Shawn Olmstead and his younger sister, Heather Olmstead, practiced hitting a volleyball back and forth to each other in the backyard of their home in Carpinteria, California, almost 20 years ago.
On June 22 BYU Athletics announced that both Shawn Olmstead and Heather Olmstead would take the head coaching positions for the men’s and women’s volleyball teams, respectively. Shawn Olmstead and Heather Olmstead have a history of coaching together and know the drill when it comes to juggling family and work.
Working with a family member can be complicated. With Shawn Olmstead as head coach and Heather Olmstead as assistant coach, the Olmsteads led the BYU women’s volleyball team to one of its most successful seasons in program history this past fall, making NCAA history as the first unseeded team to ever make it to the final match.
“I think it’s important when you go into a situation like this that you take out the family side of it,” Shawn Olmstead said. “Those bonds are important, the most important, but you can’t allow any work conflicts or disagreements to affect a family setting.”
The siblings come from a volleyball family, with a volleyball coach as a dad and a family that basically grew up in the gym. “We played because my dad was a coach and we grew up in that setting. That’s where we learned the game,” Shawn Olmstead said.
Shawn Olmstead led the Cougars to the NCAA championships three times in his four years as women’s volleyball head coach, including a national runner-up finish in 2014. He was named the coach of the year by the American Volleyball Coaches Association in 2014 with a combined record of 103-25. Before she came to BYU, Heather Olmstead was an assistant coach at the University of Utah, where she helped the Utes get to two NCAA tournaments and achieve an overall record of 103-51 in five seasons. She was a prior assistant coach at Utah State. Heather Olmstead coached the Intermountain Volleyball Association High Performance team at the 2006 Global Challenge in Maribor, Slovenia, and served as head coach of that organization’s Select Team in Florida.
Players notice the level of commitment that comes from the Olmsteads. Emillie Toone, one of the top blockers in the country, was coached by Heather Olsmtead at the U. “She loves the girls she coaches,” Toone said. “She will take however much time it takes to help an individual player improve on a skill … she pushed me not only to want to be the best middle blocker in the conference, but in the country as well.”
During the off-season, Heather Olmstead and Shawn Olmstead spend lots of time away from their families to recruit for their teams. “Coaching is a demanding profession,” Shawn Olmstead said. “But when I can find a chance to be out with my kids I’m going to do it.”
For Heather Olmstead it’s the same way. “I really love my job as a coach,” she said. ”I just look at it as what do I have to do today to get done, what do I have to do to help Shawn, what can I do to help BYU get better and just take it that way. When I’m at work it’s about work; when I’m not at work doing family stuff it’s about family stuff. It’s pretty easy to separate.”
As both Heather Olmstead and Shawn Olmstead prepare for their upcoming seasons and settle into their new roles as head coaches, they are confident that they will be successful. Heather Olmstead said, “I think the women’s team is in good shape from the work Shawn and I put in. We’ve got great leaders … the opportunities are endless as far as just getting better every day.”