Volleyball Coaching Job Search Log – Feb 12, 2016

Volleyball Coaching Log

Monday’s Interview
I mentioned in my last update that I was returning to the States to interview for an assistant coaching job at a Division II program. It was actually a multi-day process. It started on Sunday when I was picked up by the head coach for the ride to campus and eventually lunch before getting dropped off at the hotel. We talked about a lot of coaching topics, as you might imagine.

Monday was the high intensity day with not just one interview, but several. My initial schedule looked like this:

10am: Tour of campus
11am: Meet with HR
12pm: Lunch with volleyball staff
1pm: Meet with women’s basketball coach
2pm: Meet with Senior Women’s Administrator
3pm: Meet other coaches on campus
5pm: Dinner with Athletic Director

The lunch was with the current 2nd/Grad Assistant and the Volunteer Assistant coaches.The SWA is actually the former head coach.

That last entry was a real surprise. I’d never have expected a dinner meeting with the A.D. for an assistant coach candidate.

A couple of other meetings with administrators actually got inserted along the way. One was the Associate A.D. and another was with the head of the department through which I would teach were I to land the job. Not surprisingly, I answered the same questions several times (especially “Why here?”). Long day, but it gave me a lot of exposure to the school and especially the Athletic Department.

You’ll notice no player meetings scheduled. The head coach debated my getting together with them as a full group after their morning strength and conditioning session vs. doing it in smaller groups on Tuesday when they came in for their on-court training. She ended up going with the latter because she thought the players would be more open and conversational in the smaller group situation.

Tuesday’s meetings
The result of the player meeting decision was that I met the team in groups of 3 and 4 on Tuesday after they got done with their small-group practices. The head coach had told them to look me up, so they had questions related to my experience – in particular what it was like coaching in Sweden. The groups were comprised of different mixes of players (one was all freshmen, one was all juniors, one multiple classes), so the other questions they asked and what we talked about varied.

In between the meetings I took a detour over to the business school. I spoke with the head of the Finance department about maybe doing some adjunct teaching. This would be in addition to the teaching requirement for this job – a volleyball activity class each semester.

After another lunch with the head coach, my final meeting on Tuesday was a follow-up 1-on-1 with the A.D. Basically, he just wanted me to think about whether the job and locale was a good fit. Made it sound like if I thought it was, then they would think so too. At least one more interviewee is scheduled to visit campus in about a week’s time, so there will be some time before anything could move forward.

Rest of the week
On Wednesday I flew to California. I’ll be hanging out in Long Beach for a while – probably until my next step is decided. Top priority – getting some rest after all the travel and getting my internal clock set to the right time zone!

Possible paths for volleyball research

statisticsbanner

A few discussions have taken place in recent months on the subject of the influence of coaching decisions on match outcomes. Two key examples of this come from Mark Lebedew. He recently did a basic study based on the question of whether timeouts in any way influence the likelihood of the server missing their serve. A while back he also wrote about some research into whether timeouts have any impact on the next point, which was based on some findings from basketball which suggest they are actually counterproductive.

The issue with the research into these research subjects is that better statistical methods really need to be applied to control for a number of factors which could influence outcomes. This is something I’d like to take on. I’m a PhD now. It’s what we do. :-)

I’d like to go down some other research paths as well, with respect to volleyball. What do you think? What question(s) do you have that can be addressed by analyzing available data?

Game: Positional winners

Volleyball Game

As volleyball coaches, most of us are aware, and make regular use, of the game Winners – also known as King or Queen of the Court. There is a variation of the game much favored by John Kessel from USA Volleyball which is known as Speedball, though that one requires the right numbers to do properly. I have also used yet another variation in which it is individual players rather than groups (teams) of players who operate in the winners fashion.

Something which I started doing with Svedala team this season was another variation on winners that allowed for more positional specialization. It started by having fixed setters, but otherwise playing winners around them. Simply put, the setter who won the rally went to/stayed on the winners’ side.

In order to have the middles and setters working directly with each other – and against each other – at times I also had the MBs fixed. So like with the setters, the MB who’s team won the rally went to/stayed on the winners side.

Now, I only had two setters and two MBs in the team, so the switches were pretty straightforward. Just two players swapping places.

