MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. (July 3, 2017) – James Stuck is not your ordinary girls youth club volleyball coach on the bench at the USA Volleyball Girls Junior National Championships taking place in Minneapolis.
Stuck, who never played volleyball as youth and instead opted for soccer, joined the military out of high school. During a tour of duty in Iraq serving with the 101st Airborne Division, he lost his right leg in December 2005 when his Humvee struck a roadside bomb.
Stuck did not sit back and lament on his life – he kept going full steam. While recovering at the Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., his new career took foot in a different sport than he played in high school as he joined the U.S. Men’s National Sitting Volleyball Team and began training full time in 2007. Over the course of the last 10 years, Stuck has competed in the 2016 Paralympic Games, competed in consecutive ParaVolley World Championships in 2010 and 2014, helped the U.S. win two Parapan American Games silver medals, the 2009 Parapan American Championship in 2009 followed by silver a year later in the same event. He was also named USA Volleyball’s Male Sitting Athlete of the Year in 2012 and 2013.
As he continues his own playing career – both in sitting and standing volleyball minus his right leg, Stuck has developed a new outlet to fuel his own passion for volleyball all while introducing the sitting volleyball game to new audiences. He is currently serving as assistant coach of the Puyallup, Washington-based Lake Tapps 16 Orange team competing in the USA Volleyball Girls Junior National Championships (GJNC), days after the Lake Tapps 13 Orange finished competing in the event.
“It has been fantastic,” Stuck said of coaching young girls the standing version of the game while teaching elements of the sitting game. “Anytime I get a chance to expose people to new aspects that you don’t see in volleyball, the different angles, the way you have to move to play the sitting game is awesome. I love being able to teach the sitting game and work with the youth so they can grow up, then teach their friends different ways to play volleyball in fantastic different atmospheres.”
Stuck’s players have been able to learn a lot of the game through Stuck’s experience and inspiration.
“It is really cool,” Lake Tapps 16 Orange’s Emily Miller said. “He knows a lot. When he coaches us, he gives us good feedback. Even as an assistant coach, he is like another head coach for our team.”
Maddie Scott, who plays for Lake Tapps 16 Orange, said that Stuck brings so much to the table as far as a coach and inspirational leader.
“He is very inspirational. He knows the court very well, he is very technical,” Lake Tapps 16 Orange’s Maddie Scott said. “He is just a great all-around athlete. His leg just shows us that anything is possible to be anything we want.”
Miller said Stuck has incorporated the sitting game into the team’s standing game practices in preparation for the GJNC.
“We have done sitting serving and mini court sitting down, and that was fun to learn,” Miller said. “He has helped us serving by using the sitting game, as it teaches us to rotate our bodies when serving.”
Stuck said the coaching element has been a challenge coming from a player’s background.
“Going from playing to coaching is definitely a challenge because, when you play, you have everything in your hands,” Stuck said. “You have the ability and opportunities to make the changes directly to the game. Now whenever coaching, I have come to realize that I can only express and guide the girls in the best possible direction so they have the opportunity to make changes and see themselves grow as athletes, individuals and young, growing women. Give them all the opportunities to succeed to build them up.”
Although his week gets busy in training different age groups, Stuck enjoys both level of athletes as the coaching emphasis is on different elements. He could not pinpoint which group he would rather coach.
“It is hard to answer that question because they all have so many different things,” Stuck said. “With the younger groups, you teach more fundamentals such as passing and hitting. With the older kids, you can work with the type of the game, the tempo of the game. They both are a lot of fun, and they both take a lot of patience. It is so rewarding in the end to see them happy, to see them get frustrated, to make them better is the best we want to do.”
Stuck was not the only crossover from players competing at the Paralympic Games and now coaching teams at the GJNC. Earlier in the tournament, Heather Erickson – who was named the 2016 Paralympic Games sitting volleyball most valuable player after leading Team USA to gold – served as head coach of the OP2 11-1 EP in the 11 Patriot Division.