Archive for Volleyball Coaching News & Info

Professional volleyball in the U.S. – possible?

Recently, someone asked the question in a Facebook group whether there will ever be professional volleyball in the U.S. Of course there have been attempts at it over the years. None have lasted long, though. Most recently there is a new version developed through the USA Volleyball regions. It’s not a proper league yet, though.

An argument can be made that in many ways college volleyball is a type of professional league. Scholarship athletes are, after all, compensated for playing for their schools. It’s not a salary, but it’s definitely an exchange of participation and representation for something of value.

College vs. Professional

I wrote a series of posts comparing US college volleyball with professional volleyball in Europe. Here is the first one. The biggest difference between the two is the length of the season.

Actually, in a lot of ways US college teams – especially those in the upper levels – are bigger operations. Consider the amount of travel there is for teams in the Big 10 or the PAC-12. Think about how much money those coaches are paid. There aren’t many in the professional ranks who make that much. There also aren’t many clubs with staffs that large or comparable facilities.

The bottom line is that right now college volleyball in the US is a bigger deal than professional volleyball is in many other places.

Extending beyond college

The big question for US professional volleyball is being able to extend the sport beyond college without a major drop off. Who is going to want to go to a professional match if they can get a higher quality product watching the local college team?

Yes, you expect the level of play to be better. What about the facilities? What about the match-day environment?

In some places (Nebraska, Hawaii) college volleyball is a really big deal. Competing with it would be very challenging, especially for a fledgling league.

Use the soccer model?

One way a new professional volleyball league could go is to follow the Major League Soccer (MLS) route. That model is one where you get a bunch of billionaires who like the sport and have each start a team to operate a league at the national level. These folks can absorb years of losses to take the long view. It’s worked out pretty well as that league is now in its 21st season.

In the MLS case many of the early investors were NFL owners. For them it made a lot of sense because most of the soccer schedule was outside the football season. That gave them the opportunity to use their stadium more rather than having it sit empty. Most teams have now moved to soccer-specific stadiums. They realized the huge ones for football had serious match-day experience drawbacks.

So would something comparable for volleyball be getting NBA owners involved? You’re basically talking about the same sort of facility, after all. I think the problem there is that basketball has a much longer season than does football. Also, many of the arenas used for basketball also have hockey tenants. Volleyball would have a hard time getting on the schedule.

Using a regional-to-national model

A national level league like the one MLS developed would be expensive due to travel. And I’m not just talking about airfare, etc. I’m also talking about time. If you’re making lots of long trips you take players and staff away from home – and importantly, jobs.

Look at the leagues in Europe. The geographic regions they cover are basically the size of US states. Consider what could be done if we took a state or region approach to professional volleyball. We could run regional leagues and have those champions progress to a national level championship. It could even be something like the CEV Champions League.

I think taking this kind of regional approach makes sense from a few perspectives. Reducing travel expense is obviously one of them. There’s also the fact that a regional structure is basically already in place through USA Volleyball.

I also think this allows for the development of a semi-professional model. Players could have day jobs and/or attend school. At the lower levels in Europe, this is how it works – especially with domestic players. And if you look back at the history of US sports, most of them (if not all) began as semi-pro operations.

Implications for men’s volleyball

I think the biggest potential here might be for men’s volleyball in the US. There’s only something like 1/10th as many men’s college teams as women’s team. A professional league structure would provide more opportunity for male players.

Stuff to think about.

Technical timeouts and family entertainment

The other day the FIVB announced that technical timeouts will not be used during Olympic competition. For those who aren’t aware, Article 15.4 of the official FIVB rules state:

“In sets 1-4, two 60-second Technical Time-outs take place after the leading team reaches the 8th and 16th point.”

This is a rule that is used for all FIVB competitions (World League, Grand Prix, World Championships, etc.). Many leagues, however, don’t use technical timeouts. They aren’t used in Sweden or Denmark. The are used in England’s National League, but aren’t used in BUCS, the university competition.

