Archive for Volleyball Coach Development

Don’t just cite the research, actually read and understand it!

I came across a post on social media regarding an academic study of serve-reception. Here’s the full quote.

A study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences by Paulo et al. (Paulo A, Zaal FTJM, Seifert L, Fonseca S, Araújo D. Predicting volleyball serve-reception at group level, 2018) showed that, about serve-receive success “decreasing alignment of the receiver with the ball and the target increased the chances of using the underhand-lateral pass, and that the use of the underhand-lateral pass was associated with lower quality receptions”. So, if you play volleyball do not be lazy, move your feet fast (you will only move fast if you lower your hips and stay on your toes), place your body and platform BEHIND the ball, if you want to increase your chances to succeed in serve receive. Do not trust side passes. Science is saying that!

The last couple of sentences jumped out at me. They are clearly interpretations of the paper findings, ones seen to support the idea of center-line passing. Focusing a lot on that is something I’m not a fan of beyond introductory teaching, as you will see if you follow the link.

But that’s not the point of this post. Instead, I want to focus on the analysis side of things.

Being the curious sort, and having lots of experience reviewing this kind of research from my own PhD work, I read the paper in question. Not surprisingly, reading the paper produced two significant issues with regards to the social media post.

First, the results don’t make a strong case. Yes, the authors of the study did find that receiving the ball in the center line – what they refer to as “underhand-frontal pass” – did produced better passing results than passing outside the center line (underhand-lateral pass). They described the difference, however, as being weak from a statistical perspective.

Second – and this is the bigger problem – the causality is unclear. By that I mean we don’t know if the passers opted to pass outside their center line, or whether they were forced to do so by the serve. Given that the sample is from international level men’s players and includes topspin jump serves, I’m inclined to believe it’s not really a question of choice.

I think we can agree that a ball hit hard outside your body line is harder to pass than one hit straight at you. You simply don’t have as much time to get a well-positioned platform in place. Forget about moving your feet! Naturally, we expect these more difficult serves to produce worse passes on average. Despite this, the authors of the paper don’t see a big difference, statistically, between lateral and center-line passing performance.

Could it be that in fact lateral passing would prove superior if considering equally difficult serves? Well, we know in terms of hard serves going outside the body that center-line passing is basically impossible. What about slower or closer serves where you could get the ball center line, though? Could it be that lateral passing would show better results? This paper provides no insights in that regard.

So the poster of the item above has attempted to use as support for their own views research which at best only offers weak evidence. Really, it provides no evidence at all because the analysis of technique does not control for serve characteristics (i.e. difficulty).

There’s more issues

There’s also a major issue with this paper in that the sample the authors use is extremely narrow. It includes only four passers. They all come from the Portuguese Men’s National Team. So we’re making judgements based on the performance of just a few male players of a certain caliber in one team receiving serves from servers they’d probably passed against many, many times before in training.

Can you see how this might be a problem in terms of being representative?

That automatically says you should draw no real conclusions from the findings. I’m not saying there isn’t some quite interesting stuff. There certain is, both in this paper and this one the same authors did focused on single receiver passing. What I am saying is the best you can do with this kind of research is to say something like, “That’s interesting. We should explore it more deeply.”

Don’t be that poster

Please, please, please take the time to actually read any research presented to you. Don’t accept what people say about the research at face value – especially if that person might have an agenda, like supporting their own position. That was what tipped me off in this particular case. Also, don’t cherry pick from your own perspective. Don’t just present research that you think supports your case and ignore or downplay the stuff that contradicts you. Confirmation bias is a real issue for us all.

There’s a phrase I heard a while back that I think is a good one to live by in this sort of context. It is “strong views, loosely held”. That means you are strong in your belief, but able to change your mind on things when presented with good evidence. It’s not about being right. It’s about getting it right.

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.

On proving yourself and winning

There’s a really interesting quote from Nebraska coach John Cook in his book, Dream Like a Champion.

“As coaches gain experience, however, that pursuit of winning goes away. Your work becomes more about coaching: the journey of each unique team and seeing individual players develop. You begin to enjoy all of those things a lot more and they become more important than winning. Winning is still important, of course, but you stop making yourself miserable over it. I enjoy coaching more now than ever before and I am able to learn so much more about myself and my role as a coach because I am not so worried about proving myself every day.”

