The greatest volleyball player of all time returned home to Santa Barbara on Wednesday night to share some lessons with the local sports community.
Santa Barbara High alumnus and 3-time Olympic gold-medalist Karch Kiraly was the keynote speaker at the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table’s “Fall Classic,” held at the University Club.
The audience, which included local high school girls volleyball players, got to pass around Kiraly’s indoor medals from the 1984 and ’88 Olympics as well as the beach volleyball gold he won in Atlanta in 1996.
“Santa Barbara has a tremendous volleyball tradition, with some of the best fans and some of the best players there are,” said Kiraly, who began playing the game when he was six-years old at East Beach.
His message revolved around four lessons that he learned during his playing career that directly led to his unparalleled success.
He spoke first of preparation, citing his days as a player for the Dons under coach Rick Olmstead.
“Under him, I probably worked out harder every single day at Santa Barbara High School than just about every day of my four years of playing volleyball at UCLA. That’s how hard he pushed us to try to become the best team that we could be, and it was a great lesson,” he said.
Kiraly also shared an old saying that Olmstead always used:
“Excuses are like armpits. Everybody’s got ‘em, and they stink.”
The second lesson is that the most important part of success in sport is to focus on elevating the play of your teammates rather than just focusing on yourself.
“If you can make everyone better around you, the coach has no choice but to put you on the court,” he said.
The third lesson is to channel your energy and focus only forward.
“A lot of people ask me how I prepared to win a gold medal, and I say that I didn’t. I didn’t prepare at all to win a gold medal. What I prepared to do was only one thing and that was to try and win the next point,” he said.
He used fellow beach volleyball star Dax Holdren, who was in attendance, in his example. Kiraly recalled playing against Holdren numerous times and being frustrated while trying to figure out how to put the ball away against him.
“I would think to myself ‘How do I get the ball past him? He’s so good on defense,’ but we could get dragged down into that cycle of not forgetting about the last play… The only thing to do is to control the things you can control and move on to the next play,” he said.
The fourth and final lesson involves pushing through when not everyone on a team is not “in the zone.”
Kiraly asked Holdren how often that he and his teammates were all “in the zone” on the court at the same time, and Holdren replied 30-percent. Dos Pueblos’ Sally Yingst said 50-percent.
Kiraly said no one should expect it to get much higher than that.
“Most of the time a team of volleyball players is not in the zone,” he said. “The sign of a great team is one that can battle and scratch and claw when not everybody’s at their best.
“It’s really easy when things aren’t going so well, what happens is players stop talking and don’t come together as much, but that’s actually the time when they have to come together more,” he said.
The floor then opened up for questions. Round Table board member Chris Casebeer asked Kiraly to say a few words about Henry Bergman, one of the pioneers of the beach game down on East Beach who passed away just a few weeks ago.
Kiraly referred to Bergman as one of his idols growing up, and recalled him down at the beach practicing by himself often.
A memorial service for Bergman will be held Saturday at Café del Sol at 1:30 p.m.
Kiraly also fielded questions about his current coaching positions, including as an assistant for the U.S. Women’s National Team.
To learn more about the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table and how you can get involved, visit www.sbart.org.