A rethink happening at Volleyball England

An article came out from Volleyball England recently. It’s a rather frank discussion of where things are at with that organization. In it they talk about the likelihood of losing funding from higher up, which is a regular issue. I wrote before about how much of VE’s funding came on the basis of increasing participation in sports. It leads to some issues in terms of participation/competition conflicts.

It sounds like the leadership – or at least what they are hearing from membership – have realized the focus on participation in recent years has led them astray. In the article they talk about getting back to their main purpose.

“In the quest to drive up volleyball participation in recent years, we rather lost sight of who we were supposed to serve and support. We will now rectify this.”

That’s an admirable statement. I’ll be curious to hear from my friends closely connected to V.E. to hear their thoughts on the subject. Clearly, the organization needs to develop its own sources of revenue to avoid such a major reliance from government sources.

Teaching Volleyball Log – Spring 2017 Initial Entry

This week starts off the Spring semester at Midwestern State University. That means a new group of students for my volleyball activity course (see my posts about last semester here and here). I met them for the first time today. Here’s what I’m looking at for the term.

Course adjustments

I needed to make a couple of changes to my course syllabus for the new semester. One reflects the fact that we are not in the volleyball season. Last semester part of the class requirement was working two of our home matches. The students either acted as line judges or managed the ball rotation. This term we obviously have no official matches. We do, however, have a home tournament at the start of April. I have put down working 2 hours that day as part of the class requirement.

The other main thing I changed was the weighting of grades. Last semester attendance was only 40% of the grading. I used the break down my predecessor used, but never felt very comfortable with it. This is an activity class, so shouldn’t most of the grading be based on taking part? I think so. As a result, I bumped that weight up to 60%. Related to that, I also increased the penalty for missing class above and beyond the officially permitted 3 unexcused absences.

In terms of actually running the class, this semester the course runs three days a week for 50 minutes. Last semester it was twice a week for 80 minutes. This will require some adjustments to how I structure class time.

Class composition

I have – at least at this initial point – eight students. Three are male, and five are female. I also have a female graduate assistant. A quick poll of the group indicates very little experience. One played up to sophomore year in high school, and another up to junior year. Not surprisingly, both were female. My GA is not one of them. By comparison, all the students last semester, plus my GA, had playing experience expect the one male.

I’m going to be doing A LOT more teaching of basic skills.

Coaching Log – January 13, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

My last post in this long was more than a month ago now. I’ll be honest. There wasn’t a lot done after that in December. The whole coaching staff attended the AVCA Convention. Mainly we were all enjoying the break and doing our own things. Things got a lot more intense once 2017 hit, though! The last two weeks have been very busy, and next week school starts back up.

Roster Changes

We had another player let us know that she won’t be playing for us next year. It’s one of the red shirt juniors I mentioned in my last update. She’s facing ankle surgery and the timing of when she would have it down (May) is such that she would still be rehabbing by the team the season rolls around. She graduates in May and is looking at grad school elsewhere as we don’t have her desired program here. That combination really makes her decision fairly straightforward, if unfortunate.

The other red shirt Junior I mentioned in my last update will be carrying on with us. She will be a graduate student.

I mentioned one other player previously who was an injury question. It turns out her grades for last semester were very poor (the team generally did quite well). She is now behind the NCAA requirements in terms of credits earned. That means she is not eligible for the Spring. That does not make much of a difference given her injury recovery needs. It definitely is an issue moving forward, though.

Recruiting

There wasn’t much opportunity to ease into the recruiting. I had to go down to the Dallas area last weekend to spend a day splitting time between watching Juniors for the 2018 class and a few Seniors for 2017. That continues this weekend with two days evaluating a long list of prospects. The emails have been streaming in. Mostly it’s the 2018s, but a number of 2019s have emailed as well.

At this point we have two objectives. There are a couple of spots for the 2017-18 team we still need to fill. We are looking at potential transfers for one or two of those positions, but are looking at 2017 graduates for one or two. We want to bring in another middle to replace the freshman who left the team after the season. The lack of an outside hitter in our current sophomore class already had us thinking to bring in a transfer pin hitter for next season. The departing red shirt Junior mentioned above, pushes us further in that direction now. We are also looking for a good libero, either transfer or incoming freshman.

Spring planning

In my last update I mentioned the outcome of the player year-end meetings. The other day we met as a staff to discuss them and start planning. We already met with our strength coach to work out the schedule and plan there, so that’s in place. The tricky thing in the Spring is always player class schedules. We need to work around them to arrange team and small group training and activities.