I think the rule was probably put in place for TV to have a couple of fixed break points for advertising. With the introduction of video challenges, though, there are more stoppages in play now.

It will be interesting to see how matches flow in the Olympics and how coaches make timeout decisions (regardless of whether they are actually effective). I know from experience that when you think about timeout timing you do consider the timing of the next technical timeout.

Another “for TV” adjustment

Some of the reporting about eliminating the technical timeouts is to shorten set length, again for TV purposes. I wrote about the idea of trying to adapt the sport for television. To summarize, I’m not a huge fan of that idea. You don’t see other sports do that, do you?

Yes, many sports change the rules to make the game more exciting and entertaining. They do not, however, change the basic structure of the sport.This latter thing is what the FIVB seems to want to do in periodically looking at what I talked about here.

Interestingly, in the FIVB press release about dropping the technical timeouts there is a quote. It’s part of the standard “about” verbiage at the bottom.

The FIVB is committed to making volleyball the number one family sport entertainment in the world

I find this “commitment” very interesting. I’d be interested in knowing how they judge “family sport entertainment”. Is it from a participation perspective? Is it from a spectator perspective?

I hope they have a clear definition.

They won’t watch if it’s not enjoyable

A little while back, Mark Lebedew authored the post Selling Volleyball in which he basically took the volleyball community to task for the sport not being in a better situation with regards to its popularity worldwide.

To quote:

It is a widely agreed upon truism among volleyball people that volleyball deserves more respect and deserves wider media coverage. I am not one of those volleyball people.  I think volleyball has the respect and coverage it deserves. 

Mark’s main point is that volleyball suffers from pretty shoddy coverage because we in the community allow it to happen. Specifically, the governing bodies who provide the broadcast feeds don’t seem to give much attention to the quality of the product they are putting out there.

Oh, sure. The FIVB has done all sorts of things over the years to try to make the game more spectator and/or TV friendly. And they continue to look at more things they can do, as per my recent post on the subject.

The on-court product, however, is only one aspect of things.

Poor TV production

The elements around the actual play are also very important. Mark has taken some of the commentators to task for being poorly prepared and/or educated (#volleyballdrinkinggame), and producers for failing to show highlights of excellent plays. The fact that we see this sort of thing speaks to a failure on the part of FIVB, CEV, etc. in allowing that sort of thing to be the case.

I will add a complaint of my own. Let us hear the noise of the crowd!

A volleyball match broadcast where by far the loudest thing we hear is the voice of the commentator is DULL! Granted, for some matches there isn’t much of a crowd. When there is, though, the volume of the in-arena sound should at least match that of the commentator.

Let us experience at least some of the energy the spectators are putting out.

Poor in-arena atmosphere

I mentioned above the fact that some matches are poorly attended. This is going to happen in tournaments when the host country, or at least one of the bigger favorites – isn’t playing. Hard to do much about that.

I’ve watched matches where there have been good-sized crowds with hardly any energy, though. That’s really uninspiring.

I remember a couple years ago switching between watching matches from the Montreux Masters tournament on the women’s side and FIVB World League (I believe) on the men’s side. The energy coming through the screen for the Montreux matches was excellent, and I don’t think there was even a commentator. Great in-arena noise. And I’m not just talking about the crowd. The on-sight production was good. Lots of music and complimentary audio between plays.

In contrast, the men’s matches were depressing. I think they were in Argentina, but I could be wrong. The only sound you heard was the the ball contact. There wasn’t any kind of music that you could hear, no commentary, and if there was any real energy coming from the crowd you couldn’t tell. It was hard to watch, especially after having just watched the Montreux coverage.

As Mark suggests in his article, if you want prospective viewers to take your sport seriously, you need to take seriously the quality of the product you’re asking them to consume. It’s not enough just to stream matches. Not if you want your audience to be more than just the diehard volleyball folks.

Getting a bigger crowd

I have some thoughts on ways to improve volleyball match attendance which I’ll save for another discussion. Suffice it to say, however, that you’re more likely to attract and retain spectators in the seats if you provide a good product. Good volleyball is certainly part of that, and for sure winners get bigger crowds.