There were times, though, when I had some extra players in training. In those cases when I wanted to do the fixed MB system I basically had them rotate through like a more normal winners idea. The middle who won the rally was the winner, the losing middle came off, and a middle waiting on the side came in on the challenge side.

So basically what this turned into is a triple Winners rotation. The setters were on a rotation. The middles were on their own rotation. Finally, the rest of the players where in the bigger rotation. Usually, in those situations I was having the game played in 4s. That mean there was a pair of players from the collection of OHs, OPPs, and Liberos joining up with an MB and a Setter in each team.

I came to like this winners variation because it allowed for more specialized positional work.

The influence of happiness on coaching

Happy-Sad

This post definitely falls into the category of coaching introspection.

I had a number of interesting exchanges last week with folks all over the world in the wake of my stint coaching in Sweden coming to an end. Most were of the type you’d expect in that kind of situation. A few, though, actually addressed more specifically my state of mind. They really got me thinking.

More relaxed now
The first of those exchanges happened on Thursday while talking with a volleyball friend. He made the comment that I seemed more relaxed than he could ever remember me being. We’ve known each other for a couple of years and have had the chance to hang out in a number of different circumstances. We’ve also talked online numerous times, so this covers a reasonably large sample.

Now, I wouldn’t have said I felt more relaxed at the time, and I was surprised he made that comment. In thinking about it, though, it occurred to me that maybe this was reflective of somewhat less uncertainty in my life. Obviously, I’m now between jobs. For much of the last couple of years, though, I’ve been in a regular state of wondering where the future was going to take me while also wonder when I’d get my PhD work done. The latter is now finished, which is a big load off my mind to be sure. My employment future is hardly fixed, but maybe eliminating one source of stress is enough for me to seem noticeably more relaxed.

Enjoying myself
Looking at things from a slightly different angle, a non-volleyball friend last week asked me whether I enjoyed coaching in Sweden. That was a tough question. I didn’t have a good response. On the one hand, I couldn’t say “No”. On the other hand, I couldn’t immediately say “Yes” either. There were plenty of frustrations during my stay in Svedala, but plenty of good experiences as well.

Even thinking more about the question, I don’t have a clear-cut response. The only thing I think I can reasonably do is make a comparison. Did I enjoy coaching in Sweden more or less than coaching in England. In response to that question I believe the answer is clear. Definitely less. And that is without considering how my time in Sweden ended. There were plenty of frustrations coaching BUCS volleyball in the UK, but all things considered I enjoyed coaching the Exeter teams. It was really rewarding. Sweden less so, though I don’t regret my Swedish experience by any means. Part of the difference was that at Exeter I was involved in meaningful program development. No such opportunity with Svedala.

Happiness
Related to the enjoyment thing, my mother offered up her own perspective. She told me her impression from my updates was that I wasn’t as happy in Sweden as I was in England. This has less to do with volleyball than with life in general, but naturally the two are connected.

In thinking about that observation, I had to generally agree. Life in Sweden was quite isolated. I was living away from town, and for the first 3 months or so in a place that wasn’t very comfortable and lacked internet. I didn’t have housemates to interact with on a day-to-day basis, or professors and peers during the day when I was on campus in Exeter. Plus, as much as most folks speak English, the natural first choice is Swedish. It’s very easy to feel isolated when you don’t understand the conversation going on around you.

It’s also possible the climate impacted my over happiness level. Granted, England isn’t exactly full of sunshine and warm weather all the time. In many ways the Swedish weather was very similar. The days are clearly shorter in the Winter, though. I’ve had some seasonal depression issues in the past, which was a concern in taking the Svedala job. I never felt like I was experiencing anything acute from that perspective, but it may have had a low level persistent influence.

Did it influence my coaching?
I have to figure on some level being less happy and enjoying things less must have had some influence on my coaching. Maybe I was less motivated to perform certain types of duties or act in certain ways. Maybe my energy level while coaching was lower than it would have been in another situation.

This would have been an ideal situation to have someone on-hand who could have watched me and compared my coaching psyche this season vs. prior ones. Unfortunately, I was working with all new people, so that option wasn’t available.

