Archive for Volleyball Coaching Education

Getting validation from an elite volleyball program

Back in 2013 I spent two days at the University of Southern California (USC) during preseason. Head coach Mick Haley was kind enough to let me hang out with him and his staff observing preseason two-a-days. In the first preseason poll that year, USC came in ranked #4. Preseason polls are always a bit iffy, but regardless, we’re still talking about one of the best teams in the country that year.

In other posts I shared some of the drills and whatnot I saw being used. There were some potentially very useful ones. You can find them here, here, here, here, and here.

For now, though, I want to talk a bit about the concept of validation. Many coaches see watching other coaches run training as an opportunity to pick up new drills or training methods. That certainly can be the case. What is probably even more important, though, is seeing that others – especially those with more experience – do things like you do and/or have a similar philosophy. That can provide a great deal of validation.

In my case this time around it came from watching the USC assistant coach, Tim Nollan, running setter training. It was a mechanical issue I won’t go into now, but I wrote about it here. Suffice it to say that Tim (obviously with Coach Haley’s backing) was encouraging something I have long made a focus with the setters I’ve trained. I is counter to the approach I’ve seen taken in a lot of gyms (if it’s even addressed at all), though. Having the opportunity to see the coaching staff of a top volleyball team train their players the same way I do goes a long way toward validating my own methods. It was both satisfying and encouraging.

Now, I should say you must be a bit cautious with this sort of validation. It’s very easy to just look for things that confirm your thinking and not pay attention to what challenges it. This is called confirmation bias. That is counter-productive.

So get out there and watch your peers, but with a fully open mind!

The State and Future of Volleyball Coaching Development in England

As I’ve mentioned on a couple of occasions, I attended Coaching Conference 2013 put on by Volleyball England at the start of June. Part of the presentation was on the current state of coaching in the country and the breakdown of certification levels. I’ve now got the slides from the presentation, so I can show you some of what I found interesting – and some of what I was questioned about when I talked with people regarding it afterwards.

First, let me start of with a graph which shows the fraction of volleyball coaches registered with Volleyball England by region.

VECoachesByRegion

It’s interesting that the South West has the third most registered coaches. That tells me we have sufficient numbers in the area to do some interesting things if we get properly organized and motivated.

Here is a chart which shows the Volleyball England coaching registrations and the number of coaches at each certification level going back to the start of 2009.

Volleyball England Coaching Registrations and Certifications

There’s clearly been some nice growth in the total number of volleyball coaches in England – or at least those registering with the national governing body. The first level certifications are up, though not quite at the same rate (I think you need to combine the UKCC Level 1 and VE Level 1 to get the proper tally as I think the UKCC has taken over for that level). Level 2 coaches had a bit of a dip, but have turned back up. I think Volleyball England will be concerned if they don’t see that line get back to the same kind of upslope seen from 2009 to 2011.

As for the nearly flat line for Level 3 coaches, we were told that’s a function of Volleyball England not running the course very often. Obviously, there’s truth in that, but part of our discussions during the conference was the motivation for volleyball coaches to progress to that level. After all, at this stage it is not mandatory for anything. Plus, the course runs a week and has a pretty sizable price tag (I’ll report my own opinions on the course after I take it in August)

Here is a chart based on a survey Volleyball England did. I understand it to indicate the proportion of responding volleyball coaches who said they coach at each of the three age groups.

VECoachAgesTo me there’s a problem with this chart. I think ideally we’d probably want to see the u14 bar highest and the adult bar lowest. More realistically, though, we should look for the 15-18 bar being higher than the adult one. I would venture to say that is what you’d see in the US where there are thousands of high school and Juniors club volleyball teams (especially for girls), but only perhaps a bit north of 1000 collegiate programs and relatively few coached adult club teams. I think it’s the middle area where the work needs to be done to really grow the sport.

