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How to be a Better Leader

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What makes a good leader? How can you be a better leader?

These are such a great questions and this topic is something that I wish more people had tried to intentionally teach me throughout my career. In fact, the more that I reflect on my career, the more I recognize that very few coaches actively took this topic on, which I find really fascinating. It’s a topic that has produced thousands of book titles and seemingly constant attention in the business world. However, in the sports world, I haven’t observed much leadership development at any level. The world is in desperate need of more leaders. That is a fact!

As I started to really dig into the concept of leadership and my fascination with it, I realized that it is actually a really simple concept – it just isn’t talked about often enough. And it definitely isn’t taught on (or off) the court in the way I wish it were.

So I’ve removed the mystery of leadership with the three traits that I think are absolutely essential for a successful leader.

  1. Service – Compassionate & Considerate
    Leaders, in my opinion, serve. That is the baseline. They have matured to a point where they realize it is not just about them anymore. They expand their attention outside of themselves and take a serious interest in seeing others succeed. For that reason alone, they are invaluable to teams, organizations and society.

    I think it’s safe to say that humans at any age, by nature, are self-serving. From the early age of a toddler, the lesson is not to think about themselves more, but rather to play well with others, not hit their sister and share their toys. As our world trends towards a more narcissistic mentality where life revolves around the individual, leadership becomes more and more rare. Leadership should be intentionally developed and encouraged in athletes of all ages. 
  2. Hardworking
    Leaders also embody strong values and work ethic, becoming worthy examples to follow. This is where we see strong people lead by example and actively embody the team’s or organization’s ideals and mission. Their loudest form of communication comes through their actions and consistent behavior. Then, when words are used, they have earned the respect of their peers in such a way that the message carries weight and is received well.

    In my opinion, the loudest guy in the room is never typically a good leader. I can’t think of one person in my career where words alone moved me from point A to point B. And I really think that’s such a big part of what leadership is – it’s inspiration. To inspire movement, not dictate it, to help move a person or a team, or an organization, from where they are to another place.

  3. Trustworthy & Dependable
    Trust is critical to deep and meaningful relationships and, when there is no trust, the words fall to the ground without meaning. Being dependable is similar, but refers to being consistent over a long period of time. Bringing the same mental and physical level of effort day in and day out, taking care of your body, being mindful of recovery, and invested in scouting reports and on-court assignments.

    Dependable leaders are ones that can be counted on all the time, every time. There is consistency, and a pattern of always bringing the right effort and focus and professionalism to each session. And along the lines of being dependable, they are the ones that can be counted on to deliver late in a set or a match. They are ready to carry the load, whatever it requires, when the team needs it most.

Download my book Max Potential Playbook where I outline and detail all the aspects of how this dynamic game inspired me to reach my max potential in every facet of my life – and how it can help you do the same!

8 Steps to Reach Your Max Potential

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As I make the transition from indoor to beach volleyball, I was inspired to reflect on my career and how I got to where I am. There are many factors that contributed to my mindset and the evolution of my game – the most important being alchemizing failure to success.

This is an excerpt from my first book, Max Potential Playbook where I outline my personal process of development in reaching my max potential and how you can do the same in your life, no matter your profession, passion or personal story.

Download my book and get familiar with how your struggle can actually be your greatest gift.
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Q&A: What decisions have shaped who you are today?

 

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@CoachMBarron via Twitter

What choices have you made that have shaped who you are today?  Both on and off the court (with emphasis on off)

 

@Tony Chan via Facebook

How does your faith play a role in your professional career?  Where there any trying times in which your faith helped keep you afloat?

 

Hi Coach Barron and Tony Chan!  Thanks so much for your questions and patience.  This post answers both of your questions so it made sense to group them together.

Before getting to the question of decisions I have made, there were some very big influences in my life that weren’t by choice. Namely, which family I was born into. My parents have had an immense impact on who I am today.  Definitely in more ways than I can list here.  Certainly their love and care are foundational but also in the stability they provided (and still provide) in their consistency of love, life and marriage.  They have been anchors for me and I couldn’t answer this question without starting there first.  