Volleyball Coaching Job Search Log – Feb 5, 2016

Volleyball Coaching Log

Leaving Sweden
As you are probably aware, on Monday my contract with Svedala was terminated. I had already decided several weeks ago that I wouldn’t look to sign with Svedala for another season, so all the early exit did was move up my time line.

Coaching in Sweden was a worthwhile experience and I have absolutely no regrets about making that move. I just want to be somewhere I can do more program building – to have aspirations beyond “Do as well as you can this year”. That wasn’t looking like it was going to happen at Svedala – at least not within a reasonable time frame. It’s kind of the nature of the club’s current structure, and also Swedish volleyball more broadly. Just a personal thing at this point in my career. Nothing against either the club or volleyball in Sweden, there are a lot of people doing a lot of good work there.

Leaving professional volleyball
In January I further decided that continuing in European professional volleyball probably wasn’t going to be my path forward. The season is a long one and, as was the case when I was coaching at Exeter, I found my mind wanting to shift to other things around January. Perhaps that’s something that developed during my time coaching college ball in the States. At least at Exeter the feeling was moderated by my volleyball time commitment only being a couple of days, giving me more scope to do some other things. Obviously, with a professional club it’s at a higher level and intensity than that.

Along with the attention factor in my decision was my desire to be able to do things like go to the AVCA Convention and/or the USA Volleyball High Performance Coaches Clinic and other similar sorts of events. Because both of those in particular happen during the professional season, they aren’t doable in a professional coaching circumstance. If I were coaching back in the States it would be a different story, and with the added benefit of still being able to attend similar European events. Plus, as weird as this might sound, I always liked the recruiting side of things – getting out to different places, meeting people, and all that.

Being back in the States would also likely considerably boost my visibility and connectivity with the coaching community there and lead to opportunities I might not otherwise have. I could potentially get involved with national team programs, though I have some contacts in Europe that might allow me a similar opportunity overseas as well. Importantly, having a lesser in-the-gym and team travel commitment during part of the year will provide me more scope to work on my other projects, including academic research and publishing related to my PhD.

My path forward
The conclusion that I came to was that I should look to do one of two things – either look for a college coaching job back in the States or take a non-volleyball primary job and coach on the side. Given my new PhD credential, one possibility would be to find a teaching job and coach locally. I could also return to working in the finance industry, though that would likely have higher time demands, making coaching a bit more of a challenge.

Before Monday’s developments, it didn’t make a lot of sense applying for the US coaching jobs getting posted. No doubt those would want to be filled quickly to have people in place to be at work recruiting and the like. I figured I would probably have to wait until late February to start putting in applications where the hiring time line would more mesh with my need to stay in Sweden through April when my contract ended (coinciding with the end of playoffs). I did keep an eye on the market, though.

Obviously, that’s all changed now.

An early application
That said, I did apply for a job in December. It was the assistant position at a school where I have a connection. I hadn’t really intended to do so. I know the coach there from our days as competing assistants, and it would have been about working together with her as much as anything else. I didn’t figure the time line was going to work with my Svedala commitment, though. She encouraged me to apply – probably for HR purposes – which I did, but they clearly needed someone in more quickly.

Had I known how things were going to unfold, maybe the situation would have been different and I could have been a more realistic candidate. That job has since been filled.

A path unexpected
One potentially interesting development did come up in January, though. A contact from the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project put me in touch with an NCAA Division II coach looking for an assistant. Under normal circumstances, I probably wouldn’t have considered going for that kind of job, but my contact knows what I’m thinking and knows the coach in question well. She was of the belief that we would make a good team in a program with a lot of upside potential. Also, the position would offer me the flexibility to continue to pursue my other projects, which would be harder at a higher level program. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to talk.

I ended up having about an hour-long conversation with this coach last week. I’d already been talked up by my Wizards contact (something which always makes me a bit nervous), and the coach was impressed with what she’d read on this site. Her other assistants were young and relatively inexperienced, so she wanted to bring someone in at a higher level both in terms of organizational skills and knowledge and experience. She said she really wants someone she can bounce ideas off of and talk about things with at a higher level, as well as obviously carrying part of the administrative load for the program.

