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Sports & Recreation

Professional players and coaches John Mayer, Billy Allen, Nils Nielsen, and Andrew Fuller gather insights from experts in volleyball and beyond!


Sports Psychologist Peter Haberl talks about what he learned from the study of beach Olympic teams on what makes a successful partnership as well as competition mindset. Part 2 of 2.

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On this episode of Coach Your Brains Out, Dr. Peter Habrel talks about an extensive study on Olympic beach volleyball partnerships and what makes a team successful over the long-term.

Dr. Habrel works as a sports psychologist for USA Volleyball and I've met with him a few times this off-season to talk about my own new partnership. One of the big takeaways from our interview is the idea of having a shared team philosophy and the communication of those values.

“You don’t need to have the same personality…but what you need to share is a common philosophy and a common motivation.”

It's common for teams to have conversations about what their goals are but it's more important to talk about what your values are. What work you're going to put in day to day in the pursuit of those goals and "How you want to be on this journey."

Compatibility is an important first step in forming a successful partnership. This compatibility comes from awareness—self-awareness and awareness of your partner. Your behavior has an effect on your partner's performance, so once you know what words and actions they need you can behave in a way that helps your team.

You also know what not to do.

For instance, some partners might find throwing a chair and yelling about how bad they are an unconstructive use of a timeout.

Rough times are unavoidable, like in any relationship. You play long enough you will suffer bad losses and poor finishes. Having a shared philosophy helps you "navigate those stormy waters."

The good news is that weathering those storms is a skill you develop.

I've never been the most open communicator with partners, choosing just to deal with small differences rather than complain. But if I had addressed those issues and gotten on the same page, not only would it have made partnerships more enjoyable it would have made us a better team.

When talking about how to communicate, Dr. Haberl mentions sharing your feelings without blaming your partner. "I'm angry" vs "You piss me off!" Owning the emotion and not making your partner defensive. I know I could use this technique in other relationships.

Peter Habrel

“Partners must come together as one.”

Another interesting idea we get into in this first episode is the importance of a shared decision-making style. Often there is an age-gap in partners with the older player taking the sole leadership role. But successful partnerships share the decision-making, treating each other as equals rather than one player calling all the shots. I think this especially makes sense in beach volleyball where you usually have players playing two different positions and seeing different things.

So remember to ask your young blocker what he thinks the strategy should be against an opponent so they feel they have a voice in the partnership. Then nod and say, "Hmm, okay, interesting," before telling them the right answer.

Stafford timeout

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December 28, 2017

P-Rod Paul Rodriguez - Part 2

The Talent Code Author Daniel Coyle talks about skateparks as the ultimate learning environments:

"For flexible skills...the practice space should resemble a really fun skateboard park: lots of self-directed action at an endless variety of obstacles where you make lots of errors and learn a little something from each of them. Most flexible skills ideally don’t require a coach, but rather an addictive space to 'play.'"

What would a volleyball practice look like if it was designed more like a skatepark? Instead of repeating a regimen of drills, players are encouraged to freely experiment within the game. Would it increase skill development? Innovation? Fun?

This is part 2 or our conversation with Professional skateboarder Paul Rodriguez and we dive more into practice and perseverance. We discuss this video clip from Train Ugly - http://trainugly.com/what-learning-looks-like/

Language Warning!


The skater attempts a trick over and over, pushing through pain and frustration. According to Paul, this is the everyday struggle of every skateboarder trying to learn. If you’re not going through this struggle, you’re just going through the motions. And it's a process that never stops.

"The rush of…You’ve seen it in your mind, try to create it over and over and finally land it, bringing pictures in your mind into reality, you finally roll away. It’s all worth it."

"That’s what makes a real champion," Paul says. Someone who isn't willing to give up on themselves. "It’s a way of life, a mentality, a spirit that someone embodies...It’s the bounce back.”

We also get into Paul’s self-talk during competition. He uses anchors or short trigger-phrases, he repeats again and again on his run. Not focusing on the full trick but one little part. He repeats that single focus in his mind and the rest of the trick follows.

It reminds me how many different steps go into each volleyball skill. Serve receive, for example, follows a long chain from getting information from the server and tracking the ball...to how you move your feet...to setting the angle of your platform...to the contact point on your arms...to your follow-through...then moving into a position to approach for a swing...and on and on. And it all happens in a split-second!

Taken as a whole it can be overwhelming. But if you concentrate on a trigger ("See the server") you don’t get ahead of yourself, only focusing on your first job—the only one you can take care of in that moment—and allow the rest to follow.

As Paul shifts into a new career and challenges, he's confident he'll carry the persistence and dedication he’s learned from skateboarding with him. Not being afraid to fail.

And when he does crash, picking himself up and going again.


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<Check out Part 1

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December 20, 2017

P-Rod Paul Rodriguez - Part 1

Coach Your Brains Out is a volleyball heavy podcast so it’s great when we can get out of the world of bump set spike and hear from coaches and athletes in other sports. There are always lessons to be gleaned from anyone working to master their craft and handling pressure. It can also teach us to look at our sport in new ways.

This interview is with professional skateboarder, Paul Rodriguez. P-Rod has accomplished so much in the world of skateboarding including eight X Games medals and continues to push himself toward new challenges.

Check out his Nike commercial.


Listen to Part 1 with Paul Rodriguez at Volleyball Mag.com.

Paul’s passion for his sport is clear. It's also a necessary component. It’s what gets you through the grind of practicing the same trick over and over, taking your scrapes until you get it right. When you find joy in your craft, hours of practice pass by and “time disappears.” It’s that love for what you do that gives you the grit to persevere through the pain and hardships.

Paul talks a lot about his mindset and how he’s learned to be in the moment. From when he “accidentally” won his first X Games to how he later dealt with the pressure of expectations. He embraces tough moments as exciting challenges to see if he can control his mind and keep his thoughts positive. He’s learned not to fight his nerves or pretend they don't exist, but to let them settle.

“If I have shaky knees, I just let them shake and I focus on breathing…visualize each trick one at a time and go through the whole competition in my mind and just see it over and over again.”

One of the most interesting ideas I got from this interview is that when your craft (skateboarding, beach volleyball, whatever) is always on your mind, you can pull lessons from anywhere. Because Paul’s brain revolves around skateboarding, as he drives around LA he notices stairs and railings and imagines new tricks. He even grabbed a lesson while watching the Mark Wahlberg action movie Shooter, pausing the movie to write down the sniper’s mantra that parallels skateboarding.

“Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” - Bob Lee Swagger

When you live in your craft, the lessons are everywhere.


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