Archive for N-R

I am an author again. Info on my latest book

As you may be aware, back in 2015 I started a project with Mark Lebedew called Volleyball Coaching Wizards. Basically, we interview great coaches from all over the world. So far we’ve done more than 40 of them. Back in the latter part of 2016 we released the first Wizards book. In it we presented eight full interviews. They were chosen to represent a kind of cross-section of the coaches we’d sat down with to that point.

Mark and I have just come out with a second Wizards book. This one takes a very different approach, though.

As you can imagine, when you talk with 40+ great coaches there are going to be some really interesting nuggets of information that come out. Mark and I took a bunch of them and they formed the basis for this new book. We titled it Volleyball Coaching Wizards – Wizard Wisdom.

I think of this book as being more of a “practical” text than the first one. By that I mean it offers insights and perspectives on more day-to-day type of subjects. Those subjects include things like developing team culture and chemistry, planning practices, handling the team on match day, and developing yourself as a coach.

There isn’t much in the way of specific games and drills or the technical/tactical side of things here. You can find that stuff in plenty of other places. Instead, think of this book as speaking to the thought processes that lead to making those choices.

The book is fairly short at only about 160 total pages. There are 15 chapters, but each only has a few pages, so they make for a quick read. For me, that was an important point. Give readers some good stuff to think about, then move on.

Reviews from the folks who got a look at the advanced copy of the book have been excellent. An NCAA Division I women’s head coach told me:

I like the anecdotal style. Having practical information from coaches and then reflect on the success is a good style for me.

A long-time juniors and middle school coach said:

This must have been more difficult to write than the first book. And more enlightening.

A former NCAA men’s coach told me:

This is a very intriguing book. Pretty easy reading, I’d say. I liked that it’s a very conversational tone. Super easy to follow.

One of my classmates from the CAP III course said:

It’s great, really easy reading – I like the format. And the content is good too. I’ve recommended it to several groups I participate in.

For me, this was a really interesting book to develop. Obviously, I’m listed as author on the first book. In that case, though, Mark and I really just facilitated other people’s content. Here we generated a lot of the content ourselves, albeit with insights from the Wizards as the core framework.

For me, one of the big things I look for in a non-fiction book is that it gives me something to think about. I feel like that’s something we’ve accomplished with this new Wizards book. In fact, it’s kind of the whole point of the book.

Click here for more details and info on where you can get a copy.

For what it’s worth, during the run-up to release, when the Kindle version was available for pre-order, the book went to #1 among volleyball books on Amazon in the US, Canada, Australia, Germany, and Italy. I think that’s all of them. 🙂

5th Anniversary!

Five years ago today this blog was launched upon the world. What a ride it’s been!

Since the blog began in June 2013 about 300,000 visitors have tallied nearly 700,000 page views. That’s a far cry from what I expected when I launched the site. Can’t say I’m disappointed, though. The platform the blog created has led to many opportunities for me in the global coaching community.

Career stuff

Think about this.

Thanks to our mutual blogging interest, I connected with then fellow blogger Oliver Wagner from Germany (he’s since stopped blogging). In 2014 Oliver pointed me in the direction of another blogger, Mark Lebedew. That led to me visiting Mark at his then club, Berlin Recycling Volleys in the Spring of that year. Mark then played a critical part in my visiting the German pro teams in Potsdam and Bühl during their preseason that year. In Bühl I became friends with head coach Ruben Wolochin, an Argentine. In 2015 Ruben provided me with a connection that saw me hired to coach in Sweden. I also went back to Bühl that summer to help Ruben out with his preseason once more. Ruben later connected me with Santiago Gabari, who was the in-country coordinator for the Midwestern State Volleyball team trip to Buenos Aires in August 2017.

Winding things back to Mark, after my trip to Potsdam and Bühl in September 2014 he took me along for a day of World Championship action in Poland. That was my first ever major intentional volleyball event. In 2015 I visited with him again in Berlin for a longer stay during his German season. That trip featured my first ever CEV Champions League match. I later returned when BR Volleys hosted the Champions League Final Four that year. In 2017 I once again visited with Mark, this time in Poland at his then club, which hosted the Australian National Team’s training camp.

One more rewind needed. In 2015 Mark and I started work on the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project. That year, one of the interviews I conducted was with Ruth Nelson. It ended up in the first Wizards book. Ruth was later instrumental in my move to Midwestern State.

Expanded influence

The blog has also given me some interesting opportunities in terms of writing and coaching education. Other websites periodically pick up my content for their own purposes. Actually, from the early days the AVCA used some of my posts in their digital magazine. Later, I contributed a couple of articles to the print magazine as well. I was also invited to sit in on the Education committee meeting at the 2013 convention.

Parents?

Here’s something I definitely didn’t expect. In recent years I’ve heard that the parents of my players read the blog. That kind of blew my mind. I guess I can understand it a bit in that things like my coaching logs do necessarily provide some commentary about the squad. It’s a different perspective on things than parents get from match reports and the like. Still, it’s always a surprise when I hear about it. After all, they aren’t exactly my target audience.

