- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 1, 2016

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) - John Speraw has shown he thrives balancing it all.

The U.S. men’s volleyball coach received a contract extension Wednesday to lead the Americans through the 2020 Olympic cycle in Tokyo, a task he is eager to handle even as he simultaneously coaches the UCLA program.

The move was expected after women’s national team coach Karch Kiraly was given a similar new deal last month. It’s an effort by USA Volleyball CEO Doug Beal, who is retiring at the start of next year, to build continuity and a strong base in the national team program for the near future beyond this summer’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

“I love doing this,” Speraw said. “I feel like I came into the quad with a concept, maybe not a fully laid-out plan but a concept how we need to integrate youth, and we’ve done that and seen, probably, surprisingly good results. … It has worked out really well and we’ve made this commitment to these young players. I’d like to see it through. I really like these guys. I like the chemistry and the culture that we’re building.”

Somehow, the 44-year-old Speraw has succeeded while balancing his work at UCLA with his duties at the Americans’ Orange County training headquarters, something he largely credits to the support of his dependable coaching staffs at both places. He’s also a new father to a 6-month-old daughter, Brooklyn.

“I love both these things I’m doing,” Speraw said in an interview with The Associated Press last week. “People are a little amazed that I do but I think I’m probably no different than most of America who happens to work 50 weeks a year and gets two weeks off for vacation, so I’m like every other American guy. There’s some intensity to it. The one thing about coaching is you have these peaks and valleys of high intensity and I pretty much function at a pretty high level all the time. But there are CEOs that do what I do. People run million-dollar organizations. I’m just trying to do my part here.”

With the national team, Speraw relies on assistants Matt Fuerbringer and Mike Wall when he can’t be around. The Americans won the 2015 World Cup.

“John was equally high on our list of priorities,” Beal said Wednesday. “Balancing his responsibilities and coaching obligations at UCLA and for USA Volleyball takes somebody with some terrific organizational skills and balance in his life.”

Speraw has embraced a youth movement going forward, and his players appreciate that he will be around at least for the near future to lead them.

“It’s encouraging just basically because he’s the guy that gave us a shot,” setter Micah Christenson said. “It’s almost changed the culture a little bit allowing younger guys, more inexperienced guys to gain that international experience just kind of trial by fire, see if you have what it takes. That’s exciting for myself at least, because we’ve established a relationship for four years with him. I can kind of say that the younger generation, the younger guys on this team that have prominent roles, have come up with him.”

During practice, Speraw gets right into the drills, two volleyballs tucked beneath his left arm before he pounds them at his players in rapid succession to keep the high-speed, high-energy drills going. During a break, he thanks fan Carolyn Burton for the fruit she regularly delivers to the large warehouse just a few miles down from Disneyland where the national teams practice in relative anonymity. And afterward, he leads his players through breathing exercises and relaxation techniques.

On “Smoothie Monday” last week, Speraw enthusiastically ran off the court while saying, “Smoothie day is the best.”

“The continuity will be good for the whole program,” Speraw said Wednesday. “This is a very unique job. It probably takes you three years to do this job really well.”

While he and Kiraly have limited time to catch up, they got a long chat on the court last week.

“He’s a really good coach, a good person, now a father,” Kiraly said. “And he’s got two big jobs. I don’t think I could do it. I think part of it is he must, an absolute necessity, have two great staffs. They do a really nice job for him, and I’m sure John would say he needs that because he cannot be here in January, February, March, April, May, ‘til mid-May. … Hats off to him. He’s able to juggle all of those things effectively. It takes a special kind of person with planning and organization and focus to do that.”

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