One extremely impactful moment for me came after the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.  We had an emotionally charged couple of weeks that had some really high highs and finished with some low lows.  Up to that point, being that my parents had zero exposure to volleyball until I started playing, their support was simply that: support.  No “X’s and O’s” talk, strategic or technical help, but simply support. They were there at the matches rooting me on.

However, after those Games, my dad wrote me a very long message that was part diagnostic, part strategic, and an all around incredible synopsis of what happened, why, and where to go from here.  It was amazing and it was credible!  The words were great and provided context and encouragement but more than that, it showed me that he had been engaged this whole time.  Quietly studying a game he never played.  Intently observing the intricacies of the sport and the dynamics of the players and teams.  It was a tremendous display of love that summarizes what both my mom and my dad have provided these 4 decades to me and my sisters.

On a personal level, the biggest decision I’ve made was in answering the question, “Is there a God and if so, can He be known?”  I have determined that the answer is yes and try to live each day in that reality.  Now, I understand and appreciate that this blog is NOT a place where I intend to leverage my position for any particular belief or religion.  I want to see volleyball grow, and in partnership WITH YOU, I am convinced we can make a difference.

I want you to know that this isn’t a bait and switch where you thought you were getting volleyball content and here I am talking about my faith .  I respect each of you and appreciate that we are connected in a meaningful way. Rest assured that I will always respect you and your beliefs and am not sharing this looking for a bunch of “Amens” from like-minded people and a lot of “Boo’s” from those of you with differing points of view telling me to “stick to spiking balls and get off your soap box”.  However, at the same time, I believe deep and meaningful relationships happen in environments of honesty and authenticity.  I am simply answering a question in the best, most honest way possible. In fact, I specifically left a large chunk of my personal story out of my first book, Max Potential Playbook, to be sensitive to this very issue. I plan to write that story in depth eventually but will allow it to be a stand alone piece so that if you have the inclination and desire to learn about that part of my life (which is a huge part of who I am and how I process development, growth and performance on and off the court), you can make that choice and read that piece or make the choice NOT to read it.  I want that to be your decision.

So, back to the question Barron, that was an important decision in shaping who I am today, not only from an eternal perspective according to my beliefs, but also because it provides a clear framework on a greater plan and purpose which has direct impact on how I operate on a day in and day out basis both on and off the court.  I found that the truths in the Bible were quite synonymous with what I was learning and being challenged with on the court.  The key point being character development, continual growth, and maturity personally, while learning to live and work with others in view, growing in love.

In fact, in Rio, I didn’t take my Bible, I only photocopied the book of Philippians which was a letter written in the first century by a Roman citizen/Jewish zealot turned evangelist to a group of people in Philippi (Greece).  I poured through that little letter and found tremendous inspiration throughout my time in Rio and beyond.  First and foremost, Paul was writing this uplifting message from a prison cell where he would say “I can do all things through him who gives me strength” (one of the most quoted verses of the bible, especially at sporting events). But what is often missed is that he isn’t saying this from a victorious position with a Gold Medal around his neck. He was in captivity, under lock and key.  What isn’t quoted often is what he says just before.  “I know what it is to have need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

To me this describes what every athlete and person wants to have: peace and contentment. It illustrates what it means to be clutch and “in the moment”.  Total peace of mind and not consumed with current circumstance or outcomes. What amazing words of encouragement in a time when I needed it!  And who doesn’t want to know contentment in any given situation.  There were dozens of ways that this little letter had massive impact on me personally.  It talks about mindset, determination and even the central theme of the message that Paul was conveying to the small group of people in Greece ran right alongside what John Speraw’s mantra was for our team during the final push leading through Rio.  John wanted us to play tough and together.  At the end of the first section of this letter, Paul the prisoner encourages his friends to stick together without fear no matter what happens.  I drew so much inspiration from this letter that had application for me both on and off the court.  

