The more you talk, the less they train

teacher

Yesterday the university club I coach for did the first of its taster sessions for this year. This is Fresher’s Week, which is a bit like Orientation for teams back in the States. As part of it the various student organizations put on events to encourage new members to join up. For volleyball it’s a question of having them come into the gym and do some drills and games and stuff.

These taster sessions can be quite big affairs. Last year both sessions had over 100 people. That’s a lot for what we have available to us. Today we probably only had about half that number because it’s so early in the week. We have others later on that will probably be even better attended.

One of the problems with these sessions, aside from the large numbers in general, is that a sizable fraction of the players are beginners. It’s great for the sport and for the club, of course, but it creates a challenge. They need to be taught and can’t really be mixed in with the non-beginners. Actually, the non-beginners aren’t generally miles ahead of their peers, but that’s another discussion.

Anyway, the club is structured such that experienced members take on the role of coach for those in the lower levels – Beginners and Intermediates. One of the players who has been on the women’s team the last two years took charge of the beginner group today. She made a rookie mistake. Started by talking to them for quite a few minutes before getting them started. Coaching stuff aside, that’s not something you want to do in a taster session when you’re supposed to be selling new people on joining your club and getting involved in volleyball.

Later in the session I had a chance to talk with this player. I told her she needed to spend less time talking and more time letting the players get on with it. Her response was not surprising. She said, “But they’ll do it wrong!”

Yup. They’ll do it wrong. You know what? They’re going to do it wrong anyway. You have to let them. That’s how they learn.

I told her, do a demonstration to show them how, then let them get on with it. From there you can go around and make individual corrections. Maybe you need to bring them back to reinforce something to the group if you see most players making the same mistake. If so, make it quick and then get them back to work.

The more time you spend talking, the less time they spend training.

Reader Question – Developing a 3-Middle Hitter Scheme

Volleyball-Chalkboard

I had an email come in the other day from a reader.

How would you defend against a three middle offense?  Currently we are running a three middle offense, but are concentrating on being in the right position and running effective plays.  I think we need to change our thinking.  Switch to how someone defends against it, then exploit any expected weakness.

I asked for clarification on what was meant by 3-middle in terms of how they would be employed and got the following:

We have three players who would normally play middle. 

The starting rotation:

Middle, Outside, Middle

Outside, Middle, Setter

3 rotations have only one middle in the front … 3 rotations have 2 middles in front.  Depending on the pair of middles, one will switch to OH, while one plays Middle … or one will switch to Right Side, while one plays Middle.

Since one of our Middles is left handed, offensively we can run double slides.  We can also run a quick with one middle at the pin hitting a high outside.

I actually used a very similar type of system with a 16-and-under girls Juniors team a number of years back, which I described in the post Problem Solving: Three middle triangle. By posting this up here I’m hoping to encourage some discussion. I’ll start it off with some thoughts of my own.

The right line-up?
I have an immediate question about having a rotation where both outside hitters are in the front row together, which means you also have two middles in the back row with the setter in the same rotation. I don’t know how strong a right side attacker and/or blocker the team has with one of those OHs, nor the passing/defense talents of the MB not being replaced by the libero – or whether a DS is being subbed in on them in the back row. It strikes me that could be a sticky rotation if the personnel aren’t right.

With a lefty in the mix, I would very seriously consider playing with them at OPP, though having a left hitting OH definitely causes issues for opposing blockers. Having them in the middle can be a bit trickier because the setter needs to change the placement of quick sets.

Opposition Defense
Switching back to the question of thinking about how the other teams will look to defend against a 3-middle team, I think quite a bit is going to depend on the opposition. Some teams will play the same defensive structure regardless of what the other team is doing – either because they feel like they have their best possible configuration in place or because they just don’t know any different.

If I were an opposing coach able to scout your team (and with the players able to use such information), I would be looking at the tendencies of your team in certain types of situations and of your players in terms of where they like to hit. I would then try to make you work away from your strengths. There really isn’t a whole lot you can do to prevent me trying to do that beyond not letting me see you play. That doesn’t necessarily mean I can stop you, though. If your team executes there may not be much I can do to stop it even if I have my team optimally positioned to do so.

