Athletes Unlimited Volleyball begins February 27 in Dallas with the four teams conducting the first-week draft on February 23:
Jamie Morrison started coaching because he couldn’t stand to leave the sport after being cut from the UC Santa Barbara men’s volleyball team.
The son of coaches, Joe Trinsey figures he always knew he would coach, but that didn’t mean he didn’t seriously contemplate leaving the sport behind and use his degree in applied mathematics to start a career in finance, or maybe even NBA analytics.
Tayyiba Haneef-Park spent more than a decade with the USA women’s national team and had always said she never wanted to coach unless at most elite level — and that’s still her preference but she’s still found value and joy coaching high schoolers.
And Tama Miyashiro, well, she started feeling the call to coach as far back as in college at the University of Washington, wanting to make the kind of impact on others’ lives that her coaches had made on hers.
These four volleyball professionals, as diverse as their backgrounds and experiences are, have something in common. They’ll serve as coaches for the inaugural Athletes Unlimited volleyball league coming up in Dallas late next month.
And while this particular gig has the same title as many other coaching jobs they’ve each had in the past, it will be different than anything they’ve done before. If you’re unfamiliar with the AU league, let me give you the basics. The league takes place over five weeks in Dallas. Each week, the top four individual performers from the week before get to be captains and draft their teams for the next round of competition. The coaches will run practices, coach during matches, and serve as advisors for the players, but ultimately the captains make the calls.
Given the league’s dedication to letting athletes lead the way and make the big decisions, the AU Player Executive Committee also played a significant role in choosing the four coaches.
“I proposed Joe early on and I’ve been talking with Tama and Erin Virtue at USA and Erin was just going to be too busy but the players said, ‘Hey, if you can talk Jamie into it, see what you think,’ ” said Chris McGown, AU’s director of volleyball. “And so we were lucky enough to get Jamie and Joe and Tama, and then the players felt strongly about trying to get Tayyiba to come on. So again, all of the staff that we have are approved by, chosen by our athletes.”
In these selections, the Athletes Unlimited players will have a nice variety of knowledge to draw upon. Morrison and Trinsey come from the very data-driven, analytics side of things, with both having held the title of technical coordinator for the USA national team; Miyashiro and Haneef-Park, on the other hand, bring to the job their experiences as decorated professional volleyball players and Olympians.
Let’s start with Morrison.
Most recently the head coach for the Dutch women’s national team, Morrison led the team to its best result ever at the World Championships, a fourth-place finish in 2018, in addition to claiming silver at the 2017 European Championships and making the Final Six of the 2017 World Grand Prix. However, in 2019, things didn’t go as well: the Dutch squad lost to Italy in the final match of the Olympic Qualification tournament and later were eliminated by Turkey in the European Championships. Almost immediately after the 2019 World Cup in which the Netherlands finished eighth, the Dutch volleyball federation let Morrison go.
“Obviously it hurt to not be able to see through something that I had been building for three years but there are no hard feelings or grudges,” Morrison wrote on Instagram. “I knew that coaching in Europe had its dangers and accepted that going in.”
The Dutch federation continued to pay Morrison for a year after his termination, so he took advantage of the time and planned a six-week vacation in New Zealand for the spring of 2020. Well, as you might guess, coronavirus hit toward the beginning of those six weeks and Morrison found himself (happily) stuck in New Zealand for five months.
Since returning to the states, he’s been laying low, consulting with various club and college programs and, as of earlier this month, signing on to serve as the University of Texas’ volunteer assistant coach for the spring season, of course with the exception of the weeks he’ll be in Dallas for Athletes Unlimited.
Morrison’s a stats guy, but he’s also someone who works to be a well-rounded coach. Case in point, he recently became a certified nutritionist.
You might call Joe Trinsey Morrison’s protege.
The two men spent the entire Rio quad working together, sharing hotel rooms around the world, and battling against each other in games of short court. Trinsey arrived in the national team gym in 2012 as a volunteer and his first job was to help Morrison, initially setting up nets, shagging balls, and cleaning whiteboards, but eventually starting to help with statistics, scouting, and video. The son of Gina and Bob Trinsey, owners and directors of Brandywine Volleyball Club in Wilmington, Delaware, Joe had been coaching since he was in high school, but as a Division III player for Steven Institute of Technology, Trinsey doesn’t have the playing resume you might expect to see for a national team coach. As he says it, “I’m just some guy from Delaware who played Division III volleyball.”
That guy from Delaware originally planned on making a career in New York City’s finance industry, like many of his Steven’s classmates would go on to do, but upon graduation in 2009, finance didn’t look like such a good choice, and not just because of the recession.
“You go into this sort of financial job and you really grind away for 15 years and you make enough money and you can retire, and I kind of thought about it and I was like, ‘well, what would I do after I retire? I would just coach volleyball,’” Trinsey said. “So I was like maybe I can just find a way to not have to do that in the first place and I’ll just go right to coaching volleyball.”
Trinsey has now found a way to put his applied mathematics degree to work to the benefit of the sport of volleyball at large. He spent a full quad with the women’s national team, but after the Rio Olympics, left his full-time position and has since been a “nomadic wandering volleyball coach” spending time with the University of Georgia team, the BYU women’s team, and even Team Canada, in addition to running one of camps and clinics.
If you’ve been keeping up with our coverage of the upcoming AU league, you also know that Trinsey played a key role in developing the league’s unique individual scoring system.
