Charlie Wade is head coach of the University of Hawaii men’s volleyball program. He came to Hawaii in 1995 to be an assistant to now-retired UH Wahine volleyball coach Dave Shoji.
In his 11 years with the Wahine, Shoji and Wade won 11 conference championships and had an overall record of 310-39.
In 2010 he was appointed head coach of the UH men’s team. Wade has compiled an overall record of 181-108 (.626) in 10 seasons, having led UH to three of the winningest seasons in program history.
The 2019 team spent five weeks as the nation’s No. 1- ranked program. His team also set a 74-set win streak. The previous streak had been 32. An average of 5,200 fans attend his games. It’s an impressive record.
Arriving in Hawaii
Wade told me that Shoji invited him to dinner in July 1995. “In those days the NCAA limited the amount of money you could make as a second assistant to only $12,000 a year.”
Shoji offered to pay him just $8,000 for the season — August through December.
“I was sleeping on the couch in Shoji’s basement, and about a week into it, he said, ‘Now I need you to stay through all of next season.’
“The first year was pretty remarkable. We went 33- and-0, until we got to the regional final against Michigan State.
“And then in 1996, the second year, we played for the national championship against Stanford but lost in four games.”
I asked Wade what he learned from Shoji. “A lot,” he told me.
“One of the things is, he’s not going try to fight every battle and put out every fire.
“Young coaches want to take control of things and fix them. Shoji would sit back and just watch a little bit and see how it played out.
“In the moment I thought, oh my God, this is a problem. But Shoji let it take care of itself. More often than not, he didn’t have to go in and swing a big stick to fix something.”
Men vs. women
I asked Wade what the difference is between coaching men and women.
“If I’m talking to a group huddle with the women’s team and I tell them we really need to do something better, like receive serve better, or we make sure that we’re serving in, they’re all like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s right. I really gotta do better. I gotta make sure we do this better.’
“If I do that to a group of young men and say we’ve got to receive serve better, they’re all think(ing) I’m talking about the other guys.
“Each woman assumes I mean them specifically. The men assume I mean someone else.
“In men’s volleyball we only get 4-1/2 scholarships. The women get 12, so it’s easier to build and stockpile a pool of talent.”
With just 4/1-2 scholarships, Wade says, no player gets a full ride. “It’s a different conversation with the women. Everybody gets a full scholarship. I’ve got just $2,000 to entice a male player to come play, often from halfway around the world.”
The NCAA and Title IX determined the number of scholarships teams can offer. Because the men’s football program gets 85 scholarships, all the other men’s teams get fewer.
How does Wade get the best players from around the world to come to Hawaii? “I’m one of the few coaches that goes and sits down with their family in Greece or Norway.
“The rest of these coaches watch player videos and then try to wrap that process up electronically.
“I go to their home, and I sit down with the whole family about being here in Hawaii. Taking the time to sit down with mom and dad and explain what we’re about, it’s just proven to be the difference.
“I can explain to them that it’s stupid to give a full ride to somebody when I only have 4-1/2. And they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, that doesn’t make much sense.’
“I get them to understand that they’ve got to spend a little bit of money, too. They have to invest in this decision, and they get it.
“We have kids that have come here who have turned down Ivy League schools. The international students can now qualify for in-state (significantly reduced) tuition. So they get it. It can be as much as a $20,000 discount on the actual costs of tuition. We’re getting a really high-level player for less money, and they’re having to spend less as well.”
What defines us?
“(Former UH women’s volleyball player) Lily Kahumoku came to me a long time ago and asked, What’s going to define us? Who are we? What are we about?” It was a great question, Wade felt, and he developed different answers with several different teams since then.
“I realized it had to match our personality and values, and focused on what we could control, which is a lot easier said than done, because we see people at all stages of life who obsess over stuff that’s not important or just not in their control.
“So, based on that, let’s figure out what’s important to us. Let’s focus on what we can control.”
Wade said Thomas Kaulukukui Jr., a former judge and former high school coach, helped the men’s team came up with one word, an acronym that made up several different qualities that defined the team.
“We came up with ‘Alaka‘i.’ It’s Hawaiian for leader, guide or director. Each letter stands for something:
>> Akamai means smart or clever.
>> Lokahi is teamwork, unity or harmony. It’s about how good a teammate you are.
>> Alapa is athletic and skillful.
>> Kuleana refers to being a responsible member of the team and of the community.
>> Akeu is about the energy and spirit with which you show up to practice every day.
>> Ikaika is strength, energy and determination.
“Alaka‘i” gives the guys something that they can grab hold of on a daily basis, Wade believes. The team is not just going out there and going about their day without any real direction.
“For the players, this is what I want them focusing on from the time they wake up in the morning until they go to bed at night.
“For me it means getting bigger, faster, stronger and being a good teammate and going harder at practice. These are all things that are really important.
“And if that’s their world and their focus, to be the very best at every one of those things, we’ve got a shot.”
If you watch the team in their warm-up shirts, you’ll see the word “Alaka‘i” is on the back. It’s a not-so-subtle reminder of their daily focus.
“What we’re doing is providing these guys with life skills that they’re going to use to be successful regardless of what they do when they leave here.
“Having the ability to figure out what is important, to focus on what you can control, turns out to be a pretty valuable as you go on, in whatever your field of endeavor is.”
The men’s volleyball program begins in January, and season tickets are available now.