Welcome to Interview #71.
I am excited to introduce you to Kilee Goetz, volleyball coach, club founder/director, motivational speaker and former University of Georgia volleyball player.
Kilee is the founder and director of Spotlight Athletics, which has merged into Legends Volleyball. She has 17 years of coaching experience, including being a Division 1 college recruiting coordinator/assistant coach.
Kilee’s educational background in Applied Behavior Analysis and Behavior Modification has led her to create a unique trining environment, based on positive and negative reinforcement. This unique, researched method has caught on with coaches around the United States. Kilee travels around the country and assists a variety of staffs on implementing these tactics within their programs. Due to the popularity, success and current need, Kilee has been invited to be an on-court presenter at the NCAA Division 1 Final 4, in Columbus, Ohio this December.
The NCAA Final 4 serves as a major platform for coach development, coach interaction and progressiveness for the sport of volleyball.
How did you get involved in volleyball?
My mother was a varsity coach at Deerfield High School, in Deerfield, Michigan before moving to Sand Creek High School where she was an elementary teacher. During these times, I would practice with the varsity team. I began setting the backup side in practices, as a setter, at the age of 7.
What was it like playing for your mom?
I played travel volleyball for my mother until I was 13 years old. During this time we created a variety of stories, some good and some dramatic, as you can imagine.
Being very competitive at such a young age, I was often being reprimanded due to this fact. The penalties would range from walking next to the car until I stopped arguing or physical punishment in practice for failing to do what I was asked because I always had a “better” suggestion.
My mother is a great motivator, instructor and athlete. Following in her footsteps was not a challenge for myself, or my teammates, it was a motivation. This was a motivating atmosphere for all involved to be part of. It allowed us to have so much in common and time together that many other athletes lose while playing for another coach.
You got an early introduction into Title IX. What was the issue you were involved in and how did it turn out?
When I was in elementary school at Blissfield, the girls were not playing in the high school, they were in the middle school or elementary school. Our other female sports were significantly behind in opportunities as well. Middle School volleyball was not offered to the female athletes.
As a 6th grader we were informed they would not be fielding volleyball because there was a “lack of interest”. At this point, I created a petition to prove that statement wrong. In fact, we had over 75 signatures between the two grades in a school of 100 kids per grade.
As a 7th grader, volleyball was offered to the junior high athletes and additionally, we won the conference. At this point the Title IX concern was being validated throughout our school and drastically benefited the female athletes of the school system. Since that time, we have won a State Championship in Volleyball, a Final 4 appearance, and been consistently ranked in softball and basketball too. Great experience and story.
In high school, you were no longer playing for your mom but against her. What was that like?
Because competition was a healthy afterthought in our family, playing against each other was a lot of fun (at least for me). We won all but one
match vs. Sand Creek. I vividly recall watching everything my mother told her team and trying to do whatever she told her team to “not” let me do. It was a competitive way of finding new challenges.
My father would drive separate from us because he needed to plead the 5th! It was so much fun! We didn’t discuss the matches much following because we were both moving onto the next opponent and coming up with a plan to win the next match.
When did colleges start contacting you?
My recruiting experience began very young. I was originally recruited in 7th grade for softball. Apparently throwing a softball in the 65mph range at 13 is considered fast. During my 8th grade year I began the recruiting process for volleyball. My first, legit recruiting experience was with Syracuse University. I received my first All-American award in 8th grade and this was the beginning of the REAL process for me.
Did you reach out and contact any colleges?
I was fortunate enough to have options. I was very aggressive about building relationships with all of the programs. I had the gift of connecting and communicating. I would call schools daily just to continue to show them who I am, my personality, and get to know them outside of just volleyball.
What do you know now that you wish you had known about the recruiting process?
Coming from a volleyball rich area, I wish I would have paid more attention to the type of background my future teammates would be coming from. When you come from the Midwest, we come from friends and teammates who enjoy playing the game as a hobby and sport.
Additionally, I wish I would have paid more attention to the atmosphere of the game itself at that school. Those were things that mattered to me. For the typical athlete, I think they need to push harder to understand the intangibles of the staff and vision of the staff. It is okay to turn a school down because they do not fit the player’s standard.
What should prospective athletes do in your opinion to create opportunities for themselves to play in college?
I think the athlete wanting to play today needs to create a standard and separation of themselves from other athletes around the country. Feelings of “the recruiting process is hard” is not a good place to be if you want to play collegiately. Feelings of “this is motivating”, “fun”, etc. are vibes that suggest the athlete will succeed.
Overwhelming and stress is not a bad feeling when something is important. Athletes need to do a better job of pushing schools for answers to the tough questions, faster. Listen to individuals who have “been there, done that” in the college world vs. the mentors who do not have experience with coaching the other side.
