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Archive for Volleyball Coach Development

What does it mean to be an elite coach?

Volleyball Coach

I came across an interesting topic in a coaching group. The original poster asked the following question.

What characteristics or skills do you think are an absolute necessity to be an elite coach or coaching staff?

Sadly, only a handful of people answered the question. Their answers were pretty good ones, though. Here’s a summary list, in no particular order.

  • Always strive to improve
  • Being coachable and humble
  • Trust the process
  • Strive to be your best
  • Communication skills
  • Explain they Why
  • High level understanding of the game
  • Clear objectives
  • Knowledge of your athletes
  • Well-planned practices
  • Being a listener
  • Consistent feedback
  • Creator of a strong, winning culture

I’m going to address the subject of a coaching staff separately. I think it’s a separate discussion. The above list focuses mainly on the individual coach, so I’m going to concentrate on that here.

Here are the things I think are probably key in being an elite coach.

Knowledge of the game

This is a pretty obvious thing for a coach to have, but it’s an area where new coaches can come up short. Many of us – perhaps most – started out as players at some level. Playing the game for sure develops a knowledge of the game, but it’s not the same as that required of a coach. Players tend to focus on parts, while the coach has to be aware of how those parts link together. This sort of thing tends to come primarily from watching a lot of volleyball, but not as a spectator. You have to do it with an analytic eye, watching all the various moving parts.

Up-to-date understanding of training methods

I’m not talking about know the latest drills here (see my post on Fancy New Drill Syndrome). Rather, I’m talking about the science of motor learning. It’s very easy to think you know how it works because it’s intuitive stuff. Really, though, it isn’t. See Going beyond maximizing player contacts for an idea of what I’m talking about here. The point is you need to stay on top of this stuff, not just persist in doing stuff you’ve always done or your coaches before you did.

This applies to stuff like strength and conditioning as well. Things are changing on a fairly steady basis there.

Communication skills

To put it simply, you can have all the knowledge in the world, but if you can’t communicate it to your players, it’s useless.This isn’t just about teaching skills and tactics. It’s also about communicating your vision and getting others to buy in. It’s learning about your players and letting them get to know you as well. As coaches, communication is at the very core of what we do, and you will never become an elite coach without good skills in this area.

Drive

What are you trying to accomplish? Where are you trying to go with your coaching? Your team has its goals, but no doubt you have your own as well. It’s the thing that pushes you to keep moving forward and encourages you to be better, or to make things better.

In the Why I Coach post I shared some of my drive in the “Building something” section. I’m motivated to take a program to a higher level. That isn’t just about winning as that isn’t really in your control. Instead, it’s about reaching new milestones and generally pushing things forward. If I reach a point where I don’t see the potential to keep doing that, then I know it’s probably time for me to move on.

A vision

This is somewhat related to drive above, but is more focused in the present on the current team. In order to lead others you need to know where you’re trying to go. And going to back to another prior section, it needs to be something you can communicate in a way that gets others to have the same vision and to be willing to follow you in that direction.

Organizational skills

This can cover a fairly wide array of things. For some coaches it’s at the level of organizing practices and generally managing the affairs immediately related to the team and players. Think of a club situation where there is someone (or several someones) higher up taking care of the larger administration.

In some coaching roles – a college coach, for example – there’s a lot more to it. There’s a whole lot more overhead. Much of what is handled by a club director, a manager, or a board is on your shoulders. You need to deal with budgets, scheduling, facilities, and interacting and coordinating with any number of on-campus and off-campus constituencies. If you don’t have good organizational skills in that context it can really hamper your on-court efforts.

An unquenchable thirst for knowledge

One of the very clear things to come out of the Volleyball Coaching Wizards interviews we’ve done is that those great coaches all have the mentality of constantly looking to learn and improve. They take every opportunity they can to gain more knowledge and insight.

So those are some of my thoughts on what it takes to be an elite coach. Do you have thoughts of your own? I’d love to hear them. Just leave a comment below.

