HERMOSA BEACH, Calif. — There was a common refrain among AVP fans this season, both in person at events and online in the YouTube chat room. A simple, two word question:
Who’s the guy with the tattooed arm and black shades in the box with Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb in Manhattan Beach?
Who’s the man with the impeccably groomed beard and hair down his back, coaching Melissa Humana-Paredes and Brandie Wilkerson in Chicago?
Who’s the quiet one traveling the world with Tina Graudina?
Or the lean, forever anxious one tuning in from California as Deahna Kraft and Allie Wheeler win the first AVP of their careers in Virginia Beach?
Or the eighth-street mainstay who has run practices for, in this season alone, Eric Beranek, Avery Drost, David Lee, Falyn Fonoimoana, Chase Frishman, Julia Scoles, Hailey Harward, Jake Dietrich, and at least half a dozen others?
Or the one — or two or, sometimes, even three — now setting up shop from 8 a.m. to noon at the Hermosa Beach Pier, charged with developing the next generation of USA Volleyball prospects?
Most are only familiar with a few of their names, at best. Many, however, are quickly becoming familiar with their heritage: Brazil, the country that has replaced the United States as the sport’s mecca.
To find a player not just on the AVP, but on any tour in the world at this point, who has not been coached or influenced, in some way or other, by a Brazilian expat, is becoming increasingly difficult.
“You can have eight people at a practice in Brazil and pay, what, 100 bucks?” Bourne said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “Now you pay for one coach and it’s 100.”
Before Leandro Pinheiro took over for the head coaching duties of Bourne and Crabb — and win the VolleyballMag Coach of the Year in the process — the two were led by Jose Loiola, the Brazilian Hall of Famer who has since taken the job at USA Volleyball to lead its fledgling development program. Before the dozens of former NCAA stars began flying up the ranks of the AVP and Beach Pro Tours, reshaping the entire landscape of the sport, they were under the tutelage of at least one Brazilian. Kelly Cheng, Sara Hughes, Kelley Kolinske, Terese Cannon, Sarah Sponcil, Graudina, Julia Scoles, Corinne Quiggle, Megan Kraft, Harward, Wheeler, Deahna Kraft, Savvy Simo — the list goes on — reaped the benefit of a Brazilian assistant or head coach in college, be it Gustavo Rocha (formerly Pepperdine, now at USC), Loiola (UCLA), Maria Clara Salgado (UCLA), or Marcio Sicoli (Pepperdine).
“It was never a dream,” Pinheiro said of the glut of Brazilian coaches coming to the United States. “My dream was only to coach a high level and make the Olympic Games.”
That, they certainly have done. While the Olympic podiums may see a variety of flags over them, forever flying discreetly in the background is the Brazilian green and yellow.
To find the genesis of the immense successes of the Brazilian coaching tree is not a difficult task. The 1996 Olympic Games featured an all-Brazilian final, with Sandra Pires and Jackie Silva winning gold over Monica Rodrigues and Adriana Samuel. Four years later, another three medals were doled out to Brazil: silver to Shelda Bede and Adriana Behar, bronze to Sandra Pires and Samuel, silver to Ze Marco and and Ricardo. With four of six women’s Olympic medals secured for Brazil, the other two belonging to Australia, everyone, it seemed, wanted a piece of the Brazilian coaching.
“Rio was the mecca before [California],” Pinheiro said. “During 2000, and maybe all the way to 2010, all players in the world practiced in Brazil. Everybody, all the coaches, made extra money. Teams would come practice with us in December and January.”
And then most would hire whomever coached them in their Brazilian pre-season training camp, taking him on the road with them. Pinheiro, who was Sicoli’s assistant for Bede and Behar during their silver medal run in Athens in 2004, would eventually get hired by France and take Belgium to its first Olympic Games in 2008. While the Brazilian women may have been left off the podium in that Olympic Games for the first time in history, the men claimed two medals: Fabio and Marcio silver, Emanuel and Ricardo bronze. It made some sense, then, that after Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor won a second straight gold medal in Beijing, and they were looking to make a coaching change, a Brazilian name arose. Sicoli was hired to lead the most dynastic team the sport had ever — and likely will ever — see in 2012, and together in London, they delivered a third consecutive gold.
Around five years later, it would be the relationship between Sicoli and Walsh Jennings that would reshape the way beach volleyball is taught in California’s South Bay for the foreseeable future. In 2017, as the Brazilian economy was tumbling from bad to worse, and coaching in Rio was becoming an exceedingly difficult vocation in which to make a living, Pinheiro called up Sicoli, his former setter and one of his closest friends for more than 30 years. Were there any coaching opportunities in the United States?
“This,” Sicoli told him, “is exactly a good time for you to come.”
At the time of Pinheiro’s call, p1440, Walsh Jennings’ upstart beach volleyball company, was launching its developmental program, which had branches in Hermosa Beach and Huntington Beach. Those programs required coaches, coaches who would be hired by Sicoli, almost all of whom would have Brazilian roots. In came Pinheiro, Arthur Carvalho, Marcos Miranda, and Dan Waineraich.
“p1440 was the glue,” Waineraich said. Both Carvalho and Waineraich had actually already been in the United States, Carvalho on a student visa, Waineraich, hilariously, working as a model. Carvalho, Sicoli, Miranda and, eventually, Pompilio Mercadante, helmed the Hermosa branch, while Pinheiro and Waineraich took over the Huntington operation.
“Leandro left because of his visa, but I stayed in Huntington, and back in those days, I said ‘I’m not going to ask for help’ because if I asked for help, Leandro was going to come back but they would already have someone else, so I held there by myself with 24 women, 24 guys,” Waineraich said. “It was insane.”