Humbled by the breadth of readership

Another thing that surprised me early on, and continues to do so, is how many people I’ve spoken with from different parts of the world who read the blog. When I was in Germany in 2014 one of the staff coaches at SC Potsdam told me he was a reader. Last year in Argentina the head coach for the women’s team at Boca Juniors told me he reads the blog. Given the stats I reported at the top I should expect this sort of thing, right? For some reason, though, it’s still surprising and humbling every time it happens.

Where’s it going?

So where is this blog going? Honestly, I can’t say for sure. Part of that is because things are in flux for me professionally at the moment. Necessarily, where I land next will influence the direction of the blog moving forward – at least in terms of content. The one thing I do know is that I don’t have any plans to stop posting.

With any luck, in five more years I’ll be looking back on a decade of blogging with a bunch more interesting stuff having happened. 🙂

An Englishman at the AVCA Spring Conference

My friend Alex Porter, who heads up the volleyball program at the University of Essex (I visited him there in 2017) in England attended the 2018 AVCA Spring Conference that took place in conjunction with the NCAA men’s championship at UCLA. I thought a non-American’s perspective on the experience would be interesting, so I asked him if he’d be willing to write about it. He did, and here it is!

To my knowledge I’m only the second English man to visit an AVCA event – the first to visit their Spring Conference.

I’ve heard many things about the AVCA Annual Convention, over 2000 coaches and 400 plus exhibitors, “the world’s largest volleyball coaching gathering”. The Conference is a very different event with a little under 100 attendees and offers a more personal touch.

I’ve attended the Volleyball England Coaches Conference a handful of times and always felt there was a lot left on the table. This is not to put down their efforts, but until you go outside your comfort zone you don’t always know what is possible. I went into the AVCA Spring Conference with an open mind, ready to learn on and off the court, to learn what data they use to improve their athletes/programs, how they market the sport and how to get more bums on seats.

Prior to the conference I contacted AVCA Executive Director Katy DeBoer and at the Friday night networking event she was keen to hear about the university and coaching structure in the England. She was very open about the development of coaching and volleyball in the USA and how the AVCA mission statement helps facilitates both.

I arrived at the Marriott on the opening day and was expecting to see a fan fair of banners, product stools and the hustle and bustle of lots of coaches. I needed to remind myself that this was the Spring Conference and not the Convention. The welcome I received from the staff was very friendly but it felt a little underwhelming due to the size of the room and the number of attendees.

The order of service for the day was a The State of the Sport keynote from Kathy followed by two 90 minutes sessions. Each session had three options Training Technique, Fan Engagement and Tracking Performance. I was interested in all three and thankfully they were being recorded and are accessible via the AVCA website. After this there was a networking event by the pool.

I found Kathy’s speech very eye opening. The AVCA has collated a lot of numbers on the growth of the sport, on how and where this growth has occurred and more importantly how traditional marketing companies/departments target sport and why it’s different in volleyball, especially women’s volleyball. She went on to explain how in recent years incoming university recruits are now arriving with chronic injuries and this is something the sport needs to look at seriously. This was followed by some of the opportunities and successes that the sport is receiving. Over the last 7 year men’s volleyball has added 88 men’s college varsity programmes mainly based in tuition focused institutions and beach volleyball is flourishing.

Focus
Training Technique Fan Engagement Tracking Performance
Session 1 “Making a Good Setter Better” – Mick Haley “You are the Media!” – Katie Gwinn Hewitt, University of Michigan “No Numbers? No Clue!” – Guiseppe Vinci
No skill has more theories and methods, and no player gets more attention from coaches. What works, how do we train it, and what cues resonate with skilled setters? Social media has allowed programs the ability to reach the community directly without solely relying on traditional media to cover them. What are we training to? What numbers? What standards? What pacing? Without these metrics, we are guessing at the training regiment to prepare for elite performance. See what we know.
Session 2 “Serving: The Only Solo Skill” – Brian Gimmillaro “Not Your Parents’ Recaps” – Aaron Sagraves, Cornerstone University “Integrating Volleyball Injury Data into Performance Training Decisions” – Kyle Norris, MS, ATC, LAT, avcaVPI™ Biomechanics Consultant
Elite serving is a combination of physical and mental execution. Getting both right scores points. Reworking the standard press release to encourage more interaction Individual player mechanics impact injury risk. Strategies to protect the most vulnerable areas.

I stayed for the “You are the Media!” with Katie Gwinn Hewitt. In England we need some serious help with marketing our sport. Katie’s message was very simple- stories. People like stories, sponsors like stories and fan’s like stories they can relate to. Look at who is on your team, the ethos of the team and tell a story to create some traction. If you have an athlete studying social media let them have a Snap Chat take over. Do you have a budding journalist on your roster, let them create a number of pieces on their team mates that you can drip feed over the season. Every programme has a different approach to social media and fan engagement. I’ll be scanning the NCAA teams to see if there is something that will work for us. Once our reach increases, the traditional media should start to take notice.

