TAMPA, November 21, 2023 – You can’t miss him.
USF volleyball assistant coach Leandro Vissotto is 7-feet tall, a startling presence, but also a reassuring one when you realize he’s comfortable in his own skin and confident in communicating his knowledge.
When Bulls coach Jolene Shepardson hired Vissotto last summer, his credibility was obvious. He led Brazil to a gold medal at the 2010 FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship, where he was Most Valuable Player and closed the sweep of Cuba with a resounding kill. He was captain of Brazil’s silver medal-winning squad at the 2012 Olympic Games in London (where he couldn’t play in the final match due to a leg injury).
Vissotto played professionally for two decades, spanning the globe, living everywhere from the searing desert heat of Qatar to the bitter winters of Siberia, before retiring at age 40.
He was living in the Miami area with his wife and three children, working with a club team, plotting his desire to begin college coaching, when the call came from Shepardson. She got the recommendation from her former USF teammate, Michelle Collier, the Georgia Tech head coach who is from Brazil.
“Leandro has been an absolute giant on the men’s side of our sport, one of the greatest players in his country’s history, but you would never know that when you meet him,” Shepardson said. “He is very humble, very polite and really wants to bring all of his positive experiences into coaching. He has made a major difference for us.”
USF (18-11, 12-6 American Athletic Conference) has enjoyed its best season in two decades, capturing the AAC East Division title while preparing for Wednesday’s regular-season finale against the Rice Owls (18-10, 12-6) at the Corral.
The Bulls have responded to Vissotto’s brand of statistical analysis, technical skills, quiet motivation and respect for the sport.
“To me, you are like professional players, so that’s how you will be treated and that’s how we expect you to act,” Vissotto told the team during preseason training.
When Vissotto was introduced to the team, 5-3 freshman defensive specialist Miya Thomas could hardly believe her eyes.
“The first time I saw him, I said, ‘Oh my God. That’s a very big man,’ ” Thomas said. “I remember immediately going back to my dorm and watching his volleyball highlights. I couldn’t believe he was going to be our coach.”
“He is famous in our country,” said Bulls outside hitter Maria Clara Andrade, a Brazilian, who first met Vissotto when they were affiliated with the same club organization. “I had a picture taken with him when I was a little girl. He has helped us reach a high standard of play this season and he has taught us so much.”
Even though Vissotto had mostly been associated with the men’s game, Shepardson said he made a smooth transition to the women’s game because of his professionalism, communication skills and desire to teach.
“He has always been a winner and he has brought a winning mentality to our young women,” Shepardson said. “He inspires everyone. He says, ‘This is how you act when you’re a winner’ and he gives the examples with such passion and such belief. Because of his reputation and accomplishments, you’re hanging on every word and knowing that he has been to the places where all young volleyball players dream of going.
“I knew he could communicate with our young women because of his personality. I knew he knew how to train and motivate players. But the amazing thing is his overall knowledge and his ability to take deep dives into the statistical side of the game. He can break down our game and how our opponents are playing in ways that we hadn’t done before. I think that has been a huge part of our improvement as well.”
Vissotto said he has been invigorated by working with USF’s team and has relished the stability of college coaching.
“I love this school and I love Tampa,” Vissotto said. “It has been very rewarding seeing our players achieve their goals. If I have been a small part of helping to make that happen, that makes me very happy.
“You have to understand the type of lifestyle I have led in playing professional volleyball. My oldest child has lived in seven countries. My second-oldest has lived in five countries. That is the life. I stopped playing when I was 40 and went out on my own terms. It was time to settle down. And I think I am in the perfect spot for my family and for me to keep contributing to the game.”
Vissotto’s office is a showcase for his career, a plethora of medals and awards, including his 2012 Olympic silver medal. He loves the life that volleyball provided.
“My height — and the sport of volleyball — has given me everything for success,” said Vissotto, a native of Rio de Janeiro who never played organized basketball. “I am grateful for it. I grew up playing soccer and riding bikes in the streets. But I kept getting bigger and bigger, so the (volleyball) coaches noticed me.
“I was lucky to always be pretty coordinated. I feel like I was just a normal kid, but bigger than anyone else. It was never a burden. It was always an advantage. When I discovered I could be good at volleyball, it ended up giving me everything I ever had.”
Vissotto lost track of the countries he has visited. Once in Myanmar (formerly Burma), a country in Asia, he and his teammates had to flee from the gym during a professional match because there was an earthquake. He lived in places so hot, you didn’t dare go outside. In Siberia, he turned his car on at least one hour before departing for practice so the ice could melt.
He speaks four languages fluently (Portuguese, Spanish, English and Italian) and dabbles in a few others. He has seen the world’s wonders, but he brought a simple philosophy to USF.
“There are lots of different people in this world — different religions, different ethnic groups — but there are good people everywhere,” Vissotto said. “You can’t treat people like robots. You must get to know them and learn what’s important to them.
“I am a very blessed person. I am in awe of how big the world actually is. What I’ve learned is you shouldn’t shape your view of the world in the things that you see, but in how you see people. I hope to bring this to my USF coaching and find ways to make each of the players a little bit better. Sometimes, it’s not how much you know, but how you communicate it. I don’t want complicated. I want simple and I want simple done well.”
Vissotto believes in skill development, but he said mindset is the bottom line to everything.
“If you’re nervous, if you’re not confident, if you have demons in your mind, these are the things you must correct,” Vissotto said. “I think our players are learning what it takes to win. They are tasting victory and that has helped the confidence. They are learning the proper behavior of a winner. Once you do that, the other parts of the game will come more easily.”
Shepardson said Vissotto’s presence has made a huge difference.
“He’s a huge part of why our game was elevated this season,” Shepardson said. “The professionalism, the credibility and the relationship-building he brings has been a major asset for USF volleyball. Our young women respect him so much. I couldn’t be happier how it has all worked out.”
About USF Volleyball
Head coach Jolene Shepardson enters her fourth season at the helm of her alma mater in 2023. Named head coach on Jan. 8, 2020, Shepardson led the Bulls’ program to its last conference championship and NCAA tournament appearance as a student-athlete in 2002. USF made its last postseason appearance in 2018, posting 20 wins and appearing in the NIVC. USF Volleyball has made seven NCAA Tournament appearances and won 12 conference titles since its inception in 1972. The Bulls play in The Corral (1,000), adjacent to the Yuengling Center on the USF campus.
Be sure to follow USF women’s volleyball on social media (Twitter/Instagram/Facebook) and visit GoUSFBulls.com for the most up-to-date information.
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