Archive for Volleyball Coaching Education

Why coaching education fails

Volleyball Coach

Mark from At Home on the Court a while back flagged a really interesting article which criticizes common practices in coaching education and development. In particular, it lists the “ten really dumb things we do and call it Coach Education.”

That list is:

  1. Basing coaching education on sports science
  2. Failing to align coach development with athlete development pathways
  3. Believing competency based training is the new messiah
  4. Running workshops and conferences largely based on sports science, gimmicks, fads, and short cuts
  5. Giving token attention to mentoring programs
  6. Teaching outdated periodization processes
  7. Focusing more on teaching “what” and not “how” and “why”
  8. Creating courses based on the past, not the future
  9. Allowing course presenters who lack high level teaching, education, and communications skills
  10. Too much classroom-based coursework

I’m going to speak to a couple of points of particular focus for me. I encourage you, though, to read the full article.

I’ll just quickly touch on the sports science bit from #1. The main idea to that point is that as coaches we spend only a very small proportion of our time on this area of our work (the author suggests about 5%). In other words, it’s not a developmental area that is likely to have the biggest impact on our overall ability to do a good job as coaches. This is particularly true if you are – or intend to be – a full-time coach (or at least run your own program).

I especially like #4. It’s something that as a key part of Episode 3 of the Volleyball Coaching Wizards Podcast. We had a trio of interviewees share their views about the importance of how you react to presentations at conferences and clinics, and what you see other coaches do with their teams. I would add to that the fixation in those educational venues on games and drills and other technical/tactical elements. Think “How do I fix ….?” (see You don’t need a new drill).

The mentoring point of #5 is something that was among the first subjects I took on in this blog. I think it’s a major area in need to development in volleyball coaching circles, as too many of us don’t get that kind of guidance. Instead, we are thrown into things without much in the way of direction, advice, etc.

The idea of shifting from “what” in #7 is something which very much hits home to me. I used to be a very technically focused as a coach. At some point, though, my mentality started shifting. I began to realize that what’s going on between a player’s ears was the bigger issue which definitely gets into the “why” of things.

Report from AOC Forth Worth

I spent most of last weekend in Fort Worth, TX in the gym at TCU. I was there to attend the Art of Coaching Volleyball clinic. As you can see from the photo of my name tag, I had VIP status. 🙂

This was my first time at an Art event. They got started during my hiatus from coaching. And of course up to a few months ago I was out of the country.

It was a working trip for me. I was there to interview the big three guys from Art – John Dunning, Russ Rose, and Terry Liskevych. It was a kind of cross-over thing between Art and Volleyball Coaching Wizards. As a result I didn’t get to see everything that went on during the sessions, though I got a pretty good overall feel.

I was asked a couple of times along the way for my impression. My initial reaction was probably not something you’d expect, though. It was, “Entertaining”. The guys have a good interaction with each other and generally have fun during their discussions and demonstrations. There was much smiling and laughter, both on the court and in the stands among the over 400 attendees (their biggest event so far).

The other thing that comes to mind is “fire hose”. I saw that because there are part of the clinic where the clinicians – in this case which also featured Jill Kramer (TCU), Christy Johnson-Lynch (Iowa State), and Tod Maddux (The Bishop’s School) – went rapid fire through drills and games that could be used for specific training desires (setting, hitting, competitive, etc.). It struck me as being a lot of ideas in a short period of time. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Most clinics for newer coaches end up being like a fire hose of information.

Of course there were other sessions which had a single clinician focusing on a specific topic. The morning of the first day and the whole second day were all on-court. The afternoon of the first day a mixture of court and classroom. The court sessions featured Wizard Ruth Nelson doing BYOP sessions and Deborah Newkirk doing sessions included ways to get kids handling the ball on their own and on generating energy and communication. Because of the interviewing stuff I couldn’t attend the classroom sessions and could only pop my head in on the Saturday afternoon on-court sessions.

Attending coaching education events is always an interesting experience for me. I’m well past the point of learning a bunch of new stuff or picking up several new drills or games. Still, there are usually some little things along the way that get me thinking about stuff. This event was no different.

Overall, I think the attendees got a lot out of the clinic. As I understand it, the bulk of the group was in the high school and/or juniors category. The content was definitely well suited for that group and I would recommend it strongly for early-career coaches.

