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.

Player rotation and substitution limits

A reader asked the following:

If a team wants to use ten players in its regular rotation that means substitutions for three positions. Would this cause a problem bumping into the substitution limit for a set?

I asked for clarification and this is what I received:

What I am thinking about is six hitters, one setter, one libero, two DS’s and one of the hitters setting when she is on the back row. That is ten total players with only one playing all the way around.

We’re talking about a modified 6-2 system here. One of the two setters plays all the way around while the other is replaced by a hitter in the front row. Presumably, the libero replaces the middles in the back row and defensive specialists replace the outside hitters. Of course it could be the other way around. It’s doesn’t really matter, though.

Quick note: This type of approach is not possible under FIVB rules because of the substitution limits (6 total, one in/out per player).

This adds up to a total of 6 substitutions per trip through the rotation. The emailer coaches high school volleyball. His state follows NFHS rules, which allow 12 subs per set (some states use NCAA rules, which currently allow 15). That means he will be out of subs after two times around.

So here is the big question. How many times around do teams go in typical high school matches? If it’s more than two then it’s a problem.

There is one way to stretch things out a little. You can start the back-row-only setter in Position 2. Alternatively, you can start the hitter who plays front row for the back-row-only setter in Position 5 and have the other setter set from the front row for that rotation. This is especially useful when you are in receive to start the set. Either one saves you one sub at the outset.

That only gets you a little further. If you only need an extra couple rotations, though, it could work.

Anyone in this kind of position must look hard at their options. If running out of subs is a real risk, maybe you have to allow one or more of your hitters to go all the way around for part of the set. An option to consider is to rotate the DS’s. One of them plays across the back row the first time, while the second does so the second time.

Book Review: The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallway

It took me several months, but I eventually finished reading The Inner Game of Tennis  by W. Timothy Gallway. The women’s soccer coach at Midwestern State loaned it to me. He uses it quite a bit with his team. The reason I took so long was that I read it in small doses rather than sitting down for long reads. I probably should have just read it in one go. After all, it’s a short book (134 pages).

The fact that I had not read the book already was a source of shock and sadness to one of my coaching friends. I suggest you not make the same mistake. It was recommended during my CAP III course.

I personally think the measure of any good non-fiction book is how much it makes you think. By that standard, Inner Game is a great offering. Yes, it’s a book focused on tennis. And yes, that does mean at times the discussion is not overly useful for volleyball coaches. Broadly speaking, though, the concepts and ideas translate easily from sport to sport.

Inner Game was written primarily for players, but is easily translatable to coaching. It talks a lot about player thought processes. In particular, a big focus is on getting the conscious mind out of the way. Doing so allows the parts of us where performance and learning actually take place to do their thing. A big part of this is removing judgement from the equation.

We all have players who think too much about their technique. It is usually to the detriment of their performance. The problem is we coaches exacerbate things at times. This is the result of how we provide feedback and technical instruction. I definitely thought of the concepts of internal vs. external feedback while reading the book.

There are some good sections on focus and concentration in the book. I also really like the discussion of competition. If you struggle to express its merits to your athletes, I definitely recommend that section.

Here’s the bottom line. If you haven’t already, read The Inner Game of Tennis. It will stimulate all kinds of thoughts about your coaching methods. That’s a good thing!

How long should practices be?

Here’s an interesting question from the mail bag.

What do you think is the maximum (or optimal) amount of time High School teams should practice each day? I coach Freshmen but I am also the assistant for JV and Varsity. I ask this question because last season our Varsity team practiced only about 1.5 to 2 hours per day. Two other teams in our district practiced 3-4.5 hours/day! And it just so happens those two teams ended up playing for the state championship….

The first observation I would make is that you can’t necessarily equate practice time to playing in the state championship. It could simply be that those schools have a higher level of talent in their program than everyone else. This sort of analysis is fairly common. Winning Team does this so everyone else starts doing it too because they think that’s the reason for the success when it might have little or nothing to do with it. In other words, beware of false causalities.

Now, getting to the question of optimal practice length…

It seems to me that being in the gym more than 3 hours at a time is pretty old school. If you ask around these days I think you’ll find that the vast majority of coaches – especially the betters ones – come in under that. Certainly none of the Volleyball Coaching Wizards we’ve interviewed are going 4 hours these days – though some certainly did back in the day. What you hear from them is that they might start the year at 2.5-3 hours, but by the end of the season it’s 1.5-2 hours.

My personal philosophy is that you should only practice as long as you need to get done what you want done. Know what you need to work on. That’s only going to be a couple of things for any given session (at least it shouldn’t be more than that). If you are efficient in structuring your practice and maintaining your focus, you don’t need four hours. In fact, going that long to me sounds like you’re wasting a lot of time.

Efficiency aside, there is the question of how much the players get out of practice after a certain point. Plus, what’s the implications for their long-run fitness and health? Players are less able to learn as they become more fatigued. This includes mental fatigue, which is definitely an issue for long practices. Fatigue also increases injury risk, particularly if there isn’t sufficient rest/recovery.

Finally, I’d bring up match length. How long do your matches typically go? Two hours? Why would you train twice as long as your matches? That doesn’t really make a lot of sense, especially if you do a good job of keeping intensity up.

I would suggest that the teams going 3-4.5 hours are actually not helping themselves. But that’s without seeing exactly what they’re doing in that time. Maybe it’s not all on-court.

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.