Barron and Tony, my goal as a person is to pursue meaning, have an impact and live consistently.  I don’t want to compartmentalize my life in any way but rather pursue synchronicity in all areas of my life, as an athlete, as a husband and father, and as a friend.  So answering, or better, attempting to answer, the BIG questions of life helps shape who I am today.

Q&A: What Fuels Your Motivation?

questions_blogKirstin Olsen What fuels your motivation? How did you manage to play internationally at such a high level for so long as a non giant (no offense) and get consistently good contracts?

Thanks for your question Kirstin! What fuels my motivation? I think it started with a passion. Passion is a strong motivator. When I was first introduced to volleyball, it quickly became my favorite sport. It was fun and that’s all I wanted to do. That passion was eventually accompanied by an obsessiveness; a trait that I am prone to. I had an appetite to push the limits of my own ability and a competitive drive that kept the fire burning bright. It’s actually fascinating to me that the “obsessive passion” was powerful enough to drive a 24 year career. Not only that, I have learned through passionate pursuit how to maximize my potential which can translate to any facet of life.

I actually have two passions now, and interestingly enough, volleyball is not one of them. I’m passionate about the Olympics and I’m passionate about golf. The obsessive quality is definitely fixated on golf. So does that make me nervous about the probability of success in beach volleyball? Not at all. Although volleyball isn’t my obsessive passion, the Olympics is a passion and what drives me now in my pursuit on the sand. My experience in indoor equipped me with tools to take forward and I have learned how to personally develop and reach towards my maximum potential. I learned how to set goals, make a plan, confront weaknesses and work the plan, daily. I now have a skill set (that was learned as a byproduct of my obsessive passion in one specific arena, indoor volleyball) geared around reaching my own max potential in any facet of life. The process is the same no matter what you direct your energy or attention towards. I am utilizing those tools for both passions: Olympic Games and golf.

As for how I was able to compete at an international level for so long. I think I am a good learner and a good team player. I was able to become proficient in every aspect of the game – never the best at any one skill but highly operational in all. In my book Max Potential Playbook, I discuss my Philosophy of Volleyball and the impact serving and passing has on the outcome of points. I was able to be strong in those categories, and there is always a spot on a team for a strong passer and server.

From a business standpoint, I think it all comes down to production. You have to produce and prove value on a “today” basis. Pro volleyball is so fickle and it’s truly a “what have you done for me lately” environment. So with that in mind, I played hard all the time and tried to consistently be valuable to whatever team I was on by competing hard and being a good teammate.

You don’t just GET to win!

Question from Bryan Gary Lewis via FACEBOOK Q&A

 

You’ve played at the highest levels. Have had many coaches and teammates. What is the greatest bit of advice you have received that has stuck with you and by whom? What would be your biggest point of advice to all the young junior players that look up to you and the other national team athletes?

Hi Bryan and thank you for your message. I included the video above as it is me answering your question directly.  It was huge for me to really accept the fact that points are up for grabs. There is no destiny or expectation as it relates to results. I can have expectations for how I prepare, or train or the effort that I bring but not how any one point or even more foolishly, any result of a match or tournament is anything but the result of effort and execution.  This piece of advice, given to me by Doug Beal, has stuck with me to this day.  I work daily to increasing my skill, thereby increasing by ability to play aggressive (without incurring more risk) and try to increase the probability of winning points (See my chapter titled MY VOLLEYBALL PHILOSOPHY in Max Potential Playbook).   But I never have any expectation about results.  That was a great lesson I learned early in my career.

3 Tips for the Optimized Athlete

Question from Chris Tischler via FACEBOOK

  • I’m getting older (41), but I played D1 college ball and still like to play a lot. I’m actually preparing for a big very competitive upcoming tournament; the World Police and Fire Games. I’m looking to get the most out of my body and training. What supplements did you find helped you the most as you got older?

Chris!  Great questions and it happens to be one of my passions; How do we optimize “x”?  How do we optimize our bodies and how do we optimize our training?  We are all so busy and time is truly our most valuable (and fleeting) commodity.  How do we do what we need to, what we should do and what we want to do?  There is just not enough time!  

