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University of Washington Athletics

Reporter: Gohuskies

 University of Washington Athletics

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Michael Brunsting Washington's new-look coaching staff in 2023 includes a trio of new assistant coaches working under Head Coachserved two seasons as a volunteer for the Huskies in 2016-17, andhas served as a volunteer and the team's technical coordinator in addition to playing four years from 2012-15.

Butis a completely new face to the UW sideline this season. A Southern California native who played collegiate volleyball at UC San Diego, Brunsting got into coaching at an early age but did not make the jump to the collegiate level until 2021. He talked to GoHuskies about his path to Seattle, which included a successful pro beach playing career, and coaching stops at UCLA, William & Mary, and Utah State.

And Brunsting discusses how he met his wife, Nicole, a former volleyball player at Portland State.As far as playing career, I was late to it. I played soccer and baseball growing up. Just started volleyball in high school and got recruited to play at UC San Diego. I was a setter/opposite. When I was nineteen a friend of mine who coached club invited me to coach with him, so I started coaching right away.

And I definitely enjoyed it, I think it helped my playing career a lot. So I coached as an assistant through college, played, and then I was applying to medical school, and I played in my second-ever AVP event and qualified for it into the main draw, and thought this seems like a much more fun option.

So I put off medical school and pursued a professional beach career.During my beach career I coached club and wanted to stay local to Southern California where the best beach volleyball was. So the college coaching game never really appealed to be because often times we have to move around. So I was a head coach for elementary school teams, middle school, high school, I did a season at Irvine Valley College men's, so I did a wide range and on top of that I coached at Orange Theory Fitness, which was a lot of fun.

It's a different type of coaching but it's still biomechanical adjustments. It's funny, I think one of the reasons why I ended up transitioning into college coaching is because I felt like I wanted to get into something that felt like a career, and I wasn't sure if between Orange Theory, club coaching, playing pro, it didn't feel like any of those would last a lifetime.

Eventually I have kids with my wife and decide to try to do something that career-wise has benefits and is a little more serious. So I volunteered at UCLA to see if it was something I would enjoy, and I loved it and I felt like it was a space that I could give to.It was funny because it felt like I was spinning my wheels with some of the things I was doing – I loved it and I enjoyed all three aspects of my life – but they really transitioned into what I do now, whether it's engaging a group, which I was forced into at Orange Theory, or teaching people the sport of volleyball, and then competing at a really high level and knowing what it takes to get to that level.

Knowing what goes on in a high-level player's brain. I consider my own personal experience like 2-percent of that and 98-percent all the people I was able to train with and learn from. I competed against Olympians all the time and got my butt kicked by them, and saw what they needed to do to win. So all of those things have built this bank of knowledge that I feel like I can share now.Obviously it's an ever-learning, ever-growing process, but once I saw at UCLA that it was something I can continue to give to and be engaged by and learn through, and have as a career that I could do for the rest of my life, I fully committed myself to it and applied for a bunch of jobs.

Got one at William & Mary which I loved, was asked to go coach at Utah State, and we had some success there, and then was asked to coach here and it's been quick and crazy, and my two and three year old boys have both lived in four states and five different homes over the past three years. It was not where I thought I was going to be ten years ago, but I'm very, very grateful to be here now.I think it was John Wooden who said they don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.

I'm very passionate about that. At the end of the day, being my authentic self is one of the easiest ways to show that I'm here to help, and I'm here to make people better, and if I can continue to show that on a very consistent basis, and show that I have the character that is going to help them achieve their goals, it ends up being a really good working relationship where they can feel that they're authentic as well.

I think it can be hard and it can take time in different places. But all four places that I've been to have been very open, very welcoming, and very open to feedback, and I think it's one of the benefits of coaching at the collegiate level is you're getting the top 1 percent of club players, and they're so driven and they want to be better.

If I'm expressing and showing that I have knowledge and I'm here to make them better, I'm not fulfilling some agenda for myself, it ends up being a great working relationship that I think players have taken to. I've been lucky in the groups that I've joined that they have been welcoming to me.I love that question because one of the biggest things that I learned from studying human biology in college is how you go through high school and it's 'this is your textbook and this is exactly what everything is' and then you get to college and it's 'we think this is why your immune system does this, honestly we don't really know.