Lastly, here’s the slide showing the coach development pathway the Volleyball England folks see (click it for a bigger version):

Click for a full-sized version

Click for a full-sized version

If you look at the levels of play/coaching listed on the left and see how they line up with the coaching certification levels you’ll quickly realize that things are very different today – at least in the middling and lower ranks. For example, I’m pretty sure the majority of NVL coaches aren’t VE Level 3 certified. This speaks to what I mentioned before about the motivation of coaches to carry on up the levels. Unless a minimum certification is required to coach at a given level, there is probably going to continue to be the same sort of pattern as we see in the levels chart above.

I’d be very curious to hear what others think on this subject.

Making Mentorship Part of the Process

A few weeks ago I attended a coaching conference run by Volleyball England. It wasn’t an educational event so much as an opportunity to hear about where they were looking to take things and to share thoughts and ideas toward that end (though there was a session at the end on passing technique and coaching). For me the objective was to get a big picture view of what’s happening in the English volleyball community where coaching – and youth development, as it turns out – was concerned.

The overarching objective the V.E. folks told us they have is to create a world class volleyball coaching systems (their words, not mine), and we were given handouts diagramming how coaches could progress through the various levels of certification. We talked about all that, looked at examples from other sports like cricket and rugby, and broke up into little groups to generate discussion points for future consideration.

For me there is one glaring issue in the structure of volleyball coach developing in England. Namely the lack of mentorship. An educational structure is valuable, but there is nothing like learning at the side of an experienced individual. Outside of small pockets, that doesn’t seem to exist, and certainly I haven’t seen much evidence of it in the South West.

Learning from those who’ve been there and done that
My own volleyball coaching career started off as an assistant to the head coach of the girls’ team in my high school. Basically, I just helped out running a few drills in varsity team practices, though that later extended to helping out the team’s assistant coach with junior varsity training. After graduation I helped with the boys’ team as well.

Later, after a lengthy break during which I focused on playing and then my professional career, I became a part-time assistant coach at a 2-year Junior College, which was my first collegiate position. From there I moved on to assist on a full-time basis for a pair of Division I universities. I learned a massive amount from the experience.

Don’t get me wrong. I went through USA Volleyball‘s equivalent to VE’s coaching certification program, and I attended conferences and seminars, read books on coaching, and watched videos done by some of the more prominent collegiate coaches. I was a sponge.

That’s not the same as seeing all those things (drills, systems, etc.) put into action by an experienced head coach, though. Even more so when you are involved in doing it yourself as an assistant coach. There’s a lot of nuance to running a team, especially when you add in an organizational structure on top of it.

And importantly, getting to work under multiple head coaches lets you see things from different perspectives. We all coach a bit differently and we all have different coaching situations. A female coach is likely to have a different approach to certain things than a male coach. Coaching for a major university is not the same as coaching for a small local school, which in turn is not the same as coaching a Juniors team.

Learning by coaching
Please be aware, though, that this is not me saying one must just be an assistant or apprentice coach. During my years coaching collegiately I was often also the head coach for a Juniors team. That allowed me to put what I was learning into practice and to start developing my own coaching style. At the same time I could bring that experience and perspective back to my work as an assistant.

And of course my own experience is not the only way one can develop as a coach. There are many examples of P.E. teachers who took on a high school team and became very good coaches with long careers teaching and coaching. Some of them eventually progress into the collegiate ranks and work their way up by demonstrating success.

There are also former players who moved into the coaching ranks at a lower level after their playing careers were over and started working up from there. I actually worked under two coaches who started their careers running high school teams, one of whom had previously been an All-Conference player in her own right.

There is no doubt, though, that it helps to head coach at a given level if you’ve spent some time assisting at that level. And having someone there along the way to help you navigate your way in developing your coaching knowledge and talent can only accelerate one’s development.

Putting it into practice here
All of what I said above is a major motivation for developing this website and its related volleyball coaching group. I want to see a structure develop whereby coaches can learn from each other. Most especially I want to see a system unfold where mentoring of new coaches by experienced ones can take place. It may be some time before we’re there on a formal type of basis, but at least we can start moving in that direction.