Sports

Wichita is site for John Speraw’s U.S. volleyball coaching debut

Everyone has a dream job.

John Speraw has two.

So when he talks about the demands associated with coaching the U.S. men’s national volleyball team at the same time he coaches at UCLA, he does so with excitement in his voice and a smile.

“This is probably the best job on planet Earth,” Speraw said. “The other great job on planet Earth is probably coaching the UCLA men. In our profession, I think it is very difficult to do both of those jobs. I have the unbelievable fortune of having both those jobs at the same time.

“I always thought that would be a unique experience. I have worked very hard to get to this point, and when I had the opportunity to coach the national team, I jumped at the chance to take it.”

That might be an understatement. When the job was offered to Speraw in March, he accepted immediately. After serving as an assistant during the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, he fell in love with the international game. The competition was fierce, and the thrills that came with winning while wearing your country’s colors were unmatched at all other levels.

He was itching to take over as the head coach.

“Some of the best experiences I have had in the sport are with the national team,” Speraw said. “Being able to walk in the opening ceremonies and coach in the Olympics is something that has been such a special experience in my life. The opportunity to do that as the head guy was very attractive.”

His public debut comes Friday, when he leads the Americans onto the court at Koch Arena for the first of two FIVB World League matches against Argentina. They are the first matches of a hectic summer schedule that will allow him to analyze his young roster, install a new offense and set a tone as the team begins preparing for the 2016 Olympics.

The Rio de Janeiro Olympics are a long way off, but the sooner Speraw and his players start making progress, the better off they will be when they are playing for medals.

He hopes to use the same philosophy that helped him become a successful college coach, both at UC Irvine, where he won three national titles, and in his new position at UCLA.

“I just want to establish a foundation for USA volleyball in the future, both in the ways we develop talent and organize this job,” Speraw said. “The whole system will impact our ability to be successful. Not just these four years, but the future quadrennials. What we do can impact a generation of U.S. volleyball players.”

In time, he wants to see victories. Early on, he will stress work ethic and high energy on the court.

“Working hard, working together and always pulling the same rope — these are traditional American values that have been advantageous to us for a long time,” Speraw said. “I want to make sure we continue to emphasize and re-establish our American values with this group.”

Matt Anderson, an outside hitter that Speraw coached in the Olympics last summer, was happy to hear Speraw was promoted.

“I feel like we have a pretty good relationship,” Anderson said. “John and I and a couple players go and eat dinner all the time. As part of this national team, we are training 45 to 50 weeks out of the year. That doesn’t leave very much time to live when you are constantly surrounded by volleyball.

“It’s good to go out and talk and do something else. John is a really good listener, relates to his players and has a really good mind for the game.”

It isn’t difficult for Speraw to earn respect. He coached some of the national team’s players in college and gave a recruiting pitch to most of them.

He also helped the national team win a gold medal in the 2008 Olympics. Four years later, he was with the team that finished fifth.

He knows what it takes to win on the sport’s biggest stage. He experienced the rush five years ago. He wants to duplicate it in 2016.

“Don’t tell my future wife, but the greatest moment of my life won’t be my wedding day like it is for everyone else,” Speraw said. “To watch the flag be raised above the court and to listen to your national anthem at the Olympics, when you’ve put everything into it, it’s as great and as special a moment as it gets.”

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