Archive for John Forman

John Forman
About the Author: John Forman
John recently compelted a stint as head coach for a women's professional team in Sweden. Prior to that he was the head coach for the University of Exeter Volleyball Club BUCS teams (roughly the UK version of the NCAA) while working toward a PhD. He previously coached in Division I of NCAA Women's Volleyball in the US, with additional experience at the Juniors club level, both coaching and managing, among numerous other volleyball adventures. Learn more on his bio page.

Game: 2 v 2 side switch

Synopsis: This is a fast-paced, small-side game based on a Winners model, but with a major wrinkled that creates lots of movement and encourages player communication and problem-solving.

Age/Skill Level: This is a game for all levels

Requirements: 6+ players, full court

Execution: Play starts with 2 players on the “winners” side and two on the “challengers” side. One of the challengers serves to start the rally. The winners team has three contacts to attack the ball at the challengers, but the attack must come from the “challengers” side of the court. That means they must play either the first or second ball over the net so it can then be played for a final contact back to their starting side. Meanwhile, the challengers run over to the winners side to defend. When the winners play the ball back into the winners side of the court, they then have to do the same process (play the ball back to the challenge side and attack from there). So the ball is always attacked (or otherwise played over on a final contact) from the challenge side after first being received/dug on the winners side.

Whoever wins the rally becomes/stays the winners. The losing team rotates out and a new pair of challengers begin a new rally. A team earns a point by winning a rally when they started on the winners side. Play to a predetermined number of points.

Here’s some video of what it looks like in action. I recorded this in May 2017 during the training camp for the Australian Men’s National Team.

Variations:

  • If you don’t want to score the game you can play for time.
  • You can play with teams of 3. More than that would probably be too many people moving back and forth on the court, though.
  • If you don’t have the right player count to make fixed teams you can have each player keep individual score.
  • You can have the players stay on the ground (at least to start) if you want to use this game as a warm-up, as was done in the video.
  • You can require the teams to use all three contacts, or make them only use two.
  • For younger or less-experienced players you can require certain types of ball contacts. For example, the third contact must be a down ball.

Additional Comments:

Coaching Log – May 8, 2017

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

Classes are now over. The players are going through finals this week, then the 2016-17 school year will be over. We did not do any direct work with the team last week as that is not allowed under NCAA rules. That doesn’t mean we weren’t busy, though!

The head coach finally came back to work in limited fashion last week. Her doctor gave her a partial clearance. No physical work, but she can at least now spend time on campus. Good timing since by the time you read this I may have already left for my trip.

Recruiting

We had a couple of recruit visits during the week. Unfortunately, with the team done for the semester, they could not workout with the players. As a result, these were basically campus and facilities tours and meet with the coach type visits.

I also did my final off-campus recruiting trip on Saturday to the North Texas regional Junior Nationals bid tournament. Mainly it was getting one last look at players this club season, though there were a couple new ones on the list.

Fund-raising

The biggest thing I did last week was fund-raising work for our Argentina trip. I attended the weekly meeting of the a local Rotary Club as a precursor to speaking with them in a few weeks about what we’re doing. I also connected with the city’s mayor to see if we could enlist his help. He had the idea to do a speaker-based event. That got us thinking about who from the volleyball community has a high enough profile or credential to not just attract volleyball people, but non-volleyball folks as well.

We also started our month-long clinic series. It runs three evenings per week for four weeks. While that is open to kids from latter elementary school through high school, we find that it draws mainly middle school aged players. The revenue will go toward the trip fund-raising. I don’t think we’ve so far had much cross-over to the paid clinic from the free one we did that I mentioned in my last update, but that’s not a major surprise.

That’s it for 2016-17!

Since the 2016-17 school year is now over, this is the last of my log entries for this year. When I return from Europe, I’ll start a new log for 2017-18.

Improving pre-match warm-ups

The question of how to handle pre-match warm-ups is one that comes to mind every season. I’m not the only one who finds that. Here’s a question I got from a coach in Hawaii.