Going to coaching seminars is exhausting!

As I reported last week, I spent Thursday through Saturday doing an FIVB technical seminar on outside hitting and serving, and then Sunday attending the annual Volleyball England Coaches Conference. I’m completely wiped out!

It all started with a 8 hour trip from Exeter to Kettering. Now part of that was a lengthy layover in London because when I booked my train tickets I was expecting to have a meeting in there, which I ended up not having. Still, it was an early start and a mid afternoon arrival. I later met up and had dinner with Mark Lebedew, my partner in the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project, and the FIVB instructor for the seminar. My roommate for the rest of the week – an experienced coach from Belgium – arrived later that night. That would end up being the night I got the most sleep.

The seminar started at 9:00 the next morning. You can see the smiling faces of all us “delegates”, instructors Sue Gozansky (who ran a parallel setting seminar) and Mark, and the Volleyball England staff running things here. As you’d expect, England had the highest representation, but coaches from a couple other nations were also in attendance. Each day started around the same time, and we went until about 5:00 or 6:00 PM each day, but then over dinner and several hours in the hotel lounge area continued to talk volleyball and coaching until late at night. That, combined with not sleeping particularly well, had me (and others) running on willpower at times toward the end.

Several of the seminar attendees – as well as Mark and Sue – carried over for Sunday’s conference. This one was different from the first I attended in 2013 or last year’s. I think it represents a transition based on feedback and expressed interest. The 2013 conference was largely focused on talking about where V.E. was looking to take things, with only a small technical element at the end. The 2014 version had a bit more technical, but still had a bunch of conversations that were more organizational in focus. This year’s edition was clearly designed to focus more on the actual coaching side of things. It started with Sue & Mark doing a great 45-minute Q&A on team building concepts. After that there were technical sessions on transition hitting, block & defense, season planning, and strength & conditioning. I skipped out on the last hour or so in order to be able to make my train back.

I’ll get into some of the finer points of what was discussed in future posts (I’m also hoping to get a report on the WEVZA coaching seminar held in Valladolid from a couple coaches I know who attended that). For now let me talk about something related to a question I was asked the second night of the FIVB seminar. That was, to paraphrase, “What were you looking to get out of the event?”

I got that question from one of the Volleyball England staff during the evening when a bunch of us were hanging around in the hotel lounge. I mentioned one or two other things, but my initial response was, “This.” By that I meant connecting and interacting with other coaches – some of whom I knew before, but most of whom I did not. For me, that aspect of attending events like these is the most valuable. In part it’s networking – which from a career perspective can be very important. In part it is about getting different perspectives on things.

As a side note, I was again surprised at the number of coaches who told me they read this blog. I got a lot of congratulations on landing the new job I mentioned in my log post the other day (more on that soon, too). I also had several coaches talking about the Wizads project. It was cool to hear they are as excited about it as Mark and I are.

More volleyball coaching education this week

This should be an interesting week.

On Wednesday I head off to Kettering. I haven’t been there since last summer when I helped out with England Girls Juniors and Cadet trials. This time around the focus will be on coaching development. Nominally, I’m attending the FIVB coaching seminar on Outside Hitting and Serving. There is also a setting seminar going on at the same time. It was a tough choice picking between the two. I ended up going with the hitter one because I’ve spent less time focused on those area in my coaching career than on setting. Also I’ll get to heckle my Volleyball Coaching Wizards partner, Mark Lebedew, who is presenting the seminar. Sue Gozansky, is running the setter one.

After the FIVB seminar, on Sunday, will be the Volleyball England annual Coaches Conference. Sue and Mark will both take part in that as well to talk about team aspects. There are also a couple of technical seminars and it looks like one on strength and conditioning. This is the official agenda.

During the week I’m hoping to have time to get Sue’s interview for the Wizards project recorded, and maybe a couple of others as well. Honestly, being able to interact again with my fellow coaches is at least as big a motivation for me as the educational sessions. Look forward to a report.

Question everything

Last week when I was interviewing Mark Lebedew for the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project I asked him what his advice would be for relatively new coaches. Mark is an FIVB coaching instructor, so he’s done his fair share of working with developing volleyball coaches. His response was, “Question everything.” That includes all the stuff he said himself in the interview. 🙂

When Mark said that, I immediately thought of Mike Hebert’s book Thinking Volleyball. Mike too offers the advice that coaches should always be ready to challenge what they are seeing or hearing from an educational perspective as it relates to their own situation, even when it comes from the so-called experts.

