Dare I disagree with Bernardo Rezende?

FIVB logo

The other day WorldofVolley posted comments from Brazilian coach Bernardo Rezende (Bernardinho) on the subject of the FIVB potentially implementing time limits in volleyball. The idea is to fit matches into the classic 2 hour time block (1:45 of match time). This is most definitely not the first time the global governing body has addressed this issue. It’s something I myself commented on not that long ago.

I have a big question as to whether there is a legitimate need to fit in to that TV window. Football in the US runs about 3 hours. Baseball games are considered short if they are under about 2.5 hours. Basketball and hockey are both better than 2 hours in run time on average.

Here’s what Bernardinho had to say on the subject:

“I just have the feeling that they think too much about the entertainment, and they think very little about the main thing – about players and about the essence of volleyball.”

The “they” in this case is the FIVB.

I can understand Coach’s viewpoint here. Those of us who have been in the game for a while have seen a lot of changes over the years. Some of them have been bigger than others. It can certainly be annoying to have to adapt to new rules all the time

I have two questions for Bernardinho, though.

First, what is “the essence of volleyball”? We need to have that defined before we can determine whether the FIVB thinks sufficiently about it or not.

Second, if the FIVB is the organization responsible globally for growing and promoting the sport, is not entertainment high on their list of priorities? To quote Wikipedia:

“Part of the FIVB’s activities in this area consists in attracting media partners and sponsors through negotiation of commercial rights for broadcasting and coverage of major events.”

In order to do these things they have to think a lot about entertainment – both in terms of the sport itself and in how events are run.

Volleyball ranks very high in terms of participation globally. I saw something recently which suggested it’s at #2, though I haven’t been able to dig that up (Interestingly, the USA is nowhere near the top of the country list in terms of adult participation rates). Unfortunately, volleyball is well down the list when it comes to viewership and commerciality. That’s a gap which I’m sure everyone in the sport would like to see bridged.

Could Brexit kill UK volleyball?

This isn’t a place for political discourse. It’s a sports coaching blog. I’m not going to get into a debate as to whether I think it’s a good idea for the UK to leave the EU or not. What I will say, though, is I think volleyball there could take a real hit after the British voted to opt out of the European Union.

During my time coaching at the University of Exeter, and for the Devon Ladies in the National League (NVL), I worked with players from something like 25 different nationalities.Here’s the list as I can remember it:

  • France
  • Italy
  • Germany
  • Netherlands
  • Sweden
  • Bulgaria
  • Belarus
  • Taiwan
  • China
  • USA
  • Chile
  • Croatia
  • Brazil
  • Czech Republic
  • Poland
  • England
  • Malaysia
  • Greece
  • Spain
  • Ukraine
  • Lithuania
  • Japan
  • Denmark

Obviously, not all of the countries above are from the EU, but quite a few are so. I wouldn’t expect there to be much impact on the non-EU representation among students playing for university teams in BUCS. Nothing much changes for them, but UK schooling does become a little less financially attractive to EU students who can’t get local tuition rates. Also, there could be an impact on exchange programs with EU universities, though I don’t really know that mechanism (Erasmus).

Beyond the universities


Alex Porter, former England national team player and current director of volleyball at the University of Essex (which ties in with the Tendring NVL club) was asked today on Facebook, “How many NVL clubs will go to the wall now through lack of players coming from Europe?

His reply was, “Most.”

I’m sure he means from Supers 8s right down to Division 3, and perhaps all the way to local leagues. Most of the players we’re talking about aren’t professional or semi-professional ones. Rather, it’s mainly about EU citizens working in England and playing volleyball on the side for the love of the sport. There is already an issue with requirements for foreign players to pay a transfer fee to be able to play in the NVL, and the Brexit decision seems to just pile on that.

I wonder if this negatively impacts Volleyball England’s funding. A big chunk of what they’ve received from above in recent years is for growing involvement in sport among young people (I think 14-24). How many of those being counted are EU citizens and thus won’t be available to be counted in the future?

It’s not just players. I know of a number of foreign-born coaches across the country as well.

I can’t speak very well to Scotland or Northern Ireland (both voted strongly in favor of staying in the EU, by the way). Volleyball in N.I. is not very strong, even by UK standards. Scotland, though, has a bit of history and has maintained a senior national team even when England was forced to drop theirs for a few years (only this year brought back). My impression is that Scottish volleyball is also quite diverse, but I don’t have direct experience as I do with England.

I don’t know, but I fear

It will be a while before we see where the results of this referendum takes the U.K. A lot of decision need to be made, and it will take time for things to settle out. My fear is in the interim a lot of good work by a number of people in the UK to try to grow the sport is disrupted by the uncertainty, and that is a very sad thought.