I have been coaching boys high school volleyball for 27 years now and am always looking for ways to educate and improve myself. We just finished the season losing a well played match, so a loss I can live with. In any case most of our players are multi sport so the little time we have to work with them has to be jammed packed with info and training. Sorry so long winded and I do have a question in here but stared checking you site and I do enjoy reading the articles and the different drills.

Now my question: I am looking for a better warm up drill before each match. The warm ups go as follows just before the match both teams have a 5 minute shared on there respective sides of the net. Then each team has a 5 minute on court (hitting) and 5 off court (digging usually)…. it’s the 5 minutes hitting that I wanted help with or to do something different with. So the routine is I along with another coach will toss balls to the hitters to assure an accurate set in which to hit the ball. I would estimate each player gets about 4-6 good swings. Then we’ll go to a 6 ON where the starting six with the position players are are placed in there position. The coach will toss a free ball and players move accordingly and execute pass set hit and cover…. any thoughts are welcome…

I have to admit, I like the simplicity of FIVB warm-ups. Shared hitting is the biggest part. The first four minutes are through 4, and the second four minutes are through 1 (I actually thought four minutes was took long, but those are the rules). Two minutes of shared serving wraps things up. My teams in England did a dynamic warm-up, then just peppered until it was time. My Svedala team mixed in a defensive drill run by the players.

I know a lot of coaches don’t like shared hitting. That’s fine. Admittedly, it does lack game-like elements. My general feeling, though, is that what we do in women’s college these days with the 4-4-5-5 thing is a bit ridiculous. That’s after already spending 30+ minutes warming-up on your own half of the court!

Moreover, I sometimes see coaches do 30-60 minutes of “serve and pass” right before warm-ups begin. I wrote about this in my post about match-day serve and pass sessions. Seems excessive to me.

Anyway, I digress. Let’s get back to the email inquiry above.

What is the purpose of warm-ups?

We need to ask the question, what is the purpose of our pre-match warm-up?

I think the automatic response is to prepare for the upcoming competition. Sounds pretty reasonable, right? Well, there’s a line of reasoning that takes a different view. It suggests that warm-ups are just one more developmental opportunity. You need to decide which point of view you favor because that factors into the best use of your warm-up time.

Consider the warm-up described above where coaches toss balls to hitters for a certain amount of time. If you take a “warm-ups are learning time” point of view, then you probably would not want coaches tossing to hitters. Those are low quality reps for learning purposes. Plus, that leaves out an opportunity for players to also work on passing and setting – maybe serving too. It’s the coaches who get the most reps in this sort of exercise. And if the setting is so poor as to argue for coaches tossing, then the setters definitely need more reps!

Now, if you are taking more the “preparation to play” perspective on warm-ups, then maybe the coach toss hitting makes sense. Personally, I’m not so sure.

The purpose of the coach toss seems to be to get the hitters “good” reps. What is a “good” rep, though? Is it good from the perspective that it replicates the type of hitting they will do in the match? Sounds like probably not. Instead, it seems like these are mainly feel good reps. If that’s the case, is there a better way to get a similar psychological effect?

Mixing both approaches

During the 2016 season at MSU we eventually settled on a warm-up pattern that seemed to work. Our first four minutes on court was split in half. The first two minutes were the pin hitters receiving served balls and attacking sets from their passes. The second two minutes was the middles attacking, still off passed balls. This was a time where we could insert a bit of coaching. Just pull a player aside after they completed a rep.

In our five minute segment we did four minutes of just free ball initiated rallies and finished with a minute of serving. We didn’t start the year doing the free ball rally thing. It was something we switched to early on, though, and kept it. What better prepares you to play volleyball than playing volleyball? It was full-blooded hitting, blocking, and defense that really got the intensity level up.

Could we have created more of a learning opportunity with that latter segment? Probably. We went with free balls mainly for the sake of keeping the tempo high. We could, however, have initiated balls in certain ways to replicate something we wanted to work on. Also, we could have dictated certain types of playing patterns. For example, the first ball must be a high ball to the OH.

