September 1

Today is Sunday, September 1st.  We play our last match of this month long tournament that took place around the world.  We have been in Sapporo all week, but the internet service has been very bad at our hotel and I haven’t had much time to write any updates.  Tonight we play Japan at 7:10pm so we have some free time today to pack (I’m already packed) and relax before our match.  Other days we have played at 1:30pm and had to scout the other matches being played and then had meetings into the night to discuss our previous match and our upcoming opponents. 

Playing 5 days in a row against the top teams in the world after being on the road since July 29th is very tough.  Every other country in the tournament spent a week playing at home except Team USA.  No excuses, just an observation.

So we have now lost 4 matches in a row.  The first was a rough one to Brazil.  They are dominating everyone.  Then to Serbia who owed us a loss.  Then we lost to an undefeated China.  Yesterday’s loss hurt even worse when we were up 14-10 in the 5th set against Italy and lost 16-14.   So, here were are getting ready to play the home team, Japan, for our final chance at a win here in the finals.  Keep in mind we are in the top 6 of the 20 teams that played in the tournament, but it still is painful to see our team lose matches, when they have been playing so well.

This has been an interesting experience for me to see how the national teams train, travel, compete and live.  Once this season is over most of our players will go play professionally in a foreign country playing in various leagues in Turkey, Poland, Russian, Thailand, Brazil, Korea, Italy…everywhere except the USA.  Most of them live by themselves and try to learn the language and eat the local food, but you know it has to be lonely for them.  The respect I have gained for the coaching staff and their work ethic for scouting and game plans will be shared with many others when I have an opportunity to visit with others.  They work hard to make sure Team USA is the best prepared team in the world.  My thoughts will be with all of USA Volleyball as the organization builds toward qualifying all their men’s and women’s teams for Rio 2016 and winning gold medals in beach, indoor and sitting volleyball.  As a board member of that organization, I will strive to make sure our coaches and athletes have what they need to be the best in the world.

I am ready to go back to my simple life in Tallahassee to teach students, play golf, fish, visit family and friends, do a few clinics and be thankful for the a fortunate life I have been able to lead.  

Go USA!

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August 22

Yesterday (Wednesday) we had a 2 hour training session in the morning at the same facility as before (a local university). In the evening we went out to a restaurant for Italian food.  Most of us ordered pizza and it was quite good!  Karch then took a train to the airport to pick up his wife.  It will be great to have her with us the rest of the trip, especially since she brought everyone in the delegation a bag of four cookies…snicker doodle and chocolate chip!  Yummmm!

Today (Thursday morning) we scrimmaged against the national team from Japan for 4 sets at the practice site.  The teams were divided up between 2 courts so everyone was playing the entire 2 hours.  There were referees, line judges, floor wipers, and ball retrievers.  They had it very well organized and it was a great workout for both teams playing in very hot, humid conditions.  You may remember we beat Japan last week in the Grand Prix and will play them in the final World Grand Prix match next week.

I included a photo of Joe Trinsey, Technical Coordinator, with his laptops and video camera.  He is the statistical guru and develops the scouting reports from the coaches video reviews.

We came back to the hotel, had lunch and celebrated another player’s (Lauren Paolini) birthday with a cake and some singing.   Kim Hill (player) taught the team how to yodel in Serbia so now they yodel the song “happy birthday.”

Tonight will be a quiet dinner at the hotel and a coaches meeting at 8:00pm to begin to put together scouting reports for the 5 teams we play next week.  Tomorrow (Friday) the team will lift weights in the morning and after lunch we will go sightseeing.  We’ll take a train out to the Matsushima.  It should be a fun day for the team and staff. 

http://www.matsushima-kanko.com/en/

We are staying in Sendai until Monday morning when we fly to Sapporo.  The play-off matches begin on Wednesday.

The schedule for our final five matches are as follows:

Wednesday, August 28 – USA vs. Brazil (3:30pm local time)

Thursday, August 29 – USA vs. Serbia (1:30pm local time)

Friday, August 30 – USA vs. China (1:30pm local time)

Saturday, August 31 – USA vs. Italy (1:30pm local time)

Sunday, September 1 – USA vs. Japan (7:15pm local time)

Go USA!

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August 20

It is Tuesday evening here and since we won our last pool play match against Bulgaria on Sunday we have stayed in our hotel in Sendai and have had time to take a deep breath and relax without getting on another plane or playing another match for a few days.

Karch worked out our schedule for the week with the Japanese Volleyball Federation.  On Monday the team went to a facility to lift weights and 30 minutes of a cardio workout.  This post competition workout is important to speed up their physical recovery.  I went for a long walk and did some cardio while trying not to get in their way.

We came back to the hotel for lunch and the trainer arranged massages for the athletes.  They brought in two people that work with sport teams here in town.  The “massage parlor” was across the hall from my room in the trainer’s room.  I could see the candles and the low lights and wanted to crawl in there on one of the tables for just a few minutes, but I scouted China on video.  The coaches are working ahead this week to develop the game plans for each of the 5 matches we will have next week against playing China, Brazil, Italy, Japan and Serbia.  Obviously we have played three of them so that helps us out a little and it also shows how tough our road was to the finals.