Of course you’ll be doing similar scouting of the opposition defense. Your goal should be to try to maximize the frequency with which your team can match it’s strength up against the other team’s weakness. For example, you could decide to have one of your nominal middles (is a middle who plays outside really a middle?) hit OH in one match to go up against a short setter, and OPP in another to attack a short outside hitter (assuming your setter can produce consistent back sets). Another example would be focus on spreading the offense out against teams that tend to pinch/bunch their block, and vice versa against teams who tend to put their wing blockers near the pins.

Playing to your strengths
It’s always hard to provide advice in a situation like this where you don’t know the level of competition, the type of players involved, team priorities, coaching philosophy, etc. There is a compelling line of reasoning, not just in coaching but generally in life, that you should play to your strengths. Really work on developing them to a superior level and work on applying them as much as possible. That topic is better left for a separate discussion in its own right, but it has some value in this context as a point of consideration.

If this team’s strength is it’s three player who can play MB, then it makes sense to identify the ways they are most effective and try to set the team up to put them in those positions as frequently as possible. For example, if two of the MBs are excellent slide hitters, figure out how to configure the line-up to give them lots of opportunities to hit the slide. In this sort of situation you’re not really thinking a great deal about what the other team is doing, but instead of creating players able to take advantage of whatever the situation offers. Continuing with the slide example. work with the hitters on their ability to attack with a variety of shots – line and cross, tip and/or roll shot, block-out and high hands – and in different positions relative to the setter and at different tempos.

In other words, figure out what’s generally your strongest line-up and style of play and relentlessly work on getting better at it.

Try-outs drove a big traffic uptick in August

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I made mention of this briefly on Twitter and/or Facebook earlier, but August was by far the biggest month for Coaching Volleyball. Nearly 3700 people visited the site, 75% of whom were first time visitors, and there were over 10,000 page views. That’s basically double July’s figures, which had been the highest traffic month up to that point. When you see gains like that it’s always interesting to find out what was bringing people to the website in such big numbers.

Of course, as an author one would hope that all the increased attention was the result of some recent blog post that really captured people’s attention. Alas, that wasn’t the case in August. Over 70% of the site visits came from Google, which means people were coming into the site to find stuff written at some point in the past.

So what were they after?

Volleyball Try-Out Drill Ideas is the big winner. That one page, written in September 2013, accounted for over 16% of all page views. Are your warm-ups wasting valuable time? was the only other page to garner more than 5% of the page views for August. Even the site’s home page only got 4.7%. I guess that gives you a pretty good idea of what volleyball coaches were searching for last month!

August is prime try-out month for volleyball teams in the US, especially for high school squads. As a result, it will come as no surprise that US coaches were the most represented among site visitors. In fact, they accounted for over 80% of visits! The UK was second at about 4.3%, with the Philippines coming in at 2.5% in third place, which is interesting in and of itself.

I’m starting to observe a pretty consistent traffic pattern on the website as well. Monday is almost always the peak day. Visits then trail off over the course of the rest of the week, with Saturday generally being the low point before things tick back up a bit on Sunday. Seems like coaches do their research early in the week.

Why so few women coaching volleyball?

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For as long as I’ve been involved in US collegiate coaching there have been discussions and articles and commentary on the subject of attracting and retaining female coaches, particularly at the college level. A December 2013 article from Volleyball Magazine is an example of the debate/dialog, and there was a related session at last year’s AVCA Convention as well.

While I was in Germany visiting professional volleyball teams the subject came to mind when thinking about the composition of the coaching staff of women’s teams that I’d seen. Specifically, it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen any female coaches that I could remember from any of the coaching staffs. In fact, when I was with the SC Potsdam women there was a day when there was something like eight men in the gym between coaches, trainer, manager, etc. standing opposite 12 players, which struck me as borderline comical (I think one of the players might have made a similar observation to one of her teammates).

With that in mind, I asked a coach if he knew of any female coaches in Europe. He could think of no more than a handful across all the men’s and women’s teams. When I asked him what he thought the reason for that was he replied with something to the effect of “Women are smarter than men”.

