Feature: Barnett's around-the-World journey leads him to helm at UCCS

By Patricia Cameron published October 6, 2009

Keith Barnett learned quite a bit about how to be a teammate while playing in Spain, Belgium, and Romania. And he enjoyed his time there so much, that after multiple seasons here at the Olympic Training Center as part of the U.S. National Team, he and his wife planned on returning. Though fate can be a double-edged sword, it appears that the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs won this sword fight.

Barnett had been spending his time enjoying Colorado Springs and coaching at Rampart High School with his wife when he made the decision to return to Europe and resume playing. While his fate was making a play for him to be elsewhere, it just so happened that volleyball coach Jessica Wood had decided to step down after quite successful run here at UCCS. So how did Barnett, who was nearly on a plane across the world, find out of the position?

"My father-in-law actually said that Jess Wood is stepping away, the job is open, and you should apply," said Barnett. "I kinda laughed ... we were going to go back to Europe to go play again."

Barnett was already considering returning overseas, but there aren't so many other options are open to a professional volleyball player at this point in his career.

"I looked at it and said 'you know what, that would be pretty neat to be the head coach of a college program,'" he said. "That's the next step. As far as after you're done playing, what to do next?"

Even though Barnett didn't feel his athletic career was over, he saw something in UCCS that encouraged him to reconsider his plans. And that was the potential of the UCCS team, the legacy left behind by Wood, and an administration that demonstrated its dedication to the program.

"Jess did a good job building everything," said Barnett. "UCCS has done a really good job with building a new gym, increasing scholarships. You don't get many opportunities to step into a program without much (collegiate coaching) experience, so it was great of them to take a risk on me."

Barnett has literally been around the world and back. In fact, volleyball wasn't even his first choice sport.

"I got cut from a couple other sports, found volleyball, it was what I liked to do," he said. "I ended up playing for one of the better clubs in and around Chicago."

After his high school career, Barnett switched coasts and played at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif. His next step was the Olympic Training Center, where he met his wife. After his time playing in Europe, he returned to his wife's hometown and together the two coached the Rampart High School Rams.

It was perhaps this variety of experience, on multiple levels, that convinced UCCS to give the first-time college coach a chance. Barnett admits his time in Europe has influenced his coaching style dramatically. Instead of looking for that scene stealer, Barnett's European influence has convinced him that team trumps the individual.

"It's not about that one fantasy player," said Barnett. "You get a worldview, not just how the USA works."

Playing for a National team has also given Barnett another perspective.

"You understand how hard you can push and that there is always another level, there's always the ability to become better." he said. "You think you are at the top and then you realize there is always something else"

His players seem to be buying into his firm, directive, yet encouraging approach.

"If you are not giving them the tool tools to fix it, you're not doing them any favors," he said. "Then you are not doing your job; you are not being a coach. A coach should teach."

And Barnett uses every moment, whether it is practice or game time, for teaching moments. While some coaches are more lenient during practices, this is certainly not his attitude.

"If you don't want to work in practice, you're telling me you don't want to get better in games," he said. "You have high expectations (of practice). That's the time they get better."

Although Barnett takes the more encouraging approach, at times he has mentioned that the team needs to hear it in a much more direct manner. So perhaps during post-game conferences after losses he seems angry or disappointed, he still maintains his basic philosophy.

"It's a season; it's not defined in one game," he said. "The playoffs, or whatever may come. if we get that far, that may be one game. Usually when you lose a game it's a microcosm of the season, the way you've been practicing, the way you been playing, the way you been doing things."

So how about the macrocosm of this season?

"We've been competitive," said Barnett. "We've lost some matches that I thought we should have won, but we will continue to be competitive.

"They're learning. They're learning me, I'm learning them. It's never a 'you' win and 'you' loss . It's always a 'we' win and 'we' loss"

So Europe lost an amazing team player who has a real feel for how to motivate players. Now that we've got him, is there anything Barnett wants from UCCS?

"I like what we have," he said. "There is always room to grow - we are fortunate enough to have the room and the ability to grow."



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