Why I coach

Why do I coach volleyball?

That’s a question I think about from time to time, especially when pondering my future. All of us should know what motivates us to coach, and to keep coaching. The moment we struggle to come up with a good motivation is probably the signal it’s close to the end, or at least time for a break.

Note, I’m not talking about coaching philosophy (you can see mine here).

So why do I coach? Or probably better stated…

What do I get out of coaching beyond a salary and benefits?

Building something

I am a builder. I like taking things from nothing to something, or from something to something better. It’s a big reason why I took the MSU job. We did it at the University of Exeter when I was there, going from basically an average regional program to one with a national reputation. It’s why I built the biggest Juniors club in my home state of Rhode Island. It was even part of what we did at Dean College, my first college coaching job. I’m motivated to constantly look for ways to make improvements.

This is where I had an issue in my time at Svedala. I wasn’t involved in the management side of the club. I was just the coach. As such, I couldn’t influence the club’s path forward. That grated on me, and no doubt was part of my overall feeling of discontent there.

My time at Svedala may not have gone the way I wanted, but it definitely taught me some things. One of those is that in any coaching job I take moving forward I need to have an influence on things off the court. Just coaching won’t be enough.

Problem solving

I really get into the problem solving aspect of coaching – answering the “How do we …?” questions. In some ways that overlaps with what I just talked about above in terms of building. Here, though, I’m more specifically talking about the immediate situation with the team in the current season.

Think of this as the nitty-gritty of getting the most out of a group of players. That’s stuff like trying to figure out the best starting 6 and playing a system that maximizes their collective potential. It’s figuring out training priorities to move the team forward in the areas we’ve prioritized. Maybe it’s improving specific technical skills.

Achievement

Many people who coach are inherently competitive. Coaching for them is a way they can continue to compete once their playing career has wound down. I’m not really motivated that way.

Don’t get me wrong. I like to win, and I’m competitive in my own kind of way. I just don’t put as much weight on winning and losing as others do. I’ve heard coaches say they would be very difficult to live with if they had a losing record. When I interviewed Mick Haley for Wizards, he talked about really having a problem if his team won less than 80% of its matches.

That sort of thing isn’t an issue for me in and of itself. Good thing too! I’ve coached some teams that didn’t win very much. The difference in whether I was happy with those teams or not is if they achieved. Some teams had the talent to be winners, but weren’t because they didn’t achieve. Other teams definitely achieved, but didn’t win much because they lacked the talent. And sometimes you have teams that win despite not really achieving.

That all said, I definitely acknowledge that winning is necessary for achievement beyond a certain point. You can’t take home your program’s first ever league championship without winning. You can reach your first national championship tournament without winning. There comes a time when the sort of building I talked about above requires win-related achievement. I acknowledge that wholeheartedly. It’s just that for me the achievement is more important than the winning.

Here’s an example. The Exeter University women’s team had a league record of 4-6 the first year I coached them. Somehow we still managed to qualify for the championship tournament as the third place team in our league (lost in the first round). We had a losing record, but the achievement was massive for us. It set the table for the following year, which I’ll talk about in a minute.

The sense of shared direction and commitment

As much as a lot of what I’ve done over the years could be viewed as individual accomplishment – like writing books, and completing my PhD – I get even more out of achieving things as part of a team. When everyone is on the same page and pulling in the same direction, and you achieve something great, it’s the best feeling in the world.

The Exeter women’s team in my second year was a great example of this. From the beginning of the season we had one objective – reach Final 8s. Everything we did was with that goal in mind. This was a direct carryover from the prior year’s experience of losing the first round playoff match.

We didn’t actually win any titles that season, and when we reached Final 8s we won just a single match out of four. We got there, though, and managed to find our way into the semifinals thanks to a tiebreak after pool play. It was an amazing thing because we again achieved something significant. I would have done just about anything for that team because we were all in it together.