This is a very insightful quote. At least it strikes a cord with me personally. Somewhere along the line I stopped fixating so much on winning and losing. That isn’t really in my control, so why stress about it so much?

I think Cook’s last sentence, though, begs a question. Is winning the only way we can prove ourselves, especially early in our career?

I touched on this subject before in terms of who we must prove ourselves too. I didn’t, though, really get into how we do that.

Let’s face it, most of the time people – including ourselves – tend to think in terms of winning. This is why we have youth coaches specializing kids early rather than developing them as all-around players. I wrote about that in the post Coaching Youngsters Like College Players.

Yes, sometimes winning is how you prove yourself. Not always, though. I’d actually venture to say, not even most of the time. Yes, if you’re at Nebraska, as Cook is, people expect you to win. If you don’t, you’re out of a job. When you think about the vast majority of teams, however, you’ll realize having fun and getting better are really the main focus points. As a coach you prove yourself by accomplishing those objectives. At least that should be the case. The problem is people tend to forget that in the heat of battle.

Actually, this is how coaches get in trouble sometimes. I have a coaching friend whose professional club fired him because he was overly competitive. He was focused on winning as how he would prove himself when the club leadership had a different focus for the team. Just goes to show that you need to know what matters to those who count.

Want to know what US college coaches do?

Thinking about a career coaching college volleyball in the US? If so, I’m about to educate on what you’re in for.

Below is the listing of job duties for an operations position, as posted by the University of Miami. At the upper levels of NCAA Division I the programs have people on staff with the titles Director of Volleyball Operations (DOVO), Operations Coordinator, or something along those lines. They are there to ease some of the administrative burden from the coaching staff.

The vast majority of college programs don’t have operations people, though. Nor do they have a technical coordinator, or someone like that, who runs the stats and video part of things. That means the coaches have to do it all themselves. And oftentimes it’s with fewer coaches than those big programs.

1. Works with compliance staff to create a culture of compliance to meet NCAA, ACC, University and departmental policies and procedures. Oversee compliance rules and regulations to maintain CARA hour and Time Management Plan limits and logs. Serves as a liaison to Compliance Office for National Letter of Intent Process. Insure that the NLI’s are prepared correctly and sent in the appropriate time frame. Works with coaches to get admissions applications returned and NCAA Eligibility items completed in a timely manner to facilitate final NCAA Eligibility Center certification on all student-athletes. Coordinates permissible correspondence to incoming student-athletes regarding financial aid, workout programs, orientation schedules, fall housing requirements, required physical documentation and equipment needs.

2. Coordinates all team travel with business office staff, including: coordination of flights, hotel and buses with travel coordinator, meals, submitting cash advance requests, tracking per diem distribution, creation of agendas and processes all spend authorizations.

3. Coordinate pregame meals for all home games.

4. Responsible for complimentary ticket lists for all ticketed events.

5. Assists in planning and execution of off-campus and on campus recruiting events. Serves as a direct representative of the University’s coaching staff to potential recruits and their families.

6. Coordinates all practice session scheduling and setup. Works with the game management and facility staff to coordinate home meets/games.

7. Processes all reimbursements and purchase requisitions.

8. Assists head coach and business office with monitoring of current fiscal year budget and formulation of next year’s budget.

9. Assist academic services with study hall and class attendance. Monitors the academic performance of the team with assigned academic counselor to achieve desirable academic outcomes.

10. Works with equipment staff to order and allocate all athletic equipment. Assist with creating purchase orders for equipment, outside services and office supplies.

11. Acts as a liaison to student athlete enhancement services including the student-athlete development staff, department nutritionist, department sports psychologist and strength trainer.

12. Plans and assists in the oversight of the annual team banquet.

13. Assist in coordination of scout video and statistical analysis both during competition and in preparation for competition.

14. Acts as a liaison to Marketing plan, sports information staff and fundraising efforts.

Now, lets add a few things to the list.

  • Planning and running practice, and match coaching
  • Develop scouting reports
  • Team and player meetings
  • Recruiting trips and recruit communication
  • Community outreach and press availability
  • Fundraising
  • Alumni relations

I could probably come up with a few more with some time, but I think that’s enough to make the point. College coaches are responsible for a whole lot of stuff! Kevin Hambly, shortly after taking over at Stanford, commented in an interview that only about 7% of his time actually involves working in the gym.