So if you’re one of the players in the Athletes Unlimited league who earns a captain spot, and you think mastering the scoring system and analytics will be the key to success, you might hope to land Morrison or Trinsey as your coach. On the other hand, Haneef-Park and Miyashiro bring something a little bit different. A quality that is a bit harder to articulate. Maybe you’d call it experience, or relationships, or communication.
Haneef-Park spent 12 years with the national team, competing in three Olympics. The 6-foot-7 opposite played professionally in Italy, Japan, Russia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan, and has coached high school, college beach, and for various USA Volleyball programs, including the 2019 NORCECA Champions Cup. Last spring, USAV announced Haneef-Park as part of the staff for the collegiate national team, but of course those events were canceled due to the pandemic. She figures her experiences as a player and as a coach make her perfectly suited for the unique task of coaching in the player-led AU league.
“My last two years as a player, I think I was more of an inspirational leader, motivational leader, I wasn’t necessarily on the court and so that role maybe prepared me for this,” Haneef-Park said. “When we’re calling timeouts, it’s maybe more fine-tuning stuff, since the captain does have the ability to make some of those calls in terms of substitutions and lineups, it really is just motivating the team and making sure everybody’s on the same page and stepping in and having those conversations with the captain when they don’t feel comfortable making some of those decisions.
“So I think it’s a coach, it’s a managerial role, it’s an inspirational role, but there’s a lot of different layers to it.”
This position with AU also gets Haneef-Park the closest yet to the type of coaching she always thought she’d enjoy the most. Afterall, it doesn’t get much more elite than Jordan Larson, Sheila Casto, and Bethania De La Cruz, just to name a few of the athletes signed on to compete in the AU league.
“I’ve learned a Japanese style of playing, I’ve learned a European, Russian, American is even different,” Haneef-Park said. “I’ve learned all these different styles, and a lot of times the younger levels aren’t ready mentally to apply some of the finer and funner aspects of those trainings. Now that I had the opportunity to work with national team levels and now that I can actually work with elite athletes, I think that’s where my passion is.”
In a league that offers many completely new challenges for players, Miyashiro will be the coach to go to when you’re in need of a dose of calm.
“I’m definitely more of like the one-on-one steady calm (coach), I am not super highs and lows ever,” Miyashiro said. “I try to just consistently be myself and I try to be that steady-eddy personality.”
That calm personality marked Miyashiro as a player too. The decorated libero left the University of Washington in 2009 as the program’s all-time digs leader (a record she still holds today), and spent almost a decade with the national team, retiring in 2016 following a PCL injury. She got her start in coaching as a volunteer assistant at Arizona State in 2016 but less than a year after her retirement from competition joined the national team staff.
“During Tama’s years as a women’s national team player, nobody involved with our program was more selfless, more supportive and loyal to those around her, more humble and more dedicated to learning than she has been,” national team head coach Karch Kiraly said of Miyashiro in a press release announcing her hiring in 2017. “Those qualities always made Tama a prime candidate for making a strong transition into coaching, so we’re thrilled to have her join our coaching staff.”
AU presents a new kind of challenge for the young coach, but like Haneef-Park, Miyashiro figures her personality and experience give her a pretty good chance to meet and master those challenges.
“You’re going to have potentially different players every week as part of your squad and that would be difficult but we’re also going to be training the whole group at one point in the early part of the season so it will be crucial to form relationships, it’s going to be crucial to communicate well,” Miyashiro said. “I wish I could tell you what that all meant right now, but as we get there, we get to Dallas, I think communication is going to take a whole new look on and I think that’s going to be huge for me.”
All four coaches share a sense of excitement about the new league’s first season getting under way.
For Trinsey, that excitement has a personal element. His wife Erin played professionally overseas for a few years after her collegiate career at Virginia Tech, but eventually faced the decision most American volleyball players have to make: stay in Europe and keep playing, or retire from playing and come home to the States and get a job. She chose to come home. Today, the couple has an 18-month-old daughter, and in this new league Trinsey sees the promise of a different world where a female athlete wouldn’t have to choose between her sport and her family.
“I just really want the league to succeed whether I’m involved with it or not,” Trinsey said, “because I want there to be opportunity for women to play professional volleyball in the United States and not have to choose so much between pursuing volleyball and having a family or having a life in the United States.”
Morrison admitted he had hoped to get hired somewhere in Europe for this season, but coronavirus of course threw a wrench in that plan, so he took advantage of what AU had to offer him and what he could provide the league. “The entire time, I was thinking about Athletes Unlimited and how it’s this awesome opportunity to get professional volleyball going in the United States. I felt somewhat of an obligation to try to help out in some way shape or form and if that’s coaching in the league I’m excited and happy to be doing it.”
With its mission to provide more autonomy for players, Haneef-Park’s excitement comes in part from her belief that the league might inspire a few players to consider joining the coaching ranks.
“We are in a unique position in the world where we’re starting to see more females in general stepping into coaching positions, even in the NBA, NFL, and so I think this is a great opportunity to expose some players to what it’s like to be a coach,” she said. “Just kind of get their feet wet in the comfort of their own surroundings and say, ‘Hey, you know, I really do like being a player-coach, maybe I do like being a coach a little bit more.’ Now that puts them on the path to where we are putting more women in coaching positions within our sport because I still don’t think that there are enough.”
Another fun part of this job for all four coaches is being on the forefront of something totally new.
“There are so many things to be excited for,” Miyashiro said. “I think it’s all kind of like a silent agreement that we’re willing to learn as we go and adjust wherever we need to but it seems like everyone is super excited about just a new thing I guess.”