My thoughts

Returning to the question of the 5-minute warm-up time the coach above asked about, here’s something I would at least try. Jump straight into free ball rallies. The easy first ball should guarantee a decent set to start the play and things will proceed from there. The players should already be more than warm enough to jump and hit by this point, so that’s not the real issue.

If the players are not quite ready to go into game play, first try to figure out if you could do something different beforehand to get them ready. If so, you will make your warm-ups more effective and efficient. Maybe you do need to insert something like a little hitting into the over-the-net period, though. That’s fine. When all is said and done, even if you want to make your warm-up development, it still needs to leave the players in a good position to play.

 

Coaching Log – May 1, 2017

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

This was the final week we could do physical activity with the team. After finishing our five weeks of the non-traditional season, we were back to 8 hours. That mainly meant the players finishing up their strength and conditioning work. This was in the form of testing.

Strength & Conditioning final testing

On Monday they did standing vertical jump reach, and then shifted over to doing power cleans. Interestingly, gains on jump reach were limited. Our strength coach attributed that to how they were looking up while jumping. He thought that limited their reach. On the plus side, though, it looked like basically all the players made personal bests on the power cleans. It was fun to watch the players surprise themselves (at times) and cheer each other on.

On Wednesday they did more jump testing. This time it was broad jump. They then shifted to back squats max testing. I believe our top lifter – a Junior middle – did 250lbs. Thursday morning they wrapped up the testing with approach jumps.

Final practice

Our last practice of the 2016-17 year was 100% games. We had a recruit to mix in to make it 10 players. It started with Brazilian 2-ball volley tennis. After that, we played about 8 minutes of Winners back row 3s. From there we transitioned to narrow court Speedball 3s (fixed setters, teams of 2). Then it was on to 5 v 5. First was alternating 5-point games of 3-up/2-back and 2-up/3-back. We finished with a straight game to 25. Interestingly, both teams opted to play 2-up/3-back.

The whole session was about 90 minutes. Intensity was at a pretty good level. There might have been some lapses in focus, as you’d expect this point in the cycle, but generally the level of play was pretty high.

Administration

The players also had some administrative work to do on the week. All returning players had to complete some online paperwork and have exit physicals. We also had to hand out sheets for them to fill out related to random drug testing. The players must provide the Training staff with their Summer whereabouts. This is so testers can find them, if selected. It’s a pretty intense thing. If a player isn’t where they reported, and thus miss a test, that counts as a fail and means the loss of a year of eligibility. I don’t know what the odds are of volleyball players getting selected for testing (probably low), but the loss of eligibility is a big motivator. On top of that, there was another form related to doing workouts on campus over the Summer.

Of course we continue to work on fund raising and organization for the Argentina trip. We’re down to one more possible team addition for 2017 from a transfer perspective. So that’s still a work in progress. We’ve made our first couple of offers to 2018 recruits and no doubt more will shortly follow.

Radio interview

Late on Friday one of our Sports Information guys came into the office and told me I’d be doing a radio interview on Saturday morning. It was for the local ESPN Radio affiliate in Wichita Falls. This was something that came about after an article about the trip was posted on the MSU website. They do an MSU sports update. My interview was on the back of that.

It wasn’t my first interview, though I hadn’t done one in a while. It went pretty well, I think. We talked about the motivation for the trip and why we opted for Argentina. Of course we also pitched the sponsorship and fund-raising needs.

Free Clinic

On Sunday we ran the first of three free clinics for area kids grades 3 to 6. This is part of the outreach project our Graduate Assistant is doing to fulfill his CAP III requirements. He went around to all the area elementary schools and gave out flyers. We ended up with 35+ kids, which was a bit more than he actually anticipated. 🙂

We’re hoping these kids will eventually take part in our paid clinics and camps, and become part of our Ponies in Training program (our mascot is a Mustang).

