Archive for Volleyball Coaching News & Info

Volleyball over academics?

Back in 2013, there was a story going around the US volleyball community that caught my eye. A college biology professor threatened to fail a volleyball player if she missed another class to play in national championships. The player already had to miss three classes due to volleyball travel. That’s not at all uncommon during the season for athletes. The news report indicated that the school would fly the player to the competition separately to avoid her missing class again.

This recalls to mind a story from several years back. There was a team at a prominent liberal arts college in the Northeast of the US. It was not allowed to take part in the national championships because they fell during final exams week. I can’t recall the school, nor the sport, but I remember it was a big talking point at the time.

I can appreciate the academic side of these cases, especially as a former Ivy League school coach. However, I think sometimes things go a bit too far. Part of being a college/university student is the experiences you have. It’s not just about the courses you take. Competing in a national championship could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Besides, as one commentators opines, if you’re keeping up with the work and are generally a good student, I don’t see a problem with missing class.

Obviously, I have a bias, though. I’d like to hear what others think.

Catching up quicker in rally scoring?

While watching a US collegiate volleyball match once, I heard the announcer and analyst working the match talk about the difference between rally and sideout scoring. The analyst was a former long-time college volleyball coach. Their career spanned both scoring systems (as my own has done), so it’s natural to want to hear what someone like that thinks. Unfortunately, in this case, it wasn’t the brightest observation in the world.

Basically, what the analyst and the former volleyball coach said during the broadcast was that in rally scoring you can catch-up much faster than you could in the old sideout system. Think about this for a second and you should quickly realize why this is totally incorrect.

In sideout scoring the only way to get points was if your team served and won the rally. Thus, in order to catch-up after falling behind you must score an unanswered string of points while serving.

In rally scoring you get points any time you win a rally. In order to close a gap, though, you need to be able to score points when your team is serving. That is, score points in a row. It’s exactly the same idea as in sideout scoring.

The illusion of faster catch-up probably comes from the fact that when a team gains the serve in the first place they score a point. For example, if the score is 10-6 and the losing team gets a sideout the score becomes 10-7. If, however, they cannot win on their serve, the score becomes 11-7, so no gain is made. The gain only comes if the losing team can win when they serve.

So closing a gap has exactly the same requirements whether you’re playing sideout or rally scoring. You have to score when you serve. The difference is one of time.

In the sideout days you could go multiple rotations without either team scoring a point. That gave teams behind on the scoreboard more opportunity to mount a comeback. They could chip away slowly so long as they could sideout effectively. For example, if each one of your servers got one point during their rotations and you were able to sideout each time the other team served, you would make up 6 points against them. If you were down 11-5 the score would be 11-11 and you’d be right back in it.

In rally score, though, points accumulate quickly. Teams no longer have the luxury of time to slowly whittle away at the opponent’s lead. All the other team has to do at that stage is keep siding out to win. Using the above example of each server scoring a point in their rotation, your team would still make up 6 points, but it would be in a 12-6 fashion rather than a 6-0 one. If you’re in the fifth set and it was 11-5 you probably ran out of time because the other team reached 15 before you got close enough to push it to extra points.

Why are we still developing the BUCS volleyball schedule?

I have to let loose on a rant.

Sorry, but this is driving me crazy.

The Western League for BUCS is a complete shambles. Maybe other leagues are the same, but I can only speak for my specific experience.

Last year was pretty bad. Schedules were changing day to day for matches to be played that week or weekend. BUCS posted a schedule full of Wednesday matches, which many players then used for planning purposes (for those who don’t know, the traditional sports day in the UK is Wednesday). The problem was that most matches ended up being scheduled on weekends in a tournament type format, creating conflicts.

Now, I have no problem with schools favoring more of a tournament or tri-match style of approach as it tends to make things more efficient and cost effective. It would just be good to know in advance what’s happening. I’d have liked to do some travel on my free weekends, but I couldn’t do it because I never knew what was going on. Then, after primarily doing multi-match dates through the first term, come January it became a case of midweek matches to round out the schedule. And getting them played as a major undertaking.