Late Monday afternoon three of the staff took over the laundry duty for the athletes and took 5 large bags of clothes to a self-laundry via a taxi.  Once we arrived we saw there were only 3 washers and one of them was being used.  Three hours later we were back in the hotel with clean laundry for 20 people.  Can I say once more how much I miss my washer and dryer?

Monday night Karch emailed at 9:10pm to request a staff meeting at 9:30pm to talk about our progress on scouting and practice plans.  Luckily I was in bed reading on my iPad, and not yet sleeping  when I saw his message come up.  Yikes!

This morning after breakfast we had a “debrief” to talk about the last week of competition.  We have done this every week to get the players feedback on how the matches went and their feelings moving forward.  It is a very powerful session to witness.  This is a special team with great respect and feelings for one another.  They talked about how they fought through the set we were losing 19-22 and how they came back.  It took eye contact with teammates, trust, believing they were going to win the next point and taking responsibility for themselves.  It is a great lesson that sport can teach the business world.  Work hard during the process and stay with the game plan.  No one needs to do anything spectacular, just do your job well.

Today we were back in the gym at a local university for a training session.  We spent two hours in a beautifully clean facility working hard, but not too hard.  There was no AC so every time someone went to the floor we had to wipe up the perspiration on the floor.  Luckily, a large group of young girls practicing on another court would take turns surrounding our court to help wipe the floor and keep the balls out of the way.  They were fantastic and so thrilled to see Team USA training.  They are pretty good volleyball players themselves although not quite as tall as our women.

Tonight we had dinner in the hotel and it was story time.  Our head coach told stories about various times that he played and strange things that happened to him in matches.  For those of you that don’t know him, Karch Kiraly, was named the best player of the century and is in the Volleyball Hall of Fame.  He is going to have an amazing career as a coach as well.

Time for me to get some rest and get ready for tomorrow.  Another training session, more scouting and maybe a team dinner out for American Pizza!   In between all the activities we have here I’m trying to keep up with my emails and various projects I am responsible for completing back home.  Sleep is sounding pretty good right now.

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August 18

While you were sleeping…the USA Women defeated a very tough Bulgarian team in 5 sets.  The first set was the worst we had played the entire tournament.  We couldn’t do much right and the Bulgarians could do no wrong.  We barely pulled out a win in the 2nd set and then things started to settle down.  Coach Kiraly made a few substitutions and the players coming off the bench raised the level of play.  It was an incredible team win.  So we qualified as one of the top 6 teams (out of 20) to continue to play more matches.  After all we have been through these three weeks, we now get to play the absolute top teams in the world…although we played several of them already – Japan, Serbia, and Brazil.

We will remain in Japan and rest, train, do laundry, go sightseeing, watch movies, do yoga and whatever else we can do to pass the time while we have 10 days to prepare for the next competition.  We’ll stay in Sendai for another week and then travel to Sapporo for the final five matches.  We will return to the USA on September 2nd.

Enjoy the pictures from today!

Way to go, USA!

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August 17

USA Women beat a very good team from Japan today 3-1.  It is quite an accomplishment to beat Japan at home with a crowd of over 6,000 people cheering for them.  They have all kinds of news media here to cover them and the fans wait for them outside the gym to get to see them walk to the bus.  They are really treated like “rock stars” here.   The match was very exciting with our team playing very well and blocking a lot of balls straight down.  Our libero got the player of the match.  She was everywhere and deserved to win this award.

Now, we prepare for Bulgaria tomorrow (Sunday) at 3:30pm.  They are undefeated in the pool play this week so our match will probably determine who gets into the playoffs.  Six team will qualify out of the 20 teams in this tournament around the world.  Japan automatically advances since they will host that part of the tournament.  So we’re trying to be one of the top five teams…with a young, inexperienced squad.

I have been on the bench now as an assistant for the past two matches.  It is kind of fun being in the middle of all the action without having the stress of having to make all the major decisions.  Our head coach, Karch Kiraly, is really doing a tremendous job as is all of his staff.  I am so fortunate to be able to be with this group for this short time period (although it feels like we have been gone for months…LOL).

Wish us luck tomorrow and enjoy some photos from the day.  One is a photo of my lunch from a 7-11 we got when we stayed to scout the next match.  Haven’t had this good of a lunch in the USA at a convenience store!

Go USA!Image

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August 16

Thursday (15th) was a low key day with one practice session and the rest of the time spent in the hotel eating our three meals, watching opponent video’s and the coaches scouting the opposing teams past matches of the tournament so far.

We have three key matches this weekend.  We need to do well to advance into the final round of six teams.  We have had to play some of the toughest teams on their home court such as Brazil in Brazil (lost 1-3), Serbia in Serbia (won 3-2) and on Saturday Japan at home.

We feel good going into the weekend with everyone healthy, rested and ready to play after resting up from our LONG travel days on Monday and Tuesday.

The competition court looks great and should provide a good atmosphere for these four teams to play.  The tournament volunteers are fantastic and extremely organized.