It’s worth noting that the majority of the stuff on the Miami list, and even some of the stuff I tacked on at the end, would be handled by a manager most places outside the US system. This is one of the things that can make it a real challenge for foreign coaches to make the jump into the US college system.

That first big question of many job interviews

Tell me/us about yourself and why you think you’re a good fit for XXXXX.

This question, in some form, features in a lot of interviews – among others, of course. You won’t get it every time, but interviewers use it as a common starting point to get an initial sense of you. Are you ready for it?

You could approach this question in two parts. First, there is your own experience and career development. Second, there is how that all fits in with the job you’re pursuing and the organization you’re trying to join.

Let me take each of those in turn, but starting with the second first. I’m going to assume you’re interviewing for a head coach position. You can follow a similar thought process if you are trying to get an assistant position, though. Likewise, just to keep the language simple, I assume you are interviewing with a school, but you could just as easily take the same approach when trying to get a club job.

The position and organization

The starting point to answer the “tell us..” question is to understand what the school is looking for in a head coach. This is not a simple question.

It’s really easy to think in terms of volleyball. The reality, though, is it often has more to do with culture and community. This is especially true when you’re talking about a smaller school and a smaller community.

If you’ve worked at the school, then you’ll know the culture – hopefully. If you haven’t, you’re going to have to try to learn something about it. That means a combination of research and thinking about things.

Your side of things

It’s really easy to use this question as a way to brag about all the great things you’ve done. Guess what? If it’s on your resume – and it probably is – then they already know that stuff.

Remember what I just said. This is about starting to gauge fit for the interviewer(s). That means whatever you say about yourself should tie in with the idea of fit. Just rattling off a bunch of stuff about how great you are likely isn’t going to accomplish that. It could even work against you.

Plan accordingly

The bottom line here is that you should plan for this question. Research the school as much as you possibly can to get a sense for what they are after in terms of that fit side of things. Once you have a good idea of things, think about how you can demonstrate that you would be a good fit.

And keep in mind that it’s not just about your coaching here. It could be about places you’ve lived or situations you’ve been in which aren’t even volleyball related. You’re basically trying to show that you have something in common.

So, prepare yourself!

Volleyball Coaching Job Search Log – May 16, 2018

I haven’t been on the job market since taking the position at Midwestern State (MSU). I decided to re-enter after the 2017 season. It wasn’t a situation where I needed to find a new job as it was in early 2016 when I left Sweden, or back in 2015 when I was getting ready to finish my time in England. This was more about looking to see if there was anything interesting out there. If so, put my hat in the ring for consideration.

Tentative initial foray

I actually did my first application for the head coach position at Fort Hays State. That’s a Division II school in Kansas. I haven’t coached against them, but in the last couple years MSU has played against some of the other teams in their conference. The former head coach resigned very early in the season. As a result, they opened the job up ahead of the normal cycle. I got the “Thanks for your interest…” email in mid-December, which was fine. I wasn’t entirely sure I’d want the job if offered. I’d have made my decision based on what I saw of the campus, facilities, people, etc.

Getting more serious

The second job I put in for was at Brown in late November. As you may know, I was assistant coach there from 2001 to 2006. The head coach I worked for then announced her retirement after 25 years. I’ve always had thoughts about returning to the Ivy League to coach if the chance ever came. They never responded, though, and announced a hire in late January.

Shortly after Brown I also applied to Boston College and Georgetown. Neither are teams with much history of success. There are significant questions as to the degree of support they are given. Why would I be interested in either job? Honestly, it has a lot to do with the schools themselves. Both are high caliber academic institutions in good locations. It’s the sort of environment I feel like I would really like to work in long-term. Both filled their positions in early January.

Along a similar line is DePaul. I applied there in early December. I heard through the grapevine relatively shortly afterwards, though, that they were already talking to candidates. That was confirmed by the email I got just before Christmas saying, “We have reviewed your credentials and have carefully considered your qualifications. While your skills are certainly impressive, unfortunately we have decided to pursue other candidates at this time for this position.” That’s one of the more pleasant rejection notes I’ve seen.

I also applied to another Ivy League school in February – Penn. Columbia was looking for a new head coach as well, but I have no desire to live in NYC. I actually saw something in mid-March indicating Penn had sent out “thanks, but no thanks” emails already, though I hadn’t received one yet. It did eventually come near the end of March.

A couple of alternative targets

I applied in mid-December for the head coach job at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). The school doesn’t have the same academic reputation as the others I listed above, but it’s in an interesting part of the country. I did my grad school not too far away, so I’m familiar with the area. They filled the position in mid-February.

At the same time I applied to UMBC, I also put in for the head job at Arkansas Tech. This is a Division II program where the head coach stepped down after a pretty successful time at the helm. In 2017 they were 35-1 with their only loss coming in the NCAA tournament at the hands of one of the best teams in the country. I went back and forth on this one. The location isn’t something that got me excited. I also wondered what the upside could be. They aren’t in a great conference and have the misfortune of having one of the country’s best conferences in their NCAA Region. Yes, you can win a lot of matches if you do well, but for someone like me it would be a stepping-stone type of job – not a long-term situation. The position was filled in late January by an alum.

In February I applied for another Division II position – Fort Lewis, located in Colorado This is a team in the same NCAA Region as MSU. One of the motivating factors was the (now former) MSU women’s soccer coaching moving there. He’d actually coached at Fort Lewis before coming to MSU and was basically going home as far as he and his family was concerned. Fort Lewis is not a fully funded program, meaning in order get the full 8 scholarships allowed in Division II the coach needs to raise funds. They haven’t had a winning record in at least 10 years, but men’s soccer won a national championship, so competitiveness is doable.

A place I thought I’d really like

In the category of “I think I’d really like coaching there” jobs is the College of William & Mary. It is a school with a strong academic reputation and in an appealing part of the country to me. The program doesn’t have much of a history of success, however. The last winning season was 2009. They were bottom of the conference in both 2016 and 2017, and haven’t finished above 7th (of 9) since 2012. No response, even after the A.D. at MSU reached out to their A.D. on my behalf. The MSU A.D. was actually a bit annoyed that he never got a response. They announced a new hire in the latter part of January.

A local twist

Then an interesting, but not entirely unexpected thing happened.

When she returned from the holiday break, the MSU head coach announced her resignation effective at the end of January. She is married with an infant, but her husband (a basketball coach) worked in California. She spent the semester break out there with him and liked actually being a family. That might have accelerated a change that was probably coming before too much longer anyway.

It took the university until March 27th to finally post the position, so it was a rather lengthy process. I got a lot of questions from all angles about what was going on, as you might imagine. Naturally, I put in my application right away. The posting remained open for only the required 12 days.

Interviewing

In early March did a phone interview with Fort Lewis (I talk about one of the questions I got here). They told me at the time that they planned to move quickly as they currently had no volleyball staff. Through the interview it was clear they were thinking first about fit, which is not uncommon for a smaller school. I received an email about two weeks later that they’d filled the position. I was neither surprised nor hurt that I didn’t progress. So long as I was a real candidate for the MSU job, it would always be hard for me to accept a job for a less well-funded program, at a smaller school.

I got a call from MSU Human Resources on April 13th – while I was at team sand practice – to schedule my interview on April 19th for the head job. It wasn’t supposed to be the case, but mine ended up be the first because of someone’s getting rescheduled. They brought three others to campus the following week.

My interview featured four separate meetings. The first was the main search committee, as I understand it. The A.D. was there, along with the Athletics faculty liaison, the women’s basketball coach, our head trainer, and a booster who is also a local area volleyball coach. I then had lunch with two of the administrators, after which it was back for a second bigger meeting, That one featured our head strength coach, our department academic coordinator, and our sports information director as the primary questioners. The fourth and final meeting was with the team. The academic coordinator was in the room, but strictly in an observer capacity. She gave them a list of prepared questions they could use, but they also mixed in ones of their own.

Outcome

There were three other candidates interviewing for the MSU head coach position. One was an junior college coach from the region, another was a former area junior college coach currently assisting at the NCAA Division I level, while the third was an NCAA Division II coach from the region. The last of the interviews was on April 27th. We expected a decision the following week, but it didn’t come.

I finally found out my fate on May 11th. The Athletic Director gave me the bad news. Some conversations I had with him prior tipped me off that I wasn’t clearly the top choice, so mentally I had prepared myself for this outcome. This is despite acknowledgement from the A.D. that no one could touch me from an administrative/organizational perspective. That didn’t mean I was pleased, though. Head coaches from other teams in the conference were stunned. One went so far as to say, “Definitely a mistake on their part.”

After some probing, I learned a perceived comparative disadvantage in recruiting was the reason I wasn’t top choice. It seemed that I was given no credit for the freshmen we brought in this year (my first recruiting class), or for those we have signed to bring in next school year. Of course, it’s too early to say how those classes will turn out, but it’s been well-acknowledged in the Athletic Department that the caliber of athlete we have in the gym now is a significant upgrade. I was the member of staff who was out recruiting more than anyone else the last two years because I was the only one on staff who never had a juniors coaching schedule conflict (or pregnancy). Did they think only the head coach, or only our other assistant, handled recruiting?

And of course there’s also the fact that I had documented success recruiting in other places before coming here. That seems to have been ignored.

Moving forward

I made it clear to the A.D. at MSU that if I were not selected to be the next head coach I would move on. As I told him, I need to continue to develop as a coach in my own right, and staying on at MSU under someone else is very unlikely to provide that opportunity. I’m to the point in my career where I either need to run my own program or work for someone with significantly more experience – or be in a different environment all together.

The big advantage to being the “local” candidate for the head job at MSU is that while I may not have gotten the job, at least I got some meaningful feedback about how I presented my candidacy. The A.D. told me I did very well in my interviews. Clearly, though, I need to hit the recruiting element harder when I present myself – at least in situations where that is relevant.

So, the search is on-going at this point.

Improving coaching education

This article has some really thought-provoking things to say about coaching education. It’s main thrust is that coaching education must focus much less on sports science, exercise physiology, bio-mechanics, skill acquisition, sports psychology, sports nutrition etc. The author makes the point that this was all necessary years ago, but that’s no long the case. Why? Because so much information is readily available online these days. That just wasn’t true before.

The author actually takes things a step further. He questions the value of spending a lot of time sports science and these other topics from the “what matters” perspective. By that I mean he says if you ask what makes for a great coach, knowledge of these technical elements are way down the list. I read somewhere else that motor learning only accounts for like 5% of what coaches do with their teams. It’s something I talk about here. I don’t take that figure as strictly accurate. It is at least indicative, though.

For me, there are a couple of takeaways from this article.

First, if the more science-oriented stuff represents a small minority of what we actually do, then it should similarly be a small amount of our study and development. Obviously, there’s a basic level of understanding required.That means an initial investment of time. Beyond that, though, it’s just about keeping up with the research.

Second, it makes pretty clear that coaching education needs to spend a lot more time on so-called “soft” skills. Think of this as at least partly related to the idea that, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” I’ve long felt that courses tend to fall well short when it actual comes to teaching how to manage players and teams.

The third thing that comes to mind is how we think about coaching education. A big problem for newer coaches is they don’t know what they don’t know. This idea has come up in many of the Volleyball Coaching Wizards interviews. The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know. I think it would be good for us to help developing coaches understand better what they don’t know – and from there, how they can learn about it.

So how do we develop better coaching education with these things in mind?

If you think coaching is easy, you’re probably doing it wrong

Mark Lebedew wrote a post titled How To Become A Coach. In it he shares a story about a former player relatively new to coaching talking about how hard it is to coach. I’ve heard something similar in my own coaching travels at different times. Players often don’t realize the amount of work that goes into good coaching. As a result, when they attempt to make a shift into coaching after they finish playing they get a major shock.

I’ve long been a proponent of players doing some coaching along the way. Many of the college players I’ve coached over the years have coached juniors. The three Americans on the Svedala team I coached professionally in Sweden were coaches for the club’s youth teams. One the one hand, I thinking coaching makes players better. They learn to look at things differently, and that can have a real positive impact on their play. On the other hand, the experience of being a coach helps them appreciate better the sorts of things their own coaches deal with on a regular basis.

Of course, some of the players are better coaches than others. That’s a function – at least in part – of having the types of skills coaching requires. They aren’t the same as those necessary to play volleyball at a high level.

None of them are really good coaches, though, for a couple of simple reasons. One is lack of experience, and the other is lack of education. The latter is Mark’s primary point in his piece. Paraphrasing, he says go to every course, clinic, practice, and match you can; talk to everyone you can and ask lots of questions; and do all the work you have to do, even if you don’t like. And you have to keep doing it. This is something I wholeheartedly endorse, having done just that sort of thing myself, with examples here, here, and here.

It should be noted that education is not enough, though. One of my early Volleyball Coaching Wizards interviews was with Paulo Cunha. For many years he directed coaching education in his native Portugal. Paulo made the comment during our conversation that just getting a certification doesn’t make you a coach. People may think it does, but in some ways it’s just the beginning of the process.

Coaching is a challenge on many levels. If it isn’t, you’re probably not doing it right. To my mind, that’s a big part of what makes it interesting and compelling.

 

Common coaching mistakes

There’s an article on Volleyball Toolbox which lists out eight coaching mistakes. I thought I’d take some time to address them myself. Here’s the list.

  1. Focused on Outcomes (Instead of Learning)
  2. Focused on Being Serious (Instead of Enjoyment)
  3. Tried to Inspire by Demeaning (Instead of Being Demanding)
  4. Took Credit for the Good and Blamed Others for the Bad (Instead of the Opposite)
  5. Did Lots of Talking (Instead of Listening)
  6. Acted Like a General (Instead of a Teacher)
  7. Used Fear as a Motivator (Instead of Love)
  8. Knew it All (Instead of being Humble)

Let me take these mistakes one by one.

Outcome focus

While I agree with the motivation behind #1, there’s a bit of nuance required in the thinking. Yes, there can be a tendency to focus too much on winning and losing as the outcome. We cannot, however, say we are just going to focus on the learning side of things, though. Why? Because the outcomes are – at least partly – why we are training. My point is that what our players are learning needs move them towards the outcome we seek. We are not just teaching them a set of skills.

Too serious

In terms of #2, there is a difference between being serious and being focused. You can have fun and be focused. Practice doesn’t have to be a serious thing. I know I personally prefer a bit of levity. Otherwise, it can be kind of dull. That’s not to say it’s all laughing and joking. It’s about allowing them – and us as coaches – to enjoy themselves. Allowing that while maintaining focus is part of our coaching role.

Demeaning

I think #3 probably doesn’t require much comment. Belittling has no place in coaching in my view. If we cannot get our point across without demeaning our players we have serious short-comings as teachers and leaders.

Credit and blame

There are a couple of factors that can contribute to #4. One is overconfidence – specifically, something referred to as misattribution or self-attribution. That means we think a given positive outcome (e.g. winning) is thanks to our own talent, knowledge, skill, etc. At the same time, we attribute negative outcomes (e.g. losing) to things outside ourselves (refs, players, court conditions, etc.). In other words, we don’t see correctly our contribution to the outcome, and also we fail to realize that sometimes random chance plays a major part.

The other factor in this is Mindset. If we have a fixed mindset, then our view of ourselves and our personal self-worth is closely tied with outcomes. That means we are going to favor things which tend to support that view (we’re a good coach). At the same time, we’re going to tend to discount things which don’t support this view.

Talking too much

Related to #5, I wrote previously in The more you talk, the less they train that especially newer coaches can easily fall into a trap of talking way too much. My main point in that post is that if we’re talking then they aren’t actually practicing. Beyond that, though, we aren’t giving them a chance to figure things out for themselves, which is much more powerful than being told what to do. Further, if all you’re doing is talking then you’re not paying attention to what’s happening. That means you could miss important things.

Playing general

The focus of #6 is on making all the decisions as coach rather than letting the players get on with it themselves. Basically, your trying to control everything. Think of it as micromanaging.

This is something I wrote about in Calling plays from the bench. We have to accept that we cannot dictate everything. Even more, if we make all the decisions we are short-changing the players’ development. In other words, we’re failing as teachers. This might be fine if you’re playing for gold in the Olympics. If you’re coaching a bunch of 14 year-olds, though, it’s a problem.

I should note that good generals know that they need to let those below them just get on with doing what needs to be done without constant oversight and interference.

Fear and intimidation

My thinking for #7 is similar to #3. If you require fear and/or intimidation to motivate your players, you’re failing as a coach. You need to find a better way. Coaching is about convincing – getting players to buy in to your perspective and sense of direction. Legendary coach Julio Velasco spoke about this very thing at the 2015 High Performance Coaches Clinic.

Know it all

One of the common themes from the Volleyball Coaching Wizards interviews is that as young coaches we don’t realize how little we really know. As the saying goes, the older we get, the less we know. This should both make one humble as a coach and motivate an attitude of life-long learning.