There’s more to it than that, though. Some of what makes for a good TV broadcast also makes for a good in-arena experience.

Report from World League in Dallas

Over the weekend I was in Dallas where the US Men’s National Team played a trio of FIVB World League matches. The boy’s Junior Nationals were also going on, not coincidentally.

The volleyball was average. The best match of the weekend – that I saw (didn’t see Australia v Bulgaria) – was USA v Bulgaria. The home side dropped the first set and had to come back from 5+ point deficits in sets 3 and 4 to get the win. I’m not saying the quality of play was great in that match. Rather, it was the one with the most tension. The rest of the matches were pretty one-sided.

This was true even of the USA v. Russia match on Sunday. That’s the one I expected to be the best of the three, but the Russians just weren’t up for it. The first set started ugly for the USA, with a string of hitting errors and blocked balls. They just didn’t play well. The thing is, though, Russia never got out to a lead of more than a couple points. It ended up being a really tight set that went over time – ending in a US win. After that, it was basically a USA rout. Russia just didn’t play well.

And there were some REALLY bad plays. Balls dropped between players. An MB taking a free ball, just stood there and didn’t make himself available to hit. Stuff like that.

The USA matches had pretty good attendance. The crowd made a fair amount of noise, especially during the more dramatic periods.

Introductions

The games weren’t the only thing going on, though.

Volleyball Coaching Wizard Ruth Nelson was on-hand as part of a reunion. It featured players from the area who were USA national program players going back into the 1960s. One of the ones she introduced me to was the woman who was the first to run the Texas 1-foot takeoff. You might know that better today as the slide.

Ruth also introduced me to Doug Beal.

While I didn’t actually meet them, I also saw the guys from The Net Live. Kevin Barnett did the broadcast for the USA matches and spent some time in the seats near me during the Australia vs. Russia match on Friday. DJ Roueche actually sat three rows in front of me the whole weekend.

Dare I disagree with Bernardo Rezende?

WorldofVolley once posted comments from Brazilian coach Bernardo Rezende (Bernardinho) on the subject of the FIVB potentially implementing time limits in volleyball. The idea is to fit matches into the classic 2 hour time block (1:45 of match time). This is most definitely not the first time the global governing body has addressed this issue. It’s something I myself commented on not that long ago.

I have a big question as to whether there is a legitimate need to fit in to that TV window. Football in the US runs about 3 hours. Baseball games are considered short if they are under about 2.5 hours. Basketball and hockey are both better than 2 hours in run time on average.

Here’s what Bernardinho had to say on the subject:

“I just have the feeling that they think too much about the entertainment, and they think very little about the main thing – about players and about the essence of volleyball.”

The “they” in this case is the FIVB.

I can understand Coach’s viewpoint here. We who have been in the game for a while have seen a lot of changes over the years. Some of them have been bigger than others. It can certainly be annoying to have to adapt to new rules all the time

I have two questions for Bernardinho, though.

First, what is “the essence of volleyball”? We need to have that defined before we can determine whether the FIVB thinks sufficiently about it or not.

Second, if the FIVB is the organization responsible globally for growing and promoting the sport, is not entertainment high on their list of priorities? To quote Wikipedia:

“Part of the FIVB’s activities in this area consists in attracting media partners and sponsors through negotiation of commercial rights for broadcasting and coverage of major events.”

In order to do these things they have to think a lot about entertainment – both in terms of the sport itself and in how events are run.

Volleyball ranks very high in terms of participation globally. I saw something recently which suggested it’s at #2, though I haven’t been able to dig that up (Interestingly, the USA is nowhere near the top of the country list in terms of adult participation rates). Unfortunately, volleyball is well down the list when it comes to viewership and commerciality. That’s a gap which I’m sure everyone in the sport would like to see bridged.

Could Brexit kill UK volleyball?

This isn’t a place for political discourse. It’s a sports coaching blog. I’m not going to get into a debate as to whether I think it’s a good idea for the UK to leave the EU or not. What I will say, though, is I think volleyball there could take a real hit after the British voted to opt out of the European Union.