What are good questions to ask in a coaching job interview?

I wrote previously about questions I was asked in coaching interviews and questions you might hear when you interview for a coaching job. Obviously, you need to prepare for questions like that. You also, however, must be ready to ask questions of your own. In many interviews the final question you receive is, “Do you have any questions for me/us?”

So what types of questions should you prepare to ask your interviewer(s)?

I think there are three main categories of questions you need to consider. Which ones you go with depend on the situation and job.

Demonstrate knowledge of requirements

If you interview for a job that is outside your direct experience, it may be a particularly important for you to focus on demonstrating that you know what it takes to coach at that level. For example, moving up from assistant coach to head coach, or moving between NCAA divisions. Some of what you are asked is designed to assess you at this level. You can help your case, though, by asking good questions.

Show knowledge of the team/program/club

The second type of questions you can ask relates to demonstrating knowledge of the team or program and its history. If you have played and/or coached for the program in the past this isn’t a big deal. The connection will be obvious to the interviewer. If you haven’t, though, you want to demonstrate some kind of knowledge of and/or affinity for it. Much of this will come through in how you answer the questions posed to you. You can, however, reinforce it by how you ask your own questions. For example, you could start a question with something like, “I know in the past ….”.

Get the information you need to make a decision

The final type of questions you want to ask in an interview is the sort that helps with your own decision-making process. You want to develop as complete a picture as you can about what it will be like coaching that team and working in that school, athletic department, club, etc. Many of these sorts of questions overlap with the other types mentioned above. There might be some, though, that are more personal for you.

Some possible questions

Here are some examples of questions you could ask:

  • What is the program’s funding (scholarships)?
  • What are the roster requirements (min/max)?
  • How many assistants will I have?
  • What sort of fund raising do I have to do?
  • Is there an active booster club?
  • What sort of match attendance does the team get?
  • What is the recruiting budget?
  • Are there specific recruiting limitations?
  • How do we travel?
  • How do we split gym time with basketball when the seasons overlap?
  • What do I get for court time (club coach)?
  • What are the performance expectations for the team?
  • Will we have a dedicated athletic trainer?
  • Will we have a dedicated strength coach?
  • What is the overall coaching philosophy (for assistants or club coaches)?
  • What is my coaching role and administrative responsibility (assistants)?
  • Who is my direct report (Athletic Director, SWA, Technical Director, Club Director, etc.)?

That last one ties in with a bunch of potential questions about your relationship with your future boss. You certainly want to learn as much as you can about what it would be like working with/for them.

This is obviously just a partial list of possible questions. You need to do your research and give some real thought to how you want to present yourself, as well as what information you want to gather for your own purposes.

It’s OK to walk into an interview with a list

The bottom line in terms of questions is that you want to reinforce the things that you think make you a good candidate for the position, and you want to collect information for your own purposes. If you go to the interview with a list of questions you want to ask you look prepared – so long as you don’t ask questions basic research should have answered already. If you ask specific, thoughtful questions you demonstrate a clear interest in the position and the broader organization.

You don’t want to go overboard, of course. If the questions are too much about you, it could turn the interviewer(s) off. Always remember, they are looking for someone they think will fit into their organization. Until you are offered the job, you have to maintain a “what’s in it for them” approach with respect to hiring you.

Hope that helps. If you have any thoughts or suggestions of your own, definitely share. Just leave a comment below.

Coaching Log – April 24, 2017

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

This was the last week of our non-traditional season. That means our last week where we could put in a total of 20 hours. Unfortunately, that was cut a bit because we had the annual year-end sports banquet on Wednesday when we would otherwise have had team practice.

The major development influencing things was the birth of the head coach’s baby late the prior week. Unfortunately, a c-section was required. That means very light duty while she recovers from the procedure. Fortunately, it’s a part of year when the time out of the office doesn’t hurt much. She’ll have plenty of time to get back up to full speed ahead of pre-season.

