Archive for Volleyball Coaching Education

Volleyball England Level 3 Coaching Course: Day 2

Day 2 of the Volleyball England Level 3 coaching course is now in the books.

Today started off with a review of yesterday’s subject matter. I, of course, have already provided you with that in yesterday’s post. 😉

We then shifted into a discussion on the subject of “talent”. A lot of it had to do with the difficulty in identifying talent and the sorts of indicators we can look at (which reminded me of my US collegiate recruiting days). That eventually transitioned into a look at the physical development of children – largely from the perspective of growth. For a lot of us this acted as a reminder of stuff we’ve picked up previously, though with a bit of additional insights here and there.

We focused our technical/tactical work for the day on serve receive. Both receptions formations/systems and individual skills were looked at.

Two members of the group then did an hour’s worth of a planned session assigned last session. They used the England U18 girls to do so. We’ll all have the opportunity – in pairs – to do the same thing.

The day finished by looking at the England U16s training with an eye toward assessing serve receive based on the technical standards set forth.

See Day 3 here.

Volleyball England Level 3 Coaching Course: Day 1

So here’s the skinny on the first day of the Volleyball England Level 3 coaching course from when I took it in 2013.

The day started off with a discussion of coaching philosophy and the importance of developing one. That carried into looking at the types of skills and attributes required of and found in successful coaches. It seems as though there will be regular revisiting to these topics at later points in the course.

After that we had a discussion about ensuring team balance when developing a line-up. That can be viewed from any number of perspectives, individually or in combination. That then spun into a look at playing systems.

From there we got into a conversation about the importance of the Performance -> Observation -> Analysis -> Planning -> Performance cycle. As part of that we considered the things which restrict our ability to properly observe our players objectively, and how we can go from big picture to small picture in analyzing the source of things we need to address. Part of the analytic discussion had to do with the way the match score sheet can be helpful in looking at points by rotation.

There was also a talk about how coaches often fall into using systems and methods they played as players themselves or that they saw used by those they respected or admired. You may recall me talking about this in Understand what you’re learning before you teach it.

From there we had a talk about practice planning. I’ll talk more about that later.

The primary part of the training ended with some work on the skill of tossing the ball for setter training.

See Day 2 here.

Extending my volleyball coaching certification

Today I’m starting the Volleyball England Level 3 course. It was supposed to run back during the first week of August, which would certainly have made things easier on my schedule, but they had to postpone. The result is that I’m going to miss several training sessions and a pair of matches for the teams I coach. If you’re a typical coach, you’ll know how much that bothers me.

My coaching certification process began years ago while taking USA Volleyball’s CAP I course. These courses naturally change and adapt over time. Based on these observations of the program these days, though, at least some of what I learned then has stuck. In particular, these foundations are a major part of how I coach today:

  • The game teaches the game.  Skills are transferred best in game-like situations. 
  • Principles matter more than methods.
  • The pleasure of competition should always exceed the pressure of competition.
  • Effective coaches will tell their players what they want to see them doing, not what they did wrong.
  • Teach the whole rather than the part, for example teach the full spike rather than breaking it down in parts.  
  • A team’s practice must be deliberate and focused.
  • Specificity is a key in motor learning. Give students specific cues such as “Good job reaching for the ball.” This is more helpful than being a cheerleader and saying, “Good shot.”
  • There is a greater transfer in skill in random training rather than block training.

I was actually offered a chance to take the FIVB Level 2 course, which runs immediately following the VE 3 one. It’s 2 weeks long, though. No way I can miss that much time away from my teams – not to mention by PhD studies!

Anyway, my plan is to provide daily updates on how the course goes, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, here’s the course outline provided to me to give you an idea of what we’re covering.

Update: Here are my thoughts from Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, and Day 5 of the course.

Playing experience doesn’t mean you can coach

I previously mentioned an article on the coaching of horse riding as it related to coaching volleyball because of some common elements. That prior post looked at the lack of fundamental understanding which can come from just applying what we see as coaches rather than knowing what underlies the application of a drill, game, or coaching technique. This time I want to address another aspect of the discussion – specifically the idea that knowing the game is not the same as being able to teach it.

To quote the article:

A person is not automatically a teacher because he knows how to do something himself.

To restate that in our context here: An experienced volleyball player doesn’t automatically make for a good coach.

Certainly, having experience as a player – especially at the level you’re coaching – is extremely useful. I think we can all recognize this. It makes understanding what it takes to succeed on the court at that level and how to relate to players easier. That’s as far as it goes, though.

To paraphrase the horse riding article:

The ability to teach is a gift and a talent. Instructors who lack the gift of teaching also lack the passion and ability to understand their subject and are unable to give their students a thorough foundation.

This is something which relates to what I said the post Coaches coach. Coaching, whether it be in volleyball, some other sport, or in other facets of life is not just about what you know. It’s about being able to share that knowledge – to teach (with a big side order of motivating).

I think anyone who’s had a collegiate education has either direct experience with or knowledge of a brilliant professor who just could not teach their way out of a paper bag. This is akin to high level athlete trying to coach. They have lots of knowledge, but don’t necessarily have the skills to share it effectively – assuming they even understand what made them successful, which many don’t.