You won’t be getting any arguments from me!

Coaching seminar decisions

I’ve got a bit of a conundrum.

Volleyball England is hosting a pair of FIVB coaching technical seminars the first week of June – one on setting, the other on outside hitting/serving. The former will be presented by Sue Gozansky, and the latter by Mark Lebedew. They run over three days, from June 4th to the 6th. The following day will be the annual V.E. Coaches Conference, which I’ve attended the last two years. I’ve had these events marked on my calendar for a while as I think it will be a good opportunity to learn and connect with other coaches.

The other day, though, I found out about another seminar going on at the same time. The Western European Volleyball Zone Association (WEVZA) is hosting a 3-day event June 5th to 7th in Valladolid Spain. It’s featured speakers will be Stelian Moculescu of VFB Friedrichshafen (2015 German men’s champs); Miguel Ángel Falasca of PGE Skra Bełchatów in Poland (Champions League Final Four), and John Kessel of USA Volleyball. I know people who went to this event last year an had good things to say.

Tough decision!

Avoiding the “This is how I learned” trap

During the HP Coaches Clinic I found myself at one point thinking about my own development as a coach. I couldn’t help but wonder if I’m a better coach now for not getting much coaching as a player.

Let me explain.

I began playing volleyball – beyond gym class – as a senior in high school. That’s when boys’ volleyball was first introduced in my home state (RI). The coach of the girls’ team, Joanne Fitts, was our coach. That was the only time I had any formal volleyball coaching as a player.

When I was a member of the club volleyball team at the University of Rhode Island we occasionally had a visiting coach. Mainly, though, the captain ran our sessions (interestingly, several of my former club teammates are also now coaches). And of course I wasn’t coached while playing outdoors on the beach or grass, or during open gym sessions.

What this means is that I never had the same well of “This is how my coach(es) did it” experience as I began to coach. As a result, I think I came to it with far fewer set views on how things should be done. That may have made me more ready and willing to explore new and different ideas. Or maybe I’m just wired that way to begin with, and it wouldn’t have mattered (I definitely consider myself a student of coaching). Either way, my coaching evolves continuously. This is a competitive advantage in a sport where not everyone is so flexible.

Lots of changes

Consider all the changes in the game in the last couple decades – rally scoring, the libero, players getting more physical, to name a few of the more prominent ones. There were also numerous changes to the environment surrounding the game. Coaches unable to adapt were left by the competitive wayside. I joked about this a bit in Players today!, but it’s a real consideration.

And it’s not just rules and social evolution which factor here. It’s also the concept of how we train, particularly in the area of motor learning. At breakfast one day during the clinic, John Kessel commented on how it took decades for the idea that “the game teaches the game” to take hold among US coaches. The fact that it finally really started to do so in recent years he credited largely to national team coaches Karch Kiraly and Hugh McCutcheon being visible and vocal advocates.

I will definitely admit to having “grown up” in the old block training model system. It featured in much of the coaching I did over the years. Mainly that’s because it’s how the head coaches I worked for did things.

Coaching at Exeter, though, I adopted a much more game-like approach to my training. I can’t help but wonder if that transition was aided by the fact that I was out of coaching for several years. I kind of came at things fresh when I started back at it again after moving to England. Would I have been much more stuck in the block training mentality now if I’d not left coaching? I guess we’ll never know.

In any case, the moral of the story is to remain flexible and willing to accept challenges to how you do things. It can only help you in the long run.

Report: 2015 USA Volleyball High Performance Coaches Clinic

I will discuss here what I saw and did at the 2015 USA Volleyball High Performance Coaches Clinic. Before that, though, I have to take a moment to talk about the weather. It was absolutely gorgeous. I left England with temps around freezing and felt the same (or worse) when I overnighted in Dallas. Once I arrived in Colorado Springs, however, it was a whole different scene. During the two primary days of the clinic the highs reached around 70F/22C. Definitely not what you’d expect this time of year!

