The sweetness and challenges of the husband-wife, player-coach dynamic of Kelly and Jordan Cheng

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HERMOSA BEACH, California — The very first thing you discover in regards to the criticisms of Kelly Cheng is that none of them make a lot sense.

Then once more, fleetingly few of them ever have.

When Cheng and Sara Hughes introduced their landscape-altering partnership final fall, forming what would rapidly change into the top-ranked group within the USA, and Cheng’s husband, Jordan, was saved on workers as the top coach, a whiff of potential nepotism was troublesome to overlook.

Regardless of Jordan serving to Kelly — then Claes — and Sarah Sponcil to a pair of four-star gold medals in 2021 and a berth into the Tokyo Olympic Video games, the place they turned the youngest group in USA historical past to compete in an Olympics, the web neighborhood, because it goes, was divided over whether or not Jordan was really the correct man for the brand new job … or if he was merely Kelly’s husband, alongside for the experience.

Which, while you take greater than half a second to consider it, doesn’t make any sense in any respect. At first blush, the husband-wife hyperlink might seem to have performed an element. Kelly, in any case, will get to spend the 5 – 6 months out of the yr on the highway along with her husband. Their relationship, not like many on the AVP and Seaside Professional Tour, just isn’t restricted to pixelated FaceTimes internationally at odd hours of the day. It’s an simple profit, and never an insignificant one.

“It’s superb that we get to do that collectively,” Kelly mentioned.

It’s additionally practically inconceivable, a perpetual testing of persistence, emotional acuity, and Jedi thoughts tips to ship constructive — and sometimes pointed — criticism to your spouse, who can also be your participant, who additionally, technically talking, is your employer, who earns your paychecks, the scale of which is dependent upon her potential on the court docket, which is essentially influenced by you, and who additionally desires to simply, you already know, benefit from the occasional minute or two not speaking about volleyball, the game round which your life and relationship revolves.

Good luck.

“We’re not doing it as a result of it’s straightforward and comfy,” Jordan mentioned, laughing. “I instructed Kelly, ‘Hey, if I’m going to teach you, it’s as a result of I imagine I’m the very best match and I imagine I’m among the best coaches on the market and I imagine I may help you win a gold medal.’ I’m not going to sabotage my spouse’s profession, I’m not going to sabotage my very own teaching profession that I’ve labored actually exhausting on.

“It’s humorous, I believe folks get the notion — I’m not teaching peewee basketball the place I’ve my son within the beginning lineup  and I’m telling everybody to go him the ball so he can rating 30 factors and on the finish of the yr I can go ‘MVP goes to my son.’ That is our livelihoods, that is our careers. The strain and troubles it causes, it’s exhausting, it’s actually exhausting. It presses and squeezes us quite a bit in our relationship and there’s fixed questions of ‘Is it working? Is it value it?’ ”

Is it working?

You be the choose.

On the time of this writing, Cheng and Hughes are the No. 4 ranked group within the Olympic race and No. 3 on the earth ranks. They’re one in every of 5 groups to have gained an Elite16 gold medal and one in every of a fair smaller quantity who seem able to beating Brazil’s Ana Patricia Silva and Duda Lisboa. They went 16-2 in 4 tournaments on the AVP, their solely losses coming to groups ranked No. 2 (Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth) and No. 4 (Melissa Humana-Paredes and Brandie Wilkerson) on the earth.

By any goal measure, it’s engaged on the court docket. The truth that they’re nonetheless fortunately married suggests the identical off of it.

“Once I go dwelling, very first thing I wish to do is watch movie with Kelly,” Jordan mentioned. “This play wasn’t nice, that play we gotta get higher on. Within the marriage context, I gotta get higher about I can’t all the time discuss volleyball, as a result of I can do all of it day. I’ll go and watch movie on my own within the nook.”

Right here Kelly smirks, says: “Whereas I’m cooking lunch.”

“It’s volleyball quite a bit, and I for positive lean on the facet of ‘OK Jordan, now can I’ve my husband again for just some hours?’ ” Kelly added. “Can we not discuss volleyball, and naturally it’ll nonetheless come up. It takes over a number of our time.”

Jordan is aware of he’s the correct man for the job in the identical sense that he is aware of he’s not the one man for the job. Teaching isn’t only a facet hustle for him, as it’s for a lot of within the skilled seaside world, the place the low pay and absence of advantages make it practically inconceivable to be a full-time pursuit. For Cheng, howevever, teaching is his craft. He’s studied it, realized from the greats at Pepperdine (Marv Dunphy), Irvine (David Kniffin), and on the seaside (Tyler Hildebrand). He’s observed a pattern: Groups who win gold medals on the Olympics, and who constantly podium all through the method, don’t have a single coach.

“They’d a military,” he mentioned.

And so he constructed his.

Kelly Cheng-Sara Hughes
Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes win in Tepic/Volleyball World photograph

Hughes and Cheng employed Gustavo Rocha, the longtime assistant at USC, to be their assistant coach. Once they apply in Huntington Seaside, Jake Gibb usually joins, tweaking Kelly’s block right here and the timing of sure defensive strikes there.