Not teaching?

You’ll notice I didn’t actually talk about teaching in any of the above discussion. A lot of coaches bring that up as one of their big motivators. They love the teaching element. Once upon a time I probably would have said the same thing. These days I tend to think of myself more as a facilitator of learning than a teacher, per se.

There is another part to this, however. I figured out a while ago that my coaching niche is in the young adult age group. I’ve coached everything from U12s to middle aged adults, but I feel I am at my best with the 18-25 year olds. That means less need to teach basic skills. It’s usually more about refining technique and improving volleyball IQ at the individual level.

Not the thanks?

Hahahahahaha!

Gratitude is in relatively short supply in the coaching game. If that was something I needed to keep me going I’d have quit years ago. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. Every once in a while you receive an expression of gratitude. Their nice to receive, for sure. It’s always good to know you are appreciated. I just don’t expect it.

What about you?

I’ve shared my own coaching motivations. What about you? Why do you coach? What keeps you coming back year in and year out?

 

What is wanted when hiring a head coach

Volleyball Coach

A while back Terry Pettit (who I interviewed for Volleyball Coaching Wizards), wrote an article outlining what he looks for in a head coach candidate. Terry mostly works with colleges and universities, so that is the focus perspective. I think the points he makes are pretty universal, though.

Top of the list, head coach experience

The very first thing Terry mentions on his list of what he looks for is prior experience as a head coach. His point is that until you are head coach you don’t really have final decision-making responsibility. That is a very different sort of thing that being an assistant coach. It is really the difference between being the leader and a follower.

Fellow Wizards interviewee Mick Haley has a very similar point of view. When I asked him in his interview what his career advice would be for developing coaches he specifically recommended getting some kind of head coach experience. He called the experience of having the decision-making responsibility key to a coach’s development.

By the way, what Mick said applies even to those aiming for assistant coaching positions. You will be a much more effectively assistant if you know what it’s like to be head coach. You are better able to anticipate the head coach’s needs.

Make sure it’s a good fit

The second big thing Terry talks about is the need for there to be a good fit for both sides. This is crucial. If the fit isn’t there, things simply aren’t going to work out well. I can tell you that from personal experience. It was pretty clear to me relatively early on in my time coaching at Svedala that it wasn’t a great long-term fit. Predictably, things didn’t work out there.

Of course, judging fit is not always the easiest thing in the world. You for sure should do your research about the school or club. That will at least give you a basic sense for whether the broad structure is a fit. That means the type of institution and its philosophy, the location, the academic standards, and the other things you can judge at least to a degree from outside.

The trickier part is trying to gauge the more internal aspects of fit. What are the ambitions of the organization. What is the management style of the Athletic Director? How is the administrative and financial support? Is it a collegial staff? These, and other fit type questions are only likely to come to light during the interview process. You’ll probably have to ask some questions of your own to get the best sense for it.

Good character

Terry’s third factor is the coach’s character. To quote, “I will not forward a candidate who has a history of bending rules, physically or mentally abusing athletes, or not interacting with peers in a professional manner.” I don’t think I need to add much to that, really.

A collaborative leader

Fourth on the list is that a head coach should work well with others. Terry focuses on assistant coaches, but I would add in anyone else associated with the program. There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to running a team. Just as they would with a starting lineup, a good coach looks to use their staff in a way that highlights their strengths.

Curiosity above all else

While Terry puts curiosity last on his list, he calls it the most important trait he looks for in head coaching candidates. I might have used the word “reflective” instead, based on what he seems to be getting at here. It’s all about evaluating things, positively and negatively, and using your assessments to further yourself and your program. He describes someone who is basically always looking for ways to learn.

Additional thoughts

Terry has outlined the broad framework for what he considers a good head coaching position candidate. I generally agree with it. These are the higher level things you’ll want to get right. Of course, there are also finer details that become more or less relevant based on the position(s) you’re pursuing. Some of this relates to fit, as note above.