I think we both came away with positive thoughts about the conversation. I officially applied for the job the next day. She said she had two others she was looking at seriously and that initial interviews were likely to happen the following week or so. We’d talked about using Skype for that, since I wouldn’t really be able to go there any time soon. This was all with the understanding that I wouldn’t be able to start until May.

Clearly, with things changing on my side, my availability to interview on campus suddenly opened up. As a result, I’m headed there this weekend to interview on Monday. That will end my time in Sweden.

Services in demand
And I haven’t just gotten interest from the States. Yesterday morning I had someone email me about potentially taking over some coaching for a club in Norway. It was a tentative idea that wouldn’t have been a sure thing, but it was good to know that others value what I have to offer.

Are we better off with fewer female coaches?

questionmark

OK, I know the title of this post is controversial in it’s very composition. Before you jump all over me for suggesting such a thing, let me explain where the thought came from. I’m not actually making a statement of opinion, just presenting something to ponder.

Here’s the background.

We’re once again in the middle of the annual coaching merry-go-round with respect to US college coaching jobs. Inevitably, that brings with it another round of discussions as to the relatively low proportion of females coaches there are in a primarily female sport (I’m not calling volleyball a “girls'” sport, just talking based on the participation numbers – at least in the States). On the forums you can easily find arguments about whether athletic departments are and/or should be favoring female coaching candidates over males who are perceived to be more experienced or better credentialed.

As long as I’ve been involved in coaching there has been a running question, debate, exchange, etc. about how to attract and retain more women in coaching. I’ve written about it before.

In recently reading yet another forum thread on the subject I found myself pondering the thought, “Are we actually better off with women not staying in coaching?”

I am, of course, not making anything like the statement, “A woman’s place is in the home”. I am also not in the least suggesting that women are inferior to men as coaches. A married professional coach I know frequently comments that he is only the second best coach in his household. :-)

I am also not suggesting that the sport of volleyball is better having fewer female coaches. Personally, I think the best situation for any coaching staff is to have both genders included. Such staffs incorporate a wider set of perspectives than single-gender ones, which is a good thing.

Instead, the question that went through my mind was whether society as a whole was better if women take what they learn from being athletes (since we’re talking mainly of former players here), and potentially early-career coaches, and putting them to use in non-coaching roles. We’re talking about skills like teamwork, leadership, and the like which can be effectively applied in a broad array of positions and activities. That’s one of the reasons we encourage participation in sports, right?

So as a society, are we better having women put those skills to use in non-coaching positions? Certainly, there will be many who argue that by comparison sports is a trivial, frivolous endeavor – that people should focus on more worthwhile things with their time and talents, especially from a career perspective.

Of course this presumes there is more value in having more women in non-sports roles than is the case for men. I’ll leave that discussion for others to argue.

And then there’s the question of who is leading the way in terms of helping these women develop through the process of being athletes and early-career coaches. Is the gender of those in those roles consequential?

On a related note, I sometimes see the suggestion that players prefer coaches of a certain gender. I’d love to see an actual study done that is able to factor out preconceived notions of leadership characteristics.

Anyway, feel free to discuss and debate among yourselves. :-)

Well, be a better coach!

Volleyball-Arena

I recently had a phone conversation with a men’s coach at an NCAA Division II school. The women’s program at the school was in the market for a new head coach. He’d been fielding a bunch of calls and emails from people potentially interested in the job.

No real surprise there. Folks are trying to get a feel for the program and the job.

This coach told me that he’s heard from a number of coaches who come from Division I. In hearing what sort of funding and support the program has (they’re only half funded on the scholarship side), they often responded with the equivalent of “I can’t win in a situation like that.”

My response upon hearing this was to think to myself – which we both said out loud in our conversation – “Well, then maybe you should be a better coach.”

Considering this men’s coach has managed to have his team in conference title contention each of the last four years, clearly there’s enough to be able to win if you know how to make good use of what you’ve got. This sort of thing is a big issue I have with the way a lot of lower level programs go after assistants from upper level ones.

If you’ve just coached at a top tier program (like former players who went right into a Power 5 conference coaching staff) then you’ve probably had all kinds of resources available – ones which you won’t have when you start sliding down the RPI scale or move into lower divisions. It really can be a whole different world. That’s in terms of the caliber of athletes, the money for recruiting and other things, and the amount of coaching and administrative support, among other things.