And effective. A few products of that program? Andy Benesh, who recently won the first men’s gold medal on the Beach Pro Tour in Dubai; Hagen Smith, who had a career year on the AVP; Zana Muno, who led the AVP in digs per set in 2022; Crissy Jones, who, with Muno, would take a pair of thirds on the AVP and win a gold medal at the Leuven one-star; Allie Wheeler, who has since won three medals on the Beach Pro Tour; as well as Bill Kolinske, Adam Roberts, Cody Caldwell, among others. To this day, still, Ed Ratledge, who was in the Huntington Beach program, says the p1440 program, with its heavy dose of Brazilian influence, had him in the best shape of his career.
“That was exactly the philosophy when Marcio brought us: Let’s give a Brazilian way,” Pinheiro said. “A lot of footwork, a lot of reps, reps, reps. We will show you guys. We do a lot of repetitions and don’t play too much. The first thing we say when we arrive here is that people play too much. We practice, practice, practice, reps, reps, reps, footwork, footwork, footwork. Sometimes we play Thursday and Friday, and Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday is practice, practice, practice.”
p1440 has, of course, since stepped out of the space of professional beach volleyball. But the coaches it hired? All have remained mainstays.
Carvalho was the head coach for Corinne Quiggle and Sarah Schermerhorn, and is now the man leading Wheeler and Deahna Kraft.
Pinheiro took over for Loiola midway through this season and helped Bourne and Crabb to three AVP titles. Waineraich once assisted for Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil, currently assists for Bourne and Crabb, and was the man in the box for Humana-Paredes and Wilkerson when they made the Chicago finals. He is now prepping the top-ranked Canadian team for a run at the Paris Olympics.
Mercadante has been the head coach for Drost and either Eric Beranek or Chase Frishman or, briefly, David Lee, for the season.
Sicoli is still the head coach at Pepperdine and was hired by Wilkerson and Sophie Bukovec for a training camp before a string of Beach Pro Tour events late in the season. And that’s just the coaches from the p1440 coaching tree.
Others — Fiapo, who assisted for April Ross and Alix Klineman during their gold medal run in Tokyo; Loiola, Rocha; and, in Florida, LT Treumann, Raquel Ferreira, and Pri Lima — are influencing dozens upon dozens of other American professionals.
The question, then, is why? What is it about Brazilian coaching, specifically, that has attracted so many players from so many different nationalities, be it French, Belgian, American, or other?
“I have worked with so many Brazilian coaches,” said Quiggle, who won a silver medal at the Espinho Challenge with Schermerhorn earlier this summer. ”Starting with Marcio in college and then with all the p1440 coaches like Leandro, Pompilio, Artie, Dan and Marcos. All of those have played a big role in my development as a player. Marcio was super creative, and they focus a lot on conditioning, outlasting and outworking other people, which I have really appreciated throughout my whole career. I think that’s a good mindset to go into anything. Marcos made a big impact with lessening the mistakes. He was very much about getting the job done and repeating it and being on it. Artie and Dan too. I think what I love about the Brazilian style is that it keeps me moving. I very much like to feel like I’m working. The Brazilian style also includes having a team around you and making that team and your community around you super important.”
The Brazilian Way, as Pinheiro describes it, is a decidedly unique approach to teaching beach volleyball, in that there is very little teaching involved. It’s movement based. Shoot first, aim later. Detractors might even say it’s backwards: Players aren’t taught what are sometimes labeled the proper technique; they are simply given an abundance of repetitions and allowed to determine their own anatomical method of passing a ball to the correct spot, setting a ball where it needs to be set, and hitting above the tape, while not putting themselves at risk of injury. It’s why, if you were to watch two dozen Brazilian beach volleyball players, you’ll see two dozen different techniques: Everyone has simply figured out what works best for them.
“Loiola has a saying that if someone tells you ‘This is the right way to do it and all the rest is wrong, that person don’t know what he’s talking about,’” said Waineraich, who is now the volunteer assistant at Pepperdine. “I have a girl that, her mechanics is different, she doesn’t bring her elbow down, a couple coaches are telling her that she needs to do this and that, and her mom was talking to me, and I said ‘Look, do you know Tina Graudina? Have you seen her hit a ball? Do you think those are the mechanics everybody teaches? No. Is it effective? Hell yes. What else do you want me to tell you?’
“Let the biological thing happen. That’s pretty much it. Are you going to tell Ricardo that he can’t bump like this? With his hands completely open? No. What are you doing to tell him?”
Sometimes these techniques look strange, almost comical, take the extreme pike of Andre Loyola, or the open-handed setting of Ricardo, or the arm swing of Carol Salgado. The coaches, however, only care about one element, and it certainly isn’t aesthetics: Can you score 21 points, using whatever technique you must, faster than the other team?
“We teach in Brazil, just go with the movement to reach the ball high,” Pinheiro said. “Everyone has their own individual biological way to hit high, with their own mechanics. Sometimes, I see coaches saying to make this movement, but they don’t have the speed enough in the arm to hit the ball, and they hit in the net. In my opinion, it’s not about looks. It’s about performance. You have to know how to score. You have to find ways. We don’t say there’s one way to make an arm swing. You just have to reach the ball and don’t tape. That’s the most important for us: Don’t tape. Then create your own way.
“Every sport, Messi, Neymar, they have their own ways. Imagine saying to a phenomenal guy like that, ‘Don’t do this movement.’ He has to develop his own movement and see how it works. The job of the coach is not to hit it in the net. If he does, then it’s time to change something. But if he’s doing his movement and he’s scoring, it’s a performance. It’s a performance.”
A performance that has won medal, after medal, after medal.
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