Obviously, technical development is always a feature of Spring practices. We want to continue developing a winning team culture too, though. Arguably, that’s even more important for this program than the physical work the players do. Top of that list is establishing a higher standard of expectations for both practice and play. At the same time, though, we want to continue to develop the overarching chemistry. The group gets along really well off the court, which is great. They need more cohesion on the court, though.

As a staff we talked about the need for us to set the higher standard of expectations right from the outset and fostering an environment where the players pick up on that and perpetuate it of their own accord. We also talked about being more intentional in our feedback.

We will do our Spring (non-traditional) season after Spring Break (mid-March). That will include three days of competition. Between now and then, we can only do two ours of court time with each player per week (plus 6 hours in other activities). That will be split up between small groups and team work.

Foreign trip

The big development for our proposed team trip to Argentina in the Summer is that the interim Athletic Director has given us the thumbs up to move forward. We got group ticket price quotes and will not put down a deposit. Now the attention turns to fund raising. We estimate a total cost of about $62,500, which is no small amount of money. Thanks to our efforts in the Fall, we already have about $6000.

Naturally, a number of ideas for fundraising activities have been put forward. As you might expect, several are events of one kind or another. What it is going to come down to, though, is soliciting donations. I will keep you posted on what we do.

Looking back on 2016, and ahead to 2017

This time last year I did a review of what had been a really interesting year of 2015. It’s interesting to look back at that, and in particular the things I had in mind for the new year, and compare it to what actually happened. That being the case, here’s a similar look back for 2016 and look forward to 2017.

Education

Well, I finally completed all my PhD requirements. It ended up taking about 3 years and 4 months. I submitted the finished version of my dissertation in January and received notice of the conferral of my degree in February. Here’s the letter I received. The picture is from when I was reading it on my phone as I waited for my baggage at LAX.

I did not actually attend graduation in July (I think I was doing camp), but they sent me a copy of my diploma. One of these days I might get around to framing it or something. 🙂

On I guess you could call a related subject, I taught my first college course during the Fall semester. It was a volleyball activity class, so not exactly something academically rigorous. I did have them take a midterm and submit final papers, though.

Job

This time last year I was in Sweden coaching the women’s team at Svedala in the country’s top league. The team finished the first half of the 2015-16 season on top of the standings. We had also done well in the Oresundliga, and had won a pre-season tournament in Denmark. For that reason, perhaps the biggest news of the year – or at least one of the most surprising developments – was that I was let go in early February.

After a brief job hunt, I landed at Midwestern State University (MSU) in Texas. It was an interesting new challenge from my perspective. I joined a program in the early stages of a rebuild, with a coach just off her first season with the team. MSU is a Division II program, which is a level I had not coached before. It was also not only a new locale in terms of places I’ve lived, but also in terms of being in a place where volleyball is a big sport.

Travel

In 2016 volleyball once more took me to a bunch of places – most of them new.

With Svedala I got to visit a very cold Upsala for Gran Prix in early January. I then got to see some of Stockholm while there for a league match about a week later.

When I was hanging out in Long Beach between jobs, I attended a men’s NCAA match for the first time ever. Not that I really had to go far. The Pyramid was just across town from where I was staying.

Of course with MSU I toured all over Texas, as well as to places in Kansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico for matches during the season. I made a couple of trips to Dallas for recruiting in Spring. I worked a couple of High Performance try-outs there as well, and I spent a weekend in Forth Worth on the campus of TCU for an Art of Coaching clinic.

As you may have seen, my last volleyball trip for 2016 was to the AVCA Convention. I was there to present, but took in plenty of seminars as well. It was my first time ever visiting Columbus, OH.

Writing and publishing

I don’t think I had any volleyball articles published in magazines in 2016. At least if I did I can’t remember them as I write this post. Of course I did have a book project – the very first Volleyball Coaching Wizards book. That took up big chunks of my Summer and early Autumn time!

I also developed a volleyball try-outs course. This is something I’d had in mind to do for years. I finally sat down and got it done. The response to it was really positive, so it was definitely worth the effort.

This has nothing to do with volleyball, but I twice submitted a paper for consideration toward publication in an academic journal. This is from my PhD research. The first time we (my PhD supervisor and I) aimed quite high. We didn’t expect an acceptance, but hoped for some good feedback. As anticipated, we got a rejection. It did come with a bunch of useful comments, though. We used them to revise the paper and submit to a new, slightly lower ranked journal. At this writing we are waiting for a response.