 

Being an emotionally intelligent coach

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Apparently, being on vacation gives Mark from At Home on the Court time to find all kinds of interesting stuff, like the one I spoke about in yesterday’s post. Here’s another one he came across on the subject of emotional intelligence, this time from the New York Times.

Basically, we’re talking here about four primary areas of focus: self-awareness, self-management, empathy, and relationship skills. Let me take on each individually.

Self-Awareness
This is about understanding your own strengths and weaknesses. In a team context – being as a player or as a member of a coaching staff – that factors in to knowing how to work with others to maximize collective effectiveness.

Also in this category is having a good emotional insight. In other words, you understand your feelings and know what can trigger them – anger being a prime example.

Self-Management
This includes resilience, emotional balance, and self-motivation. A lot of this has to do with handling adversity and overcoming setbacks. These are things we hope to see (or develop) in our players. We must be good models for them. Emotional balance in particular speaks to not allowing negative outcomes to cause negative emotional reactions – like yelling at your team for losing a match.

Empathy
Here the focus is on being a good listener and being able to view things from other people’s perspectives. Part of this relates to being able to deal with people as they are, which was the topic of Episode 18 of the Volleyball Coaching Wizards Podcast. Another part is being able to read someone’s feelings for more effective communication. A third is taking in what others are saying and not trying to make things about you or your views.

Relationships Skills
This covers two main concepts. One is being able to be persuasive and clear in your communications. Legendary coach Julio Velsasco has described coaching as selling. You are trying to sell the players on what you want them to go and where you want them to go. In order to do that, you need to communicate with them clearing and persuasively.

The other primary concept in this area is being able to work with others. In this instance, however, the focus is on how people feel around you. Are they relaxed? If so, it’s more likely you’ll be able to work effectively with them.

How’s your emotional intelligence?

I know mine has gotten much better over the years. Could still use some work in places, though.

 

Why coaching education fails

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Mark from At Home on the Court today flagged a really interesting article. It criticizes common practices in coaching education and development. In particular, it lists the “ten really dumb things we do and call it Coach Education.”

That list is:

  1. Basing coaching education on sports science
  2. Failing to align coach development with athlete development pathways
  3. Believing competency based training is the new messiah
  4. Running workshops and conferences largely based on sports science, gimmicks, fads, and short cuts
  5. Giving token attention to mentoring programs
  6. Teaching outdated periodization processes
  7. Focusing more on teaching “what” and not “how” and “why”
  8. Creating courses based on the past, not the future
  9. Allowing course presenters who lack high level teaching, education, and communications skills
  10. Too much classroom-based coursework

I’m going to speak to a couple of points of particular focus for me, but I encourage you to read the full article.

I’ll just quickly touch on the sports science bit from #1. The main idea to that point is that as coaches we spend only a very small proportion of our time on this area of our work (the author suggests about 5%). In other words, it’s not a developmental area that is likely to have the biggest impact on our overall ability to do a good job as coaches. This is particularly true if you are – or intend to be – a full-time coach (or at least run your own program).

I especially like #4. It’s something that as a key part of Episode 3 of the Volleyball Coaching Wizards Podcast. We had a trio of interviewees share their views about the importance of how you react to presentations at conferences and clinics and what you see other coaches do with their teams. I would add to that the fixation in those educational venues on games and drills and other technical/tactical elements. Think “How do I fix ….?” (see You don’t need a new drill).

The mentoring point of #5 is something that was among the first subjects I took on in this blog. I think it’s a major area in need to development in volleyball coaching circles as too many of us are thrown into things without much in the way of direction, advice, etc.

The idea of shifting from “what” in #7 is something which very much hits home to me. I used to be a very technically focused as a coach. At some point, though, my mentality started shifting. I began to realize that what’s going on between a player’s ears was the bigger issue which definitely gets into the “why” of things.

Happy Birthday Coaching Volleyball!

Today marks three years since the first post went up on this blog. If you read it you’ll see I had an ambitious outlook on where the website could go. I did, however, have a pretty narrow geographic scope in mind. I was focused at the time on helping volleyball coaches in the Southwest of England develop their education and skills.

How far things have come since then!

Here’s the 3-year graph of weekly page views going back to the beginning. The highest number of views back in 2013 happened in September. It was just over 1000. Fast forward to 2016 and the site’s slowest week back in January was still about 30% higher.

PageViews-3yrs

All together the blog has seen nearly 105,000 visitors and over 260,000 page views. As you can see from the map below, those visitors come from literally all over the world.

