Volleyball head coach Debbie Brown recently took a few minutes to answer a few questions with Irish UNDerground. Brown and the Irish start the 2011 season this weekend (Aug. 26-28) while playing host to the Shamrock Invitational at Purcell Pavilion.
What does being a coach at Notre Dame mean to you?
In coaching at Notre Dame, the number one priority for me is to offer a great experience to our student-athletes.
That certainly is going to include winning and doing well on the court, as well as in the classroom. We want to be a nationally competitive program, and that is certainly the core of my philosophy. I need to be sensitive to the academic demands here at the University. That being said, we're confident that our student-athletes are going to be prepared for anything beyond college, have great job offers or multiple choices for graduate school. I want them to be able to look back on their time here and say, "that was a great experience."
Notre Dame offers so much in terms of campus life, spirituality, academic excellence and athletic traditions. It's truly a blessing to be able to work here and to be able to offer a great experience to our student-athletes.
You've taken your teams to foreign countries and dozens of states. At each stop, you make it a point to visit a hospital, take in a Broadway show or attend a local sporting event, just to name a few activities. Why is this important to you?
Taking in the culture of an area and experiencing everything it has to offer has always been something very important to me. Part of that stems from the fact that when I was younger, volleyball afforded me to travel the world as a player and see things not everyone has a chance to see.
However, we didn't always have the opportunity to take in the sights and learn as much about them as I had wished. I understood that at times it was not possible given the nature of our trips, but you lose so much if you don't try to take advantage of those things. It's all part of the education.
Now, every time we travel we look for opportunities to do those things and expose our program to what the world has to offer. Even something like avoiding chain restaurants and eating at local spots are all a part of experiencing new things. But we never let the extracurricular activities take away from the competition aspect of the trip.
What were some of your first impressions of Notre Dame, and how have you changed since arriving on campus?
When I had the opportunity to come here and interview for the head coaching job, I didn't know much about the University. I tried to learn as much as I could before the interview, as I only knew that Notre Dame had a great reputation across the country with a lot of tradition. I knew that it'd be a place where you could build a nationally competitive program. Everything I saw and experienced when I came on my interview led me to believe that was true. And everyday I've been here, that's been one of the constants.
I'm truly blessed to be here, and believe so much in all that Notre Dame has to offer. I believe that the spirituality of Notre Dame is a really important thing. I love being at a faith-based institution and love that we strive for excellence here. That's a life lesson for the student-athletes we get to work with each day.
But the most important thing - and this stuck with me when I left from my interview - was how impressed I was with the people at Notre Dame. I still truly believe that it's the people that make Notre Dame so special. The people care about each other; they're selfless and they live the Christian life everyday. That is an environment I want to be a part of.
It wasn't like I was planning on coaching here for a few years with the intent of going somewhere else. On my first visit, I watched a men's basketball game between two great teams in Notre Dame and Indiana and two great coaches in Digger Phelps and Bobby Knight. The energy in the Joyce Center was simply amazing. It was such a great atmosphere. There is a tremendous amount of energy here at Notre Dame in everything the University does.
What is Debbie Brown like off the court?
I love to read. I love crossword puzzles - and oddly enough, my teenage sons make fun of me all the time for that. I love being outside, no matter what I'm doing. I don't do it enough, but I love to walk across campus on a nice day. I enjoy being active and exercising. I love riding bikes, skateboarding, being adventurous and I love eating ice cream.
Almost more than anything, I love to compete. Whether it's playing spoons, cards or board games, I have a lot of fun but I really want to win. Not always at any costs, but I do enjoy winning. I've always been like that. My siblings tell stories - that aren't at all flattering - about when we'd play when we were younger. If I lost, things would fly across the room.
How have some of your experiences mirrored those of your players?
It's been great to see Andrea McHugh experience international play with the U.S. Junior National Team. As a former player within the U.S. program, I can certainly relate to that and we've shared similar stories about our experiences.
Andrea was able to play volleyball throughout this past spring and summer in an environment where she was pushed everyday by some of the best players in her age group. After her team returned from its competition in Peru, we were able to chat about the Peruvian culture. I had a particular trip with the national team when we went to Peru, which was memorable for us because of the number of unique things that happened.
The Peruvians love volleyball, and they come out in hoards for each match. It's an incredibly loud atmosphere and at times, you can't even hear your teammates next to you on the court.
Over 30 years ago when I was there, we were playing in a packed gym among a very passionate crowd. And suddenly, there was a complete blackout in the gym - no electricity or sign of light anywhere. It was really scary because you didn't know what was going to happen next. And 30 years later, the exact same thing happened to Andrea and her team. We had a good laugh about that one.
Growing up in the same area and attending the same high school as Toni Alugbue, we talked about our days in El Segundo (Calif.) at a team dinner. Jokingly, I asked if we had any of the same teachers. And what would you know - she knew my history teacher! She didn't mention who was the better student, Toni or myself, but I'm pretty sure it'd be Toni.
How has the game of volleyball changed over the years? What changes might be in store?
The game has evolved a great deal from when I played. The main thing is the height at which the game is played above the net. The athletes today are bigger, faster and stronger. The power of the game is different now than before. That has created different angles and strategies.
We did not play with a libero and substitutions were very limited at the international level. Because of that, players were more well-rounded in their skills. You had to be good in the front and back rows.
A lot of things from the men's game have trickled down from the women's game, with the exception of hitting on the slide. There's not as much of that in the men's game, but the women have adopted things like jump serving and hitting from the back row.
The scoring system has changed from the side-out to rally format. The point-per-serve has helped the game become more fan-friendly. You may continue to see changes in the rules pertaining to the number of permitted substitutes.
You'll see some more tweaking of the rules, but I don't believe anything as radical as rally scoring will ever be implemented into the college game.