The University of Essex is a research based institution and our HPU (Human Performance Unit) conducts numerous research projects each year, our staff share research papers with each other hence my reason for attending the Integrating Volleyball Injury Data into Performance Training Decisions with Kyle Norris.

Kyle covered a number of subject areas including sleep deprivation, postural and scapular control, glut med activation and “normal” biomechanics. Most of this I have read before in research papers but it’s great to revisit it and to be able to ask questions around these areas. I plan to contact Kyle to discuss our programme and the avcaVPI™ database which I never knew existed. To quote Guiseppe Vinci of Volley Metrics “No Numbers? No Clue!”

Most of the attendees and staff attended the networking event for some hor d’oeuvres and beverages by the Marriot poolside. Having an English accent meant I stuck out and people were very inquisitive.  I spoke with Kathy, club coaches and owners, teachers and the AVCA Hall of Famer, Mick Haley. I knew of Mick from watching the Sydney Olympics but I hadn’t put two and two together, Mick and his wife were great fun, his stories were as relevant today as they were when they happened the first time.

I spent the evening in the hotel bar with other university and college coaches. It was nice to hear they faced similar challenges to a greater or lesser extent.

DAY 2

Session 1 “General Session: Promoting Volleyball Player Well Being” – Aaron Brock,  USAVolleyball Sports Medicine and Performance Director
Training Technique Fan Engagement Tracking Performance
Session 2 “No One can Pass!” – Brian Gimmillaro “Media is Friend, Not Foe” – Tom Feuer, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism “How We Track Performance in the USA Volleyball Gym” – Jimmy Stitz, USA Volleyball Women’s Sports Physiologist
From basics to subtleties of higher level technique – why are so few players great at passing? What exactly should you be doing to ensure the media has everything it needs to best cover your program? Learn how to be more proactive than reactive. Managing repetitions in an efficient way is critical to preparation, rehab, and injury prevention.
Session 3 The Mechanics of Attacking” – Mick Haley “Story-telling: Going Beyond the Box Score” – Katie Morgan, The University of San Francisco “Training Jumpers” – Tim Pelot, United States Olympic Committee Senior Sports Physiologist
Footwork, load, swing – we all think we know it -yet even elite players have flaws Your team is more than stats, so you’ll learn the best methods to tell the story of your student-athletes and coaches Techniques for training jumpers can be counter intuitive. See how the senior teams physically prepare their jumpers
Session 4 “It’s not the Drill, It’s the Feedback” – Mick Haley and Brian Gimmillaro  “Putting Butts in the Seats” – Aaron Villalobos, Grand Canyon University “Injury Prevention – Keeping Them in the Gym” – Tim Pelot, United States Olympic Committee Senior Sports Physiologist
Engaging players in game-like training is the fastest way for them to become proficient in matches, yet simply running drills just reinforces bad habits. Where is the balance, when do we switch, how do we provide feedback? How do we engage our community to increase attendance? What kind of in-game promotions are run to ensure the audience stays “into” the match? These questions and more will be answered. We will not turn back the clock on specialization or earlier training; our task is to counteract the negatives of overuse. Teaching athletes to take control of their health and showing them ways to strengthen their weak sides is critical to keeping them in the gym.

The next morning we all met for breakfast. If I had to pick the worst part of the conference it was the breakfast, this coming from an Englishman, I know. Let’s get this right. It wasn’t bad, but after spending a week in the US and staying at a Marriott let’s just say you would expect more.

We headed over to UCLA’s campus for the rest of the day.

The first session of the day was with Aaron Brock, USA Volleyball Sports Medicine and Performance Director on “Promoting Volleyball Player Well Being”. This was the slickest of all the presentation and to be honest this should be at the forefront of any programme. Athlete and coaches well-being are super important, not just for the few years they are involved in a programme but also the rest of their lives. I enjoyed this session, it was thought provoking and I will adjust my programme after considering how best to use what I learnt.

I then headed over to the “How We Track Performance in the USA Volleyball Gym” with Jimmy Stitz who is the USA Volleyball Women’s Sports Physiologist. I love my data and this was an insight into what, how and why the USA Volleyball do what they do. There are lots of gadgets out there, Jimmy went through different tools they have used including different ways they’ve used them and the results that have and haven’t worked. For example basic assumptions on power and power/weight rations related to jump height and how/why you use video feedback and the flaws with it. Jimmy knows what his talking about and his insights are again thought provoking.

I keep saying it’s thought provoking and that’s because they were. These aren’t session where you’re going to find the exact solution for your situation. They make you think about how your programme is structured, why it’s like that and how things can be modified for the better etc.

