Wearing a black Kanye West T-shirt, tan Levi pants and black Nike Roshe shoes, Steven Shneir hardly fits the mold of your typical high school volleyball coach as he directs his Reseda High School players through practice. He's holding a $15 electronic whistle that makes a high-pitched tone each time he pushes a button.
As if that isn't enough to pique your interest, how about the fact that Shneir is 18 years old, making him perhaps the youngest head coach in the City Section.
"I told them he's relatively young for a coach," Reseda senior Zarif Kazi said when asked what he told his parents about his new coach.
Desperate to find a coach last month, Reseda players took to Twitter with pleas, "Please, we really need a coach."
Welcome to 2014 high school sports. Shneir fits everything about the era. He was hired with the help of social media. He uses the latest technology. He's part of a new group of coaches that are learning on the job instead of serving as apprentices.
Shneir was an All-City libero last season at Woodland Hills Taft. He served as a volunteer assistant for Taft's girls' team in the fall while attending Pierce College. He saw the players' tweets and agreed to become their coach.
"It was a real relief," Kazi said. "It shows how social media can impact our lives."
Reseda's assistant principal, Robert Clarke, had previously worked at Taft and received a strong recommendation from Taft Coach Arman Mercado. But hiring an 18-year-old was certainly a leap of faith for everyone involved.
"The pluses are the kids are respecting me and listening," Shneir said. "I have my friends from high school helping out. The minuses are the paperwork and what I have to do if there's trouble or drama."
Around Southern California, finding coaches in a variety of sports has become increasingly difficult. In the Los Angeles Unified School District, lots of schools are no longer allowing sports teams to use sixth period as part of their practice time, causing some teachers to say no thanks to coaching duties because they don't want to spend extended time after school for little pay. That means finding walk-ons, and young, untested recent high school graduates are getting early head coach opportunities. That can be good and bad.
The good is some of them could develop into outstanding coaches. The bad is they have little experience and could make big mistakes. In the old days, before becoming a head coach, candidates spent time coaching lower-level teams or serving as an assistant. They were mentored. Now, schools are more than willing to give a chance to the youngest of the young, especially when the stipend is a mere $2,311.
"I hope the parents understand they'd rather have a kid who cares about their son progressing as a volleyball player rather than throw in an adult," Mercado said.
Mercado said he has advised Shneir, "If you need help or you're not sure, ask Mr. Clarke or give me a call."
So far, so good in the early practices. Players are responding and Shneir, with help from his former Taft volleyball teammates, is teaching fundamentals.
"There's seven returning guys and everyone else is new," Shneir said. "It's kind of hard, but I'll teach them."
Shneir is going to be the Doogie Howser of volleyball coaches this spring. He turns 19 next month, which means he'll be 41 years younger than Granada Hills Coach Tom Harp, who has won eight City Section boys' titles and still uses his lips to whistle to his players.
"You got to learn sometime," Harp said of Shneir. "The only way is to jump in and figure it out. I'm sure he'll be fine."
Shneir better worry if he has to face Mercado and Taft. Mercado said he has at least eight former players now coaching and has never lost to any of them in a match.
Shneir seems ready for the challenge of this season and beyond.
"I'm feeling real comfortable," he said. "I see myself doing this another 20, 30 years."
By then, there surely will be an app for a whistle on his iPhone.