I’m certainly not in a place of being able to answer this questions from any place of authority but in the spirit of being a fellow sojourner on the quest to maximization, these are the things I am thinking about. 

Mindful practice:  Given that we don’t’ have time to spare it becomes increasingly more critical to maximize our time.   I am currently trying to build a business, transition to professional beach volleyball, get better at golf and learn the drums.  This on top of being a husband, father, and friend.  I have noticed for me that intentional growth starts by putting practice times in the calendar.  If it’s not on the calendar, it’s not a priority and won’t happen. Then when I do get to that ear-marked time, I try to be totally present and make sure I am squeezing the most out of that time (mind and body).  There are lots of books out there about this subject, the one that I am reading now, and one that I most definitely recommend is “Grit” by Angela Duckworth.  There is so much valuable information in this book and worth a read! 

Physically speaking, as we age, Recovery becomes the major consideration.  In my last season with the national team, my days were full. The volume on the court and in the weight room was the same but the warm up and cool down was significantly longer than in my earlier years.  In fact, I like to say that competitive PEAK can be extended well into your forties, it just takes more work.  Recovery includes various modalities (I use GameReady and Normatech) as well making great “fuel” choices (nutrition) and making sure you are getting enough sleep.  I have also discovered (the hard way) that if we aren’t careful, prolonged stress can wreak havoc on our bodies.  My 2015 season was completely lost due to the stress that I was under and didn’t know it.  Letting go of stress is highly individual but for me, it involved verbally purging (which was instigated by some well-meaning friends that could tell something was up) and also doing breathing work with my neighbor who is a Yogi.  The last two things (talking and breathing) I would have laughed at in my younger days but now, I am all in on utilizing those tools!

On a practical level, back in 2005/2006, I made a big personal discovery in regards to nutrition.  World League is the annual National Team tournament where we are playing and traveling all over the world in a short amount of time. I had noticed a pattern emerging; I was in the top five of every major statistical category halfway through the tournament but without fail, my performance would drop off and I would limp towards the end of the tournament.  I was turned on to recovery shakes and informed that if I didn’t replenish my body within 30 minutes of the end of any physical activity, my body would start eating away at itself (ie. muscle).  I didn’t want that! I started to use recovery shakes (Favorites: Previnex and Biosteel) which are ideally three or four parts carbohydrate to one part protein immediately after I finished a practice, match or workout.  I do it religiously (still to this day!) and it has made a massive difference in my recovery and overall health.  I have also taken daily antioxidant supplements from Previnex for over a year.  They don’t have the same drastic feeling of improvement that the shakes did for me but I do feel great and believe that they help.

I hope this helps Chris!

Your Questions: Pro League in the USA

Question from Eddie Davidson via Facebook

  1. What did you enjoy most about playing abroad? What was your favorite country to play in and why? What league was your favorite and why?

It was awesome to be able to enjoy my passion, travel the world and compete.  That can’t happen at this time here in the USA; there are no pro leagues(I’ll get to that below).  Volleyball though is a big deal in a lot of places around the world and its awesome to experience.  I really enjoyed all of the places I played.  Russia, Italy, Turkey, Greece, Korea, Austria; amazing people, amazing places.  I’m truly grateful for all of the experiences.  As far as my favorite? That’s a tough one to answer.  I really enjoyed my 5 years in Russia.  The Russian market had recently opened up to foreigners and there were some big sponsors spending money on volleyball. The level was high and it was an exciting time to be there. After that 5-year stint, we went to Turkey for a year and really enjoyed our time there.  The weather was significantly warmer and there are amazing vacation spots around Turkey.  My favorite was Belek which was a small city just south of Antalya and filled with mega resorts and golf courses.

  1. What can we do to get a pro indoor league in the US?

This is an age old question but worthy nonetheless.  Volleyball has had a hard time in the US breaking out of its current condition and growing.  As far as I can see, the only sustainable aspect of volleyball from a business perspective (in that it is not subsidized by another entity), is club volleyball.  I am determined to build something in volleyball that is sustainable but that will be another post;) 

As for a pro league in the US.  Before we can do that, we need to first connect with the already thousands of fans and give them more access to the sport.  We live in the right time in history to make a move along these lines.  Technological advances have created an opportunity to showcase the sport as it exists currently.  There needs to be a runway strategy whereby we first give US Volleyball fans and all access pass to the amazing volleyball happening around the world.   That will help create more demand.  Right now, the audience is too fragmented. 