So the lesson is that just because you played lots of volleyball it doesn’t mean you’re destined to be a good coach. If you’re not already an experienced teacher you’ll have to do a lot of work to develop those skills. Without them you’re not going to be very effective.

The drill collecting stage

I don’t remember who said it, but a while back I heard someone call the early part of a new volleyball coach’s development “the drill collecting stage” and thought it extremely apropos. It hits the mark very neatly, and I’m guessing it’s not something confined to volleyball coaches.

Basically, what we’re describing here is the phase of a new coach’s development where they are learning different ways to teach skills. They are answering for themselves “How can I train … ?” or “What’s the best way to teach …. ?” It is a necessary period of learning for any coach as it creates the foundation for being able to develop priority driven training plans and to be able to dynamically adapt practices as required.

The eagerness and enthusiasm of this stage in volleyball coaching development can get a little carried away, though, and result in what I referred to early as Fancy New Drill Syndrome. It can also take a coach down the path of just compiling a collection of drills, games, and coaching methods which they don’t necessarily understand as fully as they should.

As members of the volleyball coaching community, and the broader volleyball community in general, we really don’t want to be tamping down the enthusiasm of new coaches. We need all of them we can get and more! This stage, though, is where mentorship can be extremely valuable in helping provide guidance.

Volleyball Coaches – Stop talking!

Are you the sort of volleyball coach who talks a lot during your training sessions?

Actually, that’s a bit of a vague question. After all, how much is a lot? So let me restate –

Do you often stop practice to talk to the team or a single player and/or do you take more than 30 seconds or so to make your point before getting the team back to work?

If so, you may be talking too much.

You need to think very hard about the trade-off between the value of what you have to say to the team and the impact a stoppage – especially a lengthy one – will have on the flow, intensity, and focus of your training. I’ve seen coaches bring practice to a screeching halt because they decided they needed to take 5 or 10 minutes to say something. When that happens the team has to get the intensity ramped back up, which takes time, particularly if the players have cooled down. Even worse is if the coach talk results in players mentally checking out. This is to be avoided.

If there’s something you need to spend more than a minute talking about to the team you need to think about when to do that sort of thing. Generally speaking, the beginning of training when the players haven’t warmed up yet and the end of training as they are getting ready to cool down (or are doing so) are the best times to give longer talks. Those are non-disruptive points where you can take a several minutes to talk about things.

I’ve also seen many a coach stop a whole team’s training just to talk with one player.

This sometimes cannot be avoided. The setter is particularly problematic because many times when you need to talk with them it forces a drill stoppage. To the extent that you can, though, the best way to work with a single player is to take them out of a drill for a minute (perhaps subbing another player in to keep the drill moving). That lets you provide the necessary individual attention without bringing the whole team to a halt without having to do so.

I personally talk infrequently during practice. This is partly a personality thing (I’m inclined first to watch and listen rather than speak), but also a function of wanting to let players work things out themselves where possible. I will only stop the team to talk with them if there’s something which needs to be immediately addressed. Often this is about correcting something I’m seeing multiple players do or to address the level of effort. I stop them, make my point as quickly as I can, then get them back to work.

Let’s face it. Players learn WAY more by actually doing than by us telling them stuff. Our job is to facilitate that process and provide guidance along the way.

That said, one can talk too little. One of my recent players told me once that during the early part of the season when I took over the team he thought I didn’t want to coach them because I was so quiet in training. In retrospect, I don’t think I needed to talk more in terms of the player/team development, but perhaps I could have done more to allow the players the opportunity to more quickly come to know me and how I operate. It is something I’ll keep in mind moving forward.

Understand what you’re learning before you teach it

An article came to my attention in the area of horse riding instruction which makes some interesting points. Not a subject area many volleyball coaches have any experience with, I know. Coaching is coaching, though, and no matter the venture, it has some common challenges. Here’s a snippet I thought was very insightful:

Instructors can only teach what they know or what they see. We have a generation of copy cat instructors who see something but have no idea about the principles behind what they see.

This comment echos elements of what I discussed in my Fancy New Drill Syndrome post. Developing coaches remember drills they may have liked as players themselves. They then pick up new drills they think are cool because some high profile coach uses them. The problem comes when the underlying purpose and structure of a drill (or game) is not properly understood. That can lead to it’s misuse in training.

We must also extend this to skill training. Here too, before a coach can properly train a player to serve, pass, or hit a certain way they really need to understand the underlying mechanics and philosophy for the given approach. A lot of stuff is put out there in volleyball coaching conferences and clinics. Oftentimes, the presenters are high level collegiate and national team coaches. This raises the perception of the importance or value of what’s taught.

Just because Coach X said it…

I’ve been around long enough to have seen waves of coaching techniques being passed from coach-to-coach in the volleyball community. They quite often start with the national team program (or former members thereof such as Gold Medal Squared). That tends to lend them weight, especially with newer coaches. This sometimes create a near cult-like following. The problem is often what is used at the higher levels cannot (and in some cases should not) be used at the lower levels where most coaches operate. Unfortunately, developing coaches sometimes don’t recognize this. They try to use drills, games, or skill teaching techniques which simply aren’t appropriate.

