By Kyle Koso
If you told Bob Westbrook he has a unique mindset and likes the idea of something turned upside down, he’s not going to debate you.
Addressing a problem from an unexpected direction has always been the right path for Westbrook, founder and director of the A5 volleyball club in Atlanta and the 2022 winner of the John Sample Award, presented by Triple Crown Volleyball.
With more than 45 years invested in the sport, in every role from player to coach to administrator to visionary, Westbrook has stood at the front of the line in the revolution of club volleyball. With a natural understanding that, as a women’s sport, volleyball circa the 1970s had much still to be explored, Westbrook got himself educated and then motivated to make a difference.
Step 1 of that education – become a law school dropout.
“My dad was a truck driver, and moving that direction, into law school, was a point of pride for him, as it should have been,” Westbrook said. “But me, thinking of myself as some sort of radical, and mad at my dad about all kinds of stuff, I dropped out. It was an added bonus to play volleyball and really make him mad.”
Westbrook chose to pursue coaching and training volleyball athletes, taking him to Chicago and California before filling the head coach post for pre-NCAA women’s volleyball at the University of Florida. By 1977, he was tasked with starting a real, functioning girls youth volleyball program in Atlanta; professional advancement meant moving around some more, and he returned to Atlanta in 1991 to take another swing at the club world there.
In 2004-05 he created VolleyPerformance, a private training company, and then brought together the right group of people to launch A5.
“I founded A5 at the urging of several folks who believed in a commonly shared vision of where club volleyball needed to go. We implemented a top-to-bottom training methodology,” Westbrook said. “We initiated a national level competition schedule as we wanted to be the best volleyball club in the country. We addressed how we travelled, number of coaches on a team, scheduling for success, and much more with the aim of being the deepest national level club in the country.”
“How we communicated, how we trained, Master Coaching and a host of other things that, we believed, would catapult us into the forefront of clubs in the country. This was a bold vision and goal as volleyball in the South was a wasteland at the time. The only thing we have truly done that is extraordinary is create culture, how we do what we do, in a vacuum.”
Starting from that point of restlessness and curiosity that occupied Westbrook’s thinking years ago, it’s no surprise his ideas for changing volleyball would weave in with how the South approached the games as well. Today, A5 takes great pride in its vibrant diversity where varied ethnic groups and genders come together for a greater cause, in a place where diversity was not always embraced.
“Of course, it’s a group of people that make things happen – revolution was in the air in 60s and 70s across our culture, and what was apparent to me was the last great unexplored natural resource in this country was women. They didn’t have the political, social and economic access – how much I saw that clearly, I don’t know, but I certainly sensed it,” Westbrook said. “It can’t matter what sex you are, what color you are. What does matter is who you are as a human being.”
“Maybe it was a part of the hippie culture, the new-age culture … the transfer of being a revolutionary and political actor, which I thought I was, to being a revolutionary volleyball person, had a lot of synergy, even if I never defined it that way. I always like and still like being on the cutting edge, the edge of what is possible. Volleyball became the tool with which I examined the truth in my life.”
Bob Westbrook timeline:
1974: Founded U of Fla VBC Junior Program
1975: Attended Coaching and Teaching VB course taught by Jim Coleman
1976: First Coach at University of Florida
1977: Trained with Adidas Girls (Debbie Landreth Brown, Debbie Green, Sue Woodstra) Junior Team, Orange County, California w/ Chuck Erbe
1977: Founded Atlanta VBC Junior Program;
sent to Atlanta to start Girls Junior Volleyball in the Atlanta/South
1978: Georgia State University
1979: Played in inaugural Haitian International Volleyball tournament
1981: Assistant coach for the East Coast Sports Festival women’s team
1981: Founded Front Range Volleyball Club in Denver, Colorado
1984-85: Assistant Coach George Washington University
1991: Returned to Atlanta to Coach Junior VB w Atlanta Juniors (next iteration of Juniors Club)
2004-05: Founded VolleyPerformance and A5 VBC
2008: 18-1 team won national championship in National Division
2011: Qualified First 18’s Team in Atlanta for Open Division in USAV National Championships
2020: AVCA 15’s Coach of the Year
2021: Second Ranked VB Club in US via Triple Crown Rankings (5-Year average as No. 2 Ranked Club in US)
The John Sample Award is presented by Triple Crown Sports in honor of coaches and program directors who go the extra mile in developing players, building character and supporting the priorities of hard work and compassion while demonstrating the highest level of integrity to the sport, the players, the families and competitors.
John Sample was the visionary and leader behind Texas Advantage Volleyball for 27 years; his life’s work was dedicated to the positive mental and physical growth of all players. He was determined to give back time, energy, money and expertise to create the best possible atmosphere for each student-athlete.