I also think we need to rethink how we digitally capture and broadcast volleyball events.  In my 24 years in the sport, I have never heard someone come to a live match and say “good job but that just isn’t for me”. Never!  The game is perfect the way it is. We have to figure out a better way to capture and transmit the live experience of being at a match through the digital channels and into peoples living rooms. They need to feel the speed, power and intensity.  This is a broadcasting issue, not an issue with Volleyball.  Camera angles, instructional graphics, pre and post shows….all opportunities of allowing a person to actual become a fan.  But again, lets first provide a product and deliver it to the already volleyball fan.  The broadcasting world has done a great job of not only capturing other sports live and transmitting that through the airwaves but they have even been able to enhance those events.  Take Golf for example; its way better to watch a Golf event on tv.  Same with football and basketball.  There is so much more happening through a broadcast than you get when buying a ticket to a live event.  We need to figure out how to better capture and enhance the live volleyball experience and make someone feel like they were there, even if they were actually streaming on a computer thousands of miles away.

In the meantime, support whatever local team is in your city by buying a ticket and watching a game.  Most of same people that complain that our sport isn’t bigger are the same people that never want to pay for anything volleyball related.  

Your Questions: When in doubt, compete!

Questions from Wouter Timmermans via FACEBOOK.

  1. Reid what did you do during a match if everything isn’t going as you wish? What did you say to yourself or did you had a special ritual? To get you back on track?

As mentioned in the previous post on break-thru during plateaus, if something isn’t going well, apply your focus to other areas of your game.  In 6-man volleyball, there are always ways to contribute and another teammate can pick up the slack.  I remember back to the World League Finals in 2008.  We were playing against Serbia for the Gold Medal and they had clearly spent their entire game-prep on how they would try and stop Clay Stanley; he was our most powerful weapon.  In the first 3 sets, they did an effective job, and Clay couldn’t get anything past the block.  Our team continually encouraged Clay to keep his head up and keep swinging.  In the meantime, the rest of us had to put some balls away.  It was a great example of teamwork and Clay never got discouraged.  By the time we reached the 4th set, being up 2-1, Clay went something like 8 for 8 in the final half of that set killing every ball that came his way!

Wouter, I won’t call it a ritual but what I notice is that when things aren’t going well, it is our human tendency to become inward focused. That is never a good place to be!  Our mental coach during the Rio quad, Andrea Becker, shared a strategy to stay outward focused.  Where are you looking?  She told us that when we become inward focused, we often look down, eyes to the floor. The simple awareness to look up accesses a part of our brain that helps us stay in a more positive state of mind.  She also encourages us to “say something, touch something” and just physically work to stay out of our own minds.  When we get caught in that space, it isn’t liberating in any sense; we usually get more analytical and more in our own way.

For me personally, I learned to fall back on my competitive drive.  Described in my post on GRIT (check it out!).

  1. What does it feel like to play in a full stadium?

Exhilarating!  Its always fun to play in a sold out arena filled with people who love what you do.  I have been in lots of crazy environments but one of the craziest was in 2015 in Iran.  We had a 7pm match and entered the arena at 5pm and were escorted to our locker room.  The hall ways were dark but the place was already full and LOUD!  We were in some dark, dingy, hallway making our way under the arena to our dressing room and they were absolutely shaking the entire structure.  It had a “coliseum” or “gladiator” type feel.  There never relented either. They were screaming and on their feet until the match was over.  My ears were ringing for hours.  Pretty epic.

 

Your Questions: Overcoming Plateau’s

Questions from Nathan Wang via FACEBOOK.

  1. Can you describe any plateaus that you experienced as a player and how you overcame them? I’d be especially interested in the mental and confidence aspect of the game. How would you coach a player that struggled with confidence issues in their game and what would you tell them focus on independently?