That was bad enough. This year it’s worse.

The whole schedule is being negotiated between the respective AUs (rough equivalent of an athletic department). BUCS has again provided a Wednesday-based schedule. Some schools are forcing that to be used for their designated home matches while others are trying to arrange tournament style scheduling once more. On top of that, some schools are running best of 3 set matches and others best of 5. The BUCS rules state that in the case any matches are to be done tournament style then all matches have to be played best of 3 for the sake of consistency, which is required for handling tiebreakers.

So what you end up with in cases is teams traveling a long way to play hardly at all. For example, the trip from Exeter to Bournemouth is about 2.5 hours one way. A 3-set match is generally done in 1.5 hours or less. That means 5 hours of driving to get 90 minutes of playing, tops. Major waste.

Oh, and we’ve got a potential situation where instead of a double-round of matches against each team in Division 1 we could end up with just a single. Who then gets priority for being the home side in any given fixture arrangement when BUCS has proscribed a double round?

It’s a total mess. I can’t help but think that BUCS needs to enforce a policy and make the schools adhere. Or at least require that the schools get their scheduling done before school starts so people can make plans. This doing it on the fly stuff is rubbish.

Just how big is volleyball in the US?

A while back the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) put together a set of info graphics which shows how big women’s collegiate volleyball is in the States. That’s both in terms of teams and scholarship funding. Here’s what the structure looks like.

US Womens Volleyball Team Counts

You’ll notice there were some cut-paste issue with the NCAA Division numbers. The actual D1 number is closest to correct. As of the 2017 season, there were 334 teams in Division I, 297 teams in Division II, and 444 in Division III. It was 222 for NAIA.

The NCAA and NAIA both comprise of 4-year colleges and universities.

Alas, men’s volleyball is only a fraction of the size of the women’s game.

For more info comparing US volleyball to other countries, check out this article I wrote for an Argentinian coaching magazine.

Extending my volleyball coaching certification

This post comes from early in my second year in England.

Today I’m starting the Volleyball England Level 3 course. It was supposed to run back during the first week of August. That 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 had 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.

100 days, 100 posts

This post marks the end of the first 100 days of this blog. It’s also marks the 100th entry in the blog. It’s a nice milestone for something I started as a little side project. Got myself on a pretty good roll there during the summer months.

My various experiences coaching have provided considerable fodder for new material, and my August trip to several college programs in the US was quite useful as well. At any given point I’ve had several posts pending publication. I’m not sure how long that will be the case, especially with the other demands on my time I expect to have now that school is getting back in session. For now, though, I’m enjoying being able to keep putting my thoughts and ideas in print.

As noted on the About page, I started this website out as something to use in helping coaches in the South West of England where I’m located – and the broader English coaching community as well given the contacts I’ve started to develop from coaching in BUCS and NVL and attending coaching meetings. Thus far I’ve done very little to actually promote the site and what I’ve done has been mainly England focused. Interestingly, though, the traffic to the site has been very much multinational.

Distribution of Visitors to Coaching Volleyball in the first 100 days

A close examination will show that the UK is the next darkest country on the map, though the number of visits from there falls way behind those from the US.

As you’d probably expect, the home page of the site has been the most visited page. Here are the pages which round out the top 10:

Game: Bingo-Bango-Bongo
Volleyball Set Diagram
Are your warm-ups wasting valuable time?
Proposed FIVB rules changes ahead
Drill: Run Serve Receive
Volleyball Conditioning: A Sample Program
First things first, know your priorities
Volleyball Drills (main category page)
Making Mentorship Part of the Process

I’ve got loads of ideas for stuff I’d like to do with the sight and related social network platforms. If you have any ideas or things you’d like to see, definitely let me know through the Contact page, the Facebook group, or via Twitter.

By the way, the Facebook group now has over two dozen members and the Twitter feed has over 100 followers. Not bad for virtually no promotional effort thus far.

