Chad Koenegstein is from a small town in southern Illinois, called Chester. Chester, Illinois is home of Popeye the Sailor Man: a key fact. Now living in Colorado Springs with his dog, Theo, Chad is the assistant coach for the Colorado College women’s volleyball team, which is absolutely killing it this year. Chad likes to ride horses and train dogs, as well, but this week, The Catalyst sat down with him to discuss all things volleyball.
The Catalyst: Tell me a little bit about your history: How long have you been coaching volleyball and in what capacity?
Chad Koenegstein: I grew up not playing volleyball. My sister and dad are phenom track and field and cross country athletes. So, I ran forever, but didn’t really want to live up to them. So, I found sports that they didn’t do, and swimming and volleyball were those. I went to Murray State University in Western Kentucky. I got pretty close with one of our outsides who was from Inner Mongolia China. She taught me a lot about volleyball. I started coaching a random tiny school team that did well and so, obviously, I thought I was the greatest because I was coaching them and they had just happened to be playing volleyball since they were in, like, third grade, so they knew what they were doing. But yeah, it was kind of addicting — winning. So then I actually started getting serious about coaching volleyball. But my coaching career started in swimming. I coached a swim team for, like, six years. Moved here after college because my sister got married in Colorado and I was frustrated with myself for not having seen Colorado before that. So I booked it, moved out here for fun, spent a year and then moved home for two years to coach and teach. Had a really successful two years of coaching there and then came out again in 2017 to coach at UCCS. I was there for one year, worked at USA volleyball for a year, and then started at CC. The first volleyball team that I coached, I was 19 in my sophomore year of college. And I have coached everything from middle school girls to high school boys, boys club, girls club, high school girls to, obviously, collegiately at UCCS and here at Colorado College. And then worked in the coaching education department at USA volleyball. I started coaching volleyball at 19 and I am 27, so this is my ninth year of coaching volleyball, and I’ve coached over 25 teams.
TC: What do you like most about coaching volleyball?
CK: What I like most about coaching volleyball at CC are the athletes themselves. What I like most about coaching volleyball in general is the euphoric feelings that teams get when performing well in system, teams or individuals getting that huge block or making plays that they individually haven’t been able to do before or haven’t had success in before. And coaching those whose knowledge of the game is very low and giving them some volleyball IQ is definitely my favorite part about coaching in general. And the younger and more excited the better. I think I get the best of both worlds here at CC because they are really good and the athletes are super intelligent and able to grow their volleyball IQ even though it’s already decently high. So it’s a huge challenge for me to keep growing my IQ, as a coach and as a volleyballer so that it can help their IQs grow. My goal of coaching a team every year is that whomever I have coached that season — whether it’s 14-year-old boys or 22-year-old athletes at Colorado College — that after a year of me on their bench as a coach, in whatever capacity, they could, the next year, coach a middle school volleyball team and be confident in themselves. So my goal is to create coaches out of the players that I coach.
TC: If you COULD have any other profession in the world, what would you want to do?
CK: Dang. I might be doing it. I might be doing my dream profession. Thanks for asking that because I don’t know that I would appreciate what I do as much as I do right now if that question hadn’t been asked. If I think of something better, I’ll tell you.
TC: What are you most looking forward to this season and what are your hopes for the team?
CK: What I’m most looking forward to this season and what I’ve already kind of gotten out of the season is our athletes being versatile on the court and playing multiple positions, doing new things, being transparent and versatile. My favorite aspect of myself as a volleyball player is that when I go and play pickup or when I will go play tournaments wherever around the country, as long as it’s not as a middle blocker, I can do it. Like the team will ask me if I can play and I’ll just say, “yeah.” And they ask, “Where do you want to go? Like, we’ll build the rest of the team.” I’m like, “Really, build the team and then I’ll do what’s left.” Because I really enjoy doing everything, I’m just not a successful middle. So that’s a lot of fun for me and I probably have some bias and favoritism toward athletes that can do that also. So, I’m looking forward to watching us be versatile, and I am looking forward to watching us be creative within our team. I have this, like, weird philosophy about volleyball and it has to do with language; so say you’re a native English speaker, cool; but if you can speak six other languages, you are going to be able to use the English language much more efficiently and much more effectively than someone who can only speak English. And I think it’s the same with volleyball. You can be in one position, and you have certain skills and we need you to do certain things in that position to be successful in that position. But if you understand another position, you’re going to be able to be more creative in your own. And thankfully we have a team where very few of them are one position players — very few. It’s incredible. So back to the original question, what am I looking forward to most? I’m looking forward to watching that creativity that we’re able to have because of their versatility. I’m looking forward to watching that get us as far as we can go, whatever that may be. And obviously the goal is winning a national championship because we are very capable of doing that. But as long as our creativity takes us where we should go, I will be so happy.
