If the road to hell is paved with the good intentions of reading volleyball books sent my way, well, then you know where to find me.
Maybe this past week I got a reprieve.
That’s because I finally got around to reading three of them, “Pischke Power,” “Volleyball Coaching Wizards,” and “The Way.”
Pischke Power: Start with Pischke Power, subtitled “The Evolution of North American Volleyball, about Canadian playing and coaching legend Garth Pischke.
Not only is this a well-written tribute to the former north-of-the-border Olympian and longtime University of Manitoba coach, there is a heck of a lot to be learned about the history of Canadian volleyball. As an aside, I’m writing this the day after Canada beat the USA men in the World League in Serbia and, of course, Canada thumped the USA in the first match of last summer’s Rio Olympics.
Author Chris Johns makes no bones about being a lifetime admirer of Pischke and was thrilled to document his life. He compared him to being Canada volleyball’s version of Wayne Gretzky, some pretty strong praise.
As he told me, “I had the idea to write about Garth in 2003 when I was watching the Canadian university volleyball championships with some friends. We were debating which was the best volleyball program in North America and I kept coming up with arguments as to why I thought the Bison program was the best. One of my friends said to me, ‘Since you know him so well, why don’t you write a book about him?’ The rest is history.”
Johns compares Pischke to the great Al Scates, who coached at UCLA for 50 years.
A lot of things jumped out at me while reading the book, especially this quote from Pischke many years after the fact:
“I kick myself now, knowing the ability that I had back in 1976. The fact that we never once ran a backcourt attack is incredible to me. We never thought about it. In today’s game, we have kids who touch 11-4 who are just pounding the ball from the backcourt. Back then, I could touch almost 12 feet. If we could go back in a time machine, if we had used more back-row attacking, we could have pulled off an Olympic victory. The game has come a long way since then.”
Pischke is regarded both as an outstanding tactician and motivator.
“Over the years, Garth has built his teams based on one key characteristic: Confidence,” Johns said. “His players believe they’re going to win every time they step on the court. Some years his teams would win in a landslide because they were so talented. In other years, Garth would find a player who was a diamond in the rough or find a tactical advantage to win a championship when they weren’t supposed to. It’s amazing to think that he’s had a positive influence over a generation of players who have taken his coaching and become successful people after their university volleyball career was over.”
Pischke’s son played for him at Manitoba and his daughter, Taylor, is now a professional beach player currently paired with Kristina May, another Canadian. They tied for ninth this weekend at FIVB Moscow.
If you like volleyball, want to learn more about an interesting, well-respected former player and coach, and find out more about the sport in Canada, I can strongly recommend Pischke Power.
Volleyball Coaching Wizards: Co-author John Forman, the assistant coach at Midwestern State University who has a remarkably interesting resume, is probably thinking, wait, he finally got around to reading this?
Sad but true and I wish I had delved into it earlier, like when it came out last October.
The format is simple. Forman and co-author Mark Lebedew, currently the coach of the Australian men’s national team, interviewed eight coaches in an extended question-and-answer format. Most notably is the first one, with the legendary Carl McGown, who died this past December. The interview was conducted in June 2015. And talk about history and insight. That chapter alone is worth the price of the book.
But they also interview Pischke and Giovanni Guidetti, Ruth Nelson, Teri Clemens, Jefferson Williams, Tom Turco and Craig Marshall.
Coaching Wizards is more than a book. Forman and Lebedew have turned it into a project with a blog and podcast and it’s all worth any volleyball junkie’s time at volleyballcoachingwizards.com.
You can buy the book by clicking here at amazon.com.
The Way: I first met Chris Austin when he was the setter for UC Irvine and covered the Anteaters’ 2012 and 2013 NCAA-championship teams. He was a heck of a player and I had no idea at the time he would become an author.
But he did, choosing to write in depth about a Hawai’ian boys youth team that included, among others, UCLA star player Micah Ma’a on a team coached by his father, Pono.