I have come back to the place that my coaching of coach's journey really began, to a land where nighthawks cry at dusk. Indeed, the 17 year cicadas are now on their third generation since those times, and still vibrate out their amazingly loud ascending and descending song from the trees. For just two days I traveled along the Avenue of the Saints, first sharing ideas with the youth coaches in Cedar Rapids, before ending with a day with 80 great kids and their coaches in the gyms of Mediapolis, population 1,584 according to July 2008 demographics.
A Graffiti Barn in Iowa brightens up the green carpets of farmland as we drive along the back roads. Like painting large rocks or walls, there always is this creative side to put your name and ideas down on places you have been....Kilroy was here too I bet... This is where, thanks to the amazing McDole family of Graceland College, I was given the chance to do learn by doing, running more than a decade of preseasons in single summer. Each summer I would return to the humidity and heat, leaving the dry mountain air of Colorado, to base in a town of Lamoni, IA, population 2,450.
It is where Vietnam Vet Stormin' Michael Norman was the only coach on staff who could sleep through the 33 days of triple digit heat. Where even the cold water ran hot, and with no AC in the gyms or dorm rooms, we would have to train in some other ways when the wet bulb readings showed it to be too hot to safely exercise. Where Lang Ping, who I brought along to teach our training styles and our language joined our camp staff, still could not escape her fame. Once two Japanese tourists en route to Mt. Rushmore were riding an elevator in a Chadron State Nebraska dorm, and shrieked LoHay! (Jenny's name in Japanese) and in minutes, an entire bus load of fans were standing patiently outside her dorm room, for a chance to give her a gift, and then have their picture taken with the Iron Hammer. Coaches of impact like Byron Shewman, now in charge of the important Starlings USA volleyball program, Chris McLaughlin of the amazing volleyball program at Punahou in Hawaii, Miles Pabst Olympian in the 60s and Univ. of Oklahoma coach, the Heart of America leaders like Glen Davies, Jerry Sherman, Rod Schall, and Hank Van Arsdale, and so many other great mentors walked tartan surface of Graceland's gym.
Stew McDole basically brought camps to the Midwest, running in NE, MO, KS, and IA long before any college really found the need to do training. I had done my first camp in Carpentaria, CA in 1973, and still have my shirt with my idol Kirk Kilgore, a lefty from the USA team then, and wanted to teach/coach more, which Stew obliged. When recession hit, he mortgaged his home to keep the staff he hired working, and we did free "satellite camps" further out into the smallest of towns. We did three a days, and our 24 hours off was just that - we did a camp tourney and awards presentation 8 am to 2pm. The next day, we would start the next camp at 2pm and go to 9pm. See, 24 hours off, time to run to leave the Conestoga wagon gym and dash to the AC of a movie in Des Moines - Star Wars just came out. And do laundry. The history of volleyball skit began there after a coach's clinic - those coaching clinics ran concurrently. The highlight of the summer would be the adult camps, where Dr. Dig and others would stay up for 72 hours straight, not wanting to stop and seize up from soreness.
We ripped off van tops by mistakenly driving under too low of dorm entry ways, borrowed police light bars, pranked one another and tormented campers and staffers with mind games. We wore volleyball helmets in the Stripes movie skit, warmed up on the sorest morning (day three of ANY camp) to Barry Manilow's Jump Shout Boogie, danced to Craig Sherman's version of Rock Lobster or Drew Steele's Duck Pond (a warm up variation of Swan Lake...) and drove for hours in storms to the gyms of Chadron State, St. Louis Univ., Univ. of MO Rolla, and the Pittsburg State Gorillas. You see, a 48 hour break really was a day off, but included the time it took to take down one site, that ended that afternoon, pack up and then drive for hours across the farmland, and then set up another gym, that next morning, before getting time to do laundry again...It was wonderfully intense, and I did these all summer long for over a decade. I never counted but I bet I have done 300 camps....
Each night we would gather, sometimes just one other in a dorm room other nights in the lobby of Tess Morgan Hall it might be a dozen or more, and review how the three training sessions went and wonder how to make the next time even better. No different than what good programs do, just the intensity and open dialogue of it all, thanks to trust and creative passionate coaches, was always amazing.
Now, over 30 years later, I get to cram a lifetime of ideas into one day for coaches and then one for players. Still getting to problem solve as both schools are awash with summer construction - so the coaches get to follow a Hansel and Gretel like trail of volleyballs that lead them through a maze of building material filled hallways to the room we can use to show video and share new research and drill ideas.
In growing the game, the use of outdoor courts always seems to get the short end of the stick in the USA, so you can see one of those ideas here in this picture, how a single tennis court can become a youth or camp training spot for six courts (three on each side of the tennis net). Another place to use my yellow rope and a trucker knot.
A former player of mine from UNM, Lori Forrest Gray lost her homes on the river in last year's huge flood. I had done a CAP course the year before and spent time with Lori and her family at her home. It included a fun evening with the coaches watching the Final Four of Men's Volleyball, Penn State vs. Pepperdine. So my host Michelle Goodall, Iowa RVA staffer and a member of the Grassroots Commission, was kind enough to tour me through where the river rose so high beyond its banks. This picture of the Pink Flamingo restaurant, which has been open since 1948 and is rebuilding to open back up again over a year later, says it all. Thousands upon thousands of homes like Lori's this far under water. It was, like New Orleans, hard to fathom.
I even went down Snake Alley, in Burlington, built in 1894 with bricks made to help the horses hooves keep a grip - the crookedest street in the world according to Ripley's Believe It or Not. I also visited the Mississippi where RagBrai (www.ragbrai.com) - the ride across Iowa for almost 20,000 riders, ended the day before. It has been a rainy summer, so the corn stands tall and the landscape as far as the eye can see is a kaleidoscope of shades of green. Steve says the nice thing about Iowa is you can watch your dog run away all day long. I even got to have more walking tacos for camp lunch, as we squeezed in a short coaches meeting and birthday celebration before finishing the lunch break showing more video and training ideas to all the players and staff. I think I will make walking tacos a requirement for all camps and tourneys, they are an Iowa classic.
In the Mediapolis gym, Kensley was there first, more than an hour before camp was to start, earning the first award. Steve Reinschmidtt, one of my former USAV interns, had set up the two court gym where camp would center, with two great long spans of rope and yet, every player ignored these "nets" and pair peppered before camp started. By day's end, we had some 360 feet of net up on 6 regulation courts and the kids got tens of thousands more contacts over the net that day, pass-setting-hitting and laughing. The picture here shows this main gym with the kids playing over it, over 25 balls in play doing mostly one vs. one plus one.
So the last grow the game idea to share in today's blog is our energizing exponential chain of victors - where simply you chose a one on one competitive cool down and grow the cheering section of each winner until there are only two left to compete. This means half the camp/school/team is cheering for one teammate, and the other half is on the side of the second last person standing. You get there by having the losing side in each 1 v 1 contest, simply link up and cheer for the player who beat them. So 1v1 become 2v2, then 4v4 then 8v8, with the losers all cheering on their victor. We did Ro-Sham-Bo, as in paper scissor rock, one throw is all, and in two minutes the gym was deafening with the final showdown. You can do balance war too, or other reaction games and really get things loud and fun to end the session. Do it, I promise they will have fun, and leave with a smile...
Thanks to Steve, Michelle and the Iowa volleyball family there for a great trip back to the Avenue of the Saints....it was well worth taking a vacation day to spend those days in gyms....