Some of it, though, is just technical and managerial skills you can develop. For example, most university head coach jobs require a master’s degree. High school jobs very often require first aid certification. Some jobs involve a fair bit of fund raising. Many positions require you to regularly interact with the media. You’ll want to do research into the requirements of the sorts of job you’re after to find out exactly what you need on your resume to make yourself a legitimate candidate.

The stages of a coaching career

A member of a coaching group in Facebook posted what he referred to as The 5 Stages of Your Coaching Career. Here they are with my own thoughts mixed with his in the description of each level.

1. Survival: Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

This is the time when you think you just need to know volleyball to be a volleyball coach. You especially haven’t realized yet all the other non-volleyball stuff that goes into coaching. Oftentimes these are players who have just made the shift into coaching.

2. Striving for Success: You Want Folks to Recognize You Can Coach

You’re starting to get an understanding of what coaching is really all about. You know much better what you don’t know, and that provides a certain type of motivation. On the one hand, you work hard to learn. On the other hand, it leads you to want to prove your worth. This leads some down the path of becoming extremely competitive. You crave the accolades that come from lots of W’s – all-league awards for your team, and maybe a coach of the year for you.

3. Satisfaction: You Relax, Set Another Goal, & Want To Get Better

That this stage you’ve achieved some of your goals, become established, and you have the confidence which comes with that. You can relax in the knowing you’re a good coach and you have the respect of your peers. You attend conferences to network and visit with old friends as much as you do to learn some new things. Each year you set new goals to accomplish that will push you and your team forward. You’re focused.

4. Significance: Changing Lives For The Good

At this point you’ve had a meaningful career with plenty of accomplishments. Personal glory isn’t much of a consideration any longer. Instead, you’re more focused on your legacy and the impact you have on those around you. You are very knowledgeable, and have reached the point where people solicit your opinion and ask for your help and wisdom.

5. Spent: No Juice Left, Can’t Do It Any More

The grind of it all is taking its toll, and you have a hard time motivating yourself each day. You want more time with family, and less time working generally. Not even the great incoming class excites you for the upcoming season. Probably time to hang it up.

Obviously, we all have our own particular career paths based on our own personalities, lives, and experiences. Some of us are inherently more competitive than others. Coaching may be an extension of that, especially if you’re a former player. Others of us come into coaching from more of an educational perspective. Those differences can play out in our own particular career phases.

I think, though, we generally all follow the arch described above. We are ignorant to start, learn what we don’t know, reach a level of mastery, look to give back, and then eventually wind things down.

What do you think? Does this progression make sense to you?

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

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

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

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

Demonstrate knowledge of requirements

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

Show knowledge of the team/program/club

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

Get the information you need to make a decision

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

Some possible questions

Here are some examples of questions you could ask:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coaching as a career vs. just coaching

Volleyball Coach

Matt at The College Volleyball Coach wrote an article in which he answers a reader question about moving into a career in volleyball. He takes a somewhat more negative view on coaching as career than I would. That said, he does make a number of very good points. I’ll leave you to read his comments and suggestions.

In the article, though, Matt brings up the idea of having a career in coaching vs simply coaching. His definition of “career” is not one I share, but it motivated some thoughts on coaching paths. That’s what this post is about.

Career in coaching

To my mind a career in coaching is one where you earn the bulk of your income from coaching. For most people that means being employed full-time by some organization. In the US that usually means a college or university. The other way people make coaching a career is by putting together several different jobs to earn a living. They might do something like combine coaching for a school with coaching for a club, and maybe doing individual lessons. Basically, they add together a bunch of part-time coaching jobs to make a full-time income.

I don’t count club directors in here. Even if they do coach one or more teams, they generally make much more from their administrative roles than their on-court work. But I’m fine if you want to lump that in with coaching as “volleyball income”.

