Volleyball

How Scott Davenport became the most sought-out coach in America

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HERMOSA BEACH, Calif. — Scott Davenport should have never done the math. Shouldn’t have taken inventory of his finishes in his first full-time year on the AVP — 17 tournaments, four top-10s, three 13ths, nine forgettable 17ths — in 1998 and calculated how much he would have earned had he taken those finishes just a few years earlier.

Who knows what would have happened had Davenport made the move from Rochester, New York, to San Clemente, California, in, say, 1994, rather than 1996? If he’d have gone straight to the West Coast after four years as an opposite hitter at Purdue Fort Wayne rather than returning home for a few years first? But such was the timing, and Davenport just couldn’t help himself.

He did the math. And it hurt.

“It’s a running joke when people ask me,” Davenport said of his playing career. “I calculated the finishes I had in my first full time year [in 1998], and based on the previous non-bankruptcy year [1996], I would have made 80 grand.”

Instead? Those 17 tournaments he played, from Tucson to Jacksonville to Sacramento and Cincinnati and Cleveland and Hermosa and Muskegon, amounted to a whopping sum of $6,363. Years earlier, the best players in the world had visited his hometown in upstate New York, hosting an exhibition in which Davenport was able to compete, even if only briefly, against Mike Dodd, Mike Whitmarsh, and Adam Johnson. He had asked them if they thought it was possible for him to make it as a professional.

“[Dodd] said ‘Maybe, you’ve got a lot of work to do obviously, but you can’t do it here,’ ” Davenport recalled. “ ‘So if you want to give it a shot, you gotta move.’ So I said why not, I gave it a shot. It couldn’t be worse than where I was. Took the shot and it’s kinda worked out.”

But with the AVP in financial turmoil after the 1996 and 1997 seasons, the number of players able to “make it” as a professional thinned in a hurry. Davenport would not be among them. As he said, though: It’s kinda worked out.

Just not quite the way he may have initially pictured it.

Scott Davenport might be the most sought-out coach in the United States.

Scott Davenport-Sarah Sponcil-Chaim Schalk-Theo Brunner-Terese Cannon
From left, trainer Scott Davenport and two pairs who have clinched Phoenix spots, Sarah Sponcil, Chaim Schalk, Theo Brunner, Terese Cannon/AVP photo by Mpu Dinani

Some of that could be attributed to the fact that, because the money dried up on the AVP, it was financially impossible to be a full-time player with nothing on the side. At no point, then, did Davenport stop coaching. Even while continuing to compete on the AVP, all the way up through 2009, he continued coaching, remaining in the club indoor scene until he took a full-time job as the women’s coach at Cal State Dominguez Hills in 2006. As it goes, it didn’t take long for word to spread that Davenport might be available not as a practice partner, but a coach, something that is rare even today on the beach but even rarer then. It didn’t take long for his roster of athletes to fill.

“A buddy asked if I could coach on the beach, and I said I could I guess,” Davenport said. “I started helping him, and then Brooke Niles said ‘You’re coaching? You gotta work with Nick [Lucena]!’ And it just kind of snowballed from there.”

Soon, he was coaching Lucena and Matt Fuerbringer through an Olympic quad, coming within three match points of clinching a berth to the 2012 London Games. Canada noticed, and then he was overseeing the progress of an up-and-coming federation, which has since become a powerhouse on the women’s side. By 2019, Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes were no longer just the best team on the continent — they were World Champs, ranked No. 1 in the world, finishing that season as the FIVB Team of the Year.

Scott Davenport-Sarah Pavan-Melissa Humana-Paredes
Scott Davenport celebrates winning the World Championships with Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes/Volleyball World photo

“I credit him entirely in my transformation into a beach volleyball player,” Pavan told the FIVB after winning World Championships. “Scott and I are very similar in how we analyse the game, and in how we communicate, so we hit it off immediately. I soaked up everything he had to teach me technically and tactically, fully understanding that I was coming into the relationship with absolutely zero beach volleyball knowledge.”

This year, his main teams are Sarah Sponcil and Terese Cannon, Emily Stockman and Megan Kraft, and Evan Cory and Troy Field. Currently, Sponcil and Cannon are ranked No. 5 in the world in the Olympic race. Since they began working with Davenport, Cannon and Sponcil have won their first AVP (in Hermosa Beach of 2022), made a final in Atlanta, and won four medals on the Beach Pro Tour, including, most recently, a silver in the Ostrava Elite16. Cory and Field won gold in their first tournament as a team, at the Helsinski Futures.