I then attended two court based sessions with Mick Haley about “The Mechanics of Attacking” and with Mick and Brian Gimmilaro for “It’s not the Drill, It’s the Feedback”.  These confirmed a lot of my thoughts…every athlete will execute a skill differently but you must do the basics well. The last session of the day with Brain and Mick went a bit off topic but that’s what the group wanted so we got more out of it. It became more of a Q&A and attendees were about to pick their brains. Afterwards some of the attendees, including myself, continued the conversation with Mick and Brain.

When the Conference finished everyone went to the D1 Championship match. I watched the game for enjoyment sake, trying not to analysis it too much. I was a commentator for the BBC at the London 2012 final and this year’s D1 finals were up there with it. The game was fast paced and exciting. The 7,000+ fans supporting two local team were active, vocal and supported their teams in the right way.

But there was something special about this game (sorry Ryan it wasn’t the fact we had our first English athlete in a D1 final). It was the entertainment factor. The crowd hadn’t gone to watch a volleyball game, they had gone to support their teams AND be entertained. The compere got the crowd involved, the YELL squads livened up not only the student section, but got the rest of the crowd going. UCLA were giving out free tickets to their students 30 minutes before the game started and they were climbing over each other to get them. This was an event that had a lot of hype around it and the buzz and wow factor made it special.

After the final everyone went their separate ways which was a shame as there would have been value in reviewing the final as a group. I also think the Conference could have been over the weekend instead of Fri/Sat so there could have been additional sessions.

Would I recommend it? Yes! Was it worth the investment of time, money, etc for a international coach? That’s a bit trickier. A $1,000 airfare, plus $300 fee and $250 hotel, and suddenly it gets pricey for a two day event. I was already in America and only staying at the hotel for two nights, so it became more manageable. If I was in the same scenario I would, without doubt, attend again – even if it was just to spend more time with Mick Haley.

I’d like to say a special thank you to Kathy DeBeor and Mick Haley. They both took time out to speak with me. They were genuinely interested in my opinions and my reasons for attending. Actually, everyone I met was very welcoming and that’s another reason to attend, as the groups were small there were opportunities to speak with the same people if you wanted to carry on those conversations.

Review of 2017, look ahead to 2018

Well, 2017 was certainly an interesting year!

As is my habit at the turn of the year, I want to take a little bit of time to review the last 12 months. I’ll also get into some thoughts about what I see for the year ahead, as I did last year. I already did a review of the 2017 volleyball season. This post will focus on other things.

Travel

With Midwestern State I visited a couple of new locations during the course of our season. We played at Austin in a pre-conference tournament. While recruiting I also got to visit San Antonio. At this point, the only major Texas city I haven’t visited is Houston. Not sure that one is in the plans any time soon, though.

Personally, I made two big trips. The first was to the Olymic Training Center in Colorado Springs in February. I was there to attend my second High Performance Coaches Clinic. Here is my report on that. This time I also added in the Coaches Accreditation Program (CAP) Level III coaching course. I also wrote about that experience. I believe I have completed the requirements for my certification, but I’m waiting for final word at this writing.

My big trip was back across the Atlantic in May. The main part of that was spent in Poland where I hung out with Mark Lebedew while he ran pre-World League training camp for the Australian national team. I also spent a couple of days in Germany visiting with a coaching friend there. Of course I had to hit England as well. I spent an afternoon with a coaching friend there, visited with an old friend, and got back to Exeter for a meeting with my PhD supervisor to talk about our joint academic research work.

And then there was the MSU team trip to Buenos Aires. That was my first ever trip south of the US border, and also my first to a Spanish speaking country. It was a great experience, both in terms of the tourist side of things and volleyball.

Projects

It was a rough year for my various projects. Frankly, I did not get done nearly as much as I thought I would. All the organization for the Buenos Aires trip sucked up massive amounts of my non-coaching time. That was especially true over the Summer, which is usually a good time to get big things done. Not so much this year.

At the same time, Mark taking on the added work of coaching a national team alongside his work coaching a professional club team in Poland made it hard for us to collaborate on additional Volleyball Coaching Wizards work. It was my hope to have at least one new book published, but it just didn’t happen.

I did get do some work in the academic arena, but didn’t produce the second paper I had in mind. I also didn’t get a new edition of Inside College Volleyball published, as I wanted. Oh, well. It was still a worthwhile year.

The Blog

Once more I can report growth in readership of this blog. Quite big growth, actually! The year ended with over 100,000 visitors and nearly 220,000 page views, up about 35% from 2016. Honestly, that blows my mind. Along the way the site crossed half a million page views all time since it was launched in June 2013. It got just about 14,000 views that first year.

Again, readership has been basically global, though obviously the US dominates.

 

The most read posts for 2017 were the following.

  1. Volleyball tryout drill ideas
  2. Volleyball set diagram
  3. The qualities of a good team captain
  4. Putting together a starting line-up
  5. Game: Winners (a.k.a King/Queen of the Court)
  6. Scoring serving and passing effectiveness
  7. Getting volleyball players to talk
  8. Volleyball camp drills and games
  9. Are your warm-ups wasting valuable time?
  10. Volleyball conditioning – a sample program

The blog now has over 900 posts. I imagine I’ll cross the 1000 post mark in 2018. Kind of crazy to think about reaching that milestone!