One thing I want to do is get some additional contributors pitching in their own thoughts, experiences, drills and games. It would be nice to have some varying perspectives.

Volleyball a niche mainstream sport?

In an edition of the Volleyball Ace Power Tips newsletter, American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) president Kathy DeBoer had a bit of a rant. She got quite fired up about the perception of volleyball as a sport in the States. If you’re not a US reader, don’t flip the channel, though. I’m going somewhere with this discussion with a broad implication.

In the newsletter, Kathy took a look at some figures related to high school and college level volleyball participation. It started with the state of Michigan where there are more girls’ volleyball teams at the high school level than any other female team sport (20% more participants than the next highest). This was been the case for the last 15 years. In fact, only boys’ basketball had more schools sponsoring teams in Michigan at the time. Despite this, volleyball was only sponsored by 50 of the colleges in the state while women’s basketball was in 56.

Kathy said the AVCA manager of media relations made the comment, “Volleyball is the only mainstream sport that everyone thinks is a niche sport, even the people in it. I can tell you right now, no male sport with the participation and sponsorship numbers of volleyball would ever consider itself a niche sport.”

I think there’s a key bit in there which is really telling. It’s the “…even the people in it.” bit. I’ve been involved in volleyball since the latter 1980s. Thinking on that phrase, I couldn’t help but look back on all those years and realize he’s totally right.

The newsletter went on to show that 22 of the 50 states featured girls’ volleyball as the top team sport. Soccer came in second in the rankings at 16 states. Basketball was a distant third with only 7 states. And yet, basketball continues to have a higher profile than either volleyball or soccer at the collegiate level.

There are at least two parts to this problem.

One of them is the lack of a comparable men’s sport with a high profile. Unfortunately, men’s volleyball is way behind the women’s side of the sport. Some blame Title IX for that. There’s a lot of competition in male sports, though. Also, for a long time volleyball was viewed as a girls’ sport (as indicated in The Volleyball Debate). In some places it still is!

Regardless of the reason, not having a strong men’s counterpart does play a part. Title IX compliance strongly encourages schools to provide equal funding and other support to women’s teams as given to the men in the same sport. Thus, when men’s basketball gets loads of money, media coverage, etc. it will invariably follow that women’s basketball does too.

Actually, now retired Brian Gimmillaro from Long Beach State suggested something to me during a chat we had once. It was about the business side of things. He said women’s volleyball determines the support of the men’s team instead of the other way around. He said the men’s coach there told him to keep on winning because the men benefit from it. That means things like getting the best locker and team room facilities in the conference. The decision by the Athletic Director at the University of Pacific to cut men’s volleyball (which had a budget of about $100k less than the women) for funding purposes provides an idea of the state of the game on that side of things.

This sort of development suggests that we really need to be looking to address the profile of women’s volleyball, both in its own right and potentially as a way to elevate the men’s side of the game as well. There being no male counterpart to the recently developed collegiate Sand Volleyball competition tends to support this argument. The high profile of Misty & Kerri, and then Kerri & April, at the pro and Olympic level have brightened the spot light on the women’s side of the beach game as well.

So how do we do increase the profile of women’s volleyball – or volleyball in general?

At the grass roots level, the AVCA newsletter offers some good advice about dealing with local media to make it easier for them to write about the sport. Part of it is just realizing that most media types do not have volleyball backgrounds. That means it needs extra support from those of us in the community to cover the sport effectively and efficiently. Obviously, getting our own teams, clubs, etc. press coverage is the main focus, but by doing just that we raise the profile of volleyball in general.