The blog

It was another record year for the blog in 2016. For the year there were about 161,000 page views from more than 86,000 visitors. That’s about a 25% increase over 2015 figures in terms of pages, and almost a 50% bump in visitors.

As you can see from the map, once again there were visitors from just about everywhere.

No surprise that the US dominates the readership.

As has been the pattern, August was once more the largest traffic month. In 2016 it accounted for nearly 13,000 visits and almost 25,000 page views. September was also above 20k views, making it the first time with two months crossing that threshold.

Interesting, the biggest single day ever for the blog came in early May at just over 2900 views. The Teach them how to throw post went viral. For the month it garnered over 4000 page views. Honestly, that surprised me. I didn’t really think of that as more or less interesting or insight a post than many others. Just goes to show that like the Rules for coaching volleyball from John Kessel post from late 2015, sometimes you just hit it right at that particular moment.

In line with prior years, search engine traffic was by far the single largest source of readership. Facebook once more led the social media sources by a large margin.

Since its inception in June 2013, the blog has now had nearly 178k visitors and over 365k page views. The post count now exceeds 825.

Looking forward to 2017

This is probably something I can say at the start of each new year, but I go into 2017 with a mixture of uncertainty and plans. There’s something in the works in the background that would be a big development for me, though it’s a long way from being concrete. As such, I will leave it for later discussion if things move in the right direction.

One of the things I can say with high confidence is that I will once again attend the USA Volleyball High Performance Coaches Clinic in February. As you may have read from when I attended in 2015, I found it to be a great experience. This time I will add the CAP III course to the mix as well.

My partner Mark and I will continue to develop the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project. We definitely want to produce more books from the content we are collecting. I think we’ve decided what the next book will be.

I also hope to produce a new edition of Inside College Volleyball. That’s the college recruiting book I developed several years ago with another (now former) coach. It’s overdue for a revision and update.

Of course things will progress at MSU. The head coach is expecting her first child in April, which could make for an interesting Spring season. We are working on plans for a team trip to Argentina in August. That’s going to mean a big fund raising effort in the months to come.

Away from volleyball, I need to produce at least one more academic paper for potential publication. I’m scheduled to teach my second semester of the volleyball class as well.

 

 

A coaching documentary worth watching

If you have a Netflix account, look up the film Trainer! and put in on your watch list. Seriously. Do it now.

Trainer! is a documentary about a group of coaches. No, it’s not volleyball, unfortunately. It’s soccer. Specifically, it’s German soccer. In Germany, and across most of Europe, trainer is what they call the coach. In the film they actually translate it to head coach.

And before you ask, yes. The film is in German, but subtitled in English. It’s about 2 hours long, so you’ll need to be able to dedicate time to actually sit an watch if you don’t speak German.

But enough of the minor details. Let me get to why I think it’s worth watching – even for volleyball coaches. The film follows three coaches of lower division (2nd and 3rd) coaches over the course of the 2012-13 season. You see them in a variety of different scenarios, on and off the field.

Along with following the experiences of those three, the film intersperses commentary from several well experienced others. If you know European soccer, you may recognized some of them. Even if not, you can still gain from what they say. One of the best of the group is the lead trainer for the German coach licensing program. He’s got some really interesting stuff to say, especially with a couple of the coaches in the program going through his course.

A great feature of the film is how well it describes the situation of coaching in the professional environment. It is something I could very much relate to from my own experience coaching in Sweden and from spending time at clubs in Germany. There’s also plenty to it that can be related to coaching in a high school or college program.

Definitely give it a watch and let me know what you think.

 

Wait. I don’t remember it like that

One of the disadvantages of having a former player in the broadcast business is that sometimes you get thrown under the bus – intentionally or otherwise. The American setter I had at Svedala, Camryn Irwin, is in that arena now. She also sometimes features as a guest on The Net Live. She did the intro and outro audio for the Volleyball Coaching Wizards podcast as a favor to me back when we started it.

A player’s recollection

One such episode was December 12, 2016. About an hour in, a discussion of block vs. game-like training developed. There were interesting perspectives shared by a combination of men’s and women’s players and coaches. Along the way, Cam cast me in a negative light.

She didn’t actually say, “John Forman … “. Instead, it was more “my coach in Sweden …”. I doubt most people who listen to the show have any idea that’s me. They would have to find out where Cam played in Sweden and then probably dig around to learn that I was the coach for that team. I’m guessing most American volleyball people won’t do that work.

