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Book Review: Thinking Volleyball by Mike Hebert

Are you looking for a book to make you think about your coaching rather than just something that presents you with a bunch of drills and systems? If so, then look no further than Thinking Volleyball by Mike Hebert. A 50-year volleyball veteran, Hebert offers his latest book as something he sees as at least attempting to fill the gap he perceives in the coaching literature when it comes to learning how to think about volleyball and coaching. I read both of his earlier books, The Fire Still Burns and Insights. Each had a big impact on me as a developing coach. I therefore eagerly snatched up a copy when the book came out. I’m glad I did!

The broad theme of the book is being ready, willing, and able to think beyond the conventional. That’s not as simple as being OK with taking risks in how you do things. Obviously, though, that’s a requirement (Hebert considers himself something of a coaching maverick). It first and foremost requires actually understanding what that conventional wisdom is. Why is it conventional, and what are its strengths and weaknesses?

The book has 10 chapters.¬†One focuses on offensive philosophy, while another looks at defense. These are the only two which can be classified as technical/tactical in nature. Even then it’s not the main point. The other eight, in various ways, look at different aspects of coaching. These are things like running a program, developing a style of play, gym culture, team trust, and match coaching.

Personal anecdotes are a common feature of Hebert’s writing. He’s got loads of material from which to work! They come from his own playing days and all the major programs he coached. My one little criticism is the stories are strongly biased toward the positive. Maybe a few failures could have been mixed in for balance. Let’s face it. Not everything works as intended. We coaches often find ourselves trying to figure out how to recover when that’s the case.

One of the more interesting elements of the book is the author’s views toward the modern focus on statistics. This is both in terms of common stats and things like the competitive cauldron (I attended a seminar on that at the 2013 AVCA convention). Hebert is a self-described early-career stats evangelist. He came to question their value relative to the amount of time spent gathering them, though. Not that he discounts stats completely. He definitely asks the trade-off question, though, and suggests a potentially more useful way of looking at things.

Chances are, at least one chapter in Thinking Volleyball will make you critically about what you’re doing as a volleyball coach. Hebert applies his considerable experience and insight into a discussion of just about every aspect of coaching volleyball you could think of. And he does so from all kinds of angles most of us will never have the opportunity to explore personally. From that perspective, I recommend it for coaches at all levels and career stages.

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.

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