Still, that means I had to handle the on-campus stuff – coaching and administration. One of those duties was doing a recording for the sports banquet. Sports Information needed me to talk about our nominee for one of the awards. I thought it was just an audio recording, but not so much! They videoed me after a morning beach practice. I had a zip hoodie on. Very stylish! A friend told me I was like Patriots football coach Bill Belichick. 🙂

Not everything is so glamorous, of course. I also had to chase players up about grade checks and doing their year-end physicals. There’s stuff for Argentina planning as well, and getting incoming players sorted out.

Training

Monday’s team practice included a pair of recruits visiting campus. The session was almost completely game play. We wanted to continue the focus on playing the seams, defensive tenacity, playing around the block, and the block being stable.

I had them start out with Brazilian 2-ball as a fun (explained here), competitive warm-up. We haven’t played that in a while. From there it was a progression of small-sided games, ending in 6 v 6. It started with Winners Back Court 3s. From there we shifted to Speedball 3s with the three setters in their own rotation, and everyone else in four teams of two. I opted for narrow court (about 2/3rds) to increase rallies, but to still require defenders to play around the block.

After that we shifted to Winners 4s. This was also narrow court, though a little bigger than the prior game. We made it small enough that two players could just about block the width of the net. The two back court players then worked on playing around the block and in the seams.

Practice finished with 6s. I set it up with one setter playing back row on one side. One of the others set front row on the other side, with the third playing defense in Position 1. We had three pin hitters, plus a DS that we sometimes use as a hitter in training. They split time in two OH positions an one OPP. We played several short games (mainly to 9) so I could flip the hitters and setters and round, and let the DS’s switch between 5 and 6.

Tuesday’s sand sessions followed our regular pattern. That meant a lot of ball-handling, especially in terms of shot control. In support of our indoor focus, we also concentrated a lot of defensive reading. It’s been fun watching the players improve on the sand. When we started, they really struggled just to put the ball in the court when attacking or serving. Now we’re seeing some really challenging serves, legit hard swings, and lots of smart shots. Importantly, that stuff has also carried over into their indoor play, which is the whole point.

Thursday they played their last day of doubles competition in round-robin fashion. Friday was out final indoor team session of the 5-week period. It followed a similar pattern to Monday’s, though with fewer bodies. That mandated 5 v 5 play rather than 6 v 6.

Banquet

The annual sports banquet was about what you’d expect. These events have a pretty standard pattern. We didn’t have anyone win one of the two primary awards, but had several players earn academic recognition. It was actually interesting. Three of our players made Dean’s List (3.50-3.74 GPA on a 4.0 scale), one was Provost’s Honor Roll (3.75-3.99), and three more were President’s Honor Roll (4.0). That’s nearly half the team!

Help MSU Volleyball go to Buenos Aires

The other day I wrote a post about the work I’m doing to organize a team trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina for the Midwestern State University (MSU) Volleyball team. We are in the active fund-raising stage and could really use some help. Our working estimated cost is $65,000, the bulk of which is air fare. That is probably on the high side as we used a slightly high player count. Even still, the trip will require a lot of money to make happen.

This is no bake sale fund raising situation. Yes, we are doing events to bring in funds. Last year we hosted a kick-off event for the local high school teams, and will do so again this year. We get to keep most of the gate receipts. We’re also running clinics and doing some other things as well. All of that is likely to cover maybe 30% of the cost, though.

The rest has to come from donations and/or sponsorships.

This is where you come in. We want your money! 🙂

We set up a donations page on the university’s Development site. Right now we are able to access matching funds for anyone who has not donated to MSU in the last five years. There is only a limited amount left, though, and it isn’t just dedicated to volleyball. It’s first-come, first-served. Needless to say, we’re pushing hard to get donations in ASAP so they can be matched.

If you can help, there’s no donation too small. Especially when you double it!

For those who want to think a bit bigger…

Interested in a sponsorship opportunity?

