Talking Shop with Rich Lambourne


Rich Lambourne has some of the highest accolades a volleyball aficionado can claim. 

First – he won an Olympic Gold Medal in Beijing as the USA Men’s Team Libero. Libero is one of the most challenging positions to earn and maintain. There is only one, and they basically have one job. One must be nearly perfect and exceptionally consistent to keep that job. Rich held it for 11 years. 

Once his indoor career ended abruptly after a coaching regime change, he gladly turned to beach volleyball. This time as a coach. Maybe an unlikely move for a purely indoor guy, but the transition was a welcome change. Earning your stripes, coaching people you like, and spending every day on the beach after many years playing the ultra-regimented and competitive National Team sounded idyllic. 

As a great friend of beach volleyball coaching great Tyler Hilderbrand, Rich got out on the sand with top players right away. He also learned a lot. “Tyler is kind of my coaching mentor,” Rich says. “Which is almost embarrassing since he’s like ten years younger than me. But he’s an unbelievable volleyball mind. The way he sees things about the game, his creativity and enthusiasm, and all that stuff are just amazing.”  

When Rich joined Tyler on the sand, a familiar face greeted him. Jake Gibb and Rich met while playing against each other while Jake was at Utah and Rich was at BYU. Tyler was coaching Jake and his then partner Casey Patterson and Emily Day/Summer Ross simultaneously. Because Tyler coached both teams, there was room for Rich to tag along to the international tournaments as an additional coach. He learned vital lessons and beach IQ from his friend, Tyler. With said acquired knowledge, he secured Jake and his new young partner Taylor Crabb for the 2020 Quad. 

Though the circumstances were fortuitous, Rich had to prove himself worthy of an Olympic-hopeful team. “Beach is kind of a pure meritocracy,” he says. “Like if you and I are partners, and you decide to go another direction, I can pick up another partner and come back and shove it in your face. I mean, theoretically anyway. I love that.” 

Rich realizes that meritocracy doesn’t end with the athletes; he has to bring his A-Game daily to the practice plan. “You’re basically the employee of the player, so it’s the same dynamic in reverse. You could show up, and your player goes, ‘Hey, you know what? We’re not real thrilled with what’s going on here. We’re gonna go another way.’ That makes it pretty important to have a good relationship with whichever team you’re working with so that there’s mutual respect and hopefully some measure of trust.” 

It’s no secret that Rich had a great relationship with Jake and Taylor. The three of them were like brothers, all in it for the same goal with plenty of mutual trust, respect, and genuine fondness for each other. Rich also happens to be an incredible coach. 

His philosophy is simple. Literally – keep it simple. “If we take care of the ball well, everything else can layer on top of that. If we don’t, it’s gonna layer the wrong way. I don’t even really get all that much into advanced defensive strategies and all that stuff. I think serving tough, keeping ourselves in system, and getting the other team out of system as much as possible is the formula for winning.” 

Simple works. One of the accolades I previously referred to: Olympic Beach Volleyball Coach. Rich led Jake and Taylor to a coveted Tokyo berth in 2021. Unfortunately, the ride of their lives was about to derail. Once the plane landed in Tokyo, Taylor Crabb tested positive for Covid-19. After a five-year battle to play in the Games, Crabb was barred from competing. Now what? 

Cue an emergency flight for Tri Bourne, an epic mind-meld, and a solid 9th place showing at the Games. Rich led Jake and Tri – two players who’d never played together and were AVP rivals – to some impressive wins. Their immediate synergy was astonishing, something duly credited to excellent coaching. 

Rich highly esteems team chemistry; only two people on the court, so you better be on the same team. “If it’s just you and me out there and I’m burying you… that can be a tough situation. If I’m being hard on this guy, and I think about it in retrospect, ‘Did that get me the result that I claimed to have wanted? Was it a better performance?’ Probably not.” 

Luckily, Jake and Taylor genuinely did get along. And now, as the coach of Taylor Crabb and his longtime buddy Taylor Sander, Rich expects he’ll have similar friendliness moving forward. Sander is an Outside Hitter with the Tokyo Olympic team; he’s a phenomenal athlete with a lot of promise on our beach. 

But there’s still a lot of territory to cover with the beach neophyte. The Taylor and Taylor battle now is A. Learning each other. B. Teaching Sander the nuances of the beach game. C. Earning enough points to get into the FIVB tournaments. They were recently the first team out of the Rosarito, Mexico Elite 16 Qualifier. 

While Sander works to add points to his name, the team is familiarizing themselves with each other and their new style of play. Rich is encouraged by Sander’s learning curve, especially in the blocking game. We’ll get more into Sander in an upcoming article, but just know his coach is not worried about his rising star. 

Ultimately, Rich credits most of his coaching prowess to the men who poured into his career. Tyler Hilderbrand on the beach, Carl McGown and Hugh McCutcheon indoors. And though his respect for Carl and Hugh abounds, Rich never saw himself following in their indoor footsteps. He once asked Kevin Hambly, the women’s indoor coach at Stanford, how much of his university job was coaching versus handling administration, scouting, fundraising, etc. 

“7%,” Hambly replied. 

When I asked Rich how much of his job is coaching: “Oh yeah, it’s almost entirely coaching. Which is the reason I like it.” Job well picked. Job well done. 

Category: Current Season, From Our Beach, Lifestyle

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