Nathan, great questions!  I dive into this topic more in this post, and also in my book that can be downloaded for free here.

One of the great aspects of volleyball is that there are different phases of the game that require different skill sets.  It is rare that volleyball players are firing on all cylinders.  So, when I was struggling in one faceting of the game, I would rep it out as much as possible in a practice setting. But in a match, if something wasn’t working even after I applied extra focus to that part of the game, I would direct my attention to another phase of the game.  If my passing was off, I would make sure I was still communicating and contributing to the team but I would work extra hard on covering the hitters or serving.  If my hitting was off, I would focus on passing the ball and defense.  

There have been several times throughout my career where I experienced plateaus and everything seemed to be off. Different stages were caused by different factors.  Some physical; due to the grind of the schedule, and some mental. One in particular was following my comeback from facial reconstruction surgery.  I (or more accurately Max Holt) broke all sorts of bones in my face and it required two surgeons and eventually two surgeries in the same day due to complications, to repair it.  I was back on the court within a few months and competing.  It was rough in every sense.  My level of play was very average and instead of trying to “make everyday a masterpiece” as  John Wooden encouraged, I was stuck making mud pies.  It all reached a head after my team, Zenit Kazan, exited early from the Russian Cup, which we were hosting, making it all the more miserable.  After that match, my coach had had enough of my average play and decided to give another guy a shot.  The ensuring weeks of practice were filled with emotional lows as I was frustrated with my situation.  I knew I had it in me to get out of the funk but I spent too much time making excuses and not dealing with the reality of the situation.  I needed to face the fact that I was not performing well enough to play.   

Being able to honestly assess any given situation is a big deal in reaching ones max potential.  Looking back, I think I was trying so hard to act like nothing was wrong that I started to trick myself.  I needed to be honest, especially with myself, and properly evaluate my own game. Then I could aspire to take ground, even in small ways, each day.  From there, I could try to stack good day on top of good day until my game was back and improvement was taking place.  That is what I did and though it didn’t translate to more playing time on that team, I regained my pre-injury form and went on to play up to my potential for many years. 

  1. Have you ever played under a coach with whom you didn’t see eye to eye on with respect to training regime, style, etc? How did you manage this situation?

This has happened several times throughout my career.  I guess the way I would answer this question is to say there is only one coach. There were times when I didn’t like what we were doing but at the end of the day, players play and coaches coach.  Therefore, it does no good for a player to be preoccupied with coaching.  Its counterproductive.  I have learned that as I am forced to adapted to different styles of play, different training methods or whatever the case may be, there is always something of value I can take from it.  

Both of these questions come down to mindset.  And really, the mind is where we find a lot of the margins between teams and wins and losses.  Everyone is skilled, talented and hungry at the top. The differentiator then is between the ears.  Who can adapt the quickest? Who can become comfortable being uncomfortable? Who can focus under pressure?  Having to adapt under differing circumstances helps promote growth.

My Max Potential Playbook touches on these topics and more, if you are interested, click on the link and download your copy.

 

 

 

Offensive Range

 

imagesThe number one most asked question for me is “How can I jump higher?” I’m an undersized player and I really want to maximize my jump and I certainly understand that desire. But a better question is “How could I be a more effective hitter?” I would say that to be a more effective hitter, learn to hit on your way up and play against the block. Hit the edges of the block. Find areas on the court that are going to put the other team in trouble in a transition play. Learn how to hit with different timings. Nine out of ten times/eight out of ten times, hit on your way up which will allow your “hang and bang” shot to be effective as you blast off their hands on their way down. That body control, spatial awareness and visual ability to see the block while keeping the ball in front of you is how you become a more effective hitter.  

What about blocking as an undersized player?  There are strategies there too but you can start by making sure your teammates are serving tough when you are in the front row.  As for increasing your vertical.  That will be another blog post- but the short answer is plyometrics and more plyometrics .  Always be working on your jump but in the meantime, develop your offensive range to offset any height deficiencies.

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