Fort McCoy News May 09, 2014

88th RSC volleyball coach makes long journey to top

BY ALUN THOMAS
88th Regional Support Command

FORT MCCOY, Wis. — As a youngster, Sgt. Angel Rivera hid his passion for volleyball, fearing he would disappoint his father, who did not see the game as a suitable sport for a boy.

Photo for volleyball coach article
Sgt. Angel Rivera, pictured at U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan in
Seoul, South Korea, in 2013.
Courtesy photo

Decades later Rivera, from Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, a civilian human resource specialist for the 88th Regional Support Command (RSC) here, has turned that doubt into massive success as head coach of the All-Army Volleyball team.

This led to him being named All-Army Coach of the Year in 2012 after two unbeaten seasons in 2011 and 2012, and he continues his coaching role heading into the 2014 season.

Rivera began playing volleyball during elementary school and quickly adapted to the sport. But his initial entry into the sport was tempered by his father, Rivera said, as he and his mother struggled to keep his talent for volleyball a secret from his father.

"He was more into boxing, baseball and basketball … that kind of sport, and he used to say volleyball is for girls," Rivera said.

"Eventually I started getting support from my mother. She came and watched me and told me I was good. When she took me to practices she would tell him I was going to baseball practice. That's how it all started."

This perception changed when a coach came to Rivera's house offering a volleyball scholarship, which finally led to his father discovering the truth, Rivera continued.

"My dad was there thinking it was a baseball scholarship offer," he said. "When my mother explained everything to him, he said if he's good at the sport then it's okay. He then came and watched me play and got interested in the sport."

Rivera signed with the Army Reserve in 2004 and entered active duty in 2006, with two tours in South Korea and one at the Pentagon as a defense attaché. It was during these years that he began, in earnest, his ascent as a volleyball coach, after a knee injury forced his career short.

"I found an opportunity coaching kids in the local area when I was in Washington (D.C.)," Rivera explained. "I had never coached kids before, but I stuck with it and enjoyed it. It was tough making the transition from player to coach, but it came easy for me to talk to the kids and explain things to them."

Rivera said he instilled Army values into the team, which the parents were especially fond of.

"If someone did something wrong I had them do pushups or sit ups, and, at the end, it paid off because the kids had excellent conditioning and discipline," he continued.

With his team winning a regional championship, Rivera's coaching career continued to escalate. After applying for the assistant coach of the men's Army team he was soon accepted, having studied the game intensely in his spare time through training camps and different courses.

Rivera soon was made head coach in 2011 and led the Army to two unbeaten 12-0 seasons in the Armed Forces Championships. This led to his appointment as Armed Forces coach and appearances in tournaments in Brazil and the Netherlands against Olympic players.

"We performed well against world-class players and did better than any military side (team) before us,' Rivera said. "We had national TV exposure and were doing interviews. It was an amazing experience."

Rivera's rise to the top was confirmed when he was named Army Coach of the Year in 2012 by Installation Management Command and was presented his award at a ceremony at Fort Sam Houston in February 2013.

"I put a packet in with everything I had achieved on the court and off it, but when I received the award I was surprised — I wasn't expecting it at all," Rivera said. "I was happy because they saw everything I'd done, and it paid off."

Rivera's success and strong work ethic comes as no surprise to his supervisor, Kirsti Trygstad, Orders Branch chief, 88th RSC, who said she could identify with his coaching success through her own experiences.

"When he told me what he'd done I could immediately relate, as I'm a physical education and health major and have five years coaching girl's sports," Trygstad said with a hearty grin. "Knowing what it takes to be a coach and seeing what he's done, that's a big deal."

"Bottom line is this is a prestigious employee, and we'll let him do whatever he needs to do to succeed," she continued. "He's humble, and I have a great appreciation for someone with that kind of humility."

As he prepares for upcoming trials in May for the All-Army Volleyball team, Rivera said the key to his ongoing success is to listen to his players and adapt their thoughts in his coaching.

"Every coach has a different style, but mine is about (listening). This is an opportunity that's not given to everybody," he explained. "When you have these players that show up (to trials) with amazing backgrounds you have to learn from each other.

You always have to be open and listen to them.

"While I have my own coaching style, I listen to each player as an individual because not all of them learned the same way," Rivera continued. "Listening to them and incorporating the ideas into my coaching plans has helped make me successful."