June 25, 2013
By Steve Stone, Assistant Sports Information Director
The offseason is a time where NCAA coaches across the country try to do whatever it takes to keep their brand at the forefront of every recruit, fan, student-athlete and administrator’s mind. Working camps and clinics, logging several hours on the recruiting trail and doing speaking engagements are just a few of the ways coaches try to promote their teams when the playing season is still far away.
Newly promoted associate head coach Gokhan Yilmaz of the Florida State indoor volleyball team had an extraordinary opportunity this past March, and took full advantage of it. The Istanbul, Turkey native had the special chance to travel back to his volleyball-crazed country and be a guest at the Turkish National Team Coaches Clinic alongside some very prestigious volleyball coaches worldwide.
Not only was this platform an excellent way for him to reunite with several coaches and players from back home, but it was an open avenue to further expand the Florida State volleyball brand that has experienced so much success in recent years with its international talent. Yilmaz was able to speak to a large group of people in attendance as the realization set in that he was rubbing elbows with an exclusive club of coaches that he belonged with.
“It was a great honor to be invited to an educational seminar with (someone like) Mike Hebert,” Yilmaz said of the legendary Minnesota volleyball coach who recently retired in 2011. “This seminar was part of the educational series that the Turkish Volleyball Federation offers to all coaches in the country. I was happy to see my friends and coaches who I admired growing up as a young coach in Istanbul. It was also interesting to see such a high level group in the audience.”
Known for his tremendous ingenuity as an X’s and O’s tactician, Yilmaz handles Florida State’s daily practices and is the lead man in orchestrating the Seminoles’ game plan for every opponent. He has become a master at breaking down opponent’s tendencies and assessing their strengths and weaknesses, and is an excellent video guru who seems to have no bedtime when breaking down film.
His expertise on the game that has consumed much of his life allowed him to focus on three sections at the coaches clinic – the differences in American and Turkish volleyball systems, player selection and four-year planning in collegiate volleyball and USA volleyball development.
Yilmaz’s ability to compare and contrast the brands of USA and Turkish volleyball stem from his experience in both. Growing up, Yilmaz worked extensively with the Turkish Junior National Team as well as the Turkish National Team. He then started his work in the United States in the early 2000’s coaching at Western New Mexico and Cameron University before joining head coach Chris Poole and associate head coach Holly Watts at Arkansas in 2005.
The path he took made it quite familiar for him to see other coaches at the March clinic that worked at different levels of competition.
“The level of coaches in attendance varied from Juniors coaches who are just starting coaching to Senior National Team coaches,” Yilmaz said. “It was good to see that what we do here at FSU is along the same lines with what the best coaches in the world are doing with their team. It was also beneficial that we had the FSU brand visible.”
Yilmaz also stood out as an exemplary Turkey native who has successfully navigated the waters of collegiate volleyball in the United States. Many Turkish-born coaches opt to stay home and continue feeding the country’s most popular sport, but Yilmaz’s ability to branch away and do it successfully has helped make him somewhat of an iconic figure in the country.
“It was really moving to be able to go back and talk about my experiences in the USA,” Yilmaz said. “There are not many Turkish coaches working abroad so I was happy to be an example as a representative of my country at the highest level in the USA.”
What helped the country of Turkey, which spans across Western Asia and Southeastern Europe and is bordered by eight countries, was the success of its Women’s National Team. The heavily important European Championship of volleyball witnessed the Turkish team make the finals in 2003, creating more sponsorships for the league and creating a major pipeline of talent.
The Turkish Volleyball League today is considered one of the best in the world, helping produce outstanding Olympic teams and several high-ranking finishes in the Champions League. More money has been poured into state-of-the-art training and competition facilities by the Turkish Volleyball Federation in recent years.
The same man who brought in four-year standouts Fatma Yildirim and Duygu Duzceler seized another publicity opportunity: appearing on a live and volleyball-specific television show. The host of the show caught wind of Yilmaz’s appearance at the federation seminar and wanted to have him on as a guest. The hour-long show featured a discussion about Yilmaz’s career in Turkey and his path to the United States as well as his success at Florida State.
A bonus to the TV appearance was having on a few of Yilmaz’s former players from Turkey who played for him when they were between 12 and 18 years old. The two young men have now made it to the professional ranks and are participating with the Turkish Men’s National Team, showing Yilmaz much gratitude for how much he taught them growing up.
The marks Yilmaz has made in the sport ultimately led to his recent and well-deserved promotion, an event that only fuels him to work that much harder and help the Seminoles to more noteworthy achievements.
“It shows that the hard work and determination pays off,” Yilmaz said of his promotion. “It is an exceptional opportunity to have this title in a program like FSU.”
And from the first day he entered the volleyball program in Tallahassee, Yilmaz and the coaching staff knew that things had to be built step by step through recruiting and teaching. Starting with their first team in 2008 that improved greatly to the national contender it has become, the work that all three coaches have done to spark the program is nothing short of incredible.
“We started with a group that had talent but didn’t know how to win in 2008,” Yilmaz said. “We believe we are teachers as much as we are coaches. We were able to teach this group how to compete and win at the high level. The core of that group and our first recruiting class in 2009 ended up raising our level to the Top 20 in the country.”
With all of THEIR players built into the program nearly six seasons later, the results have been favorable.
“Now we have a group that knows how to win and has played and trained at the highest level,” Yilmaz added. “The goal is to bring the same level of volleyball players with the same winning attitude. We are not only looking for good players on the court. We are also looking for humble and smart individuals who will improve on the court and grow as people during their time at FSU. Winning the ACC and competing for an NCAA Regional Final spot continue to be our goals.”
Should Yilmaz get more chances to expand the FSU volleyball brand globally and promote his very own knowledge of the game, look for the Noles to continue their success that has already reached new heights in the last few years.