Kennedi Boyd wasn’t sure she wanted to commit herself to volleyball.
The Lone Peak senior split her time between cheer, dance and volleyball. She was, in her words, “still trying to figure things out” as far as how committed she should be and to what endeavor.
Then she walked into a gym where Reed Carlson was coaching.
“Reed is a coach who is completely invested in each of his players and will spend countless hours in the gym to help make each of us better,” Boyd said of Carlson, whom she met three years ago when she tried out and made his team at Club V. “He’s also the smartest human I’ve met and teaches me some type of life lesson or helps my mental strength every day without a doubt.”
Carlson was named the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s 15s Coach of the Year, a national award that recognizes one coach in each age division with national recognition. The honor came after a club season in which he guided a team that had never played together to the Southern California Qualifier, where they became the first 15s team in Utah history to qualify for the Open Division.
He received the award at the AVCA’s December luncheon, alongside other honorees, including BYU’s Heather Olmstead, who was named the AVCA’s NCAA Coach of the Year after leading BYU to the Final Four.
Carlson was shocked to learn about the honor in July, and he was humbled to be part of the December ceremonies that celebrated the country’s best volleyball coaches.
“There are so many amazing coaches across the country, so to be considered in one of those spots was obviously an honor, but also kind of a surprise,” Carlson said. “There are some people who are doing some pretty incredible things, and I never really thought of myself as doing what they’re doing. … It was an amazing experience.”
The honor doesn’t surprise the athletes who play for him.
“He’s a selfless guy who wants more than anything to see the girls he trains every day for hours and hours become their best,” said Boyd, who was the Deseret News 6A MVP. “What’s funny to me is Reed is too humble to boast about any award he wins, but I want to tell everybody because I know how much work he puts into us succeeding.”
Carlson has led Lone Peak to three straight state championships, but his players and fellow coaches say it’s what he does to develop players that is both his genuine talent and what makes him so valuable to the local volleyball community.
“It’s hard to put into words how much he’s helped me in my life,” Boyd said. “He knows I can’t fully develop in volleyball if I have other problems on my mind, so he’s been able to help me through some personal trials as well.”
Carlson is, as most great coaches are, more than a gifted teacher of skills or a master strategist. He believes the measure of success isn’t in titles or trophies but in the kind of human beings his programs produce.
That perspective, he said, has come with time and experience.
“It used to be one of those things where you could look at the trophy on the shelves, the state championships or club titles, and when you’re starting off, that’s an easy way to look at (success),” he said. “But now, more than ever before, what I’m proud of is to see the work ethic. When they build a strong work ethic it goes beyond volleyball. They’re better students, better people. The way we measure ourselves (he and his brother, Matt) is the merits of our athletes, what they are doing when they face adversity, what they are doing at school, what they are doing in the community. It’s about the influence you can have on kids using volleyball to see what they can do outside of volleyball.”
He said he doesn’t aspire to a certain coaching style or philosophy, but he does read one or two books a month on coaching, motivation and mental toughness. He said the key to having success as a coach is finding a way to convince young people to buy into your philosophy.
“It really comes down to the kids’ ability to buy in,” he said. “The rest of it is just Xs and Os, and I don’t think that’s as difficult as the other stuff. It’s hard to get kids to believe in something and stick with it everyday.”
Especially in modern society.
There are hundreds of ways to get sidetracked, distracted or just too busy to ever understand the value of real commitment — to a team, a sport or a goal.
Boyd said that’s what makes Carlson so unique and so influential. He finds a way to sell something teens don’t know they need.
“He isn’t just a volleyball coach,” she said. “He is truly a life coach who cares about each of us.”
She said his encouragement can be challenging, but the future Arizona State student athlete is certain of one thing.
“As I’ve looked back, he has only made me a better person.”
Carlson’s passion for volleyball is obvious.
He is effusive about his players — their potential, their performances and who they are as people. When asked if he has something he avoids as a coach, he said he avoids sabotaging those he’s teaching.Comment on this story
“I think coaches that get in their players' way more than anything else,” Carlson said. “Coaches preach a message, and then they become the ones who distract their players from it.”
In the end, Carlson said the most satisfying aspect of coaching a sport he loves is seeing the players incorporate what they learned in the gym into their lives away from sports.
“It’s influencing kids using volleyball to see what they can do for others outside of volleyball,” he said. “If they can learn to be successful at volleyball, they can replicate that formula in life. And that’s a bigger win.”