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Q&A: Anderson Building Canadian Beach Volleyball Fortunes

Steve Anderson and Australian Olympian Natalie Cook
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, May 17, 2014 - The Head Coach of Volleyball Canada's High Performance Beach Volleyball Programs, Steve Anderson, sits down with FIVB following the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour Puerto Vallarta Open.

When Steve Anderson was hired at the end of 2012 as the Head Coach of Volleyball Canada’s High Performance Beach Volleyball Programs, the NORCECA federation stated that they were “impressed” with his experience and skills as the organization’s goal was to build a “leading edge Beach National Team Program that produces International competitive excellence.”

Anderson’s experience featured 26 years of coaching elite beach volleyball athletes in 14 countries highlighted by the Olympic medal efforts by Australians Natalie Cook and Kerri Pottharst.  The Aussies won the first-ever Olympic beach volleyball medal with a third-place at the Atlanta 1996 Summer Games followed by a gold medal effort at the Sydney 2000 Olympics. 

“After 17 years of living in Australia, I had decided with my wife that we needed to move to the Northern hemisphere so that I could be closer to my mother (Mary Brame),” said Anderson, who was born in the United States and grew up in Kentucky.  “Literally minutes after making this decision, I checked my emails and found the request for applications by Volleyball Canada for the Head Coach position for the National Beach Team which had been forwarded to me by my good friend and former Canadian Beach Volleyball representative Sarah Maxwell.  I telephoned my wife at work and asked her how she felt about moving to Toronto and the rest is history.”

Anderson, who started his position in January 2013 and is headquartered at the Downsview High Performance Facility in Toronto, was no stranger to Canadian athletes as he was a personal coach for many of the countries athletes over the years.  Anderson had also worked with Beach Volleyball athletes from Angola, Costa Rica, Denmark, Finland, France, Great Britain, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland, Vanuatu and the United States.

As a 5-foot, 10-inch African-American, Anderson was born and raised in the west end of Louisville.  At the age of nine, Anderson’s father was shot to death while trying to break up an argument between two intoxicated friends.  His mother immediately forgave the two men and instructed her son to do the same.  “My mother’s compassion and understanding helped me when I started to coach,” said Anderson.

Anderson became interested in Volleyball when his older cousins took him to Chickasaw park to play on the concrete courts.  He was “wowed with the huge men rocketing spikes across the net and admired the technical and strategic aspects of the game.”

After starting to play club Volleyball in Louisville, Anderson began following Beach Volleyball on television and thought, "I that is what I want to do.”  He moved to Southern California to start playing Beach Volleyball.

“I showed up on Santa Monica Beach expecting to show my stuff,” said Anderson, “but I quickly learned that the sport was an enclosed society.  Here I am a 5-foot-10 black kid from Kentucky with no history, wearing my Michael Jordan jersey, and I'm trying to get a game on the first court.  One guy looks up at me and says, `Bro, the basketball courts are that way.”

After his initial effort on the Southern California beach, Anderson learned that he “couldn't jump as easily off the sand and the stricter standards turned his sets into fouls.  I was nursing an injured shoulder and was so put off by the reception I received that first game that I stayed off the beach for a full year.”  But, he finally returned to Santa Monica to give beach volleyball another try and started to learn the game.  Anderson quickly earned his California Beach Volleyball Association AAA rating and became a part-time player on the American domestic tour while working full time in sales.

Anderson turned down a chance to move to Australia and join the pro ranks “down under” due to his job and girlfriend.  The relationship ended with the girlfriend and Anderson kicked himself for not going.  “I told myself if I ever get the opportunity to go to Australia again, I'm going," he said. 

In 1990 Anderson quit his sales and began coaching to supplement his income so that he could play fulltime on the beach.  His aspirations to play beach fulltime were sidetracked when he started coaching several women's teams on the Women’s Professional Volleyball Association tour and had to choose between coaching and playing.  In 1995 he met Cook and Pottharst when they were looking for a coach to help them break through the Brazilian and American dominance in the sport.

"We couldn't speak Portuguese, so we figured we'd learn American," Cook said about the selection process in the summer of 1995 in Southern California.  "We interviewed about 10 coaches for two hours each.  We fell in love with Steve and his personality."