TC: How would you like to see the CC community support the women’s volleyball team?
CK: Well, we’re only home this coming weekend. (And my parents will be here, so you all should come meet them.) And then we are home the second weekend of October — homecoming weekend. And I think volleyball is definitely a sport and we are definitely a team that, if you make the decision to come once, you’ll come back. So my plea is that you make the decision to come once and watch. It’s kind of hard right now for the community to get super involved because we have some limitations like parking. So we really rely on the student population to come support us. And I think if the student population got to know our team and got to know the varied interests that our team has and that they’re not just jocks that care about volleyball, like, they have some interests in so many areas of campus and they are involved in so many areas of campus. They’re involved in things where their peers don’t even know that they’re on the volleyball team, they don’t know that they’re on a volleyball team that is one of the best volleyball teams in the country as far as Division III. And honestly, we will beat the most Division II teams as well and many Division I teams. So yeah, I just want the student population to experience us and reach out to be experienced by us too. We would love to come to your events if we knew about them. And so we’re trying to put it out here for you all, as far as the student population, to know about our events. I mean, athletics is super supportive. The athletic department is so supportive of volleyball, of all sports. Like I said I am in a dream job because of the department that I work for. Volleyball is volleyball; I could go try to coach for the national team, whatever, but I think the support we have here from our department is incredible.
TC: What do you think is unique to volleyball among other sports?
CK: Unique to volleyball is the rate at which teams score I think happens more quickly in volleyball than most other sports. I would say any, but I’m sure there are some out there where you can score more quickly, but not that are huge spectator sports. Like soccer absolutely is less scoring than in volleyball. Basketball is similar, but it doesn’t happen as fast. I think we have, like, an average of less than 30 seconds between each point. And while the ball’s in play, it’s less than eight seconds — the average rally is less than eight seconds, or something around there. (Maybe don’t quote me on those numbers.) But yeah, scoring. Unique to volleyball is also that there isn’t a ton of pickup volleyball. So unlike basketball, where a lot of fans can watch and understand a lot about the game, volleyball’s not really that way. And soccer, a lot of people play soccer. More people seem to understand football and maybe they just are self-proclaimed educated for football ‘cause they watch it on TV all the time — and baseball. Volleyball, there’s a lot to understand about it. But there’s obviously some key components about it that make it the number two sport in the world. It’s behind soccer only in the world — not in the U.S., necessarily, as far as professionally. But the number one high school sport played by females is volleyball. The number of high school female volleyball players is rivaling the number of high school male basketball players, which is huge for the sport. Other differences that volleyball has: I think it requires a different different level of athleticism. There aren’t many other sports where you are scoring from the air. Most of our points are scored when we’ve been in the air—where they’re blocking, or we’re attacking, or we’re jump-serving. I mean, we can serve an ace from the ground, but most aces come from a player that has come off the ground. So yeah, doing most of your scoring from the air is pretty impressive. The varied movements that you have to have in volleyball are pretty impressive. Yeah, the sheer timing of it being the most important thing about the sport is… It’s important to have timing in other sports, but I think in volleyball, if it’s not there, you’re going to fail. Where other sports you can kind of get by if you’re missing one variable of your game.
TC: What do you think makes you unique?
CK: Should I say I score more often than most, too? I think a lot of people talk about, like, if it’s not broken don’t fix it. Some people say, “Don’t reinvent the wheel.” But what if we could reinvent the wheel and make it go faster? I want to do that. I appreciate wheels. I appreciate wheels that are functional, but I always want to go faster. I’m like, “How can we make this more efficient and more fun? More creative?” Yeah. I want to do something new every time I do it. So, yeah. And in volleyball, the same play will never happen twice. You might think it’s the same; it’s not the same. All the variables are not the same. So we need to be ready and open minded about being creative. Because we can always give an athlete feedback on what to have done in that situation. But there’s a difference. We call it “feedforward”. I want to instruct you of some scenario stuff, like, “If this happens what will you do?” I’m not going to tell you what to do; I don’t care what you do; but I’m excited to know what you’re going to do. And maybe let’s not even talk about it, just go show me or let me show you. Like, this is something that we could do.
