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Coach Karch

Former Olympic champion Karch Kiraly leads the No. 2-ranked U.S. women’s national team against No. 1 Brazil in matches at Stan Sheriff Center July 11-12. He’s also leading a coaching clinic

While the eyes of the world are on Brazil this month as the World Cup unfolds, the eyes of Brazil will be taking more than a passing glance at what will transpire here on Oahu July 11 and 12.


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Although he remains the best U.S. volleyball player in history, Karch Kiraly says coaching requires a very different skill set | USA VOLLEYBALL PHOTO

For soccer may be the undisputed king of Brazil, but sitting at its right hand is volleyball, the second most popular sport in the country. Even Brazil’s national stadium for volleyball, Maracanãzinho, resides next door to its soccer stadium, Maracanã, and its name literally means ‘little Maracanã.”

What is not little about Brazilian volleyball is its medal count, as the men’s team won gold in 2004 in Athens and silver in the past two Olympics, and the women took home the gold in 2008 and 2012, both times prevailing over the team from the United States.

Brazil hopes to continue this success at home as it plays host to the Olympics in 2016, but first the Hawaiian Islands will play host to Brazil as its world No. 1 national women’s team comes to face off against the U.S. team featuring Kalani grad Tamari Miyashiro in two matches at Stan Sheriff Center.

“Brazil has a fantastic team, but we did a lot of things right the last 12 months leading up to London,” says new USA head coach Karch Kiraly, who was an assistant on the 2012 Olympic team.

“We beat Brazil five or six times leading into the Olympics, but they put together a great match in the gold medal final. So they beat us one out of the last six or seven — we had the advantage much of the previous 365 days, but just couldn’t close the deal.

“So Brazil has tremendous men’s and women’s programs, both indoor and beach, and volleyball is a hugely popular sport down there. It is the sport that they have the best chance to win Olympic team medals in, and they win a lot of them.”

Don’t let his effusive praise for the Brazilians fool you, though. Kiraly is a winner and plans to turn the U.S. women into winners, as well. If you’re unfamiliar with Kiraly, then you are unfamiliar with volleyball. He is the Michael Jordan of his sport, only with more victories at every level.

At UCLA, he led his team to three national championships. He then spiked his way to Olympic gold in 1984 and ’88 in indoor volleyball. And just to prove his versatility, he won gold in 1996 in sand volleyball. He finished his career with 148 professional beach volleyball titles — the most ever — and was named by volleyball governing body FIVB as the greatest volleyball player of the 20th century.

Being the best ever on the court, though, does not always translate to success on the bench.

“I am fighting the stereotype and the norm. Lots of people who have had success on the athletic field struggle to find success as a coach. It requires a different set of skills,” says Kiraly, whose first gold medal came with a victory over Brazil in the final.

“When a game comes so easily to some, you kind of reach from an interior level, so the easy trap to fall into is, ‘Well, this is easy, how come you don’t get it?’

“Well, it is not easy; it is a really, really difficult game to play well and at a very high level. I try to stay aware of that, and most of all to be what we demand of our athletes, which is to be learners. To have a growth mindset — to be better today than we were yesterday and to be better tomorrow than we were today. I was a learner as an athlete, and I hope to always be a learner as a coach.”

He attributes his successful transformation from player to coach to his two boys Kristian and Kory, for helping him learn the skills necessary to translate his greatness in the game to teaching others the sport.

“Coaching them in high school was a good thing for me as a developing coach because I didn’t start by coaching really high-level athletes. I started coaching high school players, including complete beginners,” says Kiraly, whose boys followed his lead in attending UCLA, but not onto the court. After high school, they only play the sport for fun. “It was a great way to make sure I didn’t assume anything, and how to teach people the basics.”

He will impart what he has learned with a free two-hour coaching clinic July 11 before the first match against Brazil.

Registration for the clinic is open to all volleyball coaches in the Islands, but only the first 200 applicants will get to attend. Registration can be done by texting “USAVCUP” to 22828 to get started.

Usually, at a clinic like this, he will have the coaches just watch one of his training sessions, but because of the tight schedule the U.S. team will be on, he instead will talk about how to cover the basics, the importance of not just teaching players to be learners, but also to be learners as coaches, and finally, embracing the challenge of learning.

This learning has to be done in a shorter window for his U.S. women, as they are forced to play abroad once their collegiate career is over.

“The United States is the only top country in the world without a professional league, so all of our athletes have to leave their own country to play all over the world, (places) like China, Turkey and Russia,” says Kiraly, who also is an announcer for ESPN during the NCAA national championships. “So every fall and winter our athletes have to leave for a good seven months to play professionally.”

Kiraly see this as an edge for the Brazilians because of their professional league at home.