Here's a paper, we're trying to figure this out, what do you think and how would you do this differently?' And it becomes this questioning experience, and that I think is the forefront of knowledge and the forefront of learning and research and science. That was always engaging for me as a student, so when I have come into the college coaching sphere, and also in the club sphere, I have not changed that mindset where I am trying to challenge the current way that things are done, I am trying to read the latest research on how to improve faster than other programs; how to teach something faster and get more retention over a long time.

So it has been a consistent learning process. So it's less about the ketogenic cycle that I learned in my biochemistry class, and it's more about a lifelong commitment to learning and improvement that I think has helped me become a better coach.People ask me if I miss playing, and the biggest fulfilling things I got from playing was success and a competitive environment that you can really fully engage with, and then also unexpectedly the routine and consistency and ability to dive in on the training end.

I think of sessions where it was three guys on the beach, and we're focusing on little things. And you're just drilling, in the same way the best basketball players talk about getting in the zone and they're fully focused, I find that I get that in training, and in high level competition. And I get the same thing when I do that in coaching.

At the college coaching level it's all the coaching I've done multiplied by a hundred, because I'm with the players year-round, I have way more resources at my disposal, so the training is even more focused, and the competition is even higher stakes. So it still draws me in the same amount, and I still get the awesome benefit I had as a player.

I'm excited that I can do that for the rest of my life, really.We met in Colombia at a volleyball tournament. We were both in Southern California at the time, and my friend Pepe is Colombian and he knew the people that ran the Colombian national tour, and they wanted to host an international event and tasked Pepe with getting six men's and six women's teams.

I played with Pepe, and five other American teams went. Six women's teams went as well. Nicole was in Orange County and I was in San Diego, and she had been playing some beach volleyball with some San Diego girls that Pepe knew, so she ended up being on one of the teams that went down to compete. So I basically got to spend a week at this all-inclusive Colombian retreat playing in a volleyball tournament, and that's where I met Nicole, and we got along right away.

I remember thinking 'I'm twenty-three, I'm traveling the world, I'm ready to be adventurous, and I think I just met somebody that I'm going to be with for the rest of my life!" I didn't expect that and I was very lucky that I did.She played at Portland State and they won some Big Sky Championships there.

She qualified on the AVP and won a bunch of beach tournaments up here in the Northwest. So it's been great with the balance, especially as she's transitioned into a full-time stay-at-home mom. It's stay-at-home mom slash partner to Mike Brunsting's coaching brain. I go home and I dump all my thoughts of what we're doing and what the best ways to do things are, and she is a great resource for that.

She was not only my boss for a while at Orange Theory, but she was my boss's boss, so very qualified in a lot of ways, whether we're talking growth mindset or tactics or biomechanics, she has experience doing all the things. We coached together when we were coaching club. She was the head coach of the team that won the gold medal at 14-open at OCVC.

So it ends up being these super in-depth volleyball conversations, which is great. I know she's invested in all the programs that I've been a part of, and now it's even more-so that she gets to be a full-time stay-at-home mom, and I'm fully invested in this, it's really a team effort.I got to know seven of them, but now we have six new players, and I'm curious what the team dynamic is going to be.

I think they're passionate. I think the girls that come here are very committed to growth, which makes my job a hundred times easier and fun. So it's been easy when it comes to adapting from my end. Whenever I think of the people that are committed to learning and development, the word that sticks out to me is humility.

And this group is humble enough to work really hard. I think that is something that is a must-have for success on our team. These girls have been so successful in so many different ways. Not every program handles that as well as this program does. It's such a big behemoth of a program. We know and Tui says this that we're playing for the W, not for yourself, and I think these girls embody that.

It was clear that the girls were committed to growth in the spring, and they appreciated the drills we were doing and the environment that we set and then I'm curious as to how everything is going to shake out in the fall, but I don't think anything's going to change when it comes to our commitment to development, our humility, and our desire to compete and get after it.

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