From Karch Kiraly’s Volleyblog
Originally published in VolleyballUSA, Summer 2012 issue.
Back when I was still playing professionally on the beach, I compiled a list for DiG magazine of things I’d learned in more than three decades in the game. The idea was to share information that had inspired me in training sessions and been useful to me in the competitive arena. I happened to re-read the list recently, and it struck me that many of the tips might be beneficial for volleyball players at all levels, from soon-to-be Olympians to teenagers preparing for summer beach tournaments or indoor seasons in the coming school year.
Here are 10 of my favorites. I hope they help you as much as they helped me.
1. Take great pride in being prepared. Looking back, I can honestly say I did everything in my power to be at my best for the Olympics – and for most every match I played. On the indoor team, we trained or competed around 50 weeks a year, and we traveled up to 200 days a year, searching out the best competition. In a single day of training – between practice and jump training – we jumped almost twice the height of the Empire State Building. And in the years leading up to the beach gold medal that I won with Kent Steffes at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, we both had our own year-round training, strength, conditioning and flexibility programs, played over 25 tournaments per year, and sometimes trained through rain when there wasn’t another soul on the beach.
2. You and your teammates don’t all have to be best friends. There were times when members of our 1984 Olympic Games gold-medal team could be livid with each other, but we were always united in our effort to medal. Don’t dwell on petty differences or disagreements. Focus on the common goal.
3. Make your opponents beat you. Keep the ball in play. Too many errors will kill you, whether it’s at the Olympics or in a junior club match. A key for me in all three of our gold medals was “just good” – making good play after good play, forcing teams to play great to beat us. If they do, hats off to them. But there’s nothing worse than the feeling of knowing you could have won if it weren’t for the errors and free points you gave away.
4. Let sleeping dogs alone. Don’t provoke your opponents with smack talk. The Cuban Men’s team was a very strong and very dangerous team. However, they were notorious for yelling and screaming under the net, which only made us want to beat them that much more.
5. There’s nothing prettier than a beautiful passing platform guiding the ball to a perfect pass. One of the keys to our Olympic indoor success in the 1980s was our ability to consistently deliver perfect passes to the setter. In 1984, Aldis Berzins and I were the two primary passers, and in 1988 Bob Ctvrtlik and I handled the passing. Because we won the serve-receive battle, we would win the side-out battle, and that pressure caused most of our opponents to fold.
6. Serve in on match point. Eric Sato was one of our utility players in Seoul, and he won several matches for us by serving a good – but not overpowering – jump-spin serve, including the Olympic Games gold-medal point versus the Soviet Union.
7. “If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.” This is a quote from Marv Dunphy, the longtime coach of the Pepperdine men’s team and our Olympic indoor coach for the 1988 gold medal. When you think about it, this makes perfect sense. If you’re satisfied staying at the same level, you’re getting worse because players who are working hard to improve their games are getting better. So relative to those around you, you’re losing ground if you’re not getting better. No matter how good you are, don’t be satisfied. The better you get, the harder it is to improve, but greatness comes when you challenge yourself.
8. “Practice like it’s competition and compete like it’s another day on the practice court.” I’m not sure who said this, but I tried to live it throughout my volleyball career. If you take the court knowing you have competed full throttle at every practice, it gives you the confidence to perform when it counts most. That might be the Olympics. Or it might be your biggest high school match of the season.
9. Help your teammates play better – make ’em look like stars – and it doesn’t matter how well you play, you’ll all succeed. Remember, it’s not about me, it’s about us. Winning matches takes a team effort, and if you do everything in your power to lift the games of those around you, the payoff will be better than if you focus only on your individual accomplishments.
10.“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” Thomas Paine, 1776. In each of the three Olympics I played in, there were nail-biting moments that tested our resolve to the limit. But those are the memories I cherish most. Plus, if it were easy, everyone would have an Olympic Games gold medal, and the accomplishment would mean nothing. Facing difficult obstacles makes you stronger, and it doesn’t have to be in the Olympics. It may be playing your rival in a club match or working hard to crack the starting lineup. Whatever it is, you should tackle it head on. That way you’ll have no regrets, no matter the outcome.