(click for larger view)

I doubt anyone will be surprised that the U.S. is the biggest source of blog visits given it is the largest collection of English-speaking volleyball people. Canada is a distant 2nd, with the U.K. in 3rd. Germany is next on the list, followed by the Philippines, Russia, and then Australia. Italy, the Netherlands, and Sweden round out the top 10.

Apparently, the sweet spot for volleyball coaches – at least those interested in developing themselves and sharing ideas – is the 25-44 range, which accounts for more than 50% of blog viewership. That’s probably not too much of a surprise. The 45-54 age group is a little behind that, pretty much on the same level with 18-24. I like seeing that latter representation as it tells us we’ve got a good number of younger coaches coming up with the right kind of mentality.

Only about 7% of the blog traffic comes from those over 55. Dare I draw any conclusions about that? 🙂

The gender split is basically 50/50. This is interesting because I regularly see a larger % of male readership of the Coaching Volleyball Facebook page, and FB is a major source of traffic for the blog. Miles ahead of Twitter. Apparently, volleyball coaches hangout on Facebook.

Speaking of Social Media, I created Facebook and Twitter accounts for the site at the same time as I started the blog. The FB page is now approaching 1000 likes. The Twitter account recently crossed 800 followers (rising rapidly of late). For the record, I’ve not done any advertising to boost those numbers along the way.

By the way, I managed to complete a PhD in that time as well!

One blog, many connections
A major result of my developing this blog has been the connections I’ve made with coaches in many different places. I was already coaching in England when I started posting to this site. Since then, though, I can attribute many of my coaching experiences to relationships fostered by this website.

I’ve been a visiting coach at a couple of professional teams in Germany, and got the opportunity to watch the men’s CEV Champions League Final 4 in Berlin in 2015. I’ve worked Volleyball England Junior/Cadet tryouts, and USA Volleyball High Performance tryouts. I got my job coaching in Sweden directly because of my German contacts, and my current job at Midwestern State is linked to my work on Volleyball Coaching Wizards, which in turn links back to this blog.

It’s actually kind of amazing to think about all the people the blog has helped me connect with across the volleyball world. Seems like where ever I go someone will tell me they’ve been to this site, which started so small.

Where to from here?
That’s a good question. I’m putting a lot of time and effort into the Wizards project because I think it’s something which has the potential to have a major impact on the volleyball coaching community. Hopefully, you’ve at least been following along with that podcast. My partner Mark and I have, I think, done some really interesting stuff there.

I’ve also been working on some more focused educational material in recent months in areas where I see a lot of demand for information and solutions among visitors to the blog. You’ll hear more about that shortly.

Those two things have probably kept me from being as prolific in my posting as I’ve been at other times, though I’ve still managed to top 750. They may continue to slow me down in the future. So long as I’m coaching and/or interacting with other coaches, though, I’m sure there will be plenty of material to keep me writing.

I’m always open to suggestions, too. If you’ve got something you’d like to see me talk about here, just let me know. Some of the more interesting stuff – at least to my mind – has come from reader questions.

Testing someone’s volleyball coaching knowledge

questionmark

Here’s a question I’m pretty sure I’ve not been asked before.

What are some of the questions that a coach can ask the upcoming and beginner coaches to ascertain their understanding of the sport of volleyball?

I think this is a subject folks can have some fun with. 🙂

There are some variables here in terms of which direction you want to go with the questions. For example, is this meant to be a job interview kind of situation? If so, then the questions should probably focus a lot on the expectations of the job. They could be along the lines of:

  • Describe different defensive/offensive systems
  • What are your teaching cues for <insert skill here>?
  • How are the zones on the net numbered?
  • What is your set terminology?

In terms of some broader understanding of the sport:

  • What’s the FIVB? USAV?
  • Who’s the current national team coach?
  • Name X players from the national team?
  • What are the major international competitions?
  • What are the major domestic competitions?
  • Who are the current national champions?
  • Who are some of the most influential coaches in the sport?

Those are ones that come off the top of my head. No doubt there are plenty more.

This is your chance, dear reader. Use the comment section below to offer up your own suggestions.

Finding professional coaching opportunities

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When you’ve done something that most folks in your community haven’t done, but might be interested in doing, you tend to get questions about it. In my case, I’m one of a very small number of American coaches with experience coaching in a professional league in Europe. As a result, I periodically get questions about how to go about doing that – like this one:

Hi John,

Can I just bother you to ask about where a coach can find professional coaching opportunities in Europe? In particular, I was wondering how you got your job at Svedala last year – if there is an application to do like here in the UK or there in the US, or if it is thanks to links with other coaches. So mainly what is the process to become a professional coach in Europe?

