Coach Hugh McCutcheon on Coaching


Hugh McCutcheon is now the coach of the US Women’s national team, he was the coach of the men’s Olympic team in Beijing that won a gold medal. I had the opportunity to have lunch with him in November at a conference at the USOC. I was very impressed with his ideas. In this piece he is obviously focused on volleyball, but you can tell he is grounded in principles that apply to any sport. I think in this country coaches have the attitude that each sport is unique and different, when in fact we can learn from other sports. Today the Scum coach for the New Zealand All Blacks is coming to watch out volleyball conditioning workout. He is in the states for professional development. He told me yesterday how important it is to learn from other sports. We can’t figure that out. There are S&C coaches that are trying to make their players faster who have NEVER walked across campus to talk to the track coach. Whats wrong with that picture. You have know what you don’t know in order to learn.

When asked about the differences between the men’s and women’s game, Hugh replied What is the difference? Don’t we live on planet Earth and the laws of physics apply? I am approaching it as volleyball, whether you are a woman or a man. The idea of ‘women’s vs. men’s’ volleyball is doing nothing but stereotyping. Guys have issues too. We are going to do everything we can to be great, based on science and principles.

Later on Hugh and Peter Vint did a myth buster segment. There was some lively discussion on these, among others, which Peter used the science from the Biomechanics lab studies to dispel these…

Myth: The wrist snap is important in attacking

Myth: An athlete’s ability to read the game/make correct decisions is unalterable

Myth: Toed-in base positions are best for passers and defenders (and/or blockers)

Myth: Starting a move on the balls of the feet results in faster movement times than starting flat footed

Myth: Piking at the instant of ball contact is a good thing to do

and a bunch more….

The closing session Hugh spoke about the need for generalized specialists who are good in all areas of the game but really good in 1-2 skill sets. He noted how we are specializing too early in volleyball. There is not rocket science, the way you get good at passing is by passing, and the way you get good at the game is by playing the game. Trying to teach the game from a generalized basis, you will be better at working together as a team, and win more of the little things that are being lost. When you start teaching the game, the most important thing is to make it fun…for if at the end of the day if the game is not fun, it will be really hard to keep them around. Our opponents in other volleyball nations can

  1. Execute all of the fundamentals at a very high level
  2. Have correct technique and are biomechanically efficient
  3. Make all the little plays – they cover, can set out of system, can dig, etc.
  4. Make all the right choices about where to stand, who to set, where to block etc.

If I am going to ask my kids to work hard, I need to work hard too. We should connect as best we can to our kids…they should not be berated to get good, we are service providers to facilitate the hours of each players live to something they enjoy, so when we do what we do, we need to ask if this is right by the team and the individuals. Coaching is a valued career in our nation amazingly, but it is something you earn, not something you require. We have to be into best practices from ourselves, making it a good and positive experience (not all rainbows and ponies), and not beating up on the kids, for ultimately we want to grow the game…positive reinforcement has longer effect on players than negative, so I want to catch them doing it right a lot, right Kess?
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Vern Gambetta

Vern Gambetta

Director at Gambetta Sports Training Systems
Vern is the Director of Gambetta Sports Training Systems. He has been the a conditioning coach for several MLS teams as well as the conditioning consultant to the US Men's World Cup Soccer team. Vern is the former Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox and New York Mets. He has lectured and conducted clinics in Canada, Japan, Australia and Europe and has authored six books and over one hundred articles related to coaching and sport performance in a variety of sports. He has a BA in teaching with a coaching minor and an MA in Education with an emphasis in physical education from Stanford University.
Vern Gambetta


Athletic Development Coach & Consultant. Founder of GAIN Network. Proud dad. Love to read everything.
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