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Being Out: He came out as gay at 15 and Galen Dodd now thrives as a volleyball coach

Galen Dodd has forged his path in volleyball as an out coach, all before turning 24.

Galen Dodd is an assistant coach at Lewis University in Illinois.
Steve Woltmann Photo/Lewis Flyers Athletics

Being Out is a feature that looks at LGBTQ people in sports who have come out since Outsports first published in 1999. Today: Volleyball coach Galen Dodd.

Galen Dodd has coached volleyball for eight seasons. With a club team in Illinois; as a volunteer at USC; a two-season stint at UCLA; working with the U.S. men’s junior national team; boys youth team at world championships; U.S. sitting team that competes in the Paralympic Games, and currently assistant coach at Division II Lewis University in Illinois. Dodd is 23.

It’s dizzying to realize how much Dodd has accomplished in volleyball at such a young age (he turns 24 later in February) and it’s gratifying to see him thrive. In 2011, at the age of 15, Dodd came out as gay as a volleyball player on Outsports, at the time (and perhaps still) the youngest person to ever tell their story on the site. I enjoyed meeting him and his dad and have been following his coaching trajectory, proud of him doing it as an out coach. His playing career was cut short by injuries, but he smoothly transitioned into coaching.

“The feeling right before you come out to someone is a major decision and one that has lots of emotion to it,” Dodd wrote in his 2011 essay. “I was lucky enough to be greeted with tons of support from everyone. I have no regrets and wouldn’t do anything differently.”

Dodd is an assistant coach for the men’s volleyball team at Lewis University in Illinois, which reached the NCAA Men’s Collegiate semifinals last season. He is also pursuing his Masters in Organizational Leadership.

Here are his answers to our Being Out questions.

What do you love the most about volleyball?

Volleyball is such a tight-knit community, where everyone has their own village of friends and family that play. I’ve been lucky enough to meet and make some of my best friends and mentors through the sport. My favorite part of coaching isn’t the training or the winning, but it is the relationships that I have been able to build and foster with peers and student-athletes. Helping them succeed on and off the court is a very fulfilling part of my job as a coach.

Galen Dodd focused on coaching after injuries ended his volleyball playing career.
Virginia Pham

One of the things I love most about volleyball is how versatile it can be played — there is the traditional indoor 6-on-6 volleyball, the outdoor sand doubles volleyball, and recently a growth of 3-on-3 snow volleyball (check it out here at the 2018 Olympics). There is even Paralympic volleyball as well, played in a 6-on-6 sitting format and a 3-on-3 sand format. Volleyball is a unique sport that can be played in so many different modalities without restriction to weather, body function or age.

What does it personally mean to you to be LGBTQ+ in sports?

I don’t think sexuality should a huge concern when it comes to sports. If you can go out and ball, I don’t care about your gender, sexual orientation or identity. That being said, I take a step back and reminisce about growing up and coming out. After coming out, I found that being comfortable in my own skin created quite a bit more confidence and swagger on the court.

I have actually found that being honest and truthful can be super positive through job interviews and connecting with others — people like when someone is able to share who they are beyond the scoreboard. Being gay and working in college athletics definitely is not the norm, but there is no reason it is any different than my heterosexual colleagues.

What advice would you give to LGBTQ+ kids in athletics or who want to participate in athletics, the kind of advice the younger you wish you had heard?

The best advice I received and continue to pass along is simple: there will always be ways to play a sport you love. Keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to go after something new. There are tons of opportunities beyond the highly sought after Division I. Many athletes choose Division II and Division III and have fantastic experiences. There are opportunities at the NAIA and Junior College level too. And if none of these are appealing, many colleges and universities have club and intramural teams.

For me, I actually retired my playing shoes when I was 18 after tearing the ligaments and shattering the cartilage in my ankle. I knew I wanted to pursue volleyball at a high level, so I switched my focus from being the best player I could be to being the best coach I could be. Now I have aspirations to reach upper echelons of coaching.

Who is someone that inspires you?

I have a handful of people who inspire me but two specifics that I want to mention. First, professionally I look at John Speraw as someone who inspires me. He was a young buck coach that got hired at UC Irvine and was able to turn them into a powerhouse quickly; he won three NCAA Championships during his time there. He has since gone onto coach his alma mater, UCLA, and is the current head coach of the Men’s National Team. He inspires me to be the best coach and reach the highest levels.

Second, my athletes are a huge inspiration as well. Seeing them find a balance and be successful on the court, in the weight room and in the classroom shows me that they are striving to be the best versions of themselves. Seeing what they’re able to do with jobs and internships after graduation shows the impact that athletics can have on a person. They directly inspire me to be the best coach I can be to help them success.

What are you passionate about right now?

As I finish up my Master’s degree here in May 2020, I am looking forward to what’s next. My position as an assistant coach will be ending too when I graduate and we will see where I end up next. I know for sure that I plan to continue coaching and working with high level programs. The only thing on my horizon now is having a great 2020 season with the Lewis Flyers.

Galen Dodd, far right, with the U.S. team at the 2019 Para Pan American Games in Peru.
PPAG - Lima 2019

Outside of work and school, I’ve also been passionate and heavily involved working with the U.S. Paralympic Volleyball Team. I’ve traveled and been on staff with the team the last three summers, most recently in Lima, Peru, for the 2019 Para Pan American Games last August. The team looks to qualify for Tokyo 2020 in a few months, and if they do I hope to be selected to the Paralympic staff.

What is your most memorable sports moment?

Two of my most memorable sports moments both happened last season with Lewis University.

Galen Dodd helped Lewis University to reach the semifinals of the 2019 NCAA men’s volleyball championships.
Virginia Pham

The first being our MIVA Conference Tournament final match against Loyola University-Chicago. We were the No. 1 and 2 teams in our conference and won the championship on our home floor with a 3-0 sweep. This punched our ticket to the NCAA tournament in Long Beach in May 2019.

That match was one of the best matches I’ve ever been apart of — our staff was there as our team’s biggest fans and had to do very little technical coaching. Watching our team of young men compete at their best was such a rewarding piece to the puzzle of hard work all year.

My second most memorable moment came 10 days later when we played the University of Southern California in the NCAA quarterfinals (home of fellow out athlete, Sam Lewis). We were this physical Midwest team going up against the Trojans of USC. We lost the first set but battled out and won the next three to take the match 3-1 and launch ourselves into the NCAA semifinals. Our run ended against the No. 1-seed Hawaii Rainbows, but the loss didn’t hurt or sting; it was a testament to the hard work our team put in all year to get to that point.

Galen Dodd is an assistant coach for men’s volleyball at Lewis University in Illinois. He is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership with a concentration is Training and Team Development. Dodd graduated from UCLA with a Bachelor’s in Anthropology. He can be reached on Instagram at @gd213.

f you are out in sports in any capacity as openly LGBTQ and want to be featured in Being Out, drop Jim an email (kandreeky@gmail.com).