On top of all that, we have to make sure we are constantly letting everyone out there know how great a sport we have and how the sport is developing in a way which demonstrates how mainstream it is – or in the case where it’s still developing, how well it’s growing. In short, we need to be evangelists. Just don’t be obnoxious about it. 😉

Proposed FIVB rules changes ahead

There’s a lot of talk going around the volleyball community globally about the rules changes FIVB is looking at potentially institute in the future. Here’s one bit of analysis (and opinion) from The Art of Coaching Volleyball, and another from former US national team coach Hugh McCutcheon.. Volleywood has a post which tracks the recent changes regarding new rules for the current cycle, which includes the rule against taking serves overhead that was going to go in, but got postponed.

Here are some of what is being talked about by the powers that be:

  • Require servers to land behind the end line
  • Back row attackers must land behind the 3-meter or 10-foot line
  • Eliminate open-hand tip
  • Eliminate overhead serve receive serve
  • Penalties for a missed serve
  • Free substitution – any player can sub for any player at any time
  • Any contact with the center line is a violation
  • Any net touch by an athlete is a violation
  • Decrease the number of points per set

Personally, I’ve long been opposed to the rules changes allowing center line touch/penetration and net contact. Aside from it being a question of player safety, I also think body control is a key skill in volleyball and letting players swim in the net and such detracts from that.

The requirement that players land behind the end line on a jump serve probably wouldn’t have much impact (except in gyms where there isn’t all that much area behind the line to start with). Not allowing back row attackers to broad jump to hit things like BICs would be meaningful, though.

I’m not sure about dropping the open-hand tip. Sounds like it’s mainly intended to eliminate setter dumps with the idea being they are rally killers. I may be OK with it on that basis (though my immediate question is why not just play better defense?), but I’m mixed in terms of taking the tip away from hitters. Some suggest a roll shot can be used instead, which is fair enough, I suppose.

On the penalties for missed serves, I understand that they want to cut down on what is a pretty dull play and reduce the amount of time players just go back and bomb away. Missed serves are already penal, though, and not just in terms of giving the other team a point (see my post about when not to miss your serve).

In terms of free subs, you can see something moving in that direction in play in the US women’s collegiate game – which always seems to play just a bit differently than everyone else. There they use the libero (who can serve in one rotation) plus have 12-15 subs (it seems to change periodically). That obviously creates a lot of specialization opportunity. There is something to be said for having the best possible line-up on the court at all times for the highest level of play. I’d want to see exactly how this would be instituted, though. I personally would like to see the core rotational nature of the game being maintained.

And of course there’s the no overhead passes on serve receive rule which was to go in this year but his been pulled back for further review. I personally like cleaning up serve receive passing to get rid of the doubles, though completely ruling out the overhead pass seems unnecessarily restrictive. The hard bit will be having a whole generation of players who’ve come up playing with their hands suddenly having to change.

What about you? What are your thoughts?

BUCS Volleyball showing 13%+ growth y/y

A little while back I posted about the growth in the number of Western League volleyball teams competing in BUCS for the 2013-14 campaign. As I noted then, we’re seeing net growth on both the men’s and women’s side such that in both cases there will A and B sub-divisions within Division 2 whereas in 2012-13 there was only Division 2A for both genders.

Being the curious sort, I decided to take a look to see if there’s growth in other parts of BUCS system. As it turns out, there is.

On the men’s side, excluding the Western League, there’s a net gain of 12 teams for the new campaign. The Midlands and Southeastern Leagues are both growing by 5 teams, leading to the addition of a Division 3 in both places where none existing last season. The Northern League added a pair of teams, while the Scottish League held steady.

On the women’s side the gain was six teams. The Midlands League gained 5 teams, resulting in a split in Division 2 in to A and B groups. The Northern League actually lost 4 teams, seeing Division 3 dropped. The Scottish League gained 2 teams, causing Division 2 to be split to create Division 3. The South Eastern League gained 3 teams on net, adding a Division 3B.

So here are the total 2013-14 net team gains by League:

Midlands +10
Northern -2
Scottish +2
Southeastern +8
Western +8

That gives us a total net gain of 26 teams in a single year, which is just over 13%. That puts BUCS volleyball up through the 200 team mark. Not bad for a place that supposedly doesn’t care about volleyball.