Sunrise on the Colorado Rockies

Sunrise on the Colorado Rockies

I didn’t mind so much that I added an extra day stay because the flight was about £200 cheaper flying on Monday rather than Sunday. 🙂

The clinic took place at the Olympic Training Center. It’s a nice facility, as I’m sure you can imagine. I opted for the residency package, which meant staying in a dorm onsite (the extra day cost me $45, meals included). I had two roommates – one from Wisconsin, one from North Carolina. Both were high school/middle school/club level coaches. Those of us staying in the dorms were provided with shuttle service to and from the airport. There was also a non-resident option for a lower price. I know some attendees chose that.

Would I stay in a dorm again given the choice? Not sure. It’s definitely cheaper that way, and really convenient, but there are definite tradeoffs.

The USAV staff made pretty good use of technology to keep every up-to-date on things. They developed an app with the schedule, messenging, and other administrative features that at least I found very useful.

I posted the clinic schedule previously, so I won’t re-post here. I just run through my impression of the sessions day-by-day. The focus here is on more of a general discussion rather than real detail. I followed this post with a series of others motivated by things I saw and/or heard, including a handful of drills/games.

Day 1 (Thursday)

Attendees were asked to arrive before 17:00 to get checked in. We had dinner, then the event began at 18:00. That first night was basically a 2014 retrospective for the various national teams (youth and senior). Plus there wasyour standard event intro type stuff. In his discussion of what the women’s national team did last year, Karch did address some coaching points. Largely, though, this wasn’t really a content day. Things rolled into an onsite evening attendee social.

Day 2 (Friday) – Morning

Things kicked off at 8:00 with two sessions in the gym. The first was by Julio Velasco. He talked primarily about the idea of creating players, not simply skilled athletes. The idea of developing solutions was a feature. The second gym session was by Laurent Tillie concentrating on serving and passing. He discussed technique (somewhat controversial) and used a group of area current and former Division I women’s players for demo work (they were involved in most of the on-court sessions).

These two initial sessions were followed by a breakout session. All attendees were assigned to groups of about 10-12 ahead of time. Each group was then lead through a discussion of the topics just covered by one of the clinic staff. One or two of the demo players also mixed in. These groups were a chance to ask questions, share insights, etc. My group happened to be lead by Karch that session. He disagreed with Tillie on the passing mechanics. 🙂

Karch Breakout

From there we moved into the seminar room for the rest of the morning with Steve Shenbaum (you might recognize him from his acting days). The focus of this partly interactive session was on helping people (coaches, players, whoever) get to know each other, develop better communication, and interact with each other in fun, non-threatening way. Quite a bit of good stuff there.

Day 2 – Afternoon

Back into the gym for the first two afternoon sessions. Karch led off showing some of the training methods they use in the national team gym. That was both in terms of games/drills (see Bonus Point Bingo) and how they use visualization. He also introduced a more upright serve receive starting position. It is meant to allow the passer to see the ball better (one of the current WNT liberos demoed). Three books were mentioned as recommended reading – Mindset, The Art of Learning, and Mastery.

The second of the gym sessions was run by Jamie Morrisson, Karch’s assistant. Jamie focused on motor learning. A major points he made was the idea of trying to maximize RPEs (Read-Plan-Execute). The other was the need to focus on one thing at a time for maximum effectiveness. This, he said, is now being supported by research.

The gym sessions were again followed by breakout discussions. This time my group’s facilitators were Cecile Reynaud and 5-time US Olympian Danielle Scott-Arruda.

From there, we again switched to the seminar room. First up was a discussion of mindfulness. It was concentrated on the idea that attention and other mental abilities can be developed and expanded with practice. Two books were mentioned to that end – How to Train a Wild Elephant and Wherever You Go, There You Are.

The final session was a panel discussion featuring five current and former national team players. They talked about their experiences working under different coaches, dealing with moving back and forth between club and national team training styles, and the like.

We had the evening off, though I’m sure some attendees went out. I was too tired to do anything more than linger over dinner with some of the others.

Day 3 (Saturday) – Morning

The final day again started at 8:00 with a pair of sessions in the gym. Tillie was back talking about developing defensive reflexes and courage in the first one. Shelton Collier and Rod Wilde split the second to talk first about getting players unfamiliar with each other (think tryout or new team development) to start working together and communicating and to run through some games/drills working on hitting against a block. Collier was then the facilitator for the breakout discussion.

