SANDCAST: Tyler Hildebrand, the most passionate man in beach volleyball

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Tyler Hildebrand
Tyler Hildebrand has had success at Long Beach, Nebraska, and is now Director of Coaching for USA volleyball/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

Tyler Hildebrand doesn’t really know what you should call him.

“Official title is Director of Coaching,” he said of his new role at USA Volleyball. But they’re working on title changes because, candidly, nobody really knows what that means.

“At the end of the day,” Hildebrand said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter, “who really cares? I think some people call it coach, head coach, director of coaching. I did some presentations at the AVCA and nobody knew what the heck the title was.”

What matters is not the title Hildebrand takes – or doesn’t take – but the role he plays. He was hired by USA Volleyball, after just a year at Nebraska in which he won a national championship as an assistant coach, to push the United States back on top of the world of beach volleyball. And, ask most any player, you’ll get the same response: They picked the right guy, for whatever the job really is.

Hildebrand is what you could call a player’s coach. He was there at Long Beach State, his alma mater, last Friday night, watching the 49ers take on then-undefeated Hawai’i. He was there with Taylor Crabb, arguably the most promising and talented beach player in the United States. Beach in the morning. Indoor at night. Volleyball all day long.

That, if nothing else, is why Hildebrand is so good at what he does. And he is good. After setting for Long Beach from 2003-2006, leaving as a three-time All-American, Hildebrand has enjoyed success everywhere he has gone.

As an associate head coach for Long Beach in 2016 and 2017, he helped the 49ers to consecutive NCAA semifinals. In his lone year at Nebraska, in 2017, the Huskers won an NCAA Championship.

On the beach, he oversaw the most successful run of Casey Patterson’s career, there in the box as Patterson and Jake Gibb established themselves as the top team on the AVP Tour, winning more than double the next team. He was there for a Manhattan Beach Open win and an Olympic berth.

But again: Don’t call him coach. Hildebrand doesn’t just oversee one or a few teams anymore – he oversees the development of all of the top teams and prospects in the USA Volleyball system, everyone from the established talents in Jake Gibb and John Hyden to the promising talents in Carly Wopat and Troy Field.

“Our vision right now at USAV Beach, it’s to be the best students at our craft,” Hildebrand said. “And I know that sounds like a big scoop of vanilla ice cream, blah blah blah. But the people who are really excelling right now are at the learning or technological edge.”

Hildebrand has an old soul, but still: There’s a wealth of technology and statistics in the sport and a dearth in individuals who use it. It’s time the United States began taking advantage of it. Which is why, more often than not, you can find Hildebrand in the film room, either with the athletes or just by himself, going through “chalk talk” or just watching — no, studying — beach volleyball. It’s possible that nobody on Earth has watched more film in the past year than Hildebrand, who is constantly searching for trends – quick sets, shoot sets, options, jump serving, blocking moves, float serving, whatever.

“In beach volleyball, what I realized when I came out here five or six years ago, it was like ‘Whoa, in indoor we would use video,’” Hildebrand said. But in the beach?

“We’d watch maybe a set,” Bourne said.

It’s something Hildebrand is trying to change. Not radically. Not revolutionarily. Just a bit here and there. He knows teams have their own private coaches. He’s not trying to step on any toes, but to give everyone the resources to use however they might. Maybe an hour or so every few days. Watch yourself. Watch opponents. Just watch the game. See what you can find.

“One thing I’ve been doing, probably more than any other coach in the United States, is watching the game,” Hildebrand said. “Watching the world. That’s the one I’m pushing big with our athletes and coaches. All of this stuff, maybe we’ll see something, ‘Wow! That’s useful!’ And then asking the question why.

“The hardest part about beach volleyball is that everybody is on their own. You can have great practices. You can work really hard. You can be really tough. But in the middle of the game, how do we think through the game? Let’s say we watched a couple matches, we can think through them.”

So he’ll pore over the film. He’ll find the trends. He’ll present them to the athletes and from there, they can use it how they will. It’s not his job to coach every specific team now. It’s to simply put them in a position to be as successful as possible. So if there’s one thing you could label Hildebrand – not coach, not director, not a director of coaching – it’s this: He is, simply, one of the most passionate people in beach volleyball.

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