Karch Kiraly: I always look ahead
LAUSANNE, Switzerland, February 5, 2019 - Charles Frederick
“Karch” Kiraly is one of volleyball's true legends. He is the
only player in history to have won Olympic gold in volleyball
(1984 and 1988) and beach volleyball (1996), when the sport made
its debut at the Olympic Games.
Currently the coach of the USA women’s volleyball team, he has
led the team to numerous successes including victory at the FIVB
Volleyball Women’s World Championship in Italy in 2014 and
at the inaugural edition of the FIVB
Volleyball Nations League in 2018.
In this interview with fivb.com, he talks about his early years
as a volleyball player, his love of the sport, the secret to his
success, and the difference between playing and coaching.
How did you get involved in volleyball?
father grew up in Hungary, where he played volleyball for the
national junior team. He then fled to the USA in 1956. I played
volleyball for the first time when I was six – just knocking the
ball back and forth with my dad. I played my first real match on
sand at nine years of age.
Was it love at first sight between you and volleyball?
have to tell you a little story about that. Back when I started
playing volleyball, my father was in the middle of training to
become a doctor and had to work really hard. He only had time at
the weekend, so that was when we often played volleyball. It was
father and son time, which we both enjoyed. For that reason,
volleyball has always been very special for me. But it is simply
a genial sport - you have fun, learn to solve problems and work
in a team.
Which discipline is your favourite – volleyball or beach
love them both. I started out on the beach and only switched
indoors when I was 16. I then had a really fantastic time in the
national junior team and then later in the men’s team. Then I
went back to the beach and my first love. And now I am back in
the hall, as coach. As such, volleyball is my greatest love at
What are the big differences between beach volleyball and
is far more complex and more of a challenge. You need six
players who work perfectly with each other in order to be
successful. The degree of specialisation required from the
players is far greater than in beach volleyball. The game is
easier with just two protagonists on each side of the net. You
have to be an all-round talent. However, beach volleyball also
has its own special beauty.
Is there a moment in your career as a player that stood out
above the rest?
gold medal was very special and it was obviously very special to
win the first Olympic gold medal in the history of beach
volleyball in Atlanta in 1996. However, I am not the kind of
person to look at the past. I always look ahead to the next
Is that the secret to your success?
possibly. I do look back sometimes, to learn from the past.
However, my focus then switches straight back to the next goal.
I have done that all my life. At the moment, I am primarily
thinking about how I can make the USA women’s volleyball team
the number one in the world.
Is Tokyo 2020 your big goal?
That is what we are working toward. I do not have a plan yet
after Tokyo 2020.
How have coaching methods evolved in volleyball?
have been fortunate enough to have played under a lot of great
coaches – in high school, college, and in the US teams. I
learned a lot from them. It is still important to make training
game-like. However, volleyball has obviously evolved. The game
is faster, the players are bigger, and they hit the ball harder
than in my day. You have to adapt to that. There are also far
more staff involved nowadays.
How has beach volleyball developed since your time?
game has become far more aggressive, especially with the jump
serves. The sport is also much bigger than it was back then.
When I started out, there was nothing - no statistics, no
masseurs, no psychologists, no trainers and co-trainers. You
have all those things today. The players just used to figure it
out. We learned an incredible amount that way - about ourselves,
and also how to react to problems. That was training for life.
Learn to be a better learner. Learn to solve problems on your
What is the most complicated role for you - player or coach?
the role of a coach. As a player, you obviously have to perform
and be a good team-mate. However, as a coach you have far more
responsibility for the entire programme. This forced me to learn
Did you have an idol as a volleyball player?
I started out, I used to admire a few beach volleyball players
from the USA. Later on, Larry Rundle was my big idol in
volleyball. He played for the USA at the Mexico 1968 Olympic
Games. They beat the Soviet Union in the first match. That was
their only defeat on the way to Olympic gold.