It was back to the seminar room after that, with Velaso taking on the subject of operating in different cultural environments. Two of the more significant comments he made were 1) that as coaches our biggest job is to convince our players, and 2) that we should be looking for solutions to overcome hurdles, not making excuses.

Members of the national team technical staff then took the stage to talk about how stats could be used effectively. They focused on two primary examples from the last couple years. One was shifting all the jump spin servers to jump float serves because the analysis showed it was more effective in terms of opponent sideout (break point) percentage. The other was in the decision-making behind developing their fast offense. The book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There was mentioned along the way.

Bill Neville wrapped up the morning with a discussion of the various sub-senior national team programs and the High Performance program from a coaching perspective.

Day 3 – Afternoon

The first on-court session of the afternoon was an active one run by members of the youth national team coaching staffs. Part of that was a discussion of scouting with regards to hitter tendencies, but mainly the focus was on ways of training attackers to develop different shots.

Velasco was back in-frame for the second on-court session. It was nominally titled “What does it mean to play well?” Honestly, though, it was basically him running the demo players through a short training session, starting with some warm-up activites. Most of his attention was focused on them rather than on the attendees.

There was no breakout group discussion after that, so we shifted straight to the seminar room where Tillie talked about his training structure. He noted Science of Coaching Volleyball, Switch, The Talent Code, and the aforementioned Mindset as being influential.

The final session of the clinic was a panel discussion featuring several of the prior presenters. The focus was on developing a coaching staff from the perspective of a head coach.

HP Clinic Panel

Some of the points were doing a personal inventory to know where you needed help offsetting your own weaknesses, having specific roles and finding people for them, and ensuring you have alternative opinions. Multiple panelists mentioned letting staff learn by doing.

The clinic was capped off with an off-site social attended by a good fraction of those involved, including the presenters and staff. Some folks, though, had very early shuttles to the airport the next morning, so opted out.

Thoughts, observations, etc.

As noted above, I followed this outline of the clinic’s educational content with a series of more narrowly focused posts to address a number of different training methods, philosophical ideas, etc. Here, though, it’s worth sharing a few things from what I saw and experienced.

First, if you really go in with the right mindset you can do quite a bit of networking at an event like this. There were coaches from all different levels of play, all over the US, and even a few from as far away as Australia. We ate all our meals together, had two dedicated social functions, the breakout sessions, and plenty of transitions between sessions to talk and connect with others (plus time in the dorm). This is not just with other clinic attendees. The presenters were with us at all times and accessible.

Personally, I found the meals and the socials to be really great times. I talked with a current Ivy League assistant about what it’s like these days, had a conversation about FIVB coaching certification courses, talked stats and DataVolley, saw John Kessel using breakfast table stuff to describe games and drills for maximum ball contacts (see 2 vs. 0), had a conversation about Gold Medal Squared training, talked about conference levels of play, discussed what it’s like for an American coaching in Europe, and a number of other subjects.

Second, while I’m beyond the drill collection stage (those I jotted down during the clinic were mainly to share on the blog), I do look for different ways to approach things. Also, sometimes watching or listening to other coaches helps affirm the things that you’re doing (as I mentioned before). That was certainly the case with this clinic, just about right from the first session.

So will I attend future HP Coaches Clinics?

It depends on circumstances, obviously, but I’m positively inclined. The cost is quite reasonable as these things go, and the structure is really good. The focus is different than the AVCA Convention, which has a strong NCAA women’s volleyball bias. I’m not saying that is a bad thing. It’s just an alternative perspective and aim. USA Volleyball is looking at the national team program and promoting its systems, methods and philosophies. The AVCA is a professional organization for coaches dominated by those in the college ranks. As such, each event can be beneficial in its own way, depending on one’s aims and perspective.

I think that’s about it. Thanks to jet lag and other factors, I haven’t gotten a great deal of sleep on the trip, though, so there may be stuff I’m forgetting or a perspective that I could share of things that I haven’t. Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll try to answer them for you.

Cost Addendum

I was asked about the total cost of the clinic, so here are some additional details.