So when you learn new volleyball drills or games, or any other coaching method, make sure you really understand them. Know them inside out and you can better put them to good use with your players. If you’re a newer coach, don’t hesitate to get the input from those more experienced than you.

Tip for Coaching Volleyball: Watch more volleyball!

How much volleyball do you watch?

Do you only watch the matches your team plays? What about those of your competition? And how about those of prospective players for your team or club? How about matches in which you have no personal stake?

Now imagine you’re a coach for an NCAA Division I team (the top collegiate level in the U.S.).

Your team plays roughly 30 matches during the main competitive season (Spring for men, Autumn for women), and maybe gets in a half-dozen more during the off-season. You watch video of your team’s matches to identify problem points. You watch video of your competition to scout them for upcoming matches. You watch loads of video sent to you by prospective recruits to your program and spend long hours in convention centers and gyms watching Juniors competition (and sometimes high school matches). And if you’re a bit of a junkie (like me), you watch matches on TV as well – time permitting.

Now let’s compare that to you’re average club coach in England, as an example.

Your team plays say 20 matches a year in whatever league you’re in, and that’s spread out over about an 8-month period. You aren’t recording your matches and you certainly aren’t exchanging video with upcoming competitors for scouting purposes, so watching lots of match video is out. Recruitment isn’t a major thing, so you’re not out observing loads of youth matches or highlight videos as a part of your duties.

Which coach do you think is more rapidly growing their understanding of the game and getting the broader perspective on things?

I don’t make this comparison to denigrate volleyball coaching in England, especially since there are plenty of US coaches operating at a similar level. Instead, I’m trying to demonstrate a developmental opportunity.

We learn from both observation and experience. Watching lots of volleyball is part of the process of learning about coaching volleyball.

It’s no good, though, to just watch as a supporter or fan of a team, however. You need to do so with a critical eye. What’s going on in the match and why? What makes this player good or that player poor? What strategies are being employed by the coaches involved? It’s not watching to enjoy the experience of watching, in other words. It’s watching to understand and critique – basically, watching with a coach’s eye rather than a spectator’s.

In fact, it would be a good exercise to watch matches with a paper and pen (perhaps more likely a tablet these days) to take notes and make observations. Think of it like being a reporter. Rather than writing about who won and loss and which players were the stars, though, you’re writing about the strategies, offensive and defensive systems, player mechanics, etc.

Watching lots of volleyball with that critical eye, especially across different levels of play, will definitely accelerate your development as a coach.

Big rewards from seeing fellow volleyball coaches in action

During the course of just over three weeks in 2013 I spent a total of eight days watching various teams go through their training, and two other days taking in matches. It was a fantastic experience. I made some positive new connections. It reinforced some old relationships. And it was great for reconnecting me with US collegiate volleyball after several years away.

As you might expect, sitting in on 13 different training sessions from 5 different collegiate teams (URI, USC, Long Beach State, CSU San Marcos, and UCLA in that order) saw me get some ideas for drills and training methods. I posted several in the Drills and Games categories.

Drills and game ideas can be found in many different sources, though. For me it was more interesting to see a couple of different things. One of them was how certain aspects of the game had changed in the prior few years. In particular, it was clear to me that there had been an evolution in jump float serve mechanics. The changes in the use of the libero was interesting to observe as well, among other things.

The other was seeing the ways the various programs operate and the different types of managerial styles. Teams have different levels of resources allocated to them, and that can play a part. For example, USC has a fantastic training facility and loads of staff on the one end. CSU San Marcos, on the other hand, had to play its home matches at a local high school. They also only had a part-time assistant coach. Some head coaches are more supervisors and big picture overseers. Others are very hands-on in training, either through requirement or personal coaching focus. I also saw variations in the way warm-ups were handled, practice uniforms, and generally the vibe of the teams in training (though that was largely subtle).

Needless to say, I jotted down quite a few notes. I also recorded several bits of video to help me recall things and to provide visual and auditory support to my players of the things I was trying to teach them.

Actually, some of the most rewarding time was getting to talk with the coaches. Some of the coaches were folks I already knew, and we had all sorts of good conversations. Even those I was meeting for the first time, however, were generally quite willing to chat about what they were doing and answer questions. Some even shared things with me on related subjects with no prompting whatsoever.

I definitely recommend this sort of experience from a lot of perspectives, including a mentorship type of angle along the line of I wrote about in Making Mentorship Part of the Process. In fact, it may be something which can lead to finding yourself a good coaching mentor. Even if that’s not the case, seeing other coaches in action – particularly well-experienced ones – can get you seeing things from different perspectives. That’s never a bad thing.

So get out there and do it! You don’t need to make a 3-week trip like I did to learn some new things. Just find a good coach in your area and see if they’d be willing to have you come along and observe. Chances are they’ll say yes.