“I’m in all probability the primary one to problem Kelly and name her out and that’s not all the time the very best, and that’s a part of the explanation we employed different coaches on workers,” Jordan mentioned. “I checked out all the opposite gold medalists, and it looks like they’d a military. I keep in mind telling Kelly that I need assistance, I do know I’m an incredible coach and I imagine I may help you win a gold medal however I believe it takes a military.”

Even with the military, even with a top-five world rating, even with two AVP titles, a silver medal on the Gstaad Elite16 and a gold in Tepic, the criticisms nonetheless persist. Such is the value of admission of being an elite athlete, acting on a stage considered by tens of hundreds of thousands on the Olympics and a whole lot of hundreds within the years between. Kelly’s used to it by now.

“Individuals hated my sport in school,” she mentioned, this despite that sport at USC being adequate to win 4 national-championship rings, rip off a 103-match successful streak, amass 181 whole wins and graduate with a .943 successful proportion.

Many had a equally odd distaste for her sport in her creating years as an expert with Sarah Sponcil, the place they deployed a then-trailblazing, now-widely-used, offensive system that leaned closely on Sponcil’s pinpoint passing and Kelly’s aggressive optioning.

“I’ve heard it nearly my whole profession and it’s been a problem for me as a result of I let it have an effect on me for a very very long time,” Kelly mentioned. “Seeing feedback on-line, it eats away at me. With social media it’s exhausting to disregard it however I’ve been combating actually exhausting the final yr and a half to close that out.

“I like the way in which I play and I like attending to do what I get to do and I like the quote that Jordan says, as a result of these folks don’t know me and for no matter purpose they’ve a really robust opinion of me. I can’t please all people and I’m not going to alter the way in which I play to please anyone. It’s simply me staying in my lane and that lane goes the place I need it to.”

It a lane that usually goes off the crushed path. When Cheng performed a Queen of the Court docket in Hawaii with Brittany Hochevar, she routinely went over on the primary contact, scoring level after level after level. Individuals hated it, thought it breached an unwritten rule in an unwritten ebook of seaside volleyball etiquette that one should rating on the third contact as a result of that’s simply the right means of doing issues. Simply as folks hated her choices, mocked her hand-sets — low, decently gradual — and, now, her jump-sets, and the errors which have inevitably ensued from refining with a brand new ability.

“Right here’s the field that the sport is performed in, and I believe I’ve all the time gone outdoors the field and simply seeing what’s up,” she mentioned. “It’s enjoyable to discover and tinker and typically it goes awry.”

Kelly Cheng-Sara Hughes
Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes have fun their Doha title/Volleyball World photograph

It’s one of many many blessings of being as gifted, and having the work ethic to develop that expertise, as Cheng is. She has the temerity to discover and check and tinker with new abilities not simply at apply, like most traditional human beings, however in, say, an AVP semifinal, as she did in Chicago when she started tossing in jump-sets. The place many laud 21-year-old Miles Partain for doing the identical factor, criticism usually befalls Cheng.

“On YouTube, I learn a remark: ‘I don’t care who gained as long as Kelly doesn’t win.’ The those that know you the least usually have probably the most to say about you, and the strongest opinions,” Jordan mentioned. “I’ve all the time instructed her that there’s all the time going to be somebody who doesn’t see your value. Don’t let or not it’s you. Should you dwell for folks’s approval, you’re additionally going to die by their rejection.”

Such will be the value tag of greatness. The simple answer is to close off the enter. Kelly limits her time on social media; Jordan doesn’t have any in any respect. They proceed to interrupt the mildew, with the religion that every one of this — the husband-wife-player-coach dynamic, the Olympic aspirations, the maverick model of performs — will work. And even when it doesn’t work on the court docket as they’d prefer it to, with an Olympic gold medal dangling from their necks, they perceive there are larger issues in life outdoors of volleyball. Already, they’re constructing on these larger issues.

Final winter, Jordan and Kelly assembled Hughes, Geena Urango, Julia Scoles, April Ross, and Hailey Harward in a mentorship program wherein every athlete was paired with a youthful athlete. They rented an AirBNB in Newport Seaside and for 3 full days, the youngsters frolicked with their position fashions. They practiced collectively, ate meals collectively, and every of the professionals put collectively a workshop for the children. Since, every mentor has met with their respective mentee as soon as a month, to catch up, chat, serve in no matter position they will.

“It was so particular,” Kelly mentioned.

All of it is, every thing about this journey they’re on, as a result of to them, all of it is smart, and it’s all value it.

“The factor that’s holding us collectively is our why and why we do it,” Jordan mentioned. “We get to dream collectively about what we get to do. It’s one thing that reminds us. You get torn down and why am I doing this? Who am I doing it for? Who do I wish to change into? It’s value it.”

Kelly Cheng-Gstaad Elite16
Kelly Cheng celebrates on the Gstaad Elite16/Volleyball World photograph



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