After serving as the team leader for the first two weeks of competition I’ll be as assistant coach this week filling in for Tom Black who had to go back to LMU to start practice with his college team.  It should be an awesome experience helping guide the setters through the offense they are running.  Both of them are fantastic and I’ll try to help them out with anything I see with the opposing blockers.

UPDATE:

We beat Czech Republic today (Friday) 3-0 and play Japan tomorrow early afternoon so it is a short night for us.  Hope you enjoy the photos.

Go USA!

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Photo with Aya - hostess from Japan

Practice court

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August 13-14

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August 13

I missed Monday, August 12th this year.  We traveled that entire day and half of the next day from Belgrade, Serbia to Nagano, Japan.  The flight to Frankfurt, Germany was fine with a long layover there.  We tried to make use of our 6 hour layover by doing a variety of things.  Several of the players and staff found places to curl up to get some sleep.  I used that time to write my blog, catch up on some lingering emails and buy some lunch.  I settled on a Schnitzel sandwich along with a rare Diet Coke.  I thought I at least needed to eat some type of German food on my quick trip through that country. 

We boarded the Lufthansa flight about 40 minutes late, but what an efficient boarding process.  Passengers scan their own boarding pass and enter one of the two jet ways to the huge aircraft.  Fortunately, I was in an aisle seat next to a player that did not wake up the entire 11 hour flight except to have breakfast an hour before we landed in Nagano.   How does someone do that?  I watched a couple of movies, ate dinner, slept, and got up numerous times to stretch and use the restroom.  One dinner was served the flight attendants asked that all the window shades be lowered since we were traveling in the daylight.  It helped your body think it was evening, I guess.  I watched the flight tracker as we fly across Russia and a part of the world I have never flown before. 

We landed in Nagano on time at 8:40am Tuesday (my watch is never on the right day any more).  We had to reclaim our luggage and check in for a different airline for our final leg of this flight to Sendai, Japan.  The people at the airport were so friendly and helpful, talking louder to me in Japanese, when I didn’t understand that I could keep my water bottle going through security.  They simply took the bottle of water and slipped it into a machine, pressed a button, and handed the bottle back to me.  Why can’t we have this apparatus in the United States??!?!  Who knew this technology was available?

We boarded a regional jet to Sendai, Japan for a smooth hour and a half flight.  Fortunately, all of our luggage arrived, the host was waiting, and after the players signed a few autographs, we boarded a charter bus for a 45 minute drive to our hotel.  Our new team leader was here since I am moving to the role of an assistant coach for this week of competition.  He gave us our room keys and while the luggage was unloaded we had a quick lunch – miso soup, salmon, seafood spaghetti, and rice.  This is going to be another week of great local food.  After getting our luggage to our rooms we had a coaches meeting for 30 minutes to discuss the schedule for the week while the players did 45 minutes of yoga just to get some movement.

I went got to my room, took a shower, unpacked a little and then went for a walk with Bill Kauffman, in our delegation.  We are convening for dinner (including pictures of dinner here) at 6:30pm and most of us will go to bed after that.  I am writing this blog now so I can hit “upload”when I come back up to the room!  By the way, I figured out how to turn on the TV on the first try, as well as changing the channel and controlling the volume.  But if you need some help I’ve included a picture of the instructions in the room.

The rest of my time with the team will now be spent on scouting our opponents this week (Czech Republic, Japan and Bulgaria).  We’ll have one practice a day along with video review sessions and I’ll be at the gym watching the other teams play instead of arranging laundry and other logistics!  I’m looking forward to this new, but familiar role of coaching!

Go USA!

 

August 14

Today I woke up at 1:00am and fortunately went back to sleep and then woke up again at a normal time of 6:00am.  I figured out how to make hot tea in my room since it was too early for breakfast and spent some time watching video of Czech Republic before going to breakfast. 

There was a great buffet (as seems to be the norm on this trip) with breakfast breads, scrambled eggs, rice, soup, a seafood croquette, fruit and COFFEE!   I had about 5 cups of coffee to make sure I was wide awake. 

We left for a weight training session at a private gym on our way to practice.  The athletes were the only ones that worked out since we had to pay to participate.  I spent time visiting with the new doctor, Bill Briner, for this week of the trip.  He flew in from New York and will be with us all week volunteering his time. 

The practice session was held at the competition site, but in a very small gym.  The place was so small the players could not serve without committing a major foot fault or serving it too deep.  The players worked pretty hard and were ready for lunch after getting back on the court.

After lunch at the hotel we rested and I spent more time watching video before taking an hour long nap.  I couldn’t keep my eyes open and set the alarm so I wouldn’t miss the video session at 5:30pm.  Karch did a de-briefing about the competition in Serbia and how much they fought to win that final match.  The team shared their feelings of togetherness and willingness to compete hard for each other.  It was one of those sessions every coach  loves to experience with their team.

After watching introductory videos of the three upcoming opponents we walked down the street to dinner at a Shabu-Shabu restaurant.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shabu-shabu   The meal was delicious and fun to cook your own dinner at the table. 

We are back in the hotel and will turn in early to get a full night’s rest in a bed.  I am so looking forward to that!  Go USA!

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