#40 How To Train When No One Is Looking with Russ ROSE

#40 How To Train When No One Is Looking with Russ ROSE

Expert Game Plan Session: Into the mind of the legendary NCAA Division I Volleyball Coach


March 20, 2016

Russ Rose Beyond Athletic Podcast


There are coaches, and then there is Russ Rose. In this game plan session, we get a chance to ask Russ a few key questions about volleyball in the U.S. along with the international frontier. We also delve into what it takes to be an athlete at a high level and the path to get there. Russ goes through the golden nuggets that have helped him in his career and will help in the career of any athlete. Enjoy!


Born, Russell Rose, from Chicago on November 29, 1953. Married Lori in 1986 and is the father of four sons: Jonathan, Michael, Christopher, and Nicholas. Graduated from George Williams College in 1975 and completed his master’s degree at Nebraska in 1978 with his thesis on volleyball statistics. He is now going on his 38th year as coach at Penn State with an overall coaching record of 1189-186 (.865 winning percentage) ranking him first in NCAA Division I history. Other accolades include the AVCA National Coach of the Year five times (more than any other Division I coach), 7 National Championships (the most women’s volleyball titles of all-time), and has appeared in all 35 NCAA tournaments. As arguably the best coach in NCAA history, Russ is doing something right. Let’s find out what that is!

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“Find a way to be relevant. You have to get your game to such that there is something about you that the other people have to have in their life.” @15:05

“Everyone can teach a kid how to serve and teach the skills, but what separates programs sometimes is when you try to work on the whole person and you  try to give them some advice on other areas of their development...I want the kids to empower themselves and represent themselves.” @12:15

“The people in life who advance the furthest are really good listeners. They are not (thinking about) asking the right questions, they are listening. They are observing and can pretty much predict what the outcome will be (just from listening).” @16:25


  • Just as you had mentors, how important is mentorship in athletics?

  • What are the top mistakes you are seeing college recruits make?

  • What is the difference between U.S.-native athletes and international athletes?

  • How do you see skill overspecialization and overuse affecting younger athletes?

  • How does the current collegiate system help student-athletes?

  • What pros and cons have you heard from the transition of athletes from college to professional?

  • What questions are players not asking that they should be?

  • How is the future landscape of volleyball going to change?

  • How have habits and rituals helped you to build your program over the years?


  • “The greatest gift a mentor can offer a mentee is to never be judgemental, be available to answer questions, and give guidance in an area that the mentee wants to improve.” @1:10

  • High school players sometimes don't understand how hard college level can be. Expectations are much higher. Sure, some levels are not that challenging but then again some are the opposite. Another challenge for younger players is that they don’t understand that everyday, it must be competitive. Every day matters, every drill matters. Either you want to be great and give 100%, or you are going to find yourself sitting on the bench over someone who gets that because they have the different attitude. @3:15

  • Internationals players that come to the U.S. for college are much better students than you would expect. Sometimes it can be difficult for college players to go abroad to play professional because they have to understand the new mindset. They could be battling other international players for a position that means life or death to that player. Having a lackadaisical attitude is not going to be a successful one. It is a job. You better train hard. @5:10

  • Kids in the U.S. play too much when they are young. All of these concrete-floored convention centers facilitate the business side of the sport, but it is rare to find kids coming to college without injuries. If players advance to a higher level, usually they are the ones who are the most in-tune with their body. They know what to do to stay as healthy as they can be. Every aspect of stretching, rest, diet, and nutrition are important.

  • The college system in this country provides a good skeleton to facilitate older players guiding and helping the younger ones. For some sports maybe this doesn’t happen as much (like basketball) because the younger players opt to go play professional a year or two into their collegiate career. “Team sports expect the older players to help out the youngers and show them all of the shortcuts. Our college systems have access to so many people and resources like nutritionists, doctors, massage therapists, sports therapists, etc. Even some pro teams don’t have these. Sometimes it may even be more than we need but those who have access should take advantage of all of these nice opportunities.” @7:25

  • “A lot of players whether it is the national team or other teams can get caught up in the politics. In our program, the best are going to play. If a freshman beats out a senior, that a problem for them and not for me. That’s life. nobody say it’s going to be fair.” Sometimes the timing is just bad. Look at Michael Jordan for example. Think of the players behind him that would have received playing time if MJ had not been in the picture. Those players just have to realize that the timing might have been unfortunate. @12:30

  • Players have to find out what level of play there are at. Then, figure out what is important to them. Sometimes that means whether that be a chance to win a championship or play for a lower level to get playing time.

  • As for the future international landscape of volleyball, every country is different. Everyone is territorial and don’t want their stars to leave. Back in the day when USA and Russia were top 2, the Russia team had the KGB bodyguards to make sure no one from Russia made a run for it. They knew it and we knew it. The top players were able to communicate due to a mutual respect but it was an interesting thing to see in play. @22:50

  • Every play matters. And the players have to know to play hard, play together and have fun when they are doing it. Some people you can lose along the way but (as a coach) the most important thing is if the kids know you care. You can’t work them too hard because they know you care. One of the challenges with coaching is when coaches lose site at times that’s when they break their kids down to teach skills but forget to build them back up. You have to continue to always monitor the development of your players and hope that they get it. Not everybody can go to the top 5% and earn a scholarship. And Even fewer have a chance to go from college to national team or pro.  You hope that the kids that had a chance to do it embrace it and really go after it hard. @22:10


Advice for coaches abroad to focus not just on their players’ skills, but also helping them develop as people @17:30

That is tough because if you are a national coach or a coach in a foreign country, you are going to be judged by the development of the players you have. You want your players to advance and be well received but a lot of countries don't want their kids to leave. There are a lot of great opportunities for international students to attend schools in the U.S. and still advance their sport as well and prepare themselves for a future outside of the sport.

Resources or mindset you have that helps you in your work everyday @24:48

It’s about your players having an opportunity to pursue their dreams. It’s never about me, it’s about them. Their assumption is that they have way more time than they really do. I want those kids to be able to focus and dream big and feel good about their experience.

Recent must-read @26:00

Legacy. A book about a rugby team and what it takes to represent the jersey and be the best that they can be.

Advice to coaches @26:55

Coaches need to work hard. They need to get people around the program that can help the athletes achieve their goal. It is not always possible to relate to all 20 players. Some players will relate to others in the program. It is important to have coaches in your program that can do that.

Advice to players @27:15

For players, it’s about working hard. Working when you are sore or tired. The greatest athletes produce the greatest results when they are training and nobody knows they are training.


“From a coaching standpoint, success is getting people to do things that they don’t start the day wanting to do. For players, success might be reaching their potential as athletes. Teams might value success that they are better than the sum of the parts that make up the group. I look at it as I want the players that play for me to feel good about their experience. That they were treated fairly. That they had an opportunity to get better. An opportunity to play at the highest level, and that the university was as committed to them just as we ask the players to be to each other and the community.” @23:45


Penn State Profile | Volleyball Express Camps | Great Article on Russ