Looking forward to 2018

I enter this new year with a wait and see type of attitude. The one thing I know with certainty is that staff changes are coming at MSU. Our graduate assistant will finish his degree in May, so for sure a new GA will be required. Where things go with that is an open question. Add in the big turnover in players (7 out, and probably at least as many new players in) and you get the prospect for a lot of changes in the program. We’ll see how that all plays out.

In terms of my various other projects, there are three big things I want to complete early this year. One is publishing the second Wizards book, which should happen shortly. Another is updating Inside College Volleyball and getting that out the door. I also have another, non-volleyball, content project I’m working on.

Looking at the rest of the year, there are some other things I want to do as well. Mark and I need to get back to recording and publishing Wizards interviews, and I’d like to publish another book from the project later in 2018. I would also like to develop some longer-form coaching education content. Think an online course, or something like that.

See shall see where things take me!

Mustangs in Baires!

The title of this article ties in with one of the hashtags we used for the Midwestern State University (MSU) Volleyball team trip to Buenos Aires. Baires is apparently how the locals refer to the city, and the MSU school mascot is the mustang. Thus, #MustangsInBaires. We also used #HITM, which stands for history in the making. The trip was the first ever by an MSU sports team, so truly a history making experience.

Travel: Wichita Falls, TX to Buenos Aires, Argentina

The trip started with a 6am bus departure from campus to DFW airport. There we boarded a flight to Miami to connect on to Argentina. We had a bit of a delay before our second flight, but otherwise the trip was without meaningful incident. We arrived in Buenos Aires at a bit after 5am and were to our hotel by a little after 6am, if memory serves.

Day 1 in Baires

Fortunately, we were able to get everyone in rooms within an hour or two of our arrival at the hotel. That let everyone get a nap before lunch at noon. Afterwards, we headed off to the La Recoleta area for some exploration. We had a couple locals to help as guides that day. The group split up and went in different directions. Mainly, it was a lot of shopping at the outdoor market and getting coffee at one of the area cafes. Some of us also managed to have a look around the famous cemetery.

We walked to La Recoleta from our hotel a short way from the Obelisk. Coming back, we had the first of many experiences using the local public transportation. In this case, it was the subway (Subte). Someone with a step counter figured we walked 8-9 miles that day. I know I felt like it!

Day 2 – The work begins

Our first full day in Baires began with breakfast in the hotel. Then it was off to take a city bus to practice. There was some question as to whether we’d get everyone in that time of day (about 8:30am), but it worked out. We traveled to the Boca district where Boca Juniors has its training facility. There we did some strength work before shifting over to volleyball. The facilities weren’t really set up to accommodate our numbers, but the players worked out alternative exercises.

The big challenge of the day was trying to get used to the different balls. While the ones they have are similar in style to those we play with back home (Molten), they have a little bit of a different feel and play somewhat lighter. The first hour of practice was ugly! 🙂

There was some down time after lunch. Then it was off to the Puerto Madero area for a bit more exploration and dinner. That added to our mileage count, for sure, but the sights were great and the food fantastic.

Day 3 – Tranquile

We kept things fairly chill on the third day, knowing we had our first match the next night. There was again morning practice, but we kept the afternoon activities limited. The players were allowed to go for coffee and/or shopping within 5 blocks of the hotel, in the company of a member of the staff. We were all back to the hotel by 7:00 for a team video review session, followed by dinner and a relatively early night.

Day 4 – First match

We did a short practice at Boca in the morning, after a later start to give the players a bit more rest. Some errands were run in the afternoon, but mainly it was quiet time ahead of our match.

The trip to the match was definitely an adventure! We took the subway, and it was rush hour. A lot of people live in Buenos Aires. Let’s just say the players got real friendly. 🙂 It took us like 90 minutes to make the full trip, which was not what we planned.

San Lorenzo hosted us that evening for an 8:30 start (matches start late in Argentina). Along with Boca, they are one of the two strongest clubs in Buenos Aires. That means they have some very strong players. We knew going in we would be up against some very tough competition and that’s indeed what we got! Two of San Lorenzo’s hitters had as much power as I’ve ever seen in a female attacker.

We played the match using FIVB rules. Mainly, that means we couldn’t use nearly as many subs as we normally could. We ended up using a decidedly non-traditional approach where sometimes we ran a kind of 6-2 and others we used DSs for our RS players.

Four sets were played in total. San Lorenzo won them all, as expected. Mostly the scores were like 25-15, but we did have a tight second set of 26-24. The difference, of course, was in the errors. We missed a lot of serves – many of which landed in the net. And when that wasn’t the case, we gave them a lot of lollipops all too often. Our block did a decent job, but you can imagine the end result when facing talented attackers.

Day 5 – Continuing the learning

We did another morning practice at Boca, then at lunch in their cafeteria. Interestingly, females are not usually allowed to eat there. It’s only for the boys soccer players in the Boca academy. Something about not wanting the boys distracted.

