There is only hard work, the science and randomness of our sport. At the start of my coaching, I was looking for “the answer” or the “drills” that would make me a winning coach. When I discovered the science of motor learning, I also learned that there is no magic, thanks to the knowledge of a coach that has been my mentor for nearly 40 years.
This same guy has impacted USA Volleyball at the highest level for decades, and yet many coaches, old and new, do not know of him. From the men’s 1984 Olympic gold medal success to the 2008 Olympic Gold, one man has been there at every Olympics and virtually every World Championship, Pan American Games and when it has mattered to the USA men’s program. He also coached our USA National team from 1973 to 1976, one of three Olympiads which the USA teams trained (far, far less than now) and did not qualify for the Olympics. He has coached Karch Kiraly and Hugh McCutcheon, and countless other National team members.
Hugh McCutcheon, two time Olympic medal winning head coach, approached me at a coaching clinic I was doing in Christchurch, New Zealand, as a tall and earnest 17 year old volleyball player, asking for help and guidance about coming to play college volleyball in the USA. Brigham Young University became his best fit, as it would allow him to play for and be mentored by this amazing coach, who after coaching their club team for decades, finally got BYU to move the program to varsity level. Their second year as a program, with Hugh playing, they were 2-25 while leading the nation in blocking. Three years later they ended second at 21-6, and have gone on to win three national titles, two of them while my mentor coach was at the helm and was National Coach of the Year. His son is now the head coach, and this year, BYU senior Taylor Sander made the jump from 3rd place at the NCAAs to starting on the USA team with Reid Priddy out for the season due to a knee injury, and helping the USA to a current 6-0 record in World League.
I started playing against BYU in 1975 – as this picture shows me spiking. It also allowed me to connect with this coach, who still will help anyone asking for such and having a growth mindset, open to the science of the sport – Maybe that is why one of the better volleyball books out there is The Science of Coaching Volleyball, and the current USAV Coaching Accreditation Program (CAP), uses his book Winning Volleyball, as our Level One textbook. When I wrote the first edition of the IMPACT manual in 1988, he was the core source of the pivotal Motor Learning Science chapter. When I sent this pic recently to him of me spiking over a very poorly formed BYU block, he started working on figuring out what he could have done better, 40 years later… that speaks volumes about Carl McGown’s commitment to being a lifetime learner.
I think the other wonderful thing is that Carl and his sweet wife Susan have passed the love of the game down to his son, Chris – something that I can relate to – who for the last five years has head coached BYU, being assisted by of course, his dad. Chris last year was the national coach of the year, and continues to grow the game as well. He was not able to join us in Italy but you can see from these quotes from the Herald how well he knows the game too.
“There are in every season opportunities to look back and wonder if only,” said BYU head coach Chris McGown. “We wonder if we hadn’t had some of our players be hurt, if we’d played better in the match against UC Santa Barbara or in the fifth set at Long Beach State. You can always look back, but we were doing the best we can in those moments. “You can torture yourself, but what we talk about at end of the season with the players is that if you worked as hard as you could, if you gave all you could every day, you will win the championship — unless you don't.”
McGown said that was how he saw this year for the Cougar men’s volleyball team. It was a success in the effort that the players gave. “Sometimes an opponent is better or luckier and the breaks just don’t go your way,” he said. “You have to be satisfied with what Carl (McGown) calls the dignity of your effort. Thinking back, I’m satisfied with that. They worked hard, they were committed to each other, and they gave their hearts. It was a fun team to watch. I don't feel left anything out there on that front.”
Carl is a fellow member of the American Volleyball Coaches Hall of Fame – but of course he led me in getting there. "I consider Dr. McGown the greatest mind if the game of volleyball today," wrote University of Washington head women's volleyball coach Jim McLaughlin in his AVCA Coaches Hall of Fame endorsement letter of McGown. "In fact, in my estimation, because of his practice methods, systems and match preparation, he is the best volleyball coach in the United States, and, probably, in the world today." I totally agree with Jim…
Most recently, the USA Volleyball’s highest coaching award, named after the late and great Jim Coleman, finally went to this coach of coaches. He spent this past season assistant coaching for his son, always mentoring coaches, and players alike that make a difference in our sport both in the USA and around the world. So thank you Carl McGown, for your lifetime of service to our sport, as your impact is at every level and your legacy will live on.
So now that we have confirmed there is no magic (with thanks and kudos to any Penn and Teller show you can find on YouTube) – I share this final link that shows what can be done with hard work and deliberate practice, in the form of magic. So how the heck does this guy do it?!!!
Thanks for your help in growing the game, together. If you have any McGownisms, or stories of how Carl has impacted your coaching, I would love for you to share them below….