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Sniffen answers the call for HWS

Coach Speak

Scott Sniffen helped start the Haleakala Waldorf School girls volleyball program, leading the Hawks to varsity status in 2017. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

It was a typical work day when Scott Sniffen’s phone rang. His 6th-grade daughter was on the line, asking him to fill an empty coaching slot at Haleakala Waldorf School.

Ten years later, volleyball has become the “biggest blessing” for Sniffen, who had never pictured himself an eventual head coach of a girls varsity volleyball team and athletic director.

“I became a better man and father just by all of this,” Sniffen said last week. “She called me while I was working and said ‘Dad, we need a volleyball coach’… I mean I played as a kid, so I said ‘yeah, I guess,’ and so that’s when it all started. It started with my daughter.”

From starting out as a middle school coach, to leading the Hawks into varsity competition in the Maui Interscholastic League in 2017, to becoming the school’s athletic director last year, Sniffen always focused on growing the program by encouraging participation and keeping the players motivated.

“It’s a lot of work but I enjoy it and I am challenged a lot more,” said Sniffen, who also runs the family company, Hitac Group Inc. “There’s never a moment where I wish I didn’t take the job, you know, I am just happy to be at the school for almost 16 years, I think I’m one of the longest parents there.

Scott Sniffen poses with his daughters after a game. Sniffen family courtesy photo

“Just me being able to give back to the school in ways where my strength is, it’s a blessing for me.”

His daughter Miachelli “Mia” Sniffen, a 2018 HWS graduate and assistant coach, said that she remembers the phone call like it was yesterday because “it was a big, life changing event in our life as a family.”

“Basically it was the beginning of the school year and I remember a few weeks prior to that seeing him play volleyball with a whole bunch of parents at a school party,” she said. “My teacher told me that we don’t have a volleyball coach for this year, and it immediately brought me back to that memory of my dad playing volleyball.”

Scott Sniffen attended practice the very next day, but he quickly realized how much there is to learn about coaching volleyball. However, he stuck with the team the entire season and it “changed everything for us.”

At the beginning of his coaching career, he started working in the Aloha Volleyball Association for both indoor and beach volleyball to gain more insight, shadowing club director Scottie Zucco, who to this day is “a big mentor of mine,” Sniffen said.

“Gosh I remember when I first walked in the gym, I can’t remember how it happened, but I was up there at Haleakala and for some reason I started helping out a little bit and ever since then he has been one of the most fantastic guys, he has learned the game so well,” Zucco said. “Such a fantastic communicator now, high character, just super detail-oriented, the girls absolutely love him, so to see that kind of growth in coach Scott over the seven years just from running his daughter’s middle school program to now… . I think he’s doing a bang-up job.”

In 2012, Sniffen became an assistant coach to Zucco with the Seabury Hall girls volleyball team before taking over the King Kekaulike boys program, which went on to win the 2014 MIL title.

When Miachelli graduated to Haleakala Waldorf’s high school and youngest daughter Mileina entered the 6th grade in the fall of 2014, Sniffen made the tough decision to leave King Kekaulike and returned to Waldorf as coach of both the junior varsity and middle school teams.

“I said ‘I need to go,’ I need to go back and coach my daughters,” he said. “They taught me so many things that I had to get better at with myself, so I could be better for them, so they really took me on a better path.”

Having your father as a coach was both “a blessing and also a bit challenging,” Miachelli Sniffen said, but overall it was a “really great experience” since it helped her grow as a person, player and coach.

“You have to separate that dad-daughter relationship from the player-coach relationship,” she said. “That wasn’t necessarily easy, but it definitely had its benefits because on our way home, or even at home, we could talk to him about our issues we had at practice that we didn’t want to talk about in front of the team, or if we had questions, we could talk about it on the way home in the car, we could be open about what changes we needed in practice, things like that.”

Between moving around to different volleyball programs and clubs, Scott Sniffen said that he has “plenty” of good memories that come to mind.

“I don’t even know where to start, one of the biggest things about — especially coaching my daughters — everybody became my daughters,” he said. “Between all the kids I was coaching, whether it was boys and girls, you know, it’s like they are my sons and daughters, they teach me to be a better father, really.”

Born and raised on Maui, Sniffen grew up as a pitcher for a few club teams before competing at St. Anthony his freshman year and then at Baldwin for the remaining seasons.

“In actuality, if I had to choose a sport back then that I wanted to coach, it would be baseball,” he said with a laugh. “My whole family is all baseball, softball players — all the Sniffen family.”

“Interesting enough, I played volleyball only because I grew up around a court, we were gym rats,” the 1987 Baldwin graduate said. “Every Saturday, my mom would have to wake us up and take us up to Paia Gym — they had league play there way back then. That was my first taste of volleyball, I learned just by watching.”

Over the years, Sniffen said he’s evolved from a drill-focused coach to a mentor that shows players how to enjoy volleyball and use the sport as a resource for learning important skills that can be taken beyond the gym.

“What I love about this, or any sport, there’s a lot of life skills we can teach,” he said. “For instance with my two girls, I would talk to them about the moment — every place in time has its moment, and that moment is now… . Whatever we do, we have to stay within the moment because nothing beyond that is guaranteed. You can only take care of what’s now.”

As athletic director, Sniffen said his top goal is to get a gymnasium for the small Upcountry school in the next three years to grow the athletics program. He’s also actively working on making the athletics department more flexible in terms of which sports are offered throughout the year to encourage more participation among the small student body.

While he plans on coaching at HWS for a while with Miachelli as the assistant or JV coach, she will be “ready to head her own program soon,” he said.

Sniffen is also remaining positive about the recent news from the HHSAA regarding the postponement of several fall sports — including girls volleyball — to January 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Daughter Mileina, a three-time MIL Division II first-team All-Star, is a senior this year.

“I’m optimistic,” he said. “Let’s hope numbers of cases begin to flatten out soon.”

* Dakota Grossman is at dgrossman@mauinews.com

• Coach Speak is a special series of stories highlighting coaches from around the Maui Interscholastic League. Stories will run periodically throughout the summer in The Maui News.

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