After lunch we toured La Bombonera, their soccer stadium.

We also got to go inside Boca’s competition gym.

Then we went around the local neighborhood and to nearby Caminito. Mostly, that means shopping. After the late night before, it was a pretty tiring day. We ate a dinner of pizza and empanadas, then did a video review session from the previous night’s match. It was good for the players to see what they did, and what San Lorenzo did as well.

Day 6 – Second match

After a later wake-up, it was back to Boca for another pre-match session. Before we got started we were able to take a joint photo with the Boca men’s and women’s teams who were also training. I got to make yet another trip to the stadium to pay the previous day’s lunch bill.

That night it was back to San Lorenzo for our second match. Originally, the plan was to play Boca. Unfortunately, we they were short on available bodies. So instead we played San Lorzeno again. This time we did it using NCAA rules. It gave us a chance to practice the sort of changes we will probably make during our season. Interestingly, the San Lorenzo coach has apparently argued to increase the number of subs they are allowed to use in the league here.

After Wednesday’s experience, we opted for a chartered bus trip option to the match this time. Some of the players were horrified by the driving of the buses through the rush hour traffic, but everyone made it in one piece.

San Lorenzo started with a fairly strong lineup and the score of the set was similar to the ones from the prior match. That said, I think we played better generally.

In the second set, their coach made wholesale changes. He made ample use of the more generous subs to use a lot of younger players. I think there were four who made their debut in the first team. Some were very young – like 15 or 16. We ended up winning the set, but it was a bit of a struggle at times.

In the remaining sets they did more mixing of older and younger players. It gave them a bit of an advantage, especially with us mixing our lineups around. In the end we fell 3-1. The energy was very good throughout, though. The players really enjoyed the singing post-match by the local supporters. Excuse the sideways video. Not my doing.

Day 7 – Tango

We had another morning practice this day to keep working on things. That meant another trip to Boca. It was a bit drawn out by the fact that we needed to get the bus from a different place than usual. Also, for the first time on the trip it was raining a bit.

Practice wasn’t the day’s big event, though. That was the tango lesson the team did later, and the dinner & show we attended. The team learned a few tango steps during a session that lasted a bit over an hour. We all then moved downstairs from the dance studio to the restaurant. It was located in the San Telmo area of the city. The show was a mixture of dancing and signing. There was a bit of crowd participation in both. One of the players, who did quite well in class, was brought up on stage when members of the audience danced with the performers.

The players seemed to enjoy the experience, though things ran rather late. You could see them flagging at the end. We Americans just aren’t acclimated to the later hours.

Day 8 – Off Day

Sunday was a rest day. Everyone had a chance to sleep in. We didn’t come together until 11:00 when we headed over to the Palermo area. That’s definitely the high rent district, as witnessed by the US embassy being there. We were not allowed to take photos by the gate, but we did so from across the street with the building (and the flag) in the background. We wandered through one of the parks there and had some lunch.

The second stop was a return to La Recoleta. Remember we were there on Day 1. The players wanted to a chance to revisit the Sunday market stalls, and most of the group didn’t get to see the famous cemetery the first time around.

From there, it was back to the hotel for dinner and a relatively early night.

Day 9 – Back to work

It was a holiday Monday in Argentina, so we were not on our normal practice schedule. Instead, we had a 2pm – 5pm slot at Boca. We got together as a team at 11:00 for another video review session to look at the second San Lorenzo match. After that, it was lunch, then off to training.

Practice followed weights and was perhaps the best of the trip in terms of competitiveness, energy, and focus. Afterwards, we stopped near Casa Rosada (Argentina’s equivalent to the White House) and took photos of the area.

In the evening, we had 8:00pm dinner. The rest of the time we left for the players to start packing for the next day’s departure.

Day 10 – Last day in Argentina

We once more had morning practice at Boca. This final one was a twist, though. We did a sort of mixed squad scrimmage with the available Boca players. We loaned them a pair of pin attackers to fill in for national team call-ups. It was a good match. We went five sets because that’s how the match played out, not just to get five sets in. Boca won the first and third. We won the second and fourth. The fifth set they won fairly easily in the end.

As was our pattern, we swapped lineups around throughout the match. Could we have won? Perhaps. But our focus was on giving every player court time, and for a couple time in different positions.

After lunch we took the afternoon off to nap and get ready to check out. The hotel allowed us to stay in our rooms until 6:00pm, which was really helpful. We actually had everyone out at 5:00 so we could do a team meeting before our 6:30 departure for the airport.

Our flight out of Buenos Aires was at 11:15pm. Another overnight flight for the trip back!

Day 11 – Return to Wichita Falls

After a brutal pair of flights (uncomfortable and I slept very little), we reached campus at the end of a 2-hour bus ride. We were quite excited to see the school’s big bus roll up at the airport. Then a big cheer went up as we turned into campus.