TC: Which celebrity (that doesn’t currently play volleyball) would you want to join the CC volleyball team or the coaching staff, and why?
CK: Not a volleyball player? Oh, pop culture is my nemesis. So I was gonna say we already have her, her name is Shelly Small. She’s incredible; but she played volleyball. She’s kind of famous; she looks like movie star sometimes. She’s the director of coaching education of USA Volleyball. I mean, I might use a physicist like Albert Einstein to figure stuff out for us—trajectory stuff. I just watched the show “Genius.” I watched a season of “Genius,” and it was about Albert Einstein. And I was I was loving it, but he was actually not the nicest, like not the most thoughtful person in the world; he was kind of selfish. So my view of him kind of changed a little bit, and that’s okay. I would still want Albert Einstein on our bench because I think we think similarly. Obviously I’m not that intelligent, but whenever something worked, he would just say, “Cool, it worked, let’s do something new.” And I would want that on the bench with me. Like, we would cheer so loudly when something happened that was new. But then after that we’re like, “Ok, it’s not new anymore, like, we have to do something else.” So Albert Einstein, but I really want to say Shelly Small. She played for Baylor. She was a stud. She is a stud. She’s my best friend. And she’s here. So again like my dream job is already happening, the person that I would want on our staff is already here. She and Albert.
TC: Do you have a hype song?
CK: My hype song might be “Someone New” by—I don’t even know how to say the band’s name and I just shared it yesterday on my Facebook. But it talks about how, like, we’re new every day. So it talks about falling in love with someone new. And you kind of have to do that with people because I can fall in love with you on day one but you’re new on day two, and me too, so we have to fall in love again—not romantically, but just loving people in general. And, oh, Andy Grammer’s song, “Don’t give up on me.” That’s pretty cool and it talks about, like, I will fight for you until my heart is black and blue. And I will reach out until our fingers interlock or whatever. For me it’s just all about community, and being widespread, and just putting your love out there, and yeah, just putting it all out there. But no, I don’t have a theme song. Yeah, I’m not a huge on music or any kind of real media. My passions lie within volleyball and horses and dogs and that might be it. I have some, like, hearing and processing issues. So like, when it’s rap or anything speaking more quickly than I can speak, then I don’t get it. And I think that’s why I talk so much is becasue I have to talk to process.
TC: Who has left a mark on you, and why?
CK: Who has a left a mark on me? Oof, my dad? No, I’m just kidding. My mom. No, no, no, Bruno Chateau 100% has left the mark on me. He came to Colorado Springs via his wife, Erica, who was from here. They met as he was coaching professionally in France and she played professionally in France. His family owns a professional club in France and Erica, one of my friends from here went to play for it. They ended up meeting, getting married, he moved here. So Bruno Chateau played and coached for the French national team at some level, is borderline obsessed with psychology and how it works and plays into coaching—which is really most of our job. A lot of people know a lot about volleyball but not all of them can relate and understand psychology enough to have meaningful relationships with their athletes. So he is the one person that, even if I completely disagree with him as far as volleyball goes, I would do it his way because I think it’s better until I prove him wrong. And the reason he left a mark on me is because he allowed me to have questions about volleyball and then prove or disprove them. And in coaching, we coached a club team together and we’ve coached together a lot, we played together a lot. And so yeah, when I had a question, he might have known the answer and he could have just said, “No you’re wrong” or “Yes, you’re right,” but he gave me the opportunity to. Put it into action and prove it for myself and he allowed me to take ownership of it. Where there were some times when I thought I had, like, an idea that was completely original and I got really excited about it and he would let me get excited about it, just for me to find out, maybe a week or a year later, that many people have had that idea before. But he wanted me to own it and he wanted me to be proud of myself for being original. And he let me, he let me do that. He gave me that opportunity and I cannot thank him enough for the positive marks he has left on me. Bruno Chateau.