The clinic fee was $475, which was inclusive of housing, meals, and a shuttle to and from the airport. There was no need for spending any money beyond that. Of course you could have done so if you went out beyond the official activities and/or took part in the silent auction of stuff that went on in support of the scholarship foundation which supports players attending the HP program events. If you wanted to stay off-site the cost was $375, which included the meals. Non-USAV members (read foreign coaches) paid $775. There were discounts for groups of 5+.

Obviously, there is also the cost of actually getting to Colorado Springs. You can estimate that based on your own location. For me it was a complicated trip because of the timing of flights. You need to have arrived by about 4:00pm on the first day to get picked up and check-in before dinner and that evening’s events. There weren’t any flights from London that would have got me in early enough (given the need to connect somewhere to reach Colorado Springs), so I had to fly a day in advance (to Dallas, the connecting the next day).

Making things more complicated, there were no trains early enough from Exeter to get me to Heathrow with enough margin to get my flight over, so I had to go to London a day ahead. Basically, my trip started on Tuesday. It then also ended on Tuesday because my flight back to London was a Monday red-eye, after having stayed the extra day (they charged me $45 to do so) as mentioned above.

I was able to defray some of my costs by using airline miles, though.


About a month after the clinic they gave us access to all the seminar recordings online.

USA Volleyball High Performance Clinic 2015

I mentioned a couple weeks ago on social media that I’d committed to attending this year’s USA Volleyball High Performance coaching clinic next month at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. The clinic fee is extremely reasonable when you consider it comes with room and board. The big expense for me is the travel from England. Ouch!

Actually, it was the prospects of developing news contacts that ended up being the bigger factor in my decision to commit to the cost. The educational side of things is important, of course, but right now I’m in the middle of trying to get myself back into full-time coaching, as I’ve been documenting in my job hunt log. Contacts could come in quite handy in that respect. In fact, one of the head coaches whose assistant position I’ve put in for is a clinic presenter (though I would imagine she’ll have finished the search by then).

Anyway, the other day I got the schedule for the event, which covers an evening and two full days. It looks like this:

Thursday (Feb 5th)

18:00-18:40 Welcome and Opening Remarks
18:40-19:40 Flashback to Fourteen Women’s and Men’s national team staffs, Women’s Junior and Girls’ youth national team staffs
19:45-21:30 Welcome Social

Friday (Feb 6th)

8:00-9:10 What Does it mean to Play Well? Blocking Julio Velasco
9:15-10:15 First Things First: The Competitive Power of Serve Receive Laurent Tille
10:15-10:40 Small group topic discussions
10:45-12:15 Game On Steve Shenbaum
13:15-14:15 Promoting More Process: Bingo with the National Team Karch Kiraly
14:15-15:15 Getting the Most Out of Your Practice: Practice Planning and Motor Learning Jamie Morrisson
15:20-15:40 Small group topic discussions
15:55-16:40 Mindfulness and Performance Mark Aoyagi
16:45-17:40 Same Continent, Different Coaches: Playing for Team USA Over the Decades Stacy Sykora, Tracy (Stalls) Insalaco, Christa Dietzen, Kayla Barnworth

Saturday (Feb 7th)

8:00-9:05 Structure and Spirit in Defense Laurent Tille
9:10-10:10 High Performance Championship Team and Technique Training Rod Wilde and Shelton Collier
10:10-10:30 Small group topic discussions
10:45-11:30 A Legacy of Success – Program Development Across Cultures Julio Velasco
11:35-12:20 Volleyball Decision Making: Combining the Art and the Science Joe Trinsey, Nate Ngo, Jesse Tupac
12:25-13:10 Collegiate National Team Training Bill Neville
14:15-15:15 Scouting to Win: Developing Strategies in Match Preparation Jim Stone, Tom Hogan, Lindsey Devine, Brook Coulter, Erin Virtue
15:15-16:15 What Does it Mean to Play Well? Offense Julio Velasco
16:15-16:35 Small group topic discussions
16:45-17:25 The French Touch: Practice Organization the French Way Laurent Tille
17:25-18:10 Empowering Your Staff Karch Kiraly, Doug Beal, Jim Stone, Tom Hogan
19:30-23:30 Attendee Social

Pretty intense, eh?

Along with the official socials and the small group discussions, there are the shared meals and Friday night to spend time with fellow attendees. Should be an interesting couple of days.

Naturally, I will provide a full report. 🙂