Remembering his promise, Anderson accepted the offer without any hesitation from Cook and Pottharst and moved to Australia to train the team full-time.  "It was a leap of faith," Anderson said. "But I believed in my coaching abilities and the girl’s passion and commitment to excellence."

In web accounts, “Anderson struggled to get used to wearing another country's uniform at the Olympics, especially when the Games were held in Atlanta in 1996.  After a lot of soul searching I decided that if I was going to represent another country then I better be fully committed to doing my best.  Anderson strategies, which included a new offense aimed at neutralizing the Brazilian and American teams' power, helped result in an unexpected bronze medal.   Then at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Cook and Pottharst upset the top-ranked Brazilian team (Adriana Behar and Shelda Bede) to win the gold medal on home soil.” 

"He's the best coach in the world," the Australian girls were quoted in the web article.  "He works us mentally, physically and strategically.  He's like a guardian angel out there."

At the recently-completed Puerto Vallarta Open, Anderson had the following answers during a “Q&A” session:

Question - Once you applied for the Head Coach of Canada's High Performance Beach Volleyball Programs, how did you proceed in selling yourself and your projected program to the Volleyball Canada selection committee?

Anderson - “Initially, I thought that Volleyball Canada (VC) wanted an experienced coach would could work with their top teams and get results on the World Tour and Olympic Games.  After doing some research and discovering who some of the other candidates were it dawned on me that VC didn’t just want a coach who focused on a few teams, they wanted someone who could build a complete National Program including talent identification, athlete and coach development, a complete high performance pathway and Olympic Medals.  My nine years of sales and marketing experience had taught me that meeting the clients need is the best sell anything so I simply asked them, “Do you want a coach or someone to build a National Program?’’  Once they confirmed that they wanted someone to build a National Program it became very clear that we were a good fit.”

Question - Did your "Champion’s Map" that you promote at play a part in the process?

Anderson - “It did in the sense that I used it to map out what I wanted and how and when I was going to create it.  The Champion’s Map is a proven Gold Medal Success process that helps to create conscious and deliberate peak performance.  It is a holistic approach that incorporates goal mapping, life alignment, peak performance and legacy planning.  I developed it from the Gold Medal processes I used with my teams in the Olympic Games and it has proven to get peak performance under pressure and prepare you for Gold Medal results.  Henry Hartman said “Success always comes when preparation meets opportunity.”  The Champion’s Map gets you prepared for success.

Question - How much did your success with coaching the Australian tandem Natalie Cook and Kerri Pottharst play a part in your selection?

Anderson - “VC were very clear that there mission was to build an Olympic Medal program so I am sure that my Olympic success with Nat and Kerri was a major influencer to getting me in the door.  VC were very thorough with the hiring process and it became very clear that they were more interested in my plans for the future than my past success.  Initially there was a written application that had very specific and challenging question to be answered in detail.  The second stage was a three hour interview with seven panelists from different sectors of the Canadian volleyball community.  The third stage involved me flying from Australia to Canada to meet the VC President, Executive Director and High Performance Director.  After all of that VC and I were convinced that it would be a good fit so I accepted the position and moved my family.  Over the past year I have had the support of all three of these men and the program is getting some results.

Question - When you assume your position as the head of Canada's High Performance Beach Volleyball Programs, what were your thoughts about the country's Beach Volleyball program as Canada did qualify a men's and women's team for the London 2012 Olympic Games?

Anderson - “I think that the infrastructure and administration at VC is world class.  We have an indoor Fulltime Training Center for our Beach National Team, some great support through the Ontario Volleyball Association (OVA), Canadian Sport Institute of Ontario (CSIO), Sport Canada and B210 as well as some great corporate relationships with Maui and Sons, AMJ Campbell and IBI Group.  Marie Andre Lessard, Annie Martin, Josh Binstock and Martin Reader represented Canada at the London Olympics after a grueling campaign qualifying through the Continental Cup, my job is to create a system to qualify the maximum teams to the Olympics and prepare them for a medal opportunity.

