I knew what I wanted to do. My dad did it, so I wanted to be like my dad. Like millions of other kids, I wanted to be just like dad. So I got into coaching immediately. —Shawn Olmstead
PROVO — It's almost impossible to walk away from a conversation with BYU men's volleyball coach Shawn Olmstead and not be smiling or at least enjoying a good laugh at something he said.
It's just the way he is.
His players know him to be that way, along with his assistant coaches, most of whom have enjoyed relationships with Olmstead long before he was named as the BYU men's volleyball head coach following the 2015 season.
"That's just Shawn. He does a really good job of making guys feel comfortable and yeah, he's hilarious at times," said current BYU assistant coach Jaylen Reyes, who played for the men's team from 2012-15. "He's great at just being real personable with the players and with everyone. It's just who he is and he's great to be around."
Current BYU players have grown used to being around their current head coach for some time now. In Olmstead's four years coaching the women's team he met with the men's team players frequently, learned of their lives and was even able to impart some advice.
He also tells stories of riding the players good-naturedly, ribbing them at such events as the Y awards for not having won a national championship, as he did when he played for the Cougars from 2001-04.
“I called them out on the stand and I regret that now that I’m their coach,” Olmstead said, with a laugh. “But really, it doesn’t feel much different than when I was the women’s coach, in some ways.”
His often relaxed, easy-going demeanor aside, Olmstead has been well-groomed for his current post.
Ever since he was young, Olmstead has wanted to emulate his father, Rick Olmstead, who made a career of coaching volleyball for such programs as Santa Barbara, where his dad coached volleyball Olympics legend Karch Kiraly, among many other prominent players.
“I knew what I wanted to do,” Olmstead said. “My dad did it, so I wanted to be like my dad. Like millions of other kids, I wanted to be just like dad. So I got into coaching immediately.”
Olmstead's first job upon graduating from BYU in 2005 was at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He then went on to make a stop coaching at Utah State before becoming an assistant on the BYU women's team in 2008. He was soon promoted to women's head coach in 2011 and helped guide that team to unprecedented success.
Olmstead's signature achievement with the BYU women's team was in 2014 when he led his unseeded team clear to the NCAA championship match where it lost a close battle with Penn State.
But Olmstead's education in coaching certainly didn't start with his first post as an assistant in 2005. His father helped groom him, along with legendary BYU coach Carl McGown, among others.
Back when he played at the libero position for BYU, Olmstead took copious notes during meetings and practices "because I knew I wanted to coach. I've kept all of my notes taken from (McGowan) through the years."
He related his desire to coach to McGown and was told one of the best things he could do in his pursuit of coaching was to get the right college degree.
“He told me, ‘Go get a teaching degree,’ so I did,” Olmstead said. “I got a Spanish-teaching degree, and I had no intentions of teaching Spanish, but just the teaching principles apply. That's what Carl told me.”
Turns out interest in having Olmstead coach came a bit earlier than even he anticipated. Shortly after graduating, he found himself interviewing with BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe for the then vacant women's coaching job.
“The first question I asked was, ‘Come on, are you serious?’” Olmstead recalled about the interview. “But they were actually very encouraging and serious.”
Olmstead ultimately wasn't offered the job by Holmoe, but eventually was able to come back to BYU after making several stops along the way.
Now that he's been back at BYU for a while, Olmstead doesn't feel his transition to becoming the men's coach is that big of an adjustment.
“Right here, right now, I don’t feel like this is my first go-around,” he said. “I’m not wide-eyed, I’ve been in this program and I knew every one of these guy’s first and last names. They knew me and I know where they’re from, I know their background because I’ve been so close to this team.”
Through one month of play, Olmstead has incurred some tough losses, but also some success, including a recent sweep of No. 13 UC Irvine on back-to-back nights. His team is currently ranked No. 3 nationally and is locked in a tie for third in conference play.
“We are going to be playing against guys every week that are literally vying for spots on our national team,” Olmstead said of the challenges playing in the highly competitive MPSF conference. “We’ve got guys on our team that are doing that, so maybe that, but I sort of knew that coming in.”1 comment on this story
Given the unique challenges of coaching a team that regularly competes against the nation's best, Olmstead simply relies on what he's learned from some of the most esteemed volleyball minds out there.
“Volleyball is volleyball and competing, being at your best — it’s all the same and it’s applicable in all areas,” Olmstead said. “So I believe it’s the same with these guys.”