Tri Bourne and Evie Matthews are the first to admit it: They were not the thinkers of the trio between those two and John Hyden.
Bourne was the up-and-coming player, a green, mid-20s blocker making his first rounds on the FIVB. Hyden was the veteran who preferred to fly on his own. Matthews was the coach who just preferred to fly with Bourne -- "A lot more fun," he said, laughing. That fun, of course, came with its share of hilarity.
“One time,” Bourne said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter, “me and Evie are sprinting, our names are getting called, we’re dripping sweat, he’s running upstairs, getting through all of these places, going from Germany to Cincinnati, and we get to the gate, and I’m like ‘Thank God, we made it!’ I gave the lady my ticket, I walk through, and I go on the plane, sit down and like ‘I didn’t see Evie sit down, he must have been behind me.’
“Legit four hours into the flight I’m like ‘I wonder where he’s at. I’m gonna go walk around.’ I walk around the plane like four times, and I cannot find him and we got to the plane together. We made it. Has he been in the bathroom the whole time?
“The whole flight happens, I land, and I check my phone. Evie didn’t make the flight. Somehow, he’s a foot behind me, sprinted to the gate, and didn’t make it.”
Stories like that one are hardly in short supply for beach volleyball coaches, and they certainly are not so with Matthews, whose list of players continues to grow at every level of the game. Bourne estimates that four out of 10 flights they’d take – and they took many – they lost Matthews’ bag. In Qatar, they were stranded a full extra day because everyone on the trip forgot when their flight was.
He’s funny, Matthews, with the stories to prove it. But he’s also exceptional at his craft. He’s worked with Hyden, one of the most successful beach players of the past two decades, for 15 years now.
“I love his mindset,” Matthews said of Hyden. “You know when you show up to practice with him, we’re all in. We’re all in. There’s no B.S. It’s super-efficient.”
In just their fifth international tournament as Team Bourne-Matthews-Hyden, they won a Grand Slam in Berlin, ushering in a quick-setting, spread offense where options were used regularly, an offense that has since become vogue on the FIVB circuit.
“I really believe that he evolved the game,” Matthews said. “He started running stuff that people were like ‘Wait, what?’ The hard part is you know it’s going to happen but it’s still hard to deal with.”
Everyone Matthews is working with is now becoming hard to deal with. Canadians Heather Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson, whom Matthews has coached, have established themselves as the best team in the world, winners of three straight, the most recent being in Chetumal, Mexico. Under Matthews' tutelage, Americans Miles Evans and Billy Kolinske have climbed from one-star qualifiers to four-star main draws.
“You just have to find the right way to work with everybody,” Matthews said. “You’ve gotta be mindful. It’s been fun to coach other people and figure out how to make them better,”
He’s working with everyone from the best in the world to the up-and-comers in the qualifiers to the veterans like Casey Jennings making comebacks to Canadian-American transfers in Chaim Schalk. He’s learning how to adjust his coaching style for each. He’s learning how to get his guys the right training, the right diet, the right playing weight. He’s watching film religiously.
He is, in short, becoming one of the best in the world at what he does, in order to make those he works with the best in the world at what they do.
“I think the game is starting to speed up,” he said.
Now he’s the one helping to set the pace. Evie Matthews isn’t going to be left behind again.