Many thanks,

Matteo

First, let me direct anyone interested to the Coaching professional volleyball – advice wanted article I wrote. It talks about a lot of what I think you need to know, understand, and be prepared for when looking at professional coaching in Europe.

Matteo asked how I got my job at Svedala. It was totally a networking thing. The outgoing coach for the team (an Aussie) was in touch with a coaching contact of mine in Germany (an Argentine). The latter, knowing I was looking, put me in touch with the former, who pointed me in the direction of the club’s manager. Obviously, things went from there.

To the question as to whether there’s an application process for these positions, there is – unless the club already has someone in mind. However, it’s not nearly as formal as for college jobs in the US, however. We’re not talking big organizations like universities here, after all. Think about your local volleyball club and you’ll get a pretty good idea of how many people are involved in the decision-making process for hiring a coach.

Matteo mentions being in the UK. I don’t know what his citizenship status is, but if he’s EU then he’s definitely got some advantages in landing a professional volleyball coaching job there. Even more so if he’s got language skills. The latter are especially handy for someone thinking to be an assistant coach because of the additional duties for coaching lower level (youth) teams which often come with those jobs.

No matter what, though, networking is hugely important. You need it to have people to act as recommendations when putting in for jobs. Perhaps even more so in the early stages of your career, you need it to find out about job openings.

So my strong recommendation to anyone looking to coach professionally in Europe is to get out and meet fellow coaches and volleyball people. And not just meet them. Actually spend time with them so you get to know each other. The contact from Germany I mentioned above is some I actually spent about 10 days with while visiting with his team during the first part of their preseason.

Coaches making excuses

shadowycoach

Last week Mark Lebedew challenged coaches to realize that while they are happy to point out excuse-making among their players, they are oftentimes just as likely to do the same thing. We may not be as obvious about it, but we do it.

A while back I wrote about having a conversation with a fellow US college coach who complained about the attitudes of modern players. My instinctual reaction was to think to myself that I hope lots of other coaches think that way because I’ll have loads of coaching success by being more adaptive.

I’ve had similar reactions on reading about or hearing other coaches comment about entitled players or whatever. Mark cited the example of the SMU women’s basketball coach. The women’s basketball coach at Wisconsin took a similar view in a video that went viral through the coaching ranks earlier in the year.

I personally don’t think of players in generational terms. I look to work with each player based on their own personality, learning needs, and the like. It’s my job as their coach to help them get to where they need to be mentally and physically. I will keep working until I find the right way to reach, teach, and motivate them. [Tweet this ]

Mark and I seem to be in agreement on that.

The rest of Mark’s post takes on the subject of losing coaches going beyond simple excuses (it was the refs, etc.) and letting themselves off the hook by saying things like “They players gave it everything they had.” With the assistance of some notable coaches, he makes the point that success isn’t just about effort and commitment, but rather their proper application. It’s our responsibility as coaches to get that application properly targeted.

The one push back I would have on some of that stuff is there are times when your team simply lacks the talent to win. I find it hard to blame the coach for a loss in those circumstances or in them citing lack of talent as the reason for not winning. What I would look at, though, is whether the team played to the maximum of its capability – whatever that might be. Winning and losing may not be in the coach’s control, but the manner in which they play is definitely something the coach is responsible for shaping.

Game: 4 v 4 Out-of-System Winners

Volleyball Game

Synopsis: This is a variation on Winners 3s or 4s which narrows the attacking options. That should produced more rallies while getting in good work on defense against live hitters and out-of-system offense, among other things.

Age/Skill Level: This is a game for intermediate to advanced players

Requirements: 12+ players, full court

Execution: This game features 4 players on each side, two front row and two back row in a box type of formation. The two front row players are pin hitters, with the two back row players as wing defenders. The area within 6′ (2m) of the hitter’s line is declared out (so if the hitter is attacking in 4 then zones 1 and 2 are basically out of play. In other words, the hitter must attack middle or cross-court. The game is played like Winners in terms of having a winning side, rally initiation by a serve, etc.

Variations:

  • You can change up which areas of the court are out. If you exclude the middle of the court, then you make the hitters attack line or cross. If you exclude the cross court you force the hitters to attack middle or line.
  • You could eliminate the Winners element and just have the two sides playing each other with the sides rotating each time they send the ball over the net.
  • You can have positional specialization either by keeping players in fixed positions, or by left side players just playing on the left and right side players just playing on the right.
  • You can require that one of the back row players take the second ball.

Additional Comments: