Coaching Log – February 20, 2017

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

It’s been nearly a month since my last log entry, so I figure it’s about time for an update as to what we’ve been up to during the off season.

Team Training

During this part of the Spring semester we can only work with the players 8 hours a week, two of which may be on the court. Most of the rest is with our strength coach. They are with him three early mornings each week for weight training and conditioning and speed/agility work. We then have them do small group sessions for one hour and a full team session for an hour to get the two courts hours. We also periodically mix in team/culture building activities.

The small group sessions allow us to work with each player on specific developmental needs. Meanwhile, the team session let’s the players apply things in a game setting. We are also using the team sessions to reinforce improvements we want to make in our playing mentality.

After Spring Break, which is in three weeks, we’ll go into full training mode once more. We will be allowed 20 hours per week and we will play three 1-day tournaments over the course of about six weeks.

Recruiting

I’ve been on a couple of recruiting trips over the last month. The main focus was 2018 prospects. A big part of the work this time of year is pruning the list – eliminating the players who just won’t help your program. We get lots of recruit emails to add to our list. Also, at the end of last season I noted some interesting potential prospects playing at the 16s level who also went on our watch list to start the new Juniors season. That made for a long list that needed to be cut down. Getting rid of the clear No’s – sometimes possible via video – allows us to focus on the Yes’ and Maybe’s.

As we’ve identified Yes’s and strong Maybe’s we began inviting them to campus. As I noted above, we are on a limited schedule with the team at the moment. When we bring a prospect to campus we mix them in with the team. That lets us see them play in our context and lets them experience playing with their prospective future teammates. Only having the one day per week of team on-court stuff, though, limits when we can bring recruits to campus. Plus, we want to avoid having players in the same position together. The first of the 2018s will visit this week.

That said, we are not done filling out our squad for the Fall. The head coach is looking to bring in three more players. We want to add a Middle to get us up to four. We also need probably two pin hitters. One of our returning starters at OH may not be able to carry on as an attacker and we don’t have an experienced OPP at this point, so we’re looking closely at the transfer market.

Argentina Trip

We have started the fund raising process for the trip to Buenos Aires we plan to do with the team. There was some push back on those plans earlier in the semester. Some of it was a bit of fear of the unknown and some of it was misconceptions about certain elements. We showed them some video and talked more about the plan, though. That seemed to ease a lot of concerns.

 

What’s the optimal player-coach ratio?

The following question came in from a reader:

Is there a recommended coach to player ratio? aka: 1:8 or 1:10 or 1:15?

In an ideal world there would be one coach for each player. That way the player gets lots of focused, consistent feedback. The coach also gets to concentrate on just one thing.

Alas, real life is less than idea.

My personal feeling is you want something below 1:6. A lot of club teams have 9-10 players and they have a head and assistant coach. That gets them to a ratio of about 1:5, or just under.

At the college level teams can have up to 4 coaches. That includes a head coach, two paid assistants, and a volunteer. Some also have a few other staffers, but let’s leave it as just coaches for the moment. Four coaches spread out over 20 players is 1:5. Most teams don’t carry that many players, though, so the ratio is lower.

Of course in many places teams don’t have four coaches. They might just have two. Unfortunately, oftentimes those programs also have lots of players. That moves the ratio into the 1:10 range. That isn’t ideal, but they manage it. Not like they have much choice!

Report: 2017 USA Volleyball High Performance Coaches Clinic

Back in 2015 I attended my first USA Volleyball High Performance Coaches Clinic. I wrote a report about the experience. I just attended the 2017 edition, along with the Level III Coaches Accreditation Program (CAP). Here’s the report on that one.

Day 1

As per usual, the program began in the evening with a social and USAV presentation. The presentations focused on 2016 developments in the various national programs. We heard about what was happening in the High Performance program from its director. Karch Kiraly took us through things for the Women’s National Team, and Nate Ngo from the Men’s staff did the same for them. We also got to hear from Bill Hamiter on the performance of the sitting teams. The last part featured Kathy DeBoer (AVCA), Jerritt Elliot (Texas), and Alexis Shifflett (women’s sitting team player) sharing short personal stories. After that it was just mingling and socializing.

Day 2

The first full day began in the gym. Jerritt Elliot went first. He focused on middle blocker transition. In particular, he concentrated on the transition from the net to attack readiness being as quick and efficient as possible. Keegan Cook (Washington) followed up with a session on transition offense. He shared some interesting heat maps and stats related to passing targets and other things. The third court session was from Beth Launiere (Utah) on serve receive offense.

Following the normal pattern, the court sessions were followed by breakout groups. Attendees are divided into a number of groups (6-8 people) in advance for these. They are then assigned members of the clinic cadre on a rotating basis. This is to allow for follow-on discussion guided by those cadre. Unlike in 2015, I did not get any of the higher profile small group leaders.

The last two morning sessions were in the presentation theatre. Nikki Holmes (North Carolina State/Girls’ Youth National Team) and Jesse Tupac (Denver) talked about data collection and statistics use. The other session was by Jimmy Stitz, the sports psychologist and strength & conditioning coach for the Women’s National Team.

After lunch, Dr. Andrew Gregory (Assistant professor of Orthopedics and Pediatrics, Vanderbilt University) did a good session on injury prevention and supplement use. Bill Hamiter came next with a more detailed exploration of the Women’s Sitting Team’s build up to the Paralympics and performance in them. Wrapping up the trio, Karch did a talk about transitions. Small group breakout sessions followed.

There was a “mic’d up match” that evening featuring Keegan and Beth leading teams that evening. I did not attend, though.

Day 3

It was back in the gym for two sessions to start the day. Beth did her session on blocking. In particular, she talked about differentiating in-system vs. out-of-system schemes. She also talked about how blockers could prepare for transition. Keegan did the second session. It was titled “Practice to Performance”. It looked at ways of doing some basic stats in practice and how those could be applied. Small group break-outs followed.

Back in the lecture theatre, Aaron Brock (USA Men’s Athletic Trainer) did a talk focused largely on recovery. After that, Shelton Collier (Wingate) and Jonah Carson (Mountain View VB Club) did a joint session on coaching mentorship. In particular, they focused on efforts in the High Performance program to develop the coaches there.

After lunch, Matt Fuerbringer (Men’s National Team) did a court session on transition work. Karch came after that doing his own session. It didn’t really seem to focus on any one thing in particular. Karch just coached a practice session with the demonstration players and everyone watched. Again, small group sessions came after.

The final two sessions were once more in the theatre. Kathy DeBoer did a DISC-oriented presentation. The main thrust of it was understanding differences in personality types and how that impacts communication and interaction. Finally, there was a panel discussion. It featured five members of the Women’s Sitting team talking about their experiences.

Thoughts and Observations

The demonstration team was a groups of 14s. Apparently, they were a last minute fill in. This created some challenges for the coaches presenting court sessions. On the one hand it made things less efficient than would have been true with older, better players. On the other hand, many of the attendees were club coaches working with players in similar age groups. That made things more directly translatable for them. Also, they couldn’t say stuff like, “That’s all good, but it doesn’t apply to my level.”

I’m to the point where on-court sessions don’t really do a lot for me anymore. There were a couple of interesting nuggets, but mainly I was waiting for them to be done so I could get out of the uncomfortable bleachers. Some of the theatre sessions were repeats of material from CAP III, but mostly it was interesting.

For me, though, the biggest benefit to the HPCC is the location and what it allows. The event is at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. That means there are dorms available and a common dining hall. I didn’t stay in the dorm this time around (did in 2015), but once more the meals were great. They are excellent opportunities to talk with other coaches – from national team staff all the way down to local area youth coaches. This makes for a different type of event than something like the AVCA Convention.

I’m not saying the HPCC is necessarily better than the AVCA. The latter is much more college oriented, while the former caters more to Juniors coaches. I do think, though, that the single track and common dining help to make it a bit more intimate.

USA Volleyball CAP III

Each year USA Volleyball runs the High Performance Coaches Clinic (HPCC). In conjunction with it, they run all three of the Coaches Accreditation Program (CAP) courses. While the CAP I and II courses are run multiple times each year in different locations, CAP III is only run alongside the HP clinic.

I just got back from attending the 2017 edition. Here is the schedule for the course.

As you can see, the course ran Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday. They were all very full days. The days in between were HPCC sessions, which were also quite packed.

Cadre (in order of presentations)

Bill Hamiter: Director of USA Sitting Volleyball and Head Coach of the women’s sitting team (gold medal at the 2016 Paralympics).

Rob Browning: Head Coach at Saint Mary’s College.

Marouane Jafir: Club Director at Delaware United.

Todd Dagenais: Head Coach at Central Florida.

Sue Gozansky: Volleyball Coaching Wizard.

Joan Powell: Coordinator of Officials for PAC-12 Conference.

John Kessel: USA Volleyball Director of Sport Development.

Bill Neville: Volleyball Coaching Wizard.

Dan Mickle: Former professional beach player and current sports psychology specialist.

Day 1

We began with an initial all-levels introduction encompassing CAP I, II, and III groups. After that, though, we split off into our own cohorts. Our first session was on prioritization. Bill Hamiter was the presenter. He shared his very detailed 52-week program for the national sitting team with us. We were also given a copy of Periodization Training for Sports-3rd Edition. After that Rob Browning spoke with us about mindset work. It was largely based on the Carol Dweck book. I’ve read it, so not a lot of new material there.

Our first on-court session was lead by Todd Dagenais. We were put into groups and told to develop a serve reception organization for a 3-Middle line-up based on a given situation. We presented them to the group and had to work through variations based on changing issues. For example, “What if your OH can’t hit on the right?”. Basically it was an exercise in critical thinking and creativity.

After lunch we went back into the classroom. Sue Gozansky led a discussion of gender related issues in coaching, with Bill Hamiter adding his thoughts. John Kessel then talked with us about a variety of false beliefs and failures in conceptual understanding in volleyball. Those included the myth of the wrist snap and realizing how little time players actually spend touching the ball (one study calculated it was about 27 seconds during the 2012 Olympics).

Bill Neville took us back on-court after that. We presented favorite drills and games for analysis by the group and cadre. From there it was back into the classroom for a sports psychology session led by Sue Gozansky. After the dinner break there was some sitting volleyball play with the CAP II and III groups mixed together.

Day 2

The whole morning was in the classroom. A group of the cadre talked with us first about developing team culture. After that there was about an hour of open Q&A with Todd and Rob. That was supposed to be about talent identification, but the guys figured we probably knew enough about that already. Recruiting was a big focus of the questions.

Next up was a really interesting session on nutrition given by Dr. Jackie Berning. It focused mainly on the timing of athlete meals and their nutritional content. She shot down a number of common public concepts (think paleo diets and the like).

After nutrition we did a DISC small-group exercise led by Dan Mickle. As I have been through a few of these sessions before, there wasn’t a lot new in this one. Maybe there was more new material for others, however.

Once more to the classroom after lunch. This time conflict resolution was the focus, with Bill Hamiter in the lead. From there we went back out on the court for more sharing of favorite games and drills and constructive criticism of them. We were also assigned into groups of 2-3 to develop practice segment plans for presentation on Day 3.

The last session was presented by Aaron Brock. He is the lead strength coach for the USA men’s team. He talked with us about strength and conditioning, with a heavy emphasis on rest and recovery.

Day 3

This day was largely spent on-court. It began, though, with Todd presenting on stats. He shared his findings on where teams needed to be in certain areas from his own research. For example, in the women’s game you should target a sideout rate of about 63%. He also shared some methods for collecting key stats when you’re by yourself.

Most of the rest of the day we presented and critiqued a variety of games and drills for warm-up, skills work, systems training, competitive play, and cool down. After that wrapped up we went back into the classroom. John Kessel and a lacrosse coach who works with USOC talked about Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD). The last session was a presentation of everyone’s ideas for their outreach projects. More on that below.

Post-Course requirements

The single biggest thing we need to do following the in-person portion of the CAP III course is our outreach project. This is basically something with a focus on growing the game in some fashion. That could be bringing more participants into the sport, expanding coaching education, and stuff like that. We met with members of the cadre during meal breaks to talk about our ideas to help get them refined. Then, as noted above, we shared them with the entire group to get additional thoughts, ideas, etc.

The other post- course requirement we were told about was to develop a set of questions from the periodization book I mentioned above. They will be used for future CAP exams, presumably.

Thoughts

Inevitably, I compare doing CAP III with going through the Volleyball England Level 3 certification. Their main focus is very similar, namely working with teams over time. The V.E. course ran 5 days total, which is longer on the face of it, but when you add in the HPCC mixed in here (everyone attended both), they are comparable from that perspective. The V.E. post-course requirements were a bit more involved, though. Nominally, there was a CAP III requirement to video yourself coaching for review and discussion, but that never actually happened in this course. We also don’t have to do a coaching log. The outreach project is something V.E. doesn’t have, however, nor is there an ongoing education requirement in order to retain your certification.

I think I’ve written elsewhere of my dislike for the participants in these sorts of courses also being demonstrators. Some people love getting out on the court, but I’m well past those days myself. More meaningfully, however, if most of the attendees are on-court they tend to be more focused on playing than on learning the concepts being presented. Also, the level of play of the attendees can be quite variable. Further, when you don’t know what you’re going to have for demonstrators it can be hard to come up with appropriate games and drills to run the group through.

My only other bit of feedback would be to watch out for overlapping content between CAP III and HPCC. There were a couple of sessions during the latter we’d already gotten from our CAP presentations.

Note: I’ll update this after our course follow-up email is received to make sure I have all the post-course requirements correctly noted.

 

Olympic Training Center here I come!

The learning and coaching education never stops!

I’m back on the educational circuit once more this week. I am off to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs for the USA Volleyball High Performance Coaches Clinic. It’s is run annually this time of year. As you may have read, I previously attended back in 2015.

That edition had a strong international flavor. Julio Velasco (Argentina) and Laurent Tillie (France) spoke. This looks much more domestic. I expect a heavy dose of Olympic talk given how the teams performed in Rio. Sitting is included. I believe multiple members of that staff on-hand are to speak. The speaker list is actually quite long. It is just really a 2-day event, after all.

Before the clinic, though, there is CAP. That is the Coaches Accreditation Program, and I’m sitting the Level III edition. Actually, CAP is both before and after the clinic. We go all of Wednesday, most of Thursday, then again all day Sunday. Earning CAP III will put my US certification on the same level number as my England certification. 🙂

Look for posts about both the clinic and CAP III as I have time to write them.

Providing players room to create

There’s an article you should read. It’s an interesting discussion of how much coaches seem to appreciate creativity in their players, yet how they do so much to limit it. The article is aimed at business managers, but speaks from a sports perspective. Here’s a quote that hits the main point:

Here is sport’s problem with creativity: professional systems crave control, but creativity relies on escaping control.

This doesn’t just apply to professional environments. It happens anywhere coaches look to constrain player freedom. I’m not talking about creating a dictatorial state here, mind you. Some coaches certainly act in that fashion, but that’s not really where I’m going. Think instead about coaches teaching specific techniques. Think about coaches employing very structured systems of play.

I doubt most coaches in those latter categories think of themselves as constraining their players. My guess is they think they will simply be the most effective ways to go. What they are doing, though, is providing solutions to players. They aren’t letting the players find their own solutions. The latter is where creativity comes in.

This is why it’s great to just let you players play at times. They might surprise you with the solutions they develop.

Addressing player effort and quality differences

An email came in from a coach working with a group of players. It deals with the question of how to handle a situation where effort and playing caliber don’t match.

I have two young and two older experienced hitters. The older players don’t give their all. They do what they must, but without the involvement. When we have a match, they play very well, with very good effect, and they can win a point under pressure.

The young players don’t understand why they are a reserve players if they play the as well as the older ones in training (a lot of times better). Unfortunately, in matches the young players make more mistakes and don’t have stable form (sometimes they can play amazing volleyball, but sometimes they can do simple mistakes). They were the most important players in the youth club and they don’t understand that in the senior league it is different.

Have you ever had similar problem in your career? What would you do, if you were me?

I’ll summarize the situation this way. We have two experienced players who go through the motions in practice, but are clearly the best come match time. We then have two young players who work very hard in practice, but are not yet consistent performers in matches.

To my mind there is a question of priorities here. The reference at the end about “senior league” makes me think competition is the priority for this particular team. That means putting the best team on the court for each match is what it’s about.

To my mind there are two ways to try to handle this sort of situation.

The younger players

The first thing we have to do is to make sure the younger players who aren’t playing understand the team’s priority – winning. They further need to understand why the more experienced players are the starters – fewer errors, more consistent performance, etc. The younger players may not like the situation, but at least they will understand the logic.

Explaining things is not enough, though. You also need to provide those players with a path toward increased playing time. Where do they need to improve to push the experienced players? What do they need to do to make those improvements? Give them hope and steps they can take to move toward their goal.

The experienced players

It obviously isn’t any fun when some of those best players realize they will start no matter what and don’t bother to give full effort in training. The challenge is to find ways to motivate them to change that behavior. What is it they can target as a reason to push themselves in training?

Ideally, their motivation is simply to make the team the best it possibly can be. If the players are motivated by the collective good, then the coach’s job is to show them how better training by those players will help achieve that goal.

Unfortunately, some players have more selfish motivates. Maybe they want to earn some honors or recognition. Maybe they want a better contract or to move to a bigger club. You have to find out where their motivation is and try to appeal to that.

Short-term/long-term

Linked in with all of this is the time frame you are working in. Are you just concerned with this season? If so, then you are probably going to have keep picking the more experienced players for the starting lineup. If, however, you have the ability to think longer term, maybe you can find some opportunities to bench the experienced players from time to time. That would give the younger players valuable experience and show the experienced ones there are others looking to take their positions.

Those are some thoughts I had on the situation. I’d love to hear what others have done in a similar circumstance, or would do. Leave comment below and share your thoughts and/or experience.

Coaching Log – January 23, 2017

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

School is back in session, which means we are back in action!

Roster moves

As I mentioned in my last update, we had a player with major academic issues. We met with her last week. It wasn’t an easy meeting, but we decided that she needs to not be on the roster next season. She’s had two poor semesters on the grade front while in-season. That tells us she struggles to balance school and sports. We obviously want her to graduate. That means she needs to prioritize academics at this point. She can stay involved with the team, though.

On Wednesday we had a prospective transfer on campus for a visit and tryout. She’s a libero who played two seasons at an NAIA school, but wanted a different volleyball experience. She had some good qualities and we decided to bring her into the team straight away. Since she left her last school at the end of last semester, and it’s early enough in the new one here, she can join us for this term.

These moves put us at 11 players for the Spring. Two of them will be pure defensive players, with one other a DS/OH and another a DS/S. We have two straight up setters, three outside hitters, and two middles. There will be no OPPs, so one of the OHs will have to fill that spot when we play matches. We have one more setter on the squad, but in order to be eligible for Fall she cannot be full-time in the Spring.

Recruiting

Myself and our Grad Assistant were down in San Antonio for the Tour of Texas qualification tournament on the 15th and 16th. It was split between the Alamodome and San Antonio Convention Center. Our focus was on seniors in positions we might still want to fill with incoming freshmen, and on juniors for the 2018 recruiting class.

These big multi-day events are always a challenge. Basically, what you’re doing is spending all day on your feet walking and standing on concrete. One day is already enough for sore feet and a stiff lower back. When it comes to two or three days, it just all gets compounded. Plus, we spent about 12 hours on the road traveling to and from.

We looked at A LOT of players, which tends to be the case in these early events. The start of the club season is when players and families usually get going on recruiting efforts. As a result, we get a steady stream of emails from prospective players this time of year. To be honest, most of them simply are not at the level we need. That means a lot of what we do this time of year is culling the list.

Team Meeting

We had our first team meeting of the Spring on Thursday afternoon. We talked about the Argentina trip plan and fund raising. Our athletic trainer gave the team an update on personnel stuff among the training staff for this semester. We talked with them about what we took away from their end-of-season individual meetings, and went over some Spring planning stuff. A feature there was raising the level of expectations across the board. We also talked about some of what we’ll be doing to help further individual development and team cohesion.

Initial Testing

The players went through their initial Spring testing with our strength coach on Friday morning. They tested their verticals and broad jumps and ran a timed mile. They start strength and conditioning work on Monday.

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.