Coaching just to coach

The alternative to having a coaching career is to just simply coach. It could provide a part-time income in addition to a regular job. Maybe it’s just volunteer. Either way, there is no expectation or requirement that volleyball be one’s main source of income.

Of course that isn’t to say you don’t spend lots and lots of time coaching. Some of the coaches we’ve interviewed for Volleyball Coaching Wizards are only part-time coaches. It’s the love of the sport which motivates them, not the need to earn an income. That isn’t to say those who having coaching careers aren’t motivated by love of the game. It’s just that they also have other considerations involved.

So let’s break it down. What are the pluses and minuses of one vs. the other?

Full-time income from part-time work

Obviously, the big thing that motivates people to pursue coaching as a career is the idea that you can make a living doing something that you love. Isn’t that what we’re all after?

That’s all well and good, but it’s not as nice as it sounds. Nothing ever really is, right? 🙂

First let’s look at the coach who cobbles together multiple different coaching jobs into one living income. That usually means you get to focus mainly on coaching – the stuff that happens on the court. It’s probably about as close to “pure coaching” as you’ll get because you’re spending the majority of your time on-court.

Sounds great, right?

It does, until you think about the downside. First, you probably won’t be making all that much money. That’s fine if you’re young and single. Start adding a family into the equation and it becomes more of a challenge. Second, you’ll probably always have to be hustling. It could be very seasonal. This isn’t a very stable situation in most cases.

Full-time coach

Now lets look at the case where you get the majority of your income from one job. Let’s look at the situation for a college coach in the US. As Kevin Hambly commented in an interview with The Net Live, you actually spend only a small fraction of your time coaching at the college level.

During the season you spend a couple hours on the court each day. Outside of the regular season you spend, on average, even less time on-court. All those other hours that add-up to a full-time job have to be filled with something to justify your wages in the eyes of the university. That means recruiting, meetings, monitoring player academic performance, fund-raising, scheduling, travel planning, teaching for some, and a long list of other administrative and organizational work. In other words, a whole lot of stuff that isn’t coaching.

Things are a little different for coaches of professional teams. There a lot of the administrative work college coaches do is handled by team managers and the like. Still, they have to do things like sponsor events, meeting with the media, and plenty of other stuff that isn’t strictly coaching.

On top of all this, volleyball coaching careers aren’t particularly lucrative. It’s a pretty small minority of top coaches who make really good money. Most are much more modestly compensated and some are pretty poorly paid. Plus, coaching can be a very unstable career. There aren’t many who stay for a long time in one position – either by choice or by force. This requires a career oriented mentality, which is different from a pure coaching one.

Part-time coaching

In contrast to coaching as a career, most part-time coaches don’t have the same off-court demands. There will almost always be some kind of administration to be handled, but it won’t be as much. For example, if you coach Juniors the vast majority of that stuff tends to get handled by the club. The bulk of your time is spent at practice and in matches. Clearly, you’ll need to have something else to pay the bills, but you’ll be closer to “pure coaching”.

Time is one of the potential issues with this sort of coaching. Since you’ll probably have a full-time job alongside volleyball is squeezed into your limited free time. That means you must feel like you get something valuable from it, especially if it means lots of time away from friends and/or family.

Then there’s your level of coaching obsession. You may very well find yourself thinking about line-ups and practice plans when you should be paying attention to your day job. The boss probably won’t like that much. 🙂

The bottom line

The bottom line is you have to look at things from your own situation. You need to consider the pluses and minus. I’ve been in both situations. I have coached part-time and I’ve coached full-time. Both have their attractions and both have their negatives. Each is rewarding in its own way.

Report: 2017 USA Volleyball High Performance Coaches Clinic

Back in 2015 I attended my first USA Volleyball High Performance Coaches Clinic. I wrote a report about the experience. I just attended the 2017 edition, along with the Level III Coaches Accreditation Program (CAP). Here’s the report on that one.

