No volleyball is spiked, set, served or bumped by a BYU player except under the supervision of a coach Olmstead. That’s right — a coach Olmstead. There are two of them and they’re both head coaches at BYU.
For almost a decade, siblings Shawn and Heather Olmstead have been coaching Cougar volleyball to success.
Under Shawn Olmstead, the men’s volleyball team has made two appearances at the NCAA Division I finals and another appearance in the Final Four. Before his time with the men’s team, Shawn took the women’s volleyball team to its first NCAA Division I final.
Heather Olmstead has won 118 of 131 games as head coach and holds the NCAA Division I record for the highest winning percentage of any women’s volleyball coach ever, with just over a 90 percent winning rate. Heather Olmstead has consistently coached her team to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament, including a run to the Final Four last season.
It all started in southern California, where Heather and Shawn Olmstead’s parents, Rick and Trudy Olmstead, raised their six children. Rick’s involvement in volleyball as a former athlete and career as a coach meant that volleyball was a way of life for the young Olmstead family.
“My dad played volleyball for the Church College of Hawaii,” Heather Olmstead said. “He’s played volleyball most of his life so we grew up playing sand (volleyball) on the beaches of Santa Barbara.”
Shawn and Heather Olmstead didn’t just play on the beaches of Santa Barbara — together they dominated them. Shawn Olmstead recounted his memories of his time in the sand there.
“She and I could go down to the courts and play,” he said. “Usually, it’s two on two and then the winner stays on the court. Then, you know, you’d have a line of people because so many days, we were able to just stay there all day and play because we’d win.”
Shawn Olmstead, the older of the two, would eventually leave the sand of California for the mountains of Utah, where he played libero for BYU. A short time later, Heather Olmstead also found her way to Utah, playing libero for Utah State.
Shawn Olmstead continued to follow his passion for the sport, building a career coaching just as his father did. After a few years as an assistant coach for college volleyball in California and Utah, he found his way back to BYU as head coach of the women’s volleyball team.
When a position as an assistant coach opened for the team, Shawn Olmstead knew he had to call his old beach volleyball partner.
“Bringing her on was a no brainer for me,” Shawn Olmstead said. “I knew how good she was at what she does. She’s a great coach and a great person.”
Heather Olmstead had been coaching college teams in Utah for the previous few years. The opportunity to work with her brother in the program at BYU proved vital to her coaching career as it positioned her for the prestigious head coaching spot after her brother moved to the men’s team.
“It was a great opportunity to come here and learn from Shawn,” she said. “I just feel blessed that I was able to come on in. I really believed in his vision and his goals for this program. I really learned a lot from him on how to lead a program.”
It’s not often that you find siblings who are both head coaches for two of the best college teams in the nation. It’s even more rare those siblings do it from within the walls of the same school.
While the success of the siblings has drawn attention and awe at the national level, for Shawn and Heather Olmstead, it’s just a part of their life.
“It’s a family thing,” Shawn Olmstead said.