Up Close: Tom Peterson

BYU head coach Tom Peterson sat down for a question and answer session. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)

Tom Peterson sat down for a question and answer session to share his thoughts about volleyball and life.

Question: What do you enjoy most about coaching?

Answer: It's always a unique experience. It's an interaction that you do not get in any other setting. You deal with people in a stressful situation at times. You deal with people in a great camaraderie that you don't get in just an office setting. It's unique because the group works toward a common goal if you are to be a good team. All of that combined, the process of that and the group dynamics is just wonderful. I thrive on that at times. In a regular 9-5 job I would miss all of what I do.

Question: What do you do before a match to get ready?

Answer: You try to do some of the same things every week. We try to be on the court at the same time every match. We have a certain type of warm up. I think that's all kind of a ritual. In sports psychology you try to have rituals or routines. It makes you comfortable to know that you are doing the same thing over and over. It triggers the same reaction.

Question: What do you do to relax and get your mind off volleyball?

Answer: I want to take losses hard. That's an attribute of elite athletes and coaches. Otherwise you wouldn't be motivated to do something about a loss. I think it's very fun. If you're going to be a coach you'd better have some kind of fun. It's fun for me to think about ideas and talk about ideas with other people. That's the fun part of coaching. So when you say 'get your mind off volleyball,' I don't like losing but that's a good thing. On the other hand it's not really difficult for me to get over it with my support system, my wife, and to know that we're okay even though we lost. In sports psychology that's a big deal, you have some kind of self-worth and a team self-worth that we are okay no matter what happens.

Question: What advice would you give to young people?

Answer: One, volleyball is, in my opinion, the best team sport possible. There are many sports and great moments in each, but volleyball is the consummate team sport. Maybe that deserves a little explanation. In basketball one player can take the ball and not have to give it up. In volleyball that doesn't happen. We rotate around to make sure that doesn't happen. You have to depend on someone else for your success. Get involved in volleyball some how. A lot of boys in Utah don't know much about volleyball or they consider it a girl's sport but once they try it they get hooked because it's all power and for some reason our society is about dynamic, explosive things. Volleyball has that plus the intricacies. It's not an easy sport to play but you're jumping as high as you can and hitting or blocking as hard as you can on every play. So just try it out. It's a sport at which you can develop. Once you pick it up, go for it. Spend as much time as you can playing it and find great mentors to help you in volleyball.

Question: How do you spend the off-season?

Answer: I'm not sure that there is much of an off-season any more. During what is referred to as the off-season you recruit and get involved in all of the other aspects of preparing for the season. Recruiting involves going to tournaments or having your staff go and worrying about it and then all the office work. All of that makes it a full-time job year round and most people don't realize all that goes into coaching. I always get questions from people wondering what I do once I'm done with practice. There's a whole bunch more to coaching at this level than just on court stuff. That's actually just a small part of what happens. I also get involved in a lot of camps, conducting them for schools or club teams. I have less vacation time now than I've ever had.

Question: What is your favorite volleyball memory?

Answer: I honestly wouldn't say that I could name just one. There isn't just one that comes to mind. I've found myself saying recently that when we won the National Championship, when I watch the video, probably the best moment is after the match watching our guys coming from the bench and just going nuts and enjoying the championship and feeling a part of the team even though they weren't in the match. That elicits the feeling of what we had, something special that you could call family. All of the neat things that happened because of that are some great moments. That feeling of a great accomplishment and a great sense of belonging to that.

Question: Who has had the greatest influence on your volleyball career?

Answer: Carl McGown. I wouldn't be involved in volleyball at all except for Carl. I had a beginning volleyball class from him and being from Orem, Utah, and you're a guy my age, you never touched a volleyball. My sister played volleyball and basketball here, but Carl was the mentor who taught me about volleyball and my concepts of volleyball are formed because of him. I have a good friend Marv Dunphy, the coach of Pepperdine. I appreciate all the things that he does. Carl is the most influential from getting me involved with his team. Making his team was a big deal.

Question: You played on the club team here, talk about that?

Answer: I played on the club team here but it was a very unique situation. I played sometimes in a starting role but only played a couple of years for Carl McGown. At that time, we had by my count six guys that had played on a national team whether it was the US National team or other countries. So I was an okay athlete but I look back on it now and find it amazing and wonder, 'how did I have the gumption or the audacity to even think that I could be on the team' considering who I was with. At sometime a little bit later, after Carl was not coaching, is kind of when I became a better volleyball player. I got to be pretty good I thought. I could jump okay and do some things. I'm a small guy so I'd better be able to jump. We took third one year in the USVBA, which is USA Volleyball now, nationals that they held for all amateurs or anybody that wanted to play. We took fourth and eighth two other years.

Question: If you could invite three people to dinner, who would they be?

Answer: I'd probably choose a spiritual person, Joseph Smith. If I were to choose a historical figure, Abraham Lincoln might be one. Now that my folks have passed I'd really like to have dinner with them.

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