The United States men’s volleyball team that won the Olympic Gold Medal in Los Angeles in 1984 is rightfully considered one of the most iconic teams in the history of the sport. And yet its story has sadly drifted from the consciousness of most (all) volleyball fans.
The short version of the story is of a young, ambitious coach who takes over as coach of his own perenially underperforming National Team. After some initial hurdles he finds himself coaching a wildly talented group of players supported by incredibly creative coaches. Over the course of four years, they rise from a team with a world ranking in the mid teens to winning an Olympic Gold Medal before an adoring home crowd in the most popular Games of all time. Along the way they changed in every way the game is played and practiced and created a dynasty that is still a world power. Cue made for TV 80s movie.
Of course the path was not a smooth one. It never is. Otherwise the movie would have been terrible. (Spoiler alert: the movie was terrible but not because of the story). The lessons of the story live on in every practice held every day in the world. Did you know that before 1984 there was no 6v6 practice? We literally prepared to play volleyball by never playing volleyball. Until now the definitive version of this story has been the no longer available Spike! written by coach Doug Beal in the aftermath of the first victory. That is, until now.
Sean Murray, himself a sports psychologist, is the son of one of the team psychologists who played an integral part in shaping a disparate group with no history of success into the team we know about today. Having grown up with the story, he is perfectly placed to write about the team, and so he has with the new book If Gold is our Destiny: How a Team of Mavericks Came Together for Olympic Glory. Building on the foundation of Beal’s original book, Murray has interviewed many of the players and staff, and pieced together the story behind the success focusing on the efforts of the staff and team psychologists to build a highly functioning, gold medal winning team including the famous Outward Bound mountain experience the team completed.
The book is availabe from July 13th. I can heartily recommend it.
And everyone is invited to a virtual book launch on July 13th. There you can ‘meet’ the author, coach Doug Beal and Aldis Berzins, one of the stars of the team. Please follow the link here.