It was 2005 when Tatiana Minello and Mimi Amaral needed a coach. Not just any coach. The natives of Rio de Janeiro were making the move to the AVP. They needed someone who could speak English.
“You speak English!” they said to then 25-year-old Marcio Sicoli. “Let’s use you!”
The United States didn’t know it at the time, but one of the most successful beach volleyball coaches of this generation was about to cross its borders.
Sicoli was more than just a 20-something coach who both knew his way around the beach and could speak English. Already, he had an Olympic silver medal, having coached Shelda Kelly Bruno Bede and Adriana Brandao Behar to a silver at the Athens Games. That would seem young, by American standards, to have risen to the top of any kind of hierarchy, be it in sports or business, at that age. It is not so in Brazil.
“I was really involved in playing and at an early age, it was ‘Do you want to play or do you want to coach?’” Sicoli recalled on SANDCAST: Beach volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter.
Sicoli took stock of his frame: 5-foot-11. Not short, but also not the fast track to developing as an elite player in the perpetually deepening Brazilian pipeline.
“Playing,” he said, laughing, “wasn’t an option.”
He took his father’s advice and enrolled in the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, setting for the indoor team but focusing mainly on his degree in Physical Education. He graduated in 2001, the same year he achieved a Level II certification in Brazilian Beach Volleyball, becoming the youngest to hold that title.
“I knew, early on, that I was a personal person,” said Sicoli, whose first ambition was actually to become a pilot until he realized that didn’t involve speaking to many human beings. “I wouldn’t be talking to machines, I wouldn’t be talking to computers. I didn’t like that. I knew that. It was natural.
“In college, my sophomore year, I was playing on a team and I got an internship with PE at a high school and that was it. It’s that passion: To be with people, and drive through other peoples’ success. That’s what coaching is. If you see a process and you see something really cool happening that is not with you but someone else, and when that happens, great, and you move onto the next one.”
In 2007, moving onto the next one was not such an easy choice. As it goes when you achieve certain levels of success, offers became coming in. A decision had to be made. Holly McPeak was one of the many to take note of Sicoli’s talents as a coach. The three-time Olympian offered him a full-time job, in the United States, to coach her and Logan Tom. She’d set him up with indoor contacts so he could make money during the off-season months.
Here Sicoli was, with a “job for life” as a PE teacher in Rio, a wife and family in Brazil — and an incredible offer in the United States.
“I talked to my dad and he looked at me and said ‘Worst case scenario, you’re coming back and I’ll be here for you,’” Sicoli recalled. “I said ‘OK, let’s do it.’”
Tom ultimately turned back to indoor, where she’d win a silver medal in the 2008 Olympic Games, but the indoor contact McPeak set Sicoli up with was Tim Jensen, then an assistant coach at Pepperdine.
“Twelve years later,” he said, smiling his cherubic smile.
Twelve years later, Sicoli is living a life that would have been difficult to imagine as a PE teacher in Rio. He’s an American citizen now, something he takes immense pride in, and though you are not likely to get him to talk politics, he will tell you that he’s thrilled to vote. He has remarried, with an infant, Max, and another on the way.
He has coached in two more Olympics, winning gold with Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor in London and bronze with Walsh Jennings and April Ross in 2016. He was promoted to head coach for Pepperdine’s beach team in 2019, when Nina Matthies retired after an astonishing 35 years, one of the most successful individuals in the game.
Sicoli has never talked to machines. He does not sit in front of computers all day long. He’s doing what he has always been enamored with: Working with people, building relationships, thriving on the success of those he helps.
“I love what I do,” he said. “I don’t want to go anywhere. Hopefully I can do 20 more years then I can retire to the beachfront.”