Interview with Tyler Hildebrand on Beachvolleyball and Coaching in US

 

 

Tyler Hildebrand is Director of Coaching for the USA Beach National teams. Read here, what is behind this interesting title, how he fills the new position in a country with a history of independently working but very succesful teams and how he views the development of beachvolleyball in the US.

 

Beachvolleyball was first played in California, the US has won 6 Olympic Gold Medals since 1996, Americans were dominating the sport in the 90s and US has always been one of the top nations…let’s talk about Beachvolleyball and coaching in US! Tyler, you are Director of Coaching for the USA Beach National teams. Can you describe us what your work is about?

I know it’s a bit of a confusing title, but working with our individual team coaches is a big part of my job I would say.  We are trying to put as much support around our teams as we can.  Historically, this was not much, then it got a lot better but was mainly fiscal.  We now have a full performance team and one of the things I try to do is coordinate these resources for our teams.  I also do a lot of on sand coaching, video learning, schedule management, etc… more than half of my job is what a traditional Head Coach would do.  But we have really made an effort to develop better relationships with our athletes and our coaches so that we can actually support them on their international and domestic journeys.  We still are making a lot of mistakes but we spend time together each week to try and learn from them and make adjustments to how we do things.

Traditionally, in the US and internationally, it was all about the 2 players on the court, most teams didn’t even have a coach. How was the development in terms of coaches and coaching over the past decades and years for the US National teams?

This is a great question. Coaching beach volleyball is really in its infancy still.  At the national team level and the NCAA level we have some great coaches and I think we are starting to see an expectation of what a beach coach should be. This is important because what hurts our teams and players – not just in the US but also around the world – is that we have a lot of ex-players now coaching athletes and teams. These ex-players know a lot about the game but they have no experience in the art of coaching (understanding of things like motor learning, training organization, communication within the team etc.) and are not necessarily great coaches.  So I think the fact that coaching is getting better around the world and here in the US is driving a higher expectation of what our athletes are getting from their coaches.  Our development here is to continue to move the needle on things like organization, learning loop style coaching, watching and analyzing video from training, utilizing data analysis when applicable, understanding feedback loops, etc..

How would you describe the role of USAV (the National Federation) in this? Has that role become more active? Are the teams choosing their coach or is USAV involved in this? Does USAV aim at an even more active role in the future?

Currently the teams choose their individual coaches.  I am the only federation coach, or coach that is hired directly by USAV.  And thus, this was a big step by USAV to hire a head coach and begin to try to add value to our coaching and also our athletes by having someone full time.  The future is uncertain, but we are always working to improve the system or coaching for our teams so we will see.

What does the Beachvolleyball coaches’ education look like in US? What are the requirements by USAV for a coach to work for a national team? Which opportunities exist for coaches to receive further education/formation?

There is a curriculum called BCAP (beach coaching accreditation program).  This has two levels and is a foundational curriculum that aims to get a coach going in their beach volleyball career.  The players hire their coaches and if they are one of our National teams then we have contracts with those coaches.  We currently don’t have many requirements to be hired as an individual team coach.  We are implementing bonus systems for our coaches in an effort to keep them growing and learning what is currently going on in the game and also in coaching.  Watching the game and studying it is the best opportunity of further education

Let’s take a closer look at how teams and coaches are training and what they are working on…

US players always seem very independent and very confident on court. Do you agree? Is that something that US Volleyball and Beachvolleyball coaches emphasize on in general and traditionally? Or does it come from the players themselves?

I think, as with any country, there will be variances of independence and confidence given the diversity of the athletes.  I would not say that our coaches or program emphasizes either of those two things specifically.  I think due to our current system, which is very player autonomous, players do have a ton of independence so maybe that comes through when watching them play.

Do you believe that the coaching style of US coaches is shaped and influenced by this self-confidence of the players? To take this thought one step further: Is increased coaching input strictly beneficial for US teams or is there also a danger in it (of risking some of that players’ self-confidence?

I think coaching is coaching.  We attempt to treat our athletes on an individual case by case basis and do not attempt to adjust our overall coaching style due to any perceived cultural norms.  Our goal is to challenge them to be great learners, to be competitively tough, to support them on their journey to win Olympic Gold and sustained international success.

My general impression is that US players/teams practice very game-like and play more with “what they have” (in terms of technical skills), focusing more on tactics/game plan. Do you agree with that?

I think historically I would agree.  I think there is a very strong philosophy in volleyball in the united states that random, or game-like training, is a good thing.  We believe that here but we also understand that learning happens on a continuum and not everything can be polarized as game-like or “blocked”.  I would not say we have been particularly good at tactics or game planning.  I think this is an area we are currently working hard to improve. Learning how to put athletes and teams into their “challenge” or “learning” point is not something that can be done in just one area like game play.

Is there a common belief in US that the basic foundation (technique/motor skill learning) is laid in the young years (high school/clubs/college (?)) and is completed the latest by leaving college? Is US National Team Coaching about “helping (or “leading” – if necessary) to perform” or also about “developing/creating a player”?

I think what you might be getting at is that historically the perception has been that a strong domestic tour is what develops our players and that the US relies on great athletes who play a lot of high level volleyball to just go compete.  And I think that is pretty true actually.  But we know that that will not last, and that that isn’t even close to the reality right now even.  So we are changing.  We believe that we always have the ability to improve.  Every day, every match.  The learning never stops.  Coaching is coaching.  Training teams to get better, understanding team dynamics, making in game adjustments, periodizing our training, periodizing our strength and conditioning, learning simplified verbiage that we can attach complex systems too, using our understanding of personality profiles to better interact with our athletes and help them interact with each other, to name just a few things.

