Legendary film director Woody Allen once famously stated that 80 percent of success is showing up. He believed that consistently honing your craft drastically improves your likelihood of achieving success.
For Santa Monica College men’s volleyball coach John Mayer, consistency is more than just one ingredient in the recipe to his success as a championship player and coach; it is the very reason for his achievements.
I found something I really loved in volleyball, committed to it, and showed up every day, he said.
Mayer, also a crafty left-handed defensive dynamo on the domestic and international beach volleyball tours, recently led Santa Monica to its first California Community College Athletic Association state title since 1981.
Winning is nothing new to the 33-year-old. His distinguished career is headlined by state titles as a player at Pierce College in 2000 and 2002, a national championship at Pepperdine in 2005, and two AVP titlesone in 2009 and the other in 2014.
When I think of Coach Mayer, I visualize a winner, said CCCAA men’s volleyball president Kevin Pratte. All the CCCAA men’s volleyball coaches have had a lot of success in their lives, but Coach Mayer is the ultimate champion.
Growing up an undersized kid, Mayer was not always a dominant athlete.
I matured late. In high school when guys had hit puberty for about three years, I was still waiting, Mayer said. People who have to do that end up having success later. I learned how to play against bigger guyslearned how to compete and work hard. Developing those traits helped me later in life.
Mayer likens his athletic upbringing to the experience of former NBA point guard John Stockton, one of his childhood sports idols.
In his Hall of Fame speech, Stockton said he was never the best player on any team he ever played onnot in high school, college, or the NBA. He always felt like he was a role player, Mayer said. I can really relate to that. I always felt like Ive been able to make my teammates better.
Renowned Pepperdine men’s volleyball coach Marv Dunphy agreed.
Teammates matter, and I dont think Ive ever coached a player who was a better teammate than John Mayer, Dunphy said. He doesnt have a mean or vicious bone in his body. It’s not a surprise that we were successful while he was here.
Although he initially gravitated to basketball as a kid, Mayer was always around volleyball because his parents competed in adult leagues.
Still, Mayer played only one year of varsity volleyball in high school. The sport just wasnt a focus in his life until his senior year in high school and his first year at Pierce College.
He originally planned on attending Holy Cross College in Notre Dame, Indiana, but changed course during his senior year of high school when volleyball increasingly became a focal point for him.
Mayer’s high school volleyball coach Tom Black, now the women’s volleyball coach at Loyola Marymount University, believed Mayer could play college volleyball and recommended he redshirt at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, California.
As a redshirt freshman, Mayer continued his volleyball education learning from the Pierce team that went undefeated that year and won a state title.
I was able to watch and see that process, Mayer said, noting he learned more in that year about the sport of volleyball than he had in all the previous years combined. That was the first year where I considered myself a volleyball player.
A year later, this time with Mayer in the starting lineup, the Brahmas won another state title. They did it again in 2002, and Mayer was named tournament MVP.
With a successful career at Pierce College in the rearview mirror, Mayer decided to next take his talents to Pepperdine to play under the tutelage of Dunphy.
Marv was good friends with Ken Stanley, the legendary coach at Pierce, Mayer said. Marv helped start the Pierce program so he always knew what was going on at Pierce.
Mayer played several positions for Dunphy at Pepperdine, including libero, setter, and passing opposite.
I havent coached a quicker player, Dunphy said. Mayer’s quick and reactive to things. He can run down balls both as a defender and a setter.
Mayer made his mark at Pepperdine with a self-described fearless style of play, sometimes to the chagrin of Dunphy.
We didnt have a backup setter my first year at Pepperdine, and if there was a ball anywhere in the gym, I would try to run up in the bleachers and go get it and keep the rally alive, said Mayer. Marv would always say, How many setters are on this team? But that was the way I thought you were supposed to play.
Dunphy also recalled his initial frustration with Mayer’s penchant for tracking sand and dirt into the Pepperdine indoor facility after hitting the beach to work on his sand gamea passion he had developed while still a student at Pierce.
At first I was kind of irritated, but then I realized that Mayer was a volleyball rat, Dunphy said. It was neat to see how much he enjoyed the game. When he was here, I felt that as good as he was at indoor volleyball he liked the sand more. I saw him playing on the sand.
Indeed, Mayer made his pro beach tour debut at the AVP Hermosa Beach Open in 2003 and has played professionally since graduating from Pepperdine in 2005. In his early professional years, ever the student of the game, Mayer would stick around the tournament venue after he lost just to study the best players on the beach.
In 2009, Mayer and partner Jeff Nygaard won the AVP San Diego Open. Five years later, Mayer and former Pepperdine teammate Brad Keenan took home the AVP St. Petersburg Open title.
Both times I won on the beach were pretty special, Mayer said. I dont think I ever thought it was even possible.
So far this year, Mayer and partner Ryan Doherty have earned a third-place finish at the AVP New Orleans Open and their best finish internationally was a ninth at the Stavanger Major Series in Norway.
The son of two educators, Mayer always had an interest in teaching, which later morphed into a passion for coaching. He obtained his teaching credentials at Pepperdine, and after cutting his teeth as a club volleyball coach, Mayer joined the coaching staff at Santa Monica College, quickly ascending to the head-coaching position.
I didnt foresee coaching college volleyball, Mayer explained. [Coaching] is basically synonymous with teaching. Coaching and teaching are the same deal. Playing volleyball is probably the best job in the world, but coaching volleyball is the second best.
Mayer said winning a title as a coach was exciting, but nothing compares to winning as a player.
[As a player] you get to really experience it, he said. Youre the one making plays and youre the one in the trenches getting after it.
As a coach it’s awesome, but it’s different. It’s more of a feeling of excitement for the players and excitement for the work they put in. It was cool to see their emotions and how excited they were, and that’s what made it really rewarding for me.
Despite his success at Santa Monica, Mayer will likely not return for the 2016 season. For the last four years, he’s served as a volunteer sand volleyball coach at Loyola Marymount, and he’s leaving SMCC with the intention of securing a full-time beach volleyball coaching position. (At press time, Loyola Marymount was advertising for a head beach coach but would not comment on whether Mayer was a finalist for the position.)
The former basketball player attributes much of his success to his willingness to learn and be uncomfortable, even at this stage of his career.
Elite athletes push themselves, he said. People who plateau just like to feel comfortable and only do things that make them look good. The people who distinguish themselves arent concerned with looking good all the time. Theyre concerned with getting better.
These are lessons Mayer hopes leave a lasting impression on his players. Mayer finds that he’s able to relate to his team in a more substantial way since he faces similar struggles competing and training in his own professional career.
The further removed you get from playing, sometimes you think the game is easy and you wonder why dont [my players] just do that? Mayer said. I know what theyre supposed to do, why dont they do it?
Mayer understands the challenges athletes face in practice and matches, and with the 2015 AVP and FIVB tours in full swing, Mayer continues to strive for excellence with consistency and a willingness to learn.
A man fond of many quotes (except those from the musician with whom he shares a nameMayer admires his guitar skills but admits he’s not much of a fan of that John Mayer’s genre of music), these words from the volleyball-playing John Mayer ring true for any aspiring champion.
Be eager to learn, and be open to changing. Seek out role models and learn as much as you can from them. Work your butt off every day.