The Day After

The President of the university came to team practice the day after we returned. So too did the Athletic Director. Yes, we had team practice. And weight training. We wanted to get the team moving again and to get used to our balls once more.

Conclusions

Did everything go perfectly? Of course not. But that’s actually partly the point. A trip like this is about taking people out of their comfort zones and letting them overcome a new set of challenges. So it’s not a big deal that some parts of the trip could have been better. It went well enough with no major issues.

The point of the trip was to give this group of players a collective experience. It was the sort of experience that can be a foundation for years to come. The players all now have a common set of memories they can share for years.

They also got to see a very different type of volleyball – both in terms of play and atmosphere. That is stuff they can use immediately this season.

I talk more about this trip with respect to what we did on the volleyball side of things in my coaching log. I’ll also write a separate piece about the organization. Maybe it will help you plan your own event.

Thoughts on FIVB’s 7 sets to 15 proposal

As you may have heard, the FIVB is planning to experiment at the upcoming U23 World Championship (August for the men, September for the women) with a new match format. This was reported by Volleywood based on this article. Flo Volleyball also reported on it. The proposal is to play best-of-7 set matches, with all sets going to 15 points.

Not surprisingly, the news triggered a lot of opinion.

Mark Lebedew was very blunt in his response. He thinks it’s a stupid idea. That was his immediate response on Twitter, but he followed up with a more reasoned blog post. In it he talks about match time concerns.

I would love to see some stats on match times. Mark (and others) seem to think the expressed problem is matches lasting too long. Personally, I think match length variability is the real issue. You can have anything from a 3-set blowout lasting maybe an hour up to a 5-set battle going longer than 2 hours.

What’s the set breakdown for match length?

I went through all matches played in 2016 by Lone Star Conference (LSC) teams* to look at the breakdown. It added up to 236 matches, and here’s the outcome split.

3 sets: 122 (51.6%)
4 sets: 69 (29.2%)
5 sets: 45 (19.1%)

It occurred to me that conference matches might be more competitive than non-conference ones, so I broke them out. Here’s the split for just the conference matches, of which there were 118 (including the conference tournament).

3 sets: 67 (56.8%)
4 sets: 28 (23.7%)
5 sets: 23 (19.5%)

It’s interesting to observe that 5-set matches are basically the same. There is, however, a higher proportion of 3-set matches between conference foes. I can’t help but think that is a function of how coaches schedule non-conference matches.

Match time length

If we assume each 25-point set takes about 25 minutes to play, and a 15-point set is about 15 minutes, we get an indication of approximately how long matches take. That is about 75 minutes, 100 minutes, and 115 minutes respectively for 3, 4, and 5-set matches. Obviously, that’s a rough guide.How long a match goes is a function of how competitive it is, and whether it’s consistently competitive (tight sets rather than trading off lopsided scores).

Everyone talks about the 2-hour TV time block as being the sweet spot to make volleyball attractive to broadcasters. If every match lasted four sets things would work out pretty well for that. The problem is less than a third of matches, based on the numbers above, actually hit that mark. Roughly half fall well short, and about 20% potentially run too long.

This is why I say variability is probably the biggest issue.

And I’m not just talking about that in terms of TV. It also impacts the on-site spectator experience – and the one for players and coaches as well. I can tell you from personal experience that it’s a real drag to travel hours for a match and have it last an hour. It’s very easy to wonder why you bother to make the trip.

Where does FIVB idea take us?

I don’t see going to a best-of-7 set format altering things much in terms of time variability. Yes, it most likely keeps matches under 2 hours if we continue to assume 15-minutes per set. Unfortunately, you still have the problem of a match only lasting an hour. That would be the case for a 4-setter.

This might be fine in the case of a big tournament like World Championships where teams play multiple matches and there are lots of them happening each day. As a stand-alone, though, all it would seem to do is solve the problem of matches running more than 2 hours. I personally don’t see that as being a major TV issue, as I’ve written about before.

More upsets?

There’s another side to this that I am really curious to see. That’s whether the 15-point sets lead to more set upsets. Generally speaking, the more points you play the more likely it is for the better team to win (same with playing more sets). Playing shorter sets means you have a greater influence of simple randomness. That could let to more instances of the weaker team winning sets than is currently the case. Presumably, the best-of-7 format would offset this, but I’ll be curious to see how it plays out.

Different mentality?

Also, there is the question of playing and coaching mentality. Is it different when only playing to 15 points? Making the high percentage play is probably the right strategy when you play a large number of points. When you play fewer points, though, there’s less time for the percentages to work out. How does that influence strategy and decision-making?

Also, what kind of impact does having to repeatedly get mentally up for the next game have on players? To an extent, with the longer sets players can play themselves into the action. They don’t have to worry too much about things not going well early. With the more sprint nature of shorter sets, though, that cushion goes away.

The bottom line is we have to see this new match structure in action to really gauge its implications.

Follow-up: John Kessel wrote the following about this format proposal. It matches much of what I noted above.