Day 1

As per usual, the program began in the evening with a social and USAV presentation. The presentations focused on 2016 developments in the various national programs. We heard about what was happening in the High Performance program from its director. Karch Kiraly took us through things for the Women’s National Team, and Nate Ngo from the Men’s staff did the same for them. We also got to hear from Bill Hamiter on the performance of the sitting teams. The last part featured Kathy DeBoer (AVCA), Jerritt Elliot (Texas), and Alexis Shifflett (women’s sitting team player) sharing short personal stories. After that it was just mingling and socializing.

Day 2

The first full day began in the gym. Jerritt Elliot went first. He focused on middle blocker transition. In particular, he concentrated on the transition from the net to attack readiness being as quick and efficient as possible. Keegan Cook (Washington) followed up with a session on transition offense. He shared some interesting heat maps and stats related to passing targets and other things. The third court session was from Beth Launiere (Utah) on serve receive offense.

Following the normal pattern, the court sessions were followed by breakout groups. Attendees are divided into a number of groups (6-8 people) in advance for these. They are then assigned members of the clinic cadre on a rotating basis. This is to allow for follow-on discussion guided by those cadre. Unlike in 2015, I did not get any of the higher profile small group leaders.

The last two morning sessions were in the presentation theatre. Nikki Holmes (North Carolina State/Girls’ Youth National Team) and Jesse Tupac (Denver) talked about data collection and statistics use. The other session was by Jimmy Stitz, the sports psychologist and strength & conditioning coach for the Women’s National Team.

After lunch, Dr. Andrew Gregory (Assistant professor of Orthopedics and Pediatrics, Vanderbilt University) did a good session on injury prevention and supplement use. Bill Hamiter came next with a more detailed exploration of the Women’s Sitting Team’s build up to the Paralympics and performance in them. Wrapping up the trio, Karch did a talk about transitions. Small group breakout sessions followed.

There was a “mic’d up match” that evening featuring Keegan and Beth leading teams that evening. I did not attend, though.

Day 3

It was back in the gym for two sessions to start the day. Beth did her session on blocking. In particular, she talked about differentiating in-system vs. out-of-system schemes. She also talked about how blockers could prepare for transition. Keegan did the second session. It was titled “Practice to Performance”. It looked at ways of doing some basic stats in practice and how those could be applied. Small group break-outs followed.

Back in the lecture theatre, Aaron Brock (USA Men’s Athletic Trainer) did a talk focused largely on recovery. After that, Shelton Collier (Wingate) and Jonah Carson (Mountain View VB Club) did a joint session on coaching mentorship. In particular, they focused on efforts in the High Performance program to develop the coaches there.

After lunch, Matt Fuerbringer (Men’s National Team) did a court session on transition work. Karch came after that doing his own session. It didn’t really seem to focus on any one thing in particular. Karch just coached a practice session with the demonstration players and everyone watched. Again, small group sessions came after.

The final two sessions were once more in the theatre. Kathy DeBoer did a DISC-oriented presentation. The main thrust of it was understanding differences in personality types and how that impacts communication and interaction. Finally, there was a panel discussion. It featured five members of the Women’s Sitting team talking about their experiences.

Thoughts and Observations

The demonstration team was a groups of 14s. Apparently, they were a last minute fill in. This created some challenges for the coaches presenting court sessions. On the one hand it made things less efficient than would have been true with older, better players. On the other hand, many of the attendees were club coaches working with players in similar age groups. That made things more directly translatable for them. Also, they couldn’t say stuff like, “That’s all good, but it doesn’t apply to my level.”

I’m to the point where on-court sessions don’t really do a lot for me anymore. There were a couple of interesting nuggets, but mainly I was waiting for them to be done so I could get out of the uncomfortable bleachers. Some of the theatre sessions were repeats of material from CAP III, but mostly it was interesting.

For me, though, the biggest benefit to the HPCC is the location and what it allows. The event is at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. That means there are dorms available and a common dining hall. I didn’t stay in the dorm this time around (did in 2015), but once more the meals were great. They are excellent opportunities to talk with other coaches – from national team staff all the way down to local area youth coaches. This makes for a different type of event than something like the AVCA Convention.