Question - Once you started as the head of Canada's High Performance Beach Volleyball Programs, what was the "deal" about the shape of the Beach Volleyball programs in Canada?

Anderson - “I have always thought of Canada as being a competitive volleyball nation so it surprised me when I discovered that there was only one women’s team that was consistently in the FIVB Main draw the previous season.  The program was producing skilled athletes but there needed to be a mental and cultural shift to convert their efforts to winning on the World Tour.

Question - Since being on the job as the head of Canada's High Performance Beach Volleyball Programs, what has been accomplished the past 16 months and what needs to happen before the start of the qualifying process for the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games?

Anderson - “The first three things I did was: raise the standard for being a National Team athlete, expand the program from being centralized in Toronto to including camps based athletes training outside of the centralized program and encourage teams to get individual team coaches outside of the Beach National Team staff.  This allowed athletes and coaches who had opted out of the National program a way back in.  The impact on our results was dramatic and immediate.  In 2012 we only had one women’s team that had more than three 17ths place finishes on the FIVB tour.  The majority of the teams were struggling to get out of the qualifiers.  In 2013, we had we had four teams with more than three FIVB top 17th place finishes, including 10 ninths and two fifths.  The highlight was one of our camps based teams, Ben Saxton and Chaim Schalk, finishing fifth at the FIVB World Championships.  We also increased our NORCECA medal tally from eight in 2012 to 18 in 2013 even though our top teams were playing FIVB.”

Question - What are the goals for the Canada's High Performance Beach Volleyball Programs in 2014?

Anderson - “As part of my Champion’s Map Olympic medal process I set all of my KPI’s from 2013-2016 last year.  My 2014 KPI’s are: two teams each gender to achieve a minimum of three 9th place finishes in FIVB Grand Slams, two teams each gender to achieve a minimum of three fifths place finishes in FIVB Opens and one FIVB podium finish.  Considering the position of our teams in 2012 these KPI’s seemed pretty aggressive but the teams have responded and are exceeding the goals.”

Question - The Volleyball Canada web site ( lists 20 men and 18 women on its 2014 Beach Volleyball roster.  What players have impressed you the most since January 2013 with their development the past 16 months?

Anderson - “Honestly the entire squad has impressed me in some way, that’s why they were selected to represent Canada.  I started as Head Coach in January 2013 just two months after the National Team had been selected so I couldn’t say that it was my team.  In October of 2013 I held my first National Team selection camp, I selected this team along with a panel of six handpicked selectors so this team is definitely mine and everyone on it earned their way in.  I have divided the teams into 2016 focused and 2020 and beyond focused based on their development and international competition readiness.  Leading the 2016 focused teams Ben Saxton and Chaim Schalk impressed me with their fifth at the FIVB World Championships.  They raised their game a couple levels last year and are a real podium threat for 2014.  Heather Bansley and Sarah Pavan impressed me with their fifth place finish last year as well.  This team performed with limited preparation time and I expect big things from them in 2015 and 2016 when Sarah becomes 100% beach focused.  Sam Pedlow and Grant O’Gorman made the shift from development team to FIVB focused last year with a tough three set lost to Brazilians Allison and Emanuel in Long Beach.  Grant is only twenty years old and Sam has shown rapid development, they are both on a steep learning curve and ready for a big 2014 season.  Jamie Broder and Kristina Valjas went from being a 2012 qualifying team to being our second most consistent FIVB performers behind Saxton and Schalk.  They had a steady diet of Main Draw appearances, won the NORCECA Championships and finished the FIVB season rank 12th overall.  Maverick Hatch and Christian Redmann were our second ranked team on the FIVB and had an impressive performance winning the NORCECA Championships late in the year. Josh Binstock and Sam Schachter didn’t have a great FIVB season but have impressed me with their dedication to building a strong support team in the off season and I expect them to have a good 2014.  Kacie MacTavish and Caleigh Whitaker are grinders.  They had a tough 2013 season but in an age were partner switches happen like the changing wind they stayed committed to their partnership and are set for a breakthrough season.  All of my National Team athletes have stepped up their game and have impressed me in some way.  I am asking for them to be professional and committed even though some of them are still in school or have work commitments that prevent them from being full time.  So it is my responsibility as Head Coach to build a system that allows our National Team athletes to train fulltime without compromising their families, future or quality of living.  It is a work in progress but it will get done.”

