ryan theis

Fabulous People: Ryan Theis

For the past decade, Ryan Theis has been the head volleyball coach at Marquette University. “We compete in the BIG EAST Conference and have made 11 straight NCAA tournaments (not including the decreased field in 2020-21 due to COVID-19). We finished the year ranked 13th in the country while making the program’s second Sweet 16 (2018 and 2022).” Learn about Ryan Theis…

Hometown: Madison/Middleton, Wisconsin

First job: Bus boy/dishwasher – GEMS, Middleton (Age 14, I think)

Favorite ways to spend your free time in WI: We are a sports family. We take our kids to events and watch them play any chance we get. I’m the official scorekeeper for Muskego Youth Basketball’s 5th-grade team (for my middle child, Caleb). I also enjoy skiing with my three boys in the winter. 

Your biggest accomplishment and why: While most would point to career accolades, I would say staying married while being a coach. My wife is amazing and does 90 percent of the parenting with our three boys. If you are talking purely career, I have a few things of which I’m proud. In my nine years at Marquette, our camp has grown from 200 to 1,200 kids in the community. Nine years ago, you couldn’t find a Marquette volleyball shirt; now you can’t go into a volleyball event in the state of Wisconsin without seeing them all over. Our last three home matches in 2022 averaged over 2,300 fans. I love this community and am most proud of Marquette volleyball becoming nationally relevant and gaining the support and fandom from our community. Over half our roster is from the state of Wisconsin, and we do things the right way. Our team GPA is over a 3.4, and we have only had one player transfer out of our program in the last five years. That combination is unheard of in Division I sports. 

The biggest obstacle you overcame: Careerwise – although I played a lot of volleyball, I was not a high-level player. I’ve studied the game, grinded out the profession and worked for any opportunities I’ve received. Twenty-one years ago, my goal was to someday be a Division III head coach and make a decent living. Somewhere along the way, I caught some breaks and achieved more than I ever set out to do. Each day at Marquette is a privilege and I’m trying to transition from “what can Marquette do for me, to what can I do for Marquette.”

Someone who inspires you and why: My dad, 100 percent. While work was always his No. 1 time commitment, family values were always more important. I have a sister whose childhood was a 100 percent commitment to dance, a brother whose 100 percent was to music, another brother whose 100 percent was art and I had a 100 percent commitment to sports. He went to everything his schedule allowed, no matter how boring it was to him. He has somehow managed giving us every advantage possible while making us all work for what we have. It’s a balance I hope to have with my children someday. All four of his children can still call our dad with major life decisions and value his opinion. 

Advice to someone pursuing a career path in what you do: Ask a lot of questions, observe a lot of coaches in any sport. Put your emphasis into growing and learning and do your best to find the right level you can coach at to be successful. You cannot just study the game/sport; you have to study the generation of athlete you are coaching. In the coaching profession, we get fired when there is some element of the job that doesn’t suit you in some way shape and form. Learn that level and accel at it. 

Favorite quote: This is a hard choice. There is a Michael Jordan quote out there: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

There is a Denzel Washington graduation speech out there that talks about failing big. It’s amazing. I think they both reference the guts it takes to fail and keep trying. John Maxwell has a good book about Failing Forward.

Something someone would be surprised to learn about you: People who don’t know me are usually surprised to learn that I grew up on a farm. I also worked as a bus-boy, at a Dairy Queen, on a country club grounds crew and sold Cutco knives. 

What makes someone fabulous: I can’t speak on the term fabulous. My short answer would be people who are able to give time or money to efforts on a community, state, national or worldwide level. That makes me very far from fabulous. What I can try to do to add value to society by giving others great experiences. Maybe to “pay it forward.” 

I believe in the gift of experience. My favorite book is The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath. I’m not currently able to give a ton of time to my community or a lot of money to a cause I believe in, but if I can make others lives better through the gift of experience – I’m all for it. I work hard to give this to players in my program but also people in my life. I want to provide as many people as I can with an unforgettable experience. Because of my profession, I have so many opportunities for great experiences I can’t keep track of them. Every year I make it a point to try and provide unforgettable experiences to some people that may not be as lucky as I am.

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