I’m not saying the HPCC is necessarily better than the AVCA. The latter is much more college oriented, while the former caters more to Juniors coaches. I do think, though, that the single track and common dining help to make it a bit more intimate.

USA Volleyball CAP III

Each year USA Volleyball runs the High Performance Coaches Clinic (HPCC). In conjunction with it, they run all three of the Coaches Accreditation Program (CAP) courses. While the CAP I and II courses are run multiple times each year in different locations, CAP III is only run alongside the HP clinic.

I just got back from attending the 2017 edition. Here is the schedule for the course.

As you can see, the course ran Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday. They were all very full days. The days in between were HPCC sessions, which were also quite packed.

Cadre (in order of presentations)

Bill Hamiter: Director of USA Sitting Volleyball and Head Coach of the women’s sitting team (gold medal at the 2016 Paralympics).

Rob Browning: Head Coach at Saint Mary’s College.

Marouane Jafir: Club Director at Delaware United.

Todd Dagenais: Head Coach at Central Florida.

Sue Gozansky: Volleyball Coaching Wizard.

Joan Powell: Coordinator of Officials for PAC-12 Conference.

John Kessel: USA Volleyball Director of Sport Development.

Bill Neville: Volleyball Coaching Wizard.

Dan Mickle: Former professional beach player and current sports psychology specialist.

Day 1

We began with an initial all-levels introduction encompassing CAP I, II, and III groups. After that, though, we split off into our own cohorts. Our first session was on prioritization. Bill Hamiter was the presenter. He shared his very detailed 52-week program for the national sitting team with us. We were also given a copy of Periodization Training for Sports-3rd Edition. After that Rob Browning spoke with us about mindset work. It was largely based on the Carol Dweck book. I’ve read it, so not a lot of new material there.

Our first on-court session was lead by Todd Dagenais. We were put into groups and told to develop a serve reception organization for a 3-Middle line-up based on a given situation. We presented them to the group and had to work through variations based on changing issues. For example, “What if your OH can’t hit on the right?”. Basically it was an exercise in critical thinking and creativity.

After lunch we went back into the classroom. Sue Gozansky led a discussion of gender related issues in coaching, with Bill Hamiter adding his thoughts. John Kessel then talked with us about a variety of false beliefs and failures in conceptual understanding in volleyball. Those included the myth of the wrist snap and realizing how little time players actually spend touching the ball (one study calculated it was about 27 seconds during the 2012 Olympics).

Bill Neville took us back on-court after that. We presented favorite drills and games for analysis by the group and cadre. From there it was back into the classroom for a sports psychology session led by Sue Gozansky. After the dinner break there was some sitting volleyball play with the CAP II and III groups mixed together.

Day 2

The whole morning was in the classroom. A group of the cadre talked with us first about developing team culture. After that there was about an hour of open Q&A with Todd and Rob. That was supposed to be about talent identification, but the guys figured we probably knew enough about that already. Recruiting was a big focus of the questions.

Next up was a really interesting session on nutrition given by Dr. Jackie Berning. It focused mainly on the timing of athlete meals and their nutritional content. She shot down a number of common public concepts (think paleo diets and the like).

After nutrition we did a DISC small-group exercise led by Dan Mickle. As I have been through a few of these sessions before, there wasn’t a lot new in this one. Maybe there was more new material for others, however.

Once more to the classroom after lunch. This time conflict resolution was the focus, with Bill Hamiter in the lead. From there we went back out on the court for more sharing of favorite games and drills and constructive criticism of them. We were also assigned into groups of 2-3 to develop practice segment plans for presentation on Day 3.

The last session was presented by Aaron Brock. He is the lead strength coach for the USA men’s team. He talked with us about strength and conditioning, with a heavy emphasis on rest and recovery.