What were some of the struggles you had with regard to injuries?
I began having serious injuries my senior year in high school. At this time, I had stress fractures in my lower back and was limited in hours I was allowed to train. This was tough because I was training between 25-30 hours per week during the academic year and more during the summer months. The drive time to and from practice was an additional 3-4 hours per day so receiving treatment and taking care of myself physically was a challenge.
I ended up getting to Georgia early so I could rehab and train with specialists who would be working with me daily. While I was there, more fractures showed up. I ended up having to medically redshirt my first season because I could not get cleared by our team doctors and athletic trainers.
From there I ended up doing rehab about 3x per day for 16 months from beginning to end. As a redshirt freshman I earned the starting position and was so excited! In my 3rd season, additional stress fractures began surfacing in my feet and shins. I was in a boot the majority of my career during season and off-season. I did all conditioning in the diving well and on a stationary bike.
Eventually, the physical challenges became too much to continue to compete at the level needed daily, so I shifted my focus to coaching and moving forward with my career academic and professional career.
Coaches come and go at the college ranks. This can have a serious impact on the athletes involved. Can you talk about how you were impacted by the college coach who recruited you to play at Georgia leaving?
Due to the depth of the relationships built in my recruiting process, I was very close with the recruiting coordinator/setter trainer, Melinda Claiborne, at the University of Georgia. The departure of our staff was an adjustment but at the end of the day, The University of Georgia had not changed. The atmosphere, campus, program, athletic department, etc. is what I loved most about Georgia.
You ended up transferring to UAB?
When I decided to transfer to UAB, it was when the decision had been made to reduce the amount of training needed to compete at the level needed. I decided to try to continue to play at a level that was different than the SEC to see if I could continue my eligibility. Come to find out, the level was irrelevant and the physical demands were too great. So, knowing this after the fact, I should have taken a medical hardship at Georgia and finished my academic career there.
Transfer rules are always challenging. I transferred using the one-time transfer rule, and was released by UGA, so I was eligible to compete immediately.
After college, you entered the world of coaching and the other side of the recruiting world. How did being a recruiting coordinator at two different universities shape the way you viewed recruiting?
I think there are a lot of amazing club coaches/trainers. Likely some of the best in the game, including college coaches. With that said, I think it is difficult to truly understand the needs of a college staff until you lived the lifestyle, stressors, dynamics and relationships.
Coaching college before coming back to the club ranks has allowed me to help every athlete, not just the top athletes. We continue to work to educate coaches and trainers on how to be more effective and trusted in the referral game.
Your mom continued to be influential in your life. Can you talk about your relationship with your mom and what it was like for you both when she was diagnosed with breast cancer?
Being an only child, I always knew I would one day return “home” to Michigan. When I moved to the University of Georgia a couple weeks post high school graduation, I never experienced homesickness.
In 2011, when I received the phone call from my mother with the news of breast cancer, I was on a bus trip to the College of Charleston/Citadel weekend, while coaching at Samford University. At that moment, I remember feeling many emotions, but none stronger than, it’s time to go home. I could not imagine missing out on an adult relationship with my mother/family if something was to permanently occur. I have always had a close, fun relationship with my mother and father and since moving home, it is more of a friendship than parent/child relationship, as you can imagine.
You went back to coach club volleyball in Michigan. What advice do you have for club coaches to help their players navigate the recruiting process?
I think the best way to help our current youth athletes with the recruiting process is by keeping our opinions to ourselves. Ask questions. Think critically. Propose scenarios. Open the athletes’ eyes to certain advantages and disadvantages without showing bias.
Bigger isn’t always better. Certain named schools, even if the most successful, may or may not be the best fit for an athlete. Provide the connection with said school to the athlete, even if you think the athlete should or should not attend. It is our job to facilitate and guide when asked to guide. If our mentors can show each athlete and family the complete vision of a university and complete experience as a student the part of athletics is easy.
In November, 2015 you launched Spotlight Athletics. Can you tell us what you are doing now and how you are serving the volleyball community?
In 2016, my company, Spotlight Athletics, merged with a sports complex called The Legacy Center of Michigan, to form Legends Volleyball Organization. Our campus currently holds 11 full time sports programs, events, training, and a complete college atmosphere experience. This is nothing short of academic prep/training, sports specific training, sports medicine, nutrition, skill training, state-of-the-art equipment and facilities as well as miscellaneous resources by college educated professionals and athletes who have actually “done it”.
We offer 5 levels of experience for volleyball. Legends National, Legends Travel, Legends Rec-Travel, Legends Rec, and Little Legends. We have a large site camp clientele around the Country and in the State of Michigan. We host a national level volleyball event call the Midwest Coca-Cola Smackfest on April 22-23, 2017. We host the Midwest Recruiting Expo and Showcase December 2-3, 2017 (Formerly the Michigan Recruiting Showcase), a variety of AAU events and high school events. Smack sportswear is a partner in our apparel as well as the large national event (along with Team Indiana).