Is there a typical “American way” to play Beachvolleyball? And is there a specific US coaching philosophy and style? How would you describe it? Do you see changes or a development? Do you think the coaching style differs from other continents/countries, such as Europe or Brazil? What are the differences?  

Some of this I have already answered probably.  Mainly, that there probably has been a history of philosophy that great athletes playing the game will be good enough.  I would describe what we are currently working on right now in coaching is how to change that to all the factors I have already mentioned. 

Improving performance is a very difficult and complex puzzle.  It takes a holistic audit and a lot of tools in the toolbelt to execute.  We are trying to broaden our range as a program and as coaches.

There are definitely differences in coaching styles and philosophies of different countries.  Many that we could name or hypothesize.  However, because we aren’t with those coaches I don’t think it’s fair to guess what they are doing in their own practices or in their own programs.

Let’s have a look at some recent developments and future perspectives…

A huge change in the US Beachvolleyball landscape – I think you could call it a revolutionary one – was the introduction of “Sandvolleyball” as a NCAA (College) Sport for women/girls. Which impact does this have already now and possibly in the future? For the sport (especially in terms of US performance quality on international level) in general but also for coaches?

I think it will have a very big impact on both.  Already has actually.  It will drive beach coaching in the US to something that is desirable as a full time job which up until this point it has never been.  In other countries it has been for a while now, but up until NCAA in the USA, there has not really been an opportunity for being a beach coach to be your full time job living in southern California.  This will most likely create a very steady stream of talent on the women’s side for the USA for a long time to come.  2024 and beyond if the women on the USA side are not competing for medals consistently it won’t be because we don’t have the athletes.

With the AVP -despite some ups and downs over the years- you always had a great competition and money-earning opportunity for your players. Together with College Beachvolleyball (only women) but also Indoor college programs (men and women), does that combine for a sufficient “pipeline” to assure future success on the international level? Is USAV using or considering other approaches or measurements to continue winning Olympic medals? 

Right now we are primarily focused on the recruitment of the pipelines that you suggested. At the national team level we are working to train better every day, but after that we do not train very well across the board.  We are starting to make some good changes but we need to improve a lot and that is one of our main focuses.  As we talked about, the women’s pipeline should be very very strong.  The men’s pipeline is not as streamlined.  We have plenty of good players coming up but we don’t really have a pipeline.  Men’s indoor college hasn’t been tapped yet, and it most likely isn’t a great source.  Because the great players from indoor college will most likely stick with indoor until they are much older and then they are behind.  So it’s a double negative in a sense… because the rest of the world’s federations are training their strong men’s players at ages of 16, 17, 18 etc…. and our men’s players go to college and play indoor and they don’t come to the beach until at least 22 but usually much later.  So we need to figure out how to pull from other sports possibly, continue to develop our HP pipeline, and hopefully find a way to create some form of NCAA for men.

In Indoor volleyball the US has an amazing talent pool at the highest level, probably the deepest in the world, on the women’s side at least. As we have seen with Alix Klineman this can be a very successful pathway for success in Beachvolleyball as well…Are there plans to use this talent pool and pathway on a more systematic basis? How do you see the things on the men’s side?

We have to be able to provide a good solution for these indoor players to come over.  Because right now they can make much more money, and have many more resources from the indoor national team than us.  We are working to get places to live, food daily, recruitment budgets, etc… hopefully this will help us grab someone like a Brian Cook or Taylor Crabb before he goes oversees to play indoor.  But right now we don’t have much to compete with that.  We definitely feel like being about to bring very good indoor players out to the beach will deepen our talent pool.

Let’s talk a bit about Coaching during the game…

In AVP and in College Sandvolleyball the coach is active during the game. Coaching is part of the game. Could you briefly explain us the regulations and tell us to which degree Coaching is used on the AVP?

Coaches can sit in the players boxes.  They can cheer, but cannot directly coach during play.  They also cannot coach during breaks in play. They can only coach their teams during timeouts and in between sets.  Coaching is widely used on the AVP, and coaches are recognized as part of the tournament.  They are able to go anywhere the players are, they are allowed to eat, they are part of the event.  This is a major difference between FIVB and AVP.  NCAA coaching furthers this role of the coach.  They are allowed to coach during side switches which is an easy adjustment to the AVP’s rules and a good one.  They are still not allowed to coach during play however.  They are also not only recognized as part of the events but really the drivers of the players and the events.  They are in charge of making decisions on who plays with who, what their team rank order is, who gets subbed in or not (they play matches with 5 teams of 2 but most schools have well over 10 players). 

Do you believe that Coaching during the game on the FIVB World Tour would change the game? How? Would certain players, teams or countries have an (dis)advantage? 

I think coaching is universally a part of beach volleyball now.  It was not originally.  So it should be understood that there is a good reason for the rules surrounding coaching currently.  And also that these rules are slowing changing and the coach is slowly becoming more a part of the events.   But this isn’t the 1960’s.  It’s time to adjust and allow the coaches who are a part of the teams, events, and the sport the normal process of being a part of the tournament. 

I think that’s the wrong question to ask about who would have advantages or not.  It’s more about the plain and simple truth that coaching is universally a part of the sport now, so it’s time to make the adjustment and make them a part of the event and the sport.

From your experience: what are the skills a coach needs for Beachvolleyball “in game” coaching?

Probably in game adjustments and emotional control/intelligence are the top two skills I would say.  There is a lot more that matter but those two are the two that can have the biggest impact I think.

Read more about Tyler Hildebrand here: https://www.teamusa.org/USA-Volleyball/Features/2018/February/21/USAV-Taps-Tyler-Hildebrand-to-Direct-Beach-Coaching