But back to what she said. The conversation got into the subject of playing a lot in practice. I’m not going discuss the skill acquisition value of block vs. random and all that here, because that wasn’t Cam’s focus. If you want to get into it, you can start with this post. Cam talked instead about practice intensity and the potential impact on player fatigue.

Basically, what she said was at Svedala I just wanted to play all the time in training and the players felt like they needed more “drill” time to bring down the physical demands. She talked about meeting with the coach (me) to discuss it. The way she talked about it on the show was to say “We can’t just play for an hour and a half.” The implication was that they would physically break down.

Let’s put the question of whether 90 minutes of game play in practice is too high an intensity to the side for now. Maybe that’s a question for another article.

Instead I want to look at Cam’s recollection of things and compare it to my own.

A coach’s recollection

First, I remember the “We want more drills” request mainly from a skill acquisition perspective (in part a motivation for this post). It was less about training intensity.

Second, we never just played. Well, maybe the very first session. Check out my log entries for that season to see. Yes, we played a lot – especially small-sided games. I almost never had the bodies for 6 v 6. Those rare days we could play 6 v 6 (guest players) we did use the bulk of the session to do so because it would have been foolish not to. And the players were always very excited to do so. Every practice, though, included non-game activities. There was target serving, passing, various peppers, and defense drills mixed in at different points.

Third, even when we did do game play I tried to move players around to keep their workload balanced. For example, I wanted the six-rotation players equal back row and front row work.

Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, I was generous with time off. We started with 10 players, and quickly dropped to 9. That means only two back-ups to the first team – a setter and an OH. Knowing the starters would have a heavy load, I always looked for opportunities to give the team breaks. We didn’t usually train on Thursday, so if we didn’t play on the weekend I sometimes (maybe always in-season) gave them Friday off for an extra long weekend. I know I also gave them off at least one Monday after we played on Saturday. Plus, they got 10 days completely off over the holidays. This is all on top of going lighter the days after matches and cutting things off if they looked tired.

So from my perspective I tried to not physically overwork them.

Reconciling the two perspectives

It is worth sharing something Cam related to the team at one point during the season. She often talked with players from other teams after matches as there were several Americans in the league. One of them was apparently in awe of the types of plays our team made during games – plays no one else made. Cam attributed that, at the time, to us playing a lot in training. So clearly there was a recognition on her end of the value of making practice game-like.

So why the difference in recollection?

Maybe in the moment during the TNL discussion Cam didn’t have a chance to really think back on the season. Or maybe the time off didn’t really register as you might expect.This sort of thing can happen to players. For example, a player can complete a practice and think they should have passed more balls, forgetting that they passed a bunch of them in the games or in drills that were not “passing” drills. It’s a question of the perspective on the activity (or lack thereof). We coaches are subject to this as well.

Maybe because of other stuff going on for her (like coaching the club’s youth players) Cam had a different perspective on time off than mine. She also had to deal with a back injury, which forced some additional work on her part. Perhaps that factors in to her recollections as well.

For what it’s worth, my player-coach relationship with Camryn was a positive one. I don’t think she holds any ill will toward me. She was just a player with a player’s perspective and I was a coach with a coach’s perspective. I don’t take her comments from TNL personally, even if at the time there was a bit of an “Ouch!” response. 🙂

Were the players overworked?

The team definitely struggled at times during the first weeks of the second half of the season. By that point we only had 8 players, the only back-up being a setter. I was already paring back training time. I can remember talking with the team about how we’d look to do that, but how we’d still need to keep the intensity up as much as possible in that shorter time. They needed to keep challenging each other to continue progressing.

At the same time their weight training regime had recycled. Might the combination of the two been too much? Conversely, did I given them too much time off over the holidays? These are among the things I’ve thought about as potentially contributing to a couple of poor January performances. Unfortunately, I was let go at the start of February (season runs through April), so I have no way to know how the physical side of things might played out long-term.

The lesson

Players are individuals with their own inherent biases and perspectives. It’s inevitable that they see and remember things differently than you do as a coach. Many a coach has been surprised/embarrassed/mortified at the things players remember. It comes with the territory. We want to do our best to not teach what we don’t want learned, but we have a very different view point from our players. Accept it. Try to understand their perspective. Do your best to learn when you come across an example of divergent recollection.

AVCA Convention 2016 – Wrap-up

The AVCA Convention for 2016 is over. See my reports on Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3. I want to wrap things up in this post, and provide my final thoughts.

