Mark Barnard is the Associate Head Coach for Women’s Volleyball at Oregon State University and the former head coach of the Australian Women’s National Team. He oversaw the development of Camille Saxton at OSU, who finished her career in 2012 as one of the most prolific offensive players in Oregon State history. He coached at the international level for more than 11 years prior to his appointment with the Beavers.
Jared was good enough to sit down with Winthrop’s managing editor, Ryan Matthews, to discuss player development, statistical analysis, and enjoying what you do, in addition to the success he and Oregon State have had on the court.
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Listen to the interview:
What advice would you give to a talented young person interested in coaching that you wish someone had given you before you started out?
A lot of people start out in coaching having been former athletes, and what happens is they don’t realize what goes on in the coaching world. You see the coaches at practice. You see them before matches, during matches, but you don’t really understand just how much work there is that goes on behind closed doors. I think if you want to get into coaching you’ve really got to be prepared to work hard and understand that there’s so much more to coaching than just turning up and running a practice. It’s a very small percentage of what coaching’s about.
I often think, if you’ve played for a particular coach, a lot of the style you have will be like that coach. I would suggest to you, as a young developing coach, to get out and learn from many different coaches. Coaches who have fairly big, gregarious characters—for the most part—may want to tell you how and why they’ve been successful. If you can latch onto coaches as mentors and learn from those people, you’ll do well.
I think for me, if I’d done that when I was younger, it may have given me a broader understanding of how to get the best out of athletes. I think because like a lot of people, you have a particular style of coaching and you tend to mimic what you see when you begin coaching. Mainly, you have to be prepared to work hard. It’s not a nine-to-five job. It’s not normal hours of operation, and you have to be prepared for that.
How would you describe your coaching philosophy?
You’ve got to enjoy what you do every day and I think so much of what athletes pick up from coaches is based on what the coach is projecting on that particular day. Are they engaged? Are they not engaged? Are they happy? Angry? Whatever the mood is, players pick up on it.
I think that you need to present, as a coach, a consistent attitude every single day. I think enjoyment’s a huge part of whether a coach projects positivity or negativity, and the more people enjoy what they do…and enjoyment’s not necessarily about having fun, but about being where you want to be. Enjoyment is sometimes just that you can say you’ve set yourself a goal and you’re achieving that goal. You’re working hard to achieve that goal. My overarching statement would be, “Enjoy what you do every day, because if you do, the rest of it’s a lot easier.”
What has been the most critical decision you’ve been responsible for?
Well, it was probably prior to coming here, actually. It was Olympic selections, far and away. It was the most critical because college, it’s certainly a big thing to go to a particular college, but it’s not the end of the world if you go to one versus another. You still go to university. You have to pay for it if you’re a not a scholarship athlete, but realistically, you don’t lose out on anything. For Olympic teams, athletes spend four or five or six years, preparing. There’s a lot at stake.
And especially in sports where there’s not a lot of money, like volleyball, working very hard—for these athletes—this is their one and only dream. I think to take away the opportunity to compete on that world stage, that’s a big issue. There’s even impact beyond that. In Australia for example, in terms of the players selected we have to balance between an Olympic team that could be really competitive in one year, or one or two players who could go beyond the one Olympics and play longer. It’s immediate versus long-term impact.
I found that to be certainly the most difficult or critical decisions that I was involved in, as part of the selection committee. The impact on those we cut is something I still think about today. It had to be done, but you just don’t like doing it.
How has more information/data helped achieve strategic goals and helped you in your role as a coach?
I think as a coach you look at what’s going on, on the court or on the field and you see a lot less than you think you see. What I mean by this is we now really look at the statistical work about what the players are doing. Looking at video, looking at that statistical data to identify weaknesses of the players, to identify the team weakness, what you’ve got to work on, and also opponents, and to show the team that while you may or may not be winning matches, that you’re at least always trying to improve as you move along in key statistical areas.
The more you know about a particular player or a particular situation; more data allows you to make a more informed decision. Part of the deal these days is you can’t just tell a player that they’re not doing well enough. You have to sit down and say, “This is why we haven’t chosen you this weekend,” or “This is why you won’t be on this team anymore.” You’ve got to be able to quantify your selection.
We’ve been able to improve what we do with players by really getting a new kind of an eyeball on them. With statistics we know where they’ve got to improve. We know exactly the important areas and I think that we’re all coaching a little bit better, pushing for improvements, and, in the end, for the athlete it’s a faster rate of improvement, which is really all that we’re about.
What is the aspect of your work that you’re most proud of?
Well, I really think that any coaches in the college environment are about developing the athlete as a person. Now, they’re going to play for four years. They’re going to play football, volleyball, basketball, but really, you want to see in the first year and their fourth or fifth year that you’ve had a positive influence. Developing a little bit of the persona that they’re going to carry when they leave college and start working in the real world.
So, I think that mentoring is something that for me, personally, I am the most proud of because in the end that’s the biggest effect you can have on somebody—that you may help form the way they think and act. Of course, winning’s the immediate glory. Everyone loves that, but the development of the people that you work with is by far the most important. That’s the lifelong memory they’ll have.
They won’t remember in 40 or 50 years whether they won or lost key matches, but I think they will remember the people that had a big impact on their life. I find that to be the most rewarding part of what we do and certainly the most proud when you see the players three, or four, or five years removed and how they got on with their life.