That’s obviously a fairly tongue-in-cheek response, but it’s the start of a reasonable thought process. The main thrust of it is that coaching can become all-consuming. I can attest to this myself. I might have been done with my PhD by now if it wasn’t for coaching volleyball. OK, maybe not, but you get my point. As my supervisor will attest, coaching became a major distraction. I find that volleyball always wants to worm its way to the forefront of my mind, especially during the season. And I’m not even coaching professionally or in an everyday coaching situation as I would be were I coaching in pro volleyball or in the US collegiate game.

This all-encompassing aspect of coaching at the higher levels is something I know gives prospective female volleyball coaches pause. I have a friend from my youth who went on to play Division I, earn All-American honors, and spend some time on the beach tour. She coached at our high school for a couple of seasons, but that was as far as she would ever take it. She told me that after seeing the amount of time and travel and all that her own college coach put in she wanted nothing to do with it.

As a upper level coach, volleyball can easily become your life. If someone doesn’t want that to happen – as the coach I asked implied women don’t because they are smarter than men – then they’re either going to coach at a less intensive level or not coach at all.

What do you think?

A personal volleyball coaching fitness reminder

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You want to know one of the biggest things I got out of my three weeks with professional teams in Germany last month? It was actually better coaching fitness. The last time I coached on a regular basis was back in March at the end of the BUCS season. I did a couple of training sessions ahead of South West Championships in May, then the two days of the tournament. In July I helped out with England Cadet and Juniors trials. Aside from that, though, it’s been several months of being very focused on my PhD work. That means many hours sitting in front of a computer. Not good for coaching! Or for my general well-being.

My first couple of days in Germany spending about 6 hours a day on my feet were very painful. My back and neck were all kinds of problems. My feet hurt. My knee ached. It was brutal. Over time, and with the help of a lot of stretching, things got better. By the end I could be on the court for two full sessions a day without any issues.

I get back to regular training with the university teams the last week of September. Between now and then you know I’ll be doing everything I can to stay active so I don’t revert back to where I was before my trip. Maybe I’ll do some of these exercises while I’m working on campus.

Volleyball Coaching Concept – Second Chance

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A while back I shared something called the Second Chance Game. The basic idea is that a player who makes an error is immediately given an opportunity to correct their mistake. For example, a hitter spikes a ball into the net. The coach immediately makes them hit another ball, and potentially another, and another until they have a good swing. It is worth noting that doing this sort of error correction need not be confined to one certain type of game. It can happen at any time, in any game or drill.

During my time with the professional teams in Germany, I saw many examples of the coaches using this kind of second chance approach. They did it in passing drills. They did it in defense drills. They did it when working on movement. They did it for setting. The point was to not accept the bad repetition – especially if it was driven by poor technique, bad decision-making, etc. – and reinforce the desired execution.

In fact, second chance is often best used in drills because it’s easier to have a do-over in those situations than in game-play. Second chance when having your team play tends to create a continuous play situation. This can be useful at times, but if you’re looking to have something with a more discrete stop-start process (like with rallies begun by a serve), then second chance from an individual player perspective is probably not the best choice. You could, however, do it from a broader team perspective by repeating the play from the start or from some key juncture.

Comparing NCAA and professional volleyball – Part III

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In the last two posts I compared professional volleyball to NCAA Division I volleyball on the basis of seasons and resources. In this post I want to look a bit more narrowly at the coaching aspect of things, at least based on what I saw during my three weeks hanging out with teams in Germany. Again, I don’t really claim to have a comprehensive knowledge of things based on just a few weeks experience, but I have a few impressions. I’d love for those with more exposure, particularly on the professional side of things, to share their views.

Schedule
As I noted in my first post in this series, the competitive season for professional volleyball is longer than the one for NCAA teams. Preseason starts at roughly the same time in August, but play can carry on into May. The collegiate players train during Spring term as well, but have winter break, Spring Break, and May exams (generally speaking), so while the coaches in both categories have a similar length overall coaching period, the professionals will almost certainly spend more time in the gym during that span.

Both sets of coaches have lengthy periods during the year out of the gym – generally April/May to August. NCAA coaches continue to have recruiting requirements in that time frame (as noted in the next section), and of course there are always administrative duties for both groups.

Recruitment
Both professional and college coaches are required to scout and evaluate potential additions to their teams (and to decide which players to attempt to retain). To do so, both watch a lot of video and are in touch with any number of contacts to help identify prospects and gather player information. NCAA coaches spend a fair amount of time during the January to July period on the road attending Juniors tournaments. Because they are still in-season, my impression is that professional coaches probably don’t do quite so much of that, but they are better able to bring players in for trials, which NCAA rules prohibit in Division I. Both sets of coaches watch a lot of video.

Administration
Naturally, there are differences between working for a professional sports organization and working for a university. I suspect, however, they are not as great as one might think. Much of managing a team – scheduling, equipment, travel, etc. – is pretty constant, no matter the context. Yes, there will be some differences in how things operate, but not major ones. Coaches in both cases have to deal with management above them, deal with players transitioning in and out of the team, interact with fans and sponsors/donors, and all of that.

Communication
Language is generally not an issue for NCAA coaches. They may occasionally have a player who struggles with English, but a certain level of fluency is usually required for college admission, so it’s not really a problem. Communication issues come from other areas, such as differences in where the players are from, background, etc.

Professional coaches have to deal with the latter, but also have language considerations. It seems like English is the common tongue for most professional teams, but it’s far from the case that every player speaks it or speaks it well. The result seems to be a multitude of languages being spoken between players, between coaches, and between players and coaches – and even club management.

For example, when I was at SC Potsdam the coaching staff spoke Italian amongst themselves. The primary on-court language in group situations was English, but both Italian and German were frequently spoke in 1-on-1s and smaller group situations. I was told club management speaks very little English, so business at that level is done in German. At TV Bühl the coaches speak Spanish together, and there was a bit of Spanish and Portuguese spoken in 1-on-1 player situations, but otherwise English dominated, even among club management. Most players didn’t know much German (but were taking lessons). One player, however, spoke little English, instead requiring translation to French by one of his teammates.

So basically, decent English is generally necessary for professional coaches to work with their teams. The extent to which they need to speak the local language varies, but I think generally it does behoove a coach to learn it. The same could actually be said of NCAA coaches who work in strongly ethnic communities.

Salary & Income
I was told that in Germany head coach annual salaries are generally in the €30s (call that about $39k-$50k, £24k-£32k), with assistants in the €15k-€20k range (about $20k-$26k, £12-£16). This may not sound like all that much, but it’s important to keep in mind that coaches are generally provided with housing and a car by the club. That’s worth quite a bit. It’s commonly suggested that people pay roughly 1/3 of their take-home pay on housing alone, and it’s pretty easy to imagine a car being another 10%.

Let’s say a coach takes home 70% of their salary after taxes, etc. Someone making €35k would take home €24.5k. Housing would be worth about €8k, with the car another €2.5k, so that coach in Germany would have an effective take-home pay of just over €35k, which would be about €50k pre-tax. This equates to about $65k (£40k).

Given that the German professional leagues rank in about the middle of the pack among, the implication is that coach pay is probably a bit lower on average in lesser leagues and higher in the bigger ones.

How does this compare to NCAA salaries? In 2010 the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) conducted a salary survey, the results of which were published in the February/March 2012 edition of Coaching Volleyball magazine. The graph below is shows the distribution of Division I volleyball coach base salaries.

AVCA-DI-Coaching-Salary

The article reports that the average salary is $73,426, with a median of $69,079, so not far off the numbers from above on an equivalency basis. The lowest was about $37k, with a high in the $140s. What these numbers don’t account for is performance bonuses, camp, sponsorship, and other income which can significantly increase a coach’s total compensation. A number of threads on VolleyTalk (here, here, here) address the subject. The suggestion is that coaches in the upper echelons of the sport can do quite well for themselves. Assistant coach salaries parallel head coach pay in terms of variation based on conference differences, though obviously an order of magnitude lower and without the same kind of upside.

I would imagine professional coaches also have additional income opportunities. I’m not sure to what degree, though.

Tenure
I was given the impression that coaches in the professional ranks don’t tend to spend a great deal of time with any one team. There are certainly a few who do, but that is the exception. Essentially, it’s like any other professional sport in that regard. NCAA coaches probably don’t move around quite so much, but it isn’t like long tenures at a single school are the norm there either. Most coaches in the AVCA survey mentioned above were in their current positions less than 10 years.

Coaching
I’ve already talked a little about how similar coaching at the professional level is to coaching at other levels in the Being reminded of the coaching similarities post. Going beyond that, I think the biggest thing for me that came out of spending time with the two professional teams was seeing the amount of relative youth there was in the squads. Certainly, there are the mature, experienced players as well, but because players are being developed out of youth club programs rather than coming out of a collegiate structure, there are also a number of younger athletes (even down to 16). The result is that in some cases there’s not a lot of difference in terms of age, maturity, experience, technical ability, etc. between professional players and those competing in the NCAA.

And in terms of the actual coaching on the court, just as you’d expect going from gym to gym watching NCAA coaches, there are any number of different styles and philosophies among professional coaches. Given that they come from a more diverse set of backgrounds, the professionals are probably a bit less homogenized in style than those in the NCAA, but in neither case are you going to see the same sort of coaching approach in every gym.

Coach-Player Interaction
Here’s a major area of difference between professional and NCAA coaches. In the US it is essentially forbidden to fraternize or even socialize with players. A big factor is the drinking age being 21 which means only a minority of members of a team will be old enough to drink, which is certainly not the case in Europe. Many schools have strict no-alcohol policies where school-related activities are concerned and generally speaking coaches are expected to maintain a professional relationship with their players at all times. Needless to say, romantic/sexual relationships between players and coaches are an absolute no-no (it’s usually viewed from a sexual harassment perspective).

While European coaches are also expected to be professionals, the player-coach relationship is somewhat more relaxed (or at least can be, depending on personalities involved). That isn’t to say coaches are often out partying with their players, but they will have a drink with them. Personally, this was something I struggled with when I first came to England. The idea of socializing with my players was really uncomfortable, though over time I was able to relax a bit. You will also find the occasional romantic relationship between player and coach, though I can’t imagine it’s something very common.

Player Turnover
As a last point, I should note that professional team rosters seem to turnover quite a bit. At an NCAA school you’d expect roughly a quarter of the players each year to leave and be replaced. At TV Bühl there was only one player back from the prior season, and it had been fairly similar the year before (though they were moving to reduce that level of change moving forward). I think the year-over-year change for SC Potsdam was something close to half the team. Obviously, when you have that kind of squad change from year-to-year it changes certain ways you coach.

It should be noted that American players seem to be among the least likely to stay in one place for any length of time. One coach suggested to me that a desire to see new things and have new experiences tends to be part of the motivation. That said, non-American players move around a lot too. For the most part, players salaries are not particularly high, which tends to increase the motivation to make a move for better pay.

OK, so those are my impressions. Like I said at the beginning, I’d love to hear from those with more exposure, a different perspective, etc.

Comparing NCAA and professional volleyball – Part II

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Yesterday I started to take a look at the similarities and differences between NCAA Division I volleyball and the professional game in Europe based on the time I spent with some pro teams in Germany during August. The focus there was on the time element. Today I want to extend that comparison into the area of resources.

Facilities
I think this is actually an area of considerable commonality. There are some professional clubs who host home matches in large arenas – like BR Volleys playing in Max Schmeling Halle – just as some collegiate teams play in sizable venues. At the same time, there are a number of clubs playing in more modest gyms just as many college teams do. The folks at SC Potsdam, for instance, told me they relatively recently moved from a gym that could only hold a few hundred spectators to one with seating for about 2000. TV Bühl plays in a similarly sized facility.

In both the pros and the college game there can be scheduling conflicts with other sports and other demands on the facility – and in some cases the training and playing gyms are not the same, or alternative gyms need to be used for training periodically. None of the pro teams I’ve visited can claim to have full control over their training/playing site just as most college programs have to coordinate with other sports and school demands in scheduling gym time.

Staff
At the NCAA Division I level schools are allowed to have three paid volleyball coaches (a head and two assistants), plus potentially a volunteer and/or graduate/student assistant. At the top end the staffs are full, but in the lower rankings oftentimes schools only have a head coach and assistant – maybe a lowly paid 2nd Assistant during the season. Schools generally also have a trainer and a strength coach, though these are usually shared with other teams and not always available to be assigned to be with the volleyball team during all trainings and competitions. Many schools also have a Director of Volleyball Operations, which is essentially a team manger. When I was at USC last year all those people were in the gym during preseason training sessions, though most schools will have just a handful of staff in the gym to work in practice (usually just 3-4 coaches).

From what I’ve seen, professional teams tend to have maybe three coaches – oftentimes just a head coach and an assistant. They generally have strength coaches and trainers, though how often they are specifically on-hand varies. At one club the strength coach was actually involved full-time and also coached the club’s second team, while in another case the strength coach was more of a consultant who spent spells with the team throughout season. One club had a trainer at the gym sessions while the other didn’t.

Professional clubs have team managers who work on the administrative side of things. How often they turn up for and/or help out with training no doubt varies, but my impression is that they are largely considered administrators rather than having much of a role in practice.

Equipment & Technology
Professional teams have lots of equipment. I saw all sorts of different training aides for use in drills and S&C work in the gym. And balls – lots and lots of balls! What I didn’t see a whole lot of was technology. I talked a bit of stat apps with one staff and introduced TapRecorder to them (which was quickly introduced to more readily count player jumps during training), but there was very little statting done during the training sessions I saw. There was a bit of video work done, but not a whole heck of a lot, and much of it was recording for later use rather than to immediately show to players. I have seen the latter done previously, but not in this case. Whether these things are a function of coaching style, insufficient resources, training phase, or what I cannot say.

By contrast, I’ve seen NCAA volleyball teams use video and stats extensively in training. USC has video replay systems on all three of its training courts, which is definitely a high-end example, but even much smaller programs have that kind of technology. I was given the impression by a couple coaches that in Europe they kind of look to the US for the latest technology developments.

Budgets
I was told that the average budget among women’s teams in the German top flight (the Bundesliga) is about €500,000, which is roughly $650,000. I think on the men’s side it might be more like €700k ($910k). I know there are teams with 7-figure budgets, though, implying that there are also teams with markedly lower ones.The result is a disparity in resources among teams competing in the same league. It’s the sort of thing which can also notably be seen in professional soccer.

I don’t have budget figures for NCAA schools. It would be a bit tricky to compare them directly with the pros in any case (and perhaps even with each other in some cases) depending on how scholarships were valued and such. On a conference basis there is probably less disparity in funding between schools than we see in the professional ranks, but the same can’t be said when we look at all of Division I as a whole. There are clearly some schools with massive financial support and many with relatively little, but that’s hardly unexpected when considering 300+ teams.

Overall, my impression is that NCAA Division I schools and European professional volleyball teams are not dissimilar in terms of the resources they have available. There’s is considerable disparity on both sides of the equation, and one side may be stronger than the other in some aspects, vice versa in others.

As I said yesterday, my perspective is a limited one at this point, so I’d love to hear from readers with better/different knowledge than myself. Just leave a comment below.

I wrap up the comparison in the next post by talking about things from a coaching perspective.

Comparing NCAA and professional volleyball – Part I

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While I won’t ever claim that the three weeks I spent with professional clubs in Germany in August has given me a deep understanding of what pro volleyball is all about, I do think it does allow me to make a basic level comparison to volleyball in the US – in particular to the NCAA Division I collegiate game, where I’ve spent a fair amount of time. Over the next couple of posts I’ll document what I’ve seen in terms of similarities and differences. Today I’ll start with a look at the time commitment.

The Season
The NCAA volleyball season starts the first weekend of September, or the last weekend of August, depending on when September 1st falls. The regular season generally concludes in mid-November, with the NCAA tournament running during about the first 3 weeks of December. With preseason training generally beginning somewhere in the first half of August, this means most teams in the NCAA will have a season which runs about 3 months, 4 months for those near the top of the rankings. Teams may play 30 or more matches during the regular season (usually 3-4 per week early, and 2 per week once in conference play starting late September or early October), with potentially up to 6 more for those advancing in the championship tournament.