Over the past 12 years you have been very successful at placing athletes on college rosters. At Legends Volleyball, your volleyball players receive a detailed recruiting plan. Many athletes don’t have this structure available. Can you give them tips to create their own plans?
Suggestions to the athletes who do not have strong mentors or experienced coaches in their world would be to
- Attend more college coach’s elite camps (we have 2). This is where the athlete has the opportunity to work with MANY college coaches at one time.
- Push harder at calling and sending emails. Recruiting is about intangibles and relationships before skill.
- Do your research better than anyone.
- It is not as easy as one thinks to attain an opportunity to be on a roster…keep working.
How should players determine what collegiate level they can play at?
This is tough without a great reference. However, Division 2 is a great place to start if you don’t know…you can always go up or down that way and you will be in the middle. As you receive feedback you can dabble in other areas. The worst you will ever hear is “no”.
What is special or unique about the experience athletes receive from Legends Volleyball?
Our athletes receive a behavioral, positive reinforcement approach in which allows us to raise the bar higher. The relationships built and the behavior of the staff, athletes and families is very special. We encourage choosing the program for the culture and beliefs and training vs. team placement and who else is on a roster. We try to educate the families and help them find their homes, even if that home is not with Legends Volleyball.
You host two Showcase, Recruiting Expo events each year. What is your advice for athletes to get the most exposure out of a Showcase Event?
We send out descriptions to the athletes on things they need to do. Our events also co-exist with a coaches’ elite camp. This gives the athletes, and coaches, the opportunity to interact in the training atmosphere. It allows coaches to becoming interested in athletes they may not normally be interested in recruiting. Intangibles!
What gives you the most joy in your work now?
My educational background is in special education and behavior modification (applied behavior analysis). We work to implement positive reinforcement models into our training and culture while training our coaches to be better equipped to teach and instruct using these methods. Speaking at conventions and clinics around the country is another passion of using the platform to grow the concepts and experiences while learning from other presenters and innovators of our time.
Jumping back to your high school days, how did you become the player you would be in high school and into college where you became a starter your freshmen year at the University of Georgia?
I think some young athletes have intangibles that come easy. I think some athletes learn those intangibles along the way from coaches who can demonstrate how and why. I have a very low need of praise and recognition. Growing up as a farm kid taught me how to do my job, because it was my job, and when the task is complete, you moved to the next task. There was not a thank you or good job, it was assumed you would do a good job or repeat the task.
I enjoyed creating new ways to compete or try things. “Unstructured play” would be the current term used. I LOVED unstructured play…and did not enjoy the structured portion of many things. My natural personality is loud, energetic and constant. These characteristics happened to bode well for athletics. I think players who are self-motivated, competitive, and creative are athletes who will find a way to achieve their goals. Simple as that.
The last piece that seems to be critical is to be at the top means you become comfortable with adversity and learn to thrive from it. Learn this early.
What your top pieces of advice for prospective college athletes for what they should be doing to realize their dream of playing in college?
- Reach high.
- Be persistent.
- The worst you will ever hear is “no.” These three guidelines can fix and help you push through anything.
- Find individuals your age and as mentors who have a belief system that you can support on your worst day and worst situation. Where would you want to be if you were the worst at what you do…surround yourself with those people.
Kilee is a 4th generation farm girl and grew up showing cattle. So let’s ask her one more question just for fun. What are the common traits that make a girl successful showing cattle, playing volleyball and in her career as an entrepreneur?
- Comfortable with attention.
- Work Ethic.
Showing animals has 2 portions. Market and Showmanship. If you were a good showman, you could find ways to place higher than your animal was capable based on genetics and final product. Being a good showman in showmanship meant you had to do the training, perform when it is time and when all things work against you, understanding that it is still time to perform…find a way and figure it out, FAST. This goes for being in a match, game, competition. There is a time and place when you need to produce and the circumstances as just that, circumstances. Recognize them and manipulate and find a way.
Kilee Goetz is originally from Blissfield, Michigan. She is from a very large, multi-generation farm family. She grew up showing cattle professionally, playing basketball, softball, and helping her family in her spare time between traveling for volleyball and school. After an incredible high school career, Kilee went on to play collegiately at the University of Georgia.
Kilee is the founder and director of Spotlight Athletics. She has 17 years of coaching experience, including being a Division 1 college recruiting coordinator/assistant coach and coaching at three different high schools. Kilee is also a motivational speaker.
Next, check out: 3 Tips to Stand Out at a Showcase
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