There are three things going on in these experiments.** 1. lengthening average matches. Currently world wide in best 3 of 5, 61% of the matches end 3-0, leaving fans going home “early” and TV having some 50 minutes of time left to “fill”; Junior play being best 2 of 3 means they fit in an hour time slot. By going to 4 of 7, and shortening the sets, then more upsets/longer matches still in the 2 hour window are more likely, see #2.. The move to rally meant shorter matches, but more upsets – and that is true statistically – refer to Finite Markov Chains for more on why this happens in all sports. The chance for upsets to occur means smaller nations/more nations might upset the top teams, and, as seen in soccer/futbal, that is a good thing to grow the game world wide.

* – The LSC is one of the stronger conferences in NCAA Division II women’s volleyball. In 2016 its top two teams finished the year in the Top-25 of the AVCA coaches poll.

** – The other “experiments” he is including are disallowing players to land in front of the service and attack (3m) lines on jump serves and back row attacks respectively.

Report on my Europe trip

This is a little more delayed than I’d intended, but here goes.

As previously reported, I spent a week in Poland observing the Australian Men’s National Team training camp. My friend – and Volleyball Coaching Wizards partner – Mark Lebedew was named head coach of the Aussie team in the latter part of 2016. This was his first camp and it’s focus is on prep for World League. Their first round of play will be in Slovakia. That being the case, and with many of the Aussie guys playing on club teams in Europe, it made sense to have camp there. Mark arranged for his club in Poland, Jastrzębski Węgiel, to host.

I’ve never been to a national team training. Also, I’ve only ever seen Mark coaching in the latter parts of a season when things were pretty well established. I was curious to see what he’d be doing with a new team from the start. So off I went to Poland!

Here’s photographic proof. 🙂

This was actually my second time in Poland. The first time was back in 2014. I was in Berlin at the time and Mark had a spare ticket to Men’s World Championships. So I tagged along with him to Wroclaw.

The training

I arrived late on Tuesday, so my first day in the gym was Wednesday. The team had the weekend off, and I was there through the following Tuesday, so I sat in on five days of work. The team did 2-a-days. The afternoons were team sessions. The mornings were split, however. How that worked varied a bit.

During the first three days I was there, the receivers started on the court. They worked with legendary coach – and future Wizards interviewee – Andrea Anastasi. After about 45 minutes they went to lift, then it was time for the middles to have the court. They worked on blocking with former German national team player and current Lüneburg head coach Stefan Hübner. Mark gave Andrea and Stefan complete control.

Andrea and Stefan left after Friday, so things were a little different for Monday and Tuesday. Mark took charge of the receivers, and they still worked on passing each morning before lifting. This time, though, the second group was the setters. They worked with an experienced professional setter named Mishkin. The afternoons were still team sessions.

I will follow up with a couple of posts that talk more specifically about stuff I saw. There were some interesting ideas and approaches. As you may have seen, I already posted a warm-up game Stefan used one day.

By the way, Mark told me in advance that I wouldn’t be required to help out at all in practice. He’d have more than enough help, he said. Somehow, though, I still found myself collecting and feeding balls.

The social stuff

Watching Mark and the others run court sessions was, of course, only part of the experience. Along with Andrea, Stefan, and Mishkin, there were a number of other coaches on-hand. One was Mark’s club team assistant from last season, Luke. He actually is the coach who preceded me at Svedala, and was recently named the head coach at Berlin. He’s an Aussie, and a member of Mark’s national team staff.

There were two other Aussies there as part of the staff. Lauren Bertolacci is a former Aussie women’s player. She currently coaches a men’s team in the Swiss league. It’s pretty rare to see a female coach at all, never mind for a men’s team! I’ve known of Lauren for a while, but this was the first time we got to meet.

The other coach was Liam Sketcher. He spent the last couple years coaching at Marienlyst in the Danish men’s professional league.

There was plenty of down time, so I got to speak quite a bit with everyone. And Andrea regaled us with many stories! 🙂

Unfortunately, my friend Ruben from TV Bühl had to cancel his planned visit. I spent time with him during his club’s pre-season in both 2014 and 2015.

The rest of my trip

After I left Poland I spent a week bouncing around. Most of my time was in England, but I also spent a couple days in Germany. In England I mostly did non-volleyball stuff. I spent a day visiting with an old friend in Ipswich and then a day in Exeter with my PhD supervisor talking about our on-going research efforts. While in Exeter I also had lunch with the guy who got me into coaching the university teams.

After Exeter it was off to Husum in Germany where I met up with Oliver Wagner. He is spearheading the effort to bring a team from the area into the German top men’s league – the Bundesliga. That club is WattVolleys. We talked A LOT of volleyball over the two days I was there.

The final part of my trip before returning home was a visit to the University of Essex. Former England national team and professional player Alex Porter runs the volleyball performance program there. Essex is one of the senior academies designated by Volleyball England. Alex showed me around the campus and we talked a lot about the university and coaching.

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.

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.