People of Faith - UW coach Jim McLaughlin brings faith to the volleyball court

Jim McLaughlin. Photo: Courtesy UW Athletics Jim McLaughlin. Photo: Courtesy UW Athletics

Jim McLaughlin, the head coach since 2001 of the University of Washington women’s volleyball team, is one of the most successful and respected coaches in the country.

The only head coach ever to win NCAA titles in both men’s and women’s volleyball, McLaughlin has been recognized by his peers as the 2004 American Volleyball Coaches Association National Coach of the Year, and Pac-12 Coach of the Year in 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2013.

Under McLaughlin, the Huskies have produced one national championship, four Final Four appearances, three national players of the year and three Pac-12 Conference titles.

With his wife, Margaret, and their three daughters, McLaughlin is a member of Holy Family Parish in Kirkland.

You have three hats that you have to wear: You’re a husband, a father and a successful Division I volleyball coach at the University of Washington. What role does your Catholic faith play in those three areas?

It’s huge. To be very direct and honest, I couldn’t do it without my faith. If you’re everywhere in life, you’re nowhere. And the three things that have come to me over the course of my life that are really important are my faith, and then being a great husband and being a great dad. Those are the most important things to me. And I continue to work in that direction every day of my life. I’m far from being what I should be. But my faith is what guides me in everything I do.

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How does your Catholic faith impact what you do as a coach?

Well, if you really are doing this job right, it’s a job of service. It’s a job of paying attention to your players and knowing how to help your players. It’s just a game, and at some point this game is really not important. But the lessons you can learn will stay with these kids the rest of their life. It’s not just a four- or five-year deal. It will impact them for 40, 50 years if you do it right.

And I think that’s the most important thing: the different lessons they can learn, in terms of making a commitment, in terms of the intangibles of life, how to work hard and get a return for your work, how to treat people right, how to be a teammate — teammates who say and do things that make each other better.

So I go to Mass and I like to listen to Father [Kurt] Nagel a lot. He gives an unbelievable sermon — I don’t know how he does it, but it’s a gift. I’ll take little notes. I’ll use them. It applies to what I do every day of my life with these young kids.

Your approach to coaching seems to be characterized by three words: preparation, learning and improvement. Would you say that those words also describe how you approach your Catholic faith?

Absolutely. Every day you get a little bit better. Every day you can get a little closer to Christ. And you see things better. You hear things better. One of the things we talk about is you hear things, but are you really listening? And you look at things, but it’s not what you look at, it’s what you really see. And I just know with me — and I’m far from getting it right — but when I’m connected, and I’m thinking the right thoughts, and I put it into God’s hands, I see things better. It’s hard. There’s nothing easy about it, but it is great.

How would you say that God inspires you each day?

He gives me the courage to do the stuff that I got to do. I know that I’m not the smartest guy in the world. And I don’t think I have a ton of talent. I just think God has put me in a situation to do what I do. He gives me this ability. It’s hard for me to understand. But I know during the season, I need him. So I’m talking to him a lot. And somehow, he helps me do it.

If you had one last message to leave to the people who are most important to you, what would that be?

You just have to believe. You got to have faith. You got to just put the thing in God’s hands and do the best you can. And somehow, if you do the right thing, it’s going to work out. I can’t explain it. If you just do it, the way he wants you to do it — not that I always know how he wants me to do it — but if you just believe in him, and just have that faith that he’s in charge and that things happen because of him, and there’s no coincidences in life, somehow things are going to work out. My dad used to tell me that: Just do the best you can and things will work out. But have your faith. Believe. There’s no magic to this thing. It’s his deal. It’s hard for me to stay on track, but it’s the most important thing that I have to hold myself to every day.  

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Northwest Catholic - Nov. 2014


Dan Lee

Dan Lee is a freelance journalist and a member of St. Barbara Parish in Black Diamond.