Day 3

This day was largely spent on-court. It began, though, with Todd presenting on stats. He shared his findings on where teams needed to be in certain areas from his own research. For example, in the women’s game you should target a sideout rate of about 63%. He also shared some methods for collecting key stats when you’re by yourself.

Most of the rest of the day we presented and critiqued a variety of games and drills for warm-up, skills work, systems training, competitive play, and cool down. After that wrapped up we went back into the classroom. John Kessel and a lacrosse coach who works with USOC talked about Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD). The last session was a presentation of everyone’s ideas for their outreach projects. More on that below.

Post-Course requirements

The single biggest thing we need to do following the in-person portion of the CAP III course is our outreach project. This is basically something with a focus on growing the game in some fashion. That could be bringing more participants into the sport, expanding coaching education, and stuff like that. We met with members of the cadre during meal breaks to talk about our ideas to help get them refined. Then, as noted above, we shared them with the entire group to get additional thoughts, ideas, etc.

The other post- course requirement we were told about was to develop a set of questions from the periodization book I mentioned above. They will be used for future CAP exams, presumably.

Thoughts

Inevitably, I compare doing CAP III with going through the Volleyball England Level 3 certification. Their main focus is very similar, namely working with teams over time. The V.E. course ran 5 days total, which is longer on the face of it, but when you add in the HPCC mixed in here (everyone attended both), they are comparable from that perspective. The V.E. post-course requirements were a bit more involved, though. Nominally, there was a CAP III requirement to video yourself coaching for review and discussion, but that never actually happened in this course. We also don’t have to do a coaching log. The outreach project is something V.E. doesn’t have, however, nor is there an ongoing education requirement in order to retain your certification.

I think I’ve written elsewhere of my dislike for the participants in these sorts of courses also being demonstrators. Some people love getting out on the court, but I’m well past those days myself. More meaningfully, however, if most of the attendees are on-court they tend to be more focused on playing than on learning the concepts being presented. Also, the level of play of the attendees can be quite variable. Further, when you don’t know what you’re going to have for demonstrators it can be hard to come up with appropriate games and drills to run the group through.

My only other bit of feedback would be to watch out for overlapping content between CAP III and HPCC. There were a couple of sessions during the latter we’d already gotten from our CAP presentations.

Note: I’ll update this after our course follow-up email is received to make sure I have all the post-course requirements correctly noted.

 

AVCA Convention 2016 – Wrap-up

The AVCA Convention for 2016 is over. See my reports on Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3. I want to wrap things up in this post, and provide my final thoughts.

I only actually attended one session on the final day (Saturday) of the convention. That one focused on fundraising – something of immediate potential use for us at MSU as we plan an overseas trip for August 2017. It was probably a little more long-term in thinking, as it focused largely on developing relationships. I still came away with some good thoughts on what we can do, though.

Aside from that session, I mostly just talked with some people.

I ran into one of the leaders of Juniors in New England. That’s where I came up as a coach, but I haven’t been involved in a decade. Hearing the progress made since then was interesting. The inter-regional tournament we started in about 2003 as a 10-court January event is now a big 3-day convention center-based competition. They also now run another big tournament in Boston in early March. Plus, membership is growing at 10% a year. That’s awesome!

I also saw a former college club teammate of mine. He’s the assistant coach at our alma mater, and in line for the head job now that the head coach is retired. I think the last time we saw each other was 2013 when I visited them in pre-season.

Of course the NCAA Division I final match was that night. I did not attend, but those I spoke with afterwards said the environment was much better than for Thursday’s Semifinals.

Overall, I enjoyed the event quite a bit. Although the city of Seattle was more interesting to me, I didn’t have as good an experience at the convention there in 2013. That is a function of not knowing as many people there, though. I had lost a lot of contacts after my years away from US volleyball (see my reports here, here, here, and here), and was there by myself. I have since developed a based of contacts, and it’s always more fun when you can spend time with people you know.