn a bid by finishing top 3 at a Junior Olympic Qualifier. When you get there, there are hundreds of teams from all over the world that have ALSO won a qualifier to get there. It, like the AVP National Championships, The BVCA National Championships and the USA Beach Tour National Championships, draws out the best of the best teams. Finishing in the top ten in the country is an honor in itself, but getting to be up on the podium accepting your medal for having won, well that's something 99% of players will never get to do in their lifetime.
As the tournament started the RPM Sand coaching staff was spread out through the event with multiple teams in multiple age groups. I made my way through the tournament with my teams as did other coaches. Sometimes when games overlap, another coach will take your team and then when you finish you will take their team. It's the easiest way to make sure that all of your teams have coaches for the event. I was bouncing back and forth and all around the beach. During down times I would get to talk to parents a bit, or little brothers and sisters. I would chat with athletes that may need a little pep talk, or celebrate with ones who had just had big victories.
As I walked down the beach that day, I saw one of my athletes standing with her parents. I walked up and they were all smiling when they greeted me. The young lady was just coming out of her 8th grade year and was headed to high school next year. She was excited to tell me that she had gotten her class schedule and that she would be in my class next year. I was really excited! This young lady was really neat. She was quiet but once you got to know her, she was talkative. I was really excited to have her in my class. I was also really excited to get to coach her that day. She had won the AVP First National Championship the year before with her partner under the guidance of coach Shawn Malkou (youtube sensation ImaFlyNmidget), and I was hoping we could take the Junior Olympic Title as well.
The day wore on and the team just seemed to gel better and better with each game. In timeouts and between games we would talk about strategies that seemed to fit that partnership well. Things that we wanted to do to put ourselves in the best position to win games, and I really tried to keep the focus on what we were doing on our side of the net rather than what the other team was doing. I felt like, with this particular pair, that it helped them to be confident with what they were doing. The quarterfinal match came and I was working with coach Kyle Boron. Kyle was new to RPM that year but not new to coaching. He and I had kind of traded off turns working with that team and now that we were in the quarterfinals, we were both available to work with them together. That match was a battle! Back and forth with lots of big swings from 13 and 14 year old girls. After some great adjustments by the girls, we had the lead. Some smart decision making on Sydnee's part and some aggressive play by Kelli and they finished it off. It was by far the closest match we had of the tournament so far. The girls were really excited to have beaten such a good team and to be moving on to the semifinals.
Right before the game, Kyle and I sat down with the girls and I explained to them what I had seen in the last match that had helped us to be so successful. In looking at the teams that we had left to play, I had noticed a few ways that we outmatched both of them that I wanted to take advantage of. One of the most difficult parts of coaching, as I know many coaches know, is not just seeing what needs to be done and coming up with a game-plan. There are a ton of strategists out there as coaches who probably come up with incredible game plans. One of the most difficult parts of coaching is to take that perfect game-plan that you have come up with and relay it to your team in a way that they will understand it. To be able to adapt that game-plan to the athletes that you have, and to have earned the trust of those athletes for them to know that even when things go wrong you not only have the ability to fix them, but that you are in it together to do so.
Somehow throughout the day, I had earned the trust of these two. They went out in the semifinal and played an absolutely masterful game. We ran away with it. They were in all the right spots on defense. They were working the offense just the way we had talked about. They were in sync. They were focused. They were having fun with each other out there. It was incredible to watch. When the game came to an end, we celebrated the win and then, again, talked about what had made us successful. I now had multiple games worth of examples to show them what they were doing right and how they could build off of it.
It was time. The finals at the AAU Junior Olympics. It had been such an awesome run and here we were. For the finals, only one coach can sit in the box. I ended up with the honor of doing it. I'm not going to lie, though, I didn't have to do much. After a really quick talk about what we wanted to do, Sydnee's game smarts just took over. If you ask anyone who has seen her play, her game is very advanced for her age. She has great volleyball skills, yes, but her mind just sees the game in ways that not many players her age, or even many juniors players much older than her can see it. She and Kelli ran away with the final. They did things just like we had talked about, they added a bit of their own flair to it, and when the last ball hit the sand, they were Junior Olympic Champions. Sydnee had won her second title in two summers, and I had gotten the honor to be their coach through it all. I learned a LOT about how to build a team through a tournament that day. It is something that I will carry with me as a coach forever and I am so lucky to have gotten the opportunity.
When we got back to school that year, Sydnee was in my class. As I like to do with my classes (I teach Spanish), I try to get my kids to use the language in real life ways. I will have people record clips talking to them about foods they eat, or diets they are on, or training they do. I translate what the people have said into Spanish and have them answer comprehension questions on it. Then I will let the kids listen to the athletes talk to them in English. Well, for Sydnee's class, I had Casey Patterson talk to them about diet. Being that Casey is a former Olympian and an AVP Champion many times over, it was really cool for the kids to get to hear from him. Well, in true Casey fashion, he recorded this clip specifically for Sydnee as a surprise.
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