I only actually attended one session on the final day (Saturday) of the convention. That one focused on fundraising – something of immediate potential use for us at MSU as we plan an overseas trip for August 2017. It was probably a little more long-term in thinking, as it focused largely on developing relationships. I still came away with some good thoughts on what we can do, though.

Aside from that session, I mostly just talked with some people.

I ran into one of the leaders of Juniors in New England. That’s where I came up as a coach, but I haven’t been involved in a decade. Hearing the progress made since then was interesting. The inter-regional tournament we started in about 2003 as a 10-court January event is now a big 3-day convention center-based competition. They also now run another big tournament in Boston in early March. Plus, membership is growing at 10% a year. That’s awesome!

I also saw a former college club teammate of mine. He’s the assistant coach at our alma mater, and in line for the head job now that the head coach is retired. I think the last time we saw each other was 2013 when I visited them in pre-season.

Of course the NCAA Division I final match was that night. I did not attend, but those I spoke with afterwards said the environment was much better than for Thursday’s Semifinals.

Overall, I enjoyed the event quite a bit. Although the city of Seattle was more interesting to me, I didn’t have as good an experience at the convention there in 2013. That is a function of not knowing as many people there, though. I had lost a lot of contacts after my years away from US volleyball (see my reports here, here, here, and here), and was there by myself. I have since developed a based of contacts, and it’s always more fun when you can spend time with people you know.

AVCA Convention 2016 – Day 3

My third day at the AVCA Convention was a pretty big one (see Day 1 and Day 2).

It started with attending the early morning “Super Session”. That combined five 15-minute presentations with recognition of coaches reaching victory milestones. One of the latter was 1900! The presentations included Chris McGown talking back row attacks in women’s volleyball, Christa Dietzen talking about wearable tech for health management, Terry Pettit on skill vs. talent, Roberta Kraus talking about converting threat into confidence, and Giovanni Guidetti sharing why he coaches so much. They were all good sessions.

Actually, I was shaking my head during Guidetti’s presentation. It was very entertaining, but he shared some things that were in my own presentation later on! I was glad he only talked for 15 minutes. 🙂

After that I sat in a on a session about performance statistics at different levels. The figures were interesting, but I found the overall presentation went off too often into coaching methods.

Next up was my own presentation. I had no idea how it was going to go. The slides I prepared could have been too few or too many. All in all, I think it went well. The guy running the room told me the attendance was something like 233. No bad, especially up against the All-America awards banquet. And no one left until we reached the Q&A period. Even then it was only a couple.

After that I went to Guidetti’s presentation on the Dutch Women’s National Team’s Olympic build up and experience. This was part of the pre-convention programming. It had to be done on Friday because of Guidetti’s travel requirements. He talked about taking over the program a couple years back, and the qualification process. Of course he also talked about the Rio Games. He shared quite a lot of statistics on all facets of play, which was interesting.

Guidetti also did an on-court presentation after that. It was on blocking and defense. I wanted to attend, but I got caught up talking to some people. The other MSU assistant went, though. He takes lots of notes! 🙂

The last seminar for me was one on developing your coaching philosophy. I mainly went to see Bill Neville and Sue Gozansky. They ran the session as part of CAP. You can see my own coaching philosophy, as it currently stands.

The rest of the day was mainly about networking. I connected with some folks I know and met some new ones. Among the latter was Avital Selinger. He is son of the legendary Arie Selinger and an accomplished coach in his own right.

Things wrapped up on Saturday.

AVCA Convention 2016 – Day 2

Educational sessions were in full flow Thursday (see Wednesday’s program). I attended three of them.

The first session was nominally about the most important things for point scoring in mens’ and boys’ volleyball. It turned out to basically be a talk about serving and blocking. There was supposed to be a discussion of transition play too, but there wasn’t enough time. The men’s coaches for Stanford, Ohio State, and UCLA made up the panel.

The second session was on in-match setter management. Salimia Rockwell of Penn State was the presenter. It was a really entertaining talk. A lot of what Salima talked about actually had to do with pre-match work. That’s scouting and game-planning.

The last session I attended could be thought of as kind of statistical benchmarks. It was a look at key team statistical performance metrics. They went through 14s girls, 16s boys, Division I and II college men, and Division I college women. The presentation showed a couple of things. One was which metrics most correlate to winning, while the other was where teams came in at for those metrics.

More sessions were on tap for Friday. I also had a Wizards-themed presentation to make. It was to be a long day in the convention center!