In the second semester (about late January to the end of April), most of the focus for NCAA teams will be on individual training and strength & conditioning work. For most of that period players are limited to just 6 hours per week, 2 of which can be volleyball (20 hours is the limit during the main season). There is a “non-traditional season” of several weeks during which the a more normal training regime can be used, but with only a couple of available playing dates, so the focus remains on training rather than competition. Coaches are not permitted to work with players over the Summer when school is out.

In the European pros the competitive season runs from mid-October until perhaps April or early May for the top teams. For example, the German (Bundesliga) regular season ends in February, but the playoffs there go on into May. The extent to which a team is still active in one or more cup competitions will dictate how many matches are played each week. It’s very much like professional soccer where teams generally play a weekend league fixture, and could have a cup match midweek.

For example, TV Bühl has about 25 matches listed on its schedule as I write this. That number will grow to the extent that the team advances in the German and CEV cup competitions and makes the league playoffs as the end of the season.

This makes it sound like NCAA schools and professional clubs play a comparable number of matches, with the college teams just doing so in a more compressed time frame. This fails, however, to account for the “friendly” matches teams play during their preseason, which lasts upwards of 2 months. These friendlies are against teams from a variety of different countries and levels of play. It is similar to the way NCAA teams play pre-conference matches, only more so (I actually had one coach express bewilderment over the fact that pre-conference matches count toward a team’s record). TV Bühl has something like 20 friendlies planned before starting the Bundesliga season, from what I heard while visiting them.

So what we end up with in terms of the pros is having a season that runs upwards of 9 months from the start of preseason to the end of the playoffs. A competitive team can get easily north of 50 matches in a year, all together.

Travel
Depending on the country, travel for league and domestic cup competitions among professional teams can be either minimal (imagine the likes of Belgium or the Netherlands) or potentially substantial (think Russia). International competition such as CEV and friendlies can add to that required by domestic play considerably. Competitive level and league thus are significant contributors to how much traveling a professional team must do.

The same is true for US college teams. Some conferences are fairly narrowly confined geographically and teams with low budgets won’t travel much beyond that for pre-conference competition. The other end of the spectrum is a conference like the ACC, which spans practically the whole of the US east coast (Boston to Miami) and extends west to Indiana (Notre Dame). That’s a lot of time on the road.

The potential major difference between the college players and the pros is how the travel works out. It’s much easier to only have to travel every other weekend or go a couple weeks on and a couple weeks off than to have to travel most weeks. It’s also easier to travel for a couple of days, then return than to travel for a match, come home, then travel again a couple days later for another match if there are meaningful distances involved. That sort of thing can really take its toll over a long season.

Gym Time
The impression that I got on the professional side of things is that players generally have 2-a-days all through the year, though not in the fashion many US readers might be thinking (2 normal length on-court trainings). The two will be one session of strength & conditioning and one of volleyball. I did see one team run preseason morning sessions which mixed weight room with short small-group ball-handling sessions, then did a more normal volleyball session in the evening. No doubt, though, the composition of training and S&C work varies depending on the time of year and competitive schedule.

At the collegiate level the NCAA’s time limits constrain what teams can do. For the most part that means just one training session per day (though 2 gym sessions a day is common during preseason when there are no time limits). Teams may add in 1-2 days in the weight room for maintenance and injury prevention, but the major S&C work tends to get done outside the regular season.

Off Time
Obviously, at the college level much of a player’s time will be spent in classes, studying, working on papers, etc. Basically, all the “student” part of student-athlete. There isn’t that same kind of commitment for professional volleyball players, though certainly there is plenty of language training going on for those who don’t speak the language of the country in which they’re playing. Mainly, as pro athletes they are expected to rest, recover, and take care of themselves. Family life may be part of the equation.

As I said at the top, my knowledge of this subject matter is not comprehensive. I know there are a couple of professional coaches who check in on the blog from time to time. I’d love to hear their input, and thoughts or experiences from anyone else who can speak with any knowledge of the subject. Just leave a comment.

In the next post I take a look at resources and how they compare between college programs and the pros.