Plus, in some cases the administration doesn’t really care if you win or not. That’s a foreign concept for a lot of people used to high competitive conferences.

 

An abrupt change of direction

Svedala Sport Hall

Little did I know when I was finishing it on Saturday night that the coaching log entry which went up yesterday would be the last of the Svedala 2015-16 updates.

I was told yesterday the club is terminating my contract with immediate effect.

Yup. That happened.

On Sunday evening the club’s chairman asked me to a meeting to start an hour before our training on Monday. That such a meeting was requested wasn’t a real surprise. We were the top team in the league the first half of the season and qualified for Gran Prix for only the second time in club history, but recent results haven’t been good. We’re 1-3 over our league matches in the second half. Two of those losses were against legitimate contenders (on Saturday they went 5 against each other), but the last one was against a team we’d beaten twice before and should have beaten this time. Not good.

After that match on Saturday I had a snide comment thrown in my direction by a parent (yes, there are parents at the professional level). Then, during the day on Monday while giving me a ride into town, a board member basically told me “When the team loses three in a row it’s the coach’s fault.”

When you have a situation like this, it can’t be any real shock to be asked to a meeting, so I wasn’t surprised. I figured it would be a “How are you going to fix this?” type of discussion.

The chairman and one other board member were there. He didn’t really waste any time in saying they’d decided to terminate my contract. He said it was do to differences in coaching philosophy and a lack of feedback. Actually, he looked to be a bit embarrassed when saying that. The other member said something encouraging about my job prospects moving forward.

I think the chairman was expecting me to push back, which I didn’t really do. My one comment was that it would have been nice to have gotten some indication along the way that the board wanted something different from me. He admitted that the club had made some mistakes.

The Sport Director/Manager who was the one to hire me, and who was my assistant coach, will run things. Apparently, he was meant to be at the meeting, but couldn’t make it because of job requirements. I still haven’t heard anything from him as of this writing.

When I told my friends and contacts in the European coaching ranks, they all found it a strange development. A couple of them suspected performance wasn’t really the issue, but rather finances. I don’t know if that’s true or not, and honestly I don’t really care. I wish the players well, as they are a really good group, but I’m moving on.

The fact of the matter is I’ve known for a while now that I wasn’t going to carry on with Svedala past this season. I’m proud of what we accomplished with a short-handed and relatively inexperienced squad. The situation just isn’t a good fit for me in the broader scheme, though.

So as much as it stings to be let go, I’m not overly upset about it. I’m just leaving Sweden a couple months earlier than planned. Of course the sudden development means I now have to scramble a bit to figure out where I’m going to hang out until it’s time to take on my next challenge.

Look for a coaching job search log post later in the week. I’d already been doing a bit of work from that perspective before all this came down.

Coaching Log – Feb 1, 2016

Svedala Volleybollklubb

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2015-16.

On Sunday Engelholm beat Hylte 3-1 at home. Combined with our loss on Saturday, the results created a log jam at the top of the standings, with four teams within 2 points.

ElitSerie-Table-012516

The Elitserie schedule for the week was a fairly full one. Engelholm hosted Gislaved on Tuesday and RIG hosted Örebro on Wednesday. On Saturday, alongside our trip to Gislaved, Örebro hosted Hylte and RIG hosted Lindesberg. The only possible question mark in there in terms of expected outcomes was Örebro vs. Hylte, so in order to keep our position among the top group we needed to match everyone else and take a win against the 6th place team.

The concern I had starting the week was our seeming reversion back to the team we were when we gave up winning positions against Engelholm and Hylte to lose those matches in our first league meetings. We were not mentally tough against Örebro and our serving in recent matches has been problematic at the very least.

The struggles with the offense I outlined in the last entry are something we need to work on from a technical perspective. Missed serves and poor passing, though, are mental issues rather than technical ones for the most part. Obviously, being resilient in the face of adversity falls into that category as well.

I have to confess, I do have some concerns about fitness levels which could be contributory. I don’t have anything objective to point to from that perspective, though.