Our Athletic Director will allow us to create a sponsorship agreement with any business who contributes meaningfully to the trip. That means inclusion in all trip publicity, social media, match-day announcements, and any other way we can think of to get the word out. Obviously, though, we need to make sure there are no conflicts with current sponsors.

As an alternative – or parallel – opportunity, you can become site sponsor for CoachingVB.com in exchange for a sufficiently large donation. This site is well respected and frequently read among volleyball coaches (see this post for some details). There is an associated Facebook page, as well as a Twitter account. I also have a growing email list of volleyball coaches.

Contact me to talk more about possible sponsorship arrangements. That goes for either this website or MSU Volleyball – or both. We can go into further detail from there.

Coaching Log – April 17, 2017

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

This, the fourth week of our non-traditional season, was a short one as Thursday and Friday were school Easter Break holidays.

Monday and Wednesday were indoor sessions. The head coach was away getting ready to have her first child, so I ran both. Our focus this week was on the things we highlight during our video session the prior week. Namely, we want to continue relentless defense and improve our seam play. We also want more discipline in our individual blocking so we can better play around it. In large part that means line blockers not reaching out toward the pins.

Both days of practice were heavily game-play oriented, especially small-sided games. We did a serve and pass game focused on the servers attacking seams. We played different types of 3s, and we played 5 v 5 and 4 v 5 variations of different sorts. My feedback concentrated on our focus points throughout.

On Tuesday we were on the sand once more. The head coach’s sister ran both the small groups as a guest coach. She coaches beach at both the college and club level in Southern California. Much of the focus was on shots. Mainly that came from game play.

Away from the court there was lots of admin work to do. Our other assistant was hustling to get recruit visits scheduled while we still have the opportunity for them to work out with the team during practice. I spent much of my time on the Argentina trip planning.

We spent the weekend recruiting at the Lone Star national qualifying tournament. That’s our biggest one of the year. It was two days of bouncing around from court to court to court evaluating dozens of different players. Our focus was 2018, though we did look at a handful of 2019s.

A different exciting volleyball trip

coaching professional volleyball

I wrote in Planning an exciting volleyball team trip about the process of planning an international team trip. I have also been working on an individual volleyball trip. This one will happen a bit sooner than the other – next month, in fact.

I’m going to Poland, one of the true hotbeds of volleyball. Alas, I won’t be able to experience much of that this time (though I did back in 2014). Unfortunately, the Polish professional season will be over then.

No, this trip will not be about being a spectator.

Instead, I’m going to observe a national team training camp. My friend, and Volleyball Coaching Wizards partner, Mark Lebedew is running his first camp as Australian Men’s National Team coach. He’s doing it where he currently coaches in the Polish PlusLiga – the club Jastrzębski Węgiel.

More than just watching Mark coach, though – I’ve done that before – this camp will actually see a bit of a coaching gathering. Mark is expecting a number of visiting coaches during the camp. It could make for a really interesting gathering. We may use the opportunity to record some Volleyball Coaching Wizards podcasts featuring show guests. Be assured that I’ll report back on what I see and hear.

I’m also using the trip to Europe to visit Husum in Germany (north of Hamburg on the coast near Denmark). Fellow volleyball coaching blogger Oliver Wagner is part of a group looking to form a new men’s professional club team there to join Bundesliga1 – Germany’s top professional league. It’s called WattVolleys. They hope to have everything in place for the 2018-19 season. I’m going see what’s they are up to.

Of course I can’t make a trip across the Atlantic without returning to my old stomping grounds in England. I plan to visit with my coaching friend Alex Porter, who runs the program at the University of Essex. Unlike my situation at Exeter, Alex has a full-time job at Essex. He runs the volleyball performance program. Basically, you can think of that as being similar to a US college program in that he’s got scholarships to offer student-athletes, and other support. Essex is also one of Volleyball England’s Senior Academies. I look forward to learning about the set up there.

The trip won’t be all about volleyball, though. I expect to meet up with friends in England, and maybe connect with my PhD supervisor as well.