Do you want your kids to play sports or to have a career in sports?
I do, but I definitely don't push them. I have taken on the same philosophy that my dad did with me. When they come to me or my wife and they ask 'hey can I go practice this or go play catch' I always say yes. But I am not going to be a parent that forces my son or daughter to play sports because I did. We always stress the importance of education first. My son can't play unless he has a certain grade level. Obviously with my daughter just in first grade we haven't had to implement rules like that yet. But I just really believe that they have to have their education first. It makes me happy to coach their teams. I always coach and volunteer, whether it be a head coach or assistant coach. I just can't sit in the stands and watch. So far that hasn't hurt our relationships with the kids. They seem to enjoy when we're coaching them. Yeah, I hope my daughter will play volleyball someday. I hope my son doesn't. But any other sport is fine.
Why don't you want your son to play volleyball?
No future. It's just too hard. I'm surprised my father let me play. I mean my career went awesome, obviously. I hate to be that guy. I know people are just so optimistic about volleyball and want it to work so well. I'm just a realist and I see the struggles that it has had and will continue to have. If my son comes to me and says 'Dad, I love volleyball, I want to play volleyball,' of course I'd never say no. But I can't say that that would be my choice for him.
In a recent article you said that volleyball is "too complicated for fans." Why do you believe that?
Passing, forearm passing, setting, spiking arm swings, blocking, these are all disciplines that the average American does not grow up learning. To me that is why it is so hard for volleyball to catch on. A guy who watches the NFL could relate, he can go out and pick up a football and somewhat throw it in a direction. He can put it on a tee and kick it somewhat. Volleyball, you can't go out in the yard if you're a local fan and try to learn how to set, try to learn how to bump, Or try to learn an arm swing.
There are like 15 substitutions, there is a guy with a different colored shirt on, you can't jump in front of this line and hit the ball there, you can touch the net here, but you can't touch the net there. Half the time, I don't even understand it. People say 'Why do you hit a yellow and blue ball, why do they hit a red, white and blue ball?' And I answer, I don't know. I'm not sure why it's not all the same. I'm not sure why some people play on Sport Courts, some people play on wood courts and some people play on Terraflex.>/p>
It is overwhelming if you really think about it, just how different and complicated and how much the game has changed. Some people still don't understand the rally point system. Why are you getting a point? Why games are so short now instead of those three and half hour marathons we used to play. I try to talk to a high school coach about a 4-2, a 6-0, a 5-1, a 6-2. She looks at me like I'm coming from Mars. It's just a complicated game for people who didn't grow up playing it. My friends who have watched me play for 20 years still have no idea what I do.
Do people understand the game overseas?
You have countries who have an immense knowledge of the game. Brazilians, Polish, the Italians... where volleyball is a part of their history and a part of their sports culture. Unlike ours. I just think the big four here that dominate the American TV - basketball, American football, baseball and I guess even hockey has to be considered into that. It's just what our people like. We like violent sports, we like high scoring sports, we like sports we can relate to and that's what the TV sells. Volleyball is not one of those.
In Italy and Russia and all these places they don't have American football, basketball isn't quite as big. They have these club systems where there are adult leagues where people play serious volleyball. People play and continue to learn and appreciate the game. It is always funny to me where in America they clap because the person next to them clapped. In Italy, they are only clapping when you do something correct because they know it.
I remember winning games 3-1 and walking down the square in Modena where I played and they're like 'you know if you would have set this ball in that rotation in game 3 we could have won 3-0.' And I'm going, what? I think it is just the knowledge, the culture, the heritage of it. Which is so frustrating and why it bothers I think a lot of people is that if you look at our Olympic history, indoor and beach, you'd be hard pressed to find a country who has more medals, more success. But yet it is a blip on the sports radar every four years. American people are not willing to spend money or spend time watching a league here domestically. It's unfortunate but I think it is a realism.
So if an eccentric billionaire decided to bankroll pro volleyball in the U.S., would it succeed?
Players are always interested. I think you'd get the foreign players to come over for a year or two. I think after a couple of years the millionaire or billionaire would realize that he's not going to get any profits back and would probably bail. Because these guys are putting these millions and billions of dollars over there in Europe, I mean it's disposable income. They're not looking for a return. Obviously these people who are going to invest in a league in the USA are looking for some kind of return down the road and without TV money, without TV buy in rights to a league it is hard to make enough capital to see a profit for these guys down the road.
Second of all, the fact that if you had these great players like a Giba, like a Mikhaylov from Russia or some of the Brazilian women, no one in America would know who they are. Sadly to say if a Sean Rooney, if a Reid Priddy, if even a Bob Ctvrtlik, if they walk anywhere outside of the volleyball little world, if Bob Ctvrtlik came to my hometown, no one would know who he was. I mean, it's sad. Same with Reid Priddy or Clay Stanley. We don't have that kind of name and sport recognition like other sports do in America or like volleyball has in other places in the world to make the league succeed. Like I said, it pains me to say it but I am just being honest.
Is it possible to change that?
We have done a poor job, the volleyball community, of being knowledgeable and teaching the history of volleyball. This is coaches all the way down from the greats, all the way down to the new guys or girls coaching club volleyball in your local area. That's how you build the culture of your sport. That's how you educate and get people to know.
The players, we've done a poor job too. I will throw myself into that boat. I've talked to people all day long in classes and schools and camps. I will talk about Partee and Bill Neville, Clay Stanley's father and how he dominated nationals. I'll talk about the Suwara brothers and people will look at me like I'm talking a different language.
We have an awesome history, we have three gold medals, we have one of the most dominant women's beach teams ever and yet we don't have an indoor league. We can't keep a beach league going for heaven's sake. And supposedly, we have the best beach players in the world. I guess I just personally ran out of optimism.