Monday
During the day I took the 3rd set from Saturday’s match, added notes and highlights to the video, and posted it for the team. That took most of my afternoon. I got it done only a short while before having to leave for practice, so there wasn’t enough time to expect the players to watch it. I spoke to it a bit at the start of the session and the players talked about a few things in terms of moving forward. The gym was too cold (again) to just be standing around chatting, though, so we swiftly got to work.

After warm-ups I had them do the final part of the Twenty-one drill as something to have them moving and being active from the start. I followed that with Continuous Cross-Court Digging. Then it was on to Winners 3s, back court attacks only.

The bulk of the session was spent doing serve receive and attack against three blockers to work on reception, attacking the block, and blocking. Myself and my assistants did the serving. I switched the players around from hitting and blocking and setting, blocking, and hitting in the case of the setters. The passing started off rough, but seemed to improve as the exercise progressed. My OPP in particular looked good in attack, though continues to have technical issues with her blocking.

We finished up with a couple of minutes of narrow court Winners 2s.

Tuesday
We had a young guest player in training – a girl trying to make a decision between potentially playing for Svedala next year and going to RIG and being in the academy program there. We also had our usual visiting player from the second team and our former player, giving us a full gym. That always makes things more fun and interesting.

After pre-hab and some group pepper as a ball-handling warm-up, I split the group. On one court the MBs worked on transition attacks coming off of blocks. On the other court, the OHs and RS were doing serve reception and attack.

I then brought them together and played a variation on Winners 4s – one I’ve used before. The setters were fixed (rally-winning setter goes to/stays on the winning side). The MBs did their own winners rotation, with the rest of the group on the usual one. Normally, I have them play on a narrow court, but this time we went full court. This was basically a build-up of the attacking work to add the block.

From there we did hitters vs. a full 6-team unit, taking things up another level. They played out any rallies which ensued.

I then moved them on to 22 vs 22 to bring in the serve reception element. Because of the mixture of ability and experience, I set the teams to have the starters against each other in the front row for the first two games (one side was the server in each), then flipped front and back row for the second two games.

We finished up with a regular 25-point game using the same teams.

It was a good session. The energy level was high. The players were generally more aggressive in attack. I saw more block-out, high hands swings, which is something we’re trying to work on. Serving was pretty good. Defense was very strong. It was good to see. The second team coach was in the gym with us, providing a bit more technical coaching.

Wednesday
I think lifting before training tends to take a bit out of the players (not surprisingly) and lead to less energy and intensity. That certainly seemed to be the case in this session. Though, my young MB did ask about how much jumping there would be given that they’d done a fair bit on Monday and Tuesday, so there was perhaps a little bit of an overall fatigue.

As per usual on Wednesday, the session started with 2-ball volley tennis. That was followed by cooperative cross-court hitting in which I had the group first do attacking through 4, then attacking through 2, then 2 and 4 and finally 4 and 2.

The second team was still going on center court, so I needed to extend our time on the side court a bit longer. I had the team do serve and pass 3s. That hadn’t been in the plan, but it served the time-fill purpose.

Switching to the center court, next up was back row Winners 3s to get into game play and competition. That was followed by a new version of the servers vs passers game, which the passers won again.

The primary full game play exercise was a 5 v 5 focused on right side vs left side. Each team had three back row players, but only two in the front. On one side, it was OH and MB. On the other it was RS and MB. We played games to 5 with one side serving each ball and playing two games before I rotated players around to get different hitting/blocking match-ups.

The 5 v 5 games end up being lower intensity and focus than I’d have liked. After going through a few rounds, I decided to do something much more uptempo. I had 3 front row players and two back row on each side. I alternated tossing a free ball in to each side and let them play out the rallies.

We finished with target serving. At the end, my American MB did some work with the young Swedish MB on her arm swing hitting off a box.

Friday
This session was a classic build-up one, starting with fairly simple and progressing to complex. After warm-ups and pre-hab I had them do a 4-corner setting drill. That was followed by target serving where I told them to do 10 good of the best serve, than work on their next best. I gave them about five minutes.

Next up was servers vs. passers. This time I only went to 15 points and started the score at 4-0 for the servers. No bonus points. The game ended up much closer this time, though the passers won once more, 15-13.

