John Kessel has been a fixture at USA Volleyball since 1985. He chose not to go into college coaching, but to coach coaches. In 1995, Volleyball magazine’s special Centennial issue named him one of the 50 most important people in the sport in the past 100 years. In 2019 he received the organization’s highest honor, the Frier Award. His USAV tenure ended this past week and now he plans to devote all his time to Bison Peak Lodge in the Colorado Mountains west of Colorado Springs. We asked him to give his thoughts as he retires as USA Volleyball’s director of sport development and starts a new chapter of his life:

By John Kessel for
At 9 a.m. a call came in via the Microsoft Teams App … and about half an hour later, my last day at USA Volleyball as a staffer had arrived, retiring earlier than planned.

I found out later — via a post to the closed Facebook group Volleyball Coaches and Trainers that I help administrate — who my other 30 some fellow staffers were who were permanently let go or furloughed.

These people are who I hurt the most for.

Just in three of us there were more than 100 years of USAV leadership experience that has been removed from the office environment. 

The realities of how the pandemic has been impacting sport was something I knew very well, for while working remotely from my family’s legacy project an hour outside of Colorado Springs, I was in touch daily with many other National Governing Bodies.

USA Rugby had already filed for bankruptcy. The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee had recently let go more than 50 staffers. USA Volleyball top management has been transparent with the budgetary impact happening as events were canceled, sponsors struggled to pay and membership stopped. The PPP loan we had received was going to end in late June, and that is now … so off we go to join the tens of millions of others who have lost their jobs. 

So in Ancora Imparo (I’m still learning) mode, what have I learned?

I have learned that my family is more amazing and empathetic that I realized. We have been fighting my wife’s COVID infection for almost two weeks, and this hit to our daily lives has simply been seen as another opportunity to improve. This Bison Peak Lodge project is a huge fiscal challenge now, as our income has stopped and we are now simply gearing up to when we can again host programs. Luckily the banks still are willing to loan us money and we know our dream matters. 

I watch my son build a workout gym in our forest out of elk antler sheds, downed trees and rocks and his siblings help add new ideas to it and train on the used Astroturf field with a Park and Sun court put up … creating solutions.  

I learned that the overall volleyball family I have been lucky to have impacted is more global and deeper into the grassroots that I had thought. The kind words sharing how I have guided their own discovery of teaching and playing our sport, have brought more than a few tears and even more smiles to my face. For all those taking precious minutes out of your lives to write or call, I will be forever grateful.

I have learned when your email access is turned off that unsubscribing from newsletters, or updating your accounts, becomes a frustrating experience. They send your non-working email a reset code … that expires in minutes or they want to confirm your desire to change emails via the non-working email.

I also have learned my brain does not have the capacity to remember passwords that require a capital letter, number, non-repeating letters, special characters, any variation of your name or someone in your genealogy pool, your shoe size, your first-grade teacher’s name or your phone number from 1958.

Also that in this COVID era, the wait on a phone line can drain your battery to zero. I can still be reached at — and “This too shall pass.” 

Yesterday I watched from our Bison Peak Lodge deck as a rainstorm came through, to be followed by a break in the clouds and a rainbow graced our bald eagle carving by our American and Colorado flags flying. I ran inside to get a camera, but by the time I came back out, a big hailstorm had started.

Hail does not refract the light like raindrops so the rainbow was gone. And then we saw a hawk soaring high up in the sun while being pelted by hail. That is what I plan to do myself in the years ahead. Make this place soar in the beauty of nature, bringing light for  others less fortunate than me, while buffeted at times by the hail that comes in life.

In my clinics, which I now have more time for as well, I note that if you stop for every dog barking at you on your journey, you will never reach your destination. So to all of you, don’t let the hail or those barking at you stop you from your adventure.

Thank you all for helping us grow the game together.

I will continue to do my part from 9,000 feet, in a place of healing and learning for all who visit. As the back of our BPL sign says — quoting John Muir, to be read as you leave — “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”

Come walk with us.

John Kessel 6/20/2020-USA volleyball


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  1. Really sorry to see John tenure end like this at USA Volleyball. He should be celebrated by all, who he impacted during his time at USAV! I am one of those thousands of coaches and I want to say, thank you John for all years of hard work, dedication, great ideas and for your love for the game! Would love to see you at my house one day!

  2. John
    You influenced my life as my first coach at vb adult camp at Graceland. You taught me to coach, but most importantly to give back to the sport. You gave me one of my proudest moments as a mom, when my son demonstrated care and compassion for his athletes he had learned from me through you. You will make your new adventure in life a success, because you are creative enough to make a vb court out of anything and vballs out of duct tape. God bless you from me and all the vb world.

  3. just surfing around on a covid morning for a few mins. not sure how i even got here but anyway I guess congratulations on new adventures, thank you for past involvement from all, that would want to wish you that-
    from here in New England

  4. You were always so helpful to even this small time coach in Vermont! Thank you for the attention and support over the years! Your leadership and guidance helped us accomplish many new VB milestones and we will be forever grateful


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