Question - To date, there has been three FIVB and three NORCECA events in 2014.  Knowing the competition level is vastly different between FIVB and NORCECA events, what Canadian teams have impressed you the most to date.

Anderson - “I work on the Olympic cycle so I plan for my teams to peak from July to August depending on what my KPI’s are or what major event we need to peak for so it’s tough for me to evaluate my teams based on the first few events.  This year I would like for a Canadian team to be on the FIVB podium.  My top teams have shifted focus from NORCECA to FIVB so it wouldn’t surprise me to see our NORCECA medal tally drop a bit and our FIVB finishes should improve dramatically.  I have some impressive young teams that I would like to see on the FIVB - Melisa Humana-Parades and Taylor Pischke, Garrett May and Dan Dearing, and Brandie Wilkerson and Claudia Seguin.  As well as my NORCECA focused teams Ryan Vandenburg and Andrew Hinchey, Simon Fecteau-Boutin and James Battison, Mike Plantiga and Cam Wheelan, Victoria Altomare and Julie Gordon, Kerri Smit and Tory Cowley, Alex Corsi-Caya and Ryan Debruyn, Aaron Nusbaum and Dallas Keith, Sophie Bukovec and Tia Miric/Julia Hamer.”

Question – As the head of Canada's High Performance Beach Volleyball Programs, do you have a coaching staff to help you?  If so, can you name those individuals and outline their duties?

Anderson - “I have a world class coaching staff starting with my Senior National Team Assistant Coach Adriana Bento.  Adriana just missed out on qualifying for the 2000 Olympics with partner 1996 Gold Medalist Jackie Silva.  I also have some world class individual team coaches, including Canadian legends Garth Pischke and John May, 1996 Olympic Bronze medalist John Child, Bronze medal coach Hernan Humana, Ahren Cadieux, Anouk Boileau, Chris Densmore, Ish Josephs, Gus Tsiapalis and former Canadian head coach Lennard Krapp.  We have a dedicated group of excellent development coaches, including provincial team head coach Angie Shen and Youth World Championship coaches Willians Sanchez, Eddie Coleman and Mischa Harris.  I also have a superstar support team, including High Performance Director Ed Drakich, National Team Coordinator Marc Stromme, Team Doctors Doug Richards and Dr. Julia Hamilton, S&C Coordinator Ryan MacDonald, Nutritionist Nicole Springle, Physiotherapist Nicole Sullivan, Chiropractor Dr. Cam Borody, Athletic Trainer Louise Chan, Physiologist Troy Taylor, Sports Psychologist Judy Goss and CSIO Team Consultant Sheila Galloway.

Question - Finally, you have coached an Olympic championship team and a top-rated pair on the FIVB World Tour.  What will it take for a team from Canada to consistently place on a FIVB podium and to win a medal at the World Championships and Olympic Games?

Anderson - “Being the best in the world is a very complex challenge that takes a multidimensional solution to achieve.  That is what the Champion’s Map is for and my competitive secret.  What I can say is the first thing that it will take for a Canadian team to consistently podium on the FIVB and medal at the World Championships and Olympic Games is belief.  Many people desire being the best in the world but it is really their fantasy not their destiny.  When you set your mind on something it becomes your goal, when you set your belief on something it becomes your destiny.  It is no longer a question of if something will happen it becomes a question of how and when.  Preparing for the Olympic Games is like no other thing I have ever encountered.  For most Olympians it is a once in a life time experience.  For the fortunate who do more than one Olympics, they have to wait four years between each opportunity.  So much life happens in four years most people can’t sustain the commitment and self-management necessary to produce their best performance when the opportunity is present.  I believe that Champion people get Champion results.  Gold medalist build themselves into a Champions way before they enter the court.  When the opportunity shows up their preparation meets it and the result is natural.  My commitment is to help every Canadian National Team Athlete build themselves into Champions in life.  With a team of Champions it is only a matter of time before some of them become Champions in volleyball.”


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