He knows, of course, that there is only so much control a coach has over the results. He acknowledges he has a role to play amongst the teams and players he coaches, but ultimately, the success if theirs, not his.

“When I stopped playing, I was able to step back from the emotional attachment from what was going on,” he said. “You know you don’t have any control on the beach. I just prepare you guys and hopefully you get it done. You can’t control it. You can just help and see what happens.”

The medals are nice, a results-oriented indicator that things are going well. It was especially nice when, last year, both of his teams — Chaim Schalk and Theo Brunner, Sponcil and Cannon — won AVP Hermosa on the same day, an accomplishment no other coach can claim. It was that very accomplishment that led, in part, to Davenport being named the VolleyballMag Coach of the Year for the women. To Davenport, the wins, even when they come in bunches and records and earn him and the team accolades, are only a small piece of the coach-player relationship.

“You gotta know the people. You get to know them as people and know what you can push and not push,” said Davenport, who is 51 with two children. “I don’t view coaching as coaching. I view it as teaching. To me, it’s a learning environment. You’re trying to develop athletes and I always make the running joke: I don’t walk into a math class and the teacher is yelling at me or telling me to do this, do this, do this. There’s an interaction there, there’s learning. It’s an exchange of ideas.

“To me, that’s what’s more important. You exchange ideas. You get to know people and what works for them and you can be flexible within your systems and create systems that work for them as long as you keep the fundamentals the same. That’s been the biggest piece is just collaborating with them and trying to teach what I know and I learn from them too so it works hand in hand.

“I think all the teams I’ve worked with has developed and improved over the course of our time together, and that’s the end game. If they continue to get better at something then we’re doing our job.”

Scott Davenport-Casey Patterson-Theo Brunner
Scott Davenport coaches Theo Brunner and Casey Patterson/AVP photo

The bedrock of Davenport’s coaching is a combination of biomechanics and data. When players have a shoulder issue, or a nagging back pain, or lingering aches in their knees, they might get as much benefit seeing Davenport as they would a physiotherapist. After that, however? Every athlete, he knows, is different. Theo Brunner is a data-gobbling, film-devouring machine, and Davenport fed him as much as he could. But he also sees the instinctual, intuitive gifts of world-class defenders such as Humana-Paredes and Sponcil and knows better than to interfere. To provide a smidgeon of data is only meant to enhance those intuitive plays, not box them in with numbers and analytics.

“It enhances,” he said of using data and film. “I don’t think you need to rely on it. Sponcil is super instinctual and we can bring data to her, and it’s helped her see the game better, which she already saw incredibly.”

It helps to explain how he has able to make noticeable improvements with players who were already at the top of their game. When he began working with Sponcil, she was already an Olympian, part of the youngest team in United States beach volleyball history. Yet within a year of working with Davenport, she was an entirely different offensive player, tweaking her approach and arm swing and becoming, for the first time in her career, an AVP champion.

“Oh, you noticed that?” Davenport said, laughing. “Good.”

“You gotta build into it. You can acquire the skill, then apply the skill, then practice the skill in live environments. It’s that progression we always go with in our environments,” he added. “You’re going to learn it, you’re going to apply it, then you’re going to put it to use. And we’re going to have you focus on the process. We’re not gonna care if you’re scoring or winning this drill or any of that stuff. And you’re going to fail and that’s OK because it’s practice but if you’re getting better at whatever one or two skills we decided we’re going to work on today, then you won practice. You’re walking away going I got 20 percent better of 30 percent better at whatever we were working on today.”

Over time, those improvements, however ugly they may have looked in practice, are what turns his teams into medal-winning machines. Not that winning is necessarily even the end-goal, either. He knows, as well as anyone, the small piece that beach volleyball plays in the macro scene of life.

“I learned one thing years ago while I was playing, having my worst year ever, and I came to the realization that it’s still a game, and if you don’t have fun, you’re not going to play well,” he said. “I try to keep it a fun environment in the context of being serious and learning, but you have to have fun.”

Even when the money isn’t quite what it was in 1994, it’s still fun. It’s just more fun when you don’t do the math.

How Scott Davenport became the most sought-out coach in America Volleyballmag.com.

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