From there it was back row Winners 3s to get in attacking and defense, with some “live” serve reception. I then progressed that to Winners 4s with fixed setters and middles (one of the others was front court as well). That kept the passing and added in the middle attacks and blocking.

After that it was more full game play – though one side only had six players so Zone 6 was out. I used 22 v 22 as the structure. We did 3 total rounds of that, by which time the players were looking fatigued, so I called it a day.

After training the MBs once again did work on arm swing. The two passers who struggled last weekend also wanted to stay and do some more passing. We talked a little about technique and ready position, but the biggest issue for both is what’s going on between their ears. They pass well in drills (though are very hard on themselves if it”s not perfect), so I told them it’s all about clearing out the negativity come playing time.

Saturday
That match didn’t go as planned. I had a warning during our warm-ups that we perhaps weren’t as focused as needed. During the defensive drill the team does (2 hitters, a setter, 3 defenders rotating in and out) there were balls getting hit between players not getting dug – to the point where I stopped them for a few words. That’s the first time I’ve felt the need to do anything like that.

The first set was nip and tuck early, but eventually they got out to a 14-10 lead, and then 17-12. We clawed back to 19-17, but it ended 25-18. Part of what saw us fall behind was missed serves in the early going, which was theme through the match. We seemed to have them in clusters near the start of sets, but got much more consistent after that and ended up with 11 aces to 11 errors for the match.

We actually passed fairly well in the first set, but our hitting was poor. We only sided out at 44%.

The second set saw things turn around sharply. We got out to a 9-4 lead, which ended up extending to 19-9. We had no service errors in that set, but managed 4 aces.

At 19-10 I subbed in our back-up setter for the starting one. The starter had just finished serving, so she was in 1. Unfortunately, the passing let her down and she maybe could have made a better decision on one of her sets. We gave up I think 4 points and I had to put the starter back in. Even from there they managed to keep coming back and get to 20-16. From there it was even and we won 25-21.

Hitting in the second set was miles better (13 kills against 1 error). We sided out at about 62%, though our passing was a little worse than in the first set.

The third set saw our first four servers miss three serves, though we missed none after that. It was tight up to 10-10, then they nosed ahead to 13-10. From there we never got back to level, though we fought hard. We weren’t helped by some poor officiating. Our hitting was pretty solid and our passing decent, we just struggled with stopping them from scoring (only 32%).

The fourth set had a very similar beginning. We missed 4 serves in our first trip around the rotation – once more not missing any after that. Our passing dipped a bit in this set, though our offense overall remained pretty effective (17 kills vs. 3 errors). Again the issue was stopping the other team from scoring (33%). It was very even up to 13-13, then they nosed ahead  to 18-15. We came back and eventually reversed things to 23-22, but then gave up the last three straight points.

This one hurt. We were clearly favored and had beat Gislaved three times before. They were a team on the ropes having gotten pounded on Tuesday and with a bunch of players recovering from injury and illness. We needed this one to stay in the fight for a top playoff seed. Losing puts us in a bad position given our remaining schedule.

As much as we looked great at times – especially on offense – we had quite a few lapses. Hitters didn’t expected to get set. Players didn’t cover their hitters or expect a ball to get played by teammate. A few execution and decision errors. My concern is that the team was mentally and/or physically fatigued, which led to the focus issues. Some of the players are also dealing with minor injury issues.

Thoughts, observations, and other stuff
On Tuesday Engelholm beat Gislaved rather easily. Apparently, Gislaved was dealing with a rash of injury and illness issues. Their top OH, for example, was relegated to playing Libero. Not that we’d have expected them to beat Engelholm in any case. Similarly, Örebro won 3-0 at RIG on Wednesday night.

On Thursday we found out that Engelholm had replaced the American MB they’d had to send home due to a back injury. The player is reportedly a part of the Canadian nation, so a potential upgrade in quality. That team has used it’s middles very little offensively, so it might not add much to them from that perspective, but it could improve their block.

Saturday’s other matches saw Lindesberg win easily at RIG, as expected. The more interesting match was Örebro hosting Hylte. The visitors won a tight one, 3-2.