During my time coaching at the University of Exeter, and for the Devon Ladies in the National League (NVL), I worked with players from something like 25 different nationalities.Here’s the list as I can remember it:

  • France
  • Italy
  • Germany
  • Netherlands
  • Sweden
  • Bulgaria
  • Belarus
  • Taiwan
  • China
  • USA
  • Chile
  • Croatia
  • Brazil
  • Czech Republic
  • Poland
  • England
  • Malaysia
  • Greece
  • Spain
  • Ukraine
  • Lithuania
  • Japan
  • Denmark

Obviously, not all of the countries above are from the EU, but quite a few are so. I wouldn’t expect there to be much impact on the non-EU representation among students playing for university teams in BUCS. Nothing much changes for them, but UK schooling does become a little less financially attractive to EU students who can’t get local tuition rates. Also, there could be an impact on exchange programs with EU universities, though I don’t really know that mechanism (Erasmus).

Beyond the universities


Alex Porter, former England national team player and current director of volleyball at the University of Essex (which ties in with the Tendring NVL club) was asked today on Facebook, “How many NVL clubs will go to the wall now through lack of players coming from Europe?

His reply was, “Most.”

I’m sure he means from Supers 8s right down to Division 3, and perhaps all the way to local leagues. Most of the players we’re talking about aren’t professional or semi-professional ones. Rather, it’s mainly about EU citizens working in England and playing volleyball on the side for the love of the sport. There is already an issue with requirements for foreign players to pay a transfer fee to be able to play in the NVL, and the Brexit decision seems to just pile on that.

I wonder if this negatively impacts Volleyball England’s funding. A big chunk of what they’ve received from above in recent years is for growing involvement in sport among young people (I think 14-24). How many of those being counted are EU citizens and thus won’t be available to be counted in the future?

It’s not just players. I know of a number of foreign-born coaches across the country as well.

I can’t speak very well to Scotland or Northern Ireland (both voted strongly in favor of staying in the EU, by the way). Volleyball in N.I. is not very strong, even by UK standards. Scotland, though, has a bit of history and has maintained a senior national team even when England was forced to drop theirs for a few years (only this year brought back). My impression is that Scottish volleyball is also quite diverse, but I don’t have direct experience as I do with England.

I don’t know, but I fear

It will be a while before we see where the results of this referendum takes the U.K. A lot of decision need to be made, and it will take time for things to settle out. My fear is in the interim a lot of good work by a number of people in the UK to try to grow the sport is disrupted by the uncertainty, and that is a very sad thought.

 

Happy Birthday Coaching Volleyball!

Today marks three years since the first post went up on this blog. If you read it you’ll see I had an ambitious outlook on where the website could go. I did, however, have a pretty narrow geographic scope in mind. I was focused at the time on helping volleyball coaches in the Southwest of England develop their education and skills.

How far things have come since then!

Here’s the 3-year graph of weekly page views going back to the beginning. The highest number of views back in 2013 happened in September. It was just over 1000. Fast forward to 2016 and the site’s slowest week back in January was still about 30% higher.

PageViews-3yrs

All together the blog has seen nearly 105,000 visitors and over 260,000 page views. As you can see from the map below, those visitors come from literally all over the world.

(click for larger view)

I doubt anyone will be surprised that the U.S. is the biggest source of blog visits given it is the largest collection of English-speaking volleyball people. Canada is a distant 2nd, with the U.K. in 3rd. Germany is next on the list, followed by the Philippines, Russia, and then Australia. Italy, the Netherlands, and Sweden round out the top 10.

Apparently, the sweet spot for volleyball coaches – at least those interested in developing themselves and sharing ideas – is the 25-44 range, which accounts for more than 50% of blog viewership. That’s probably not too much of a surprise. The 45-54 age group is a little behind that, pretty much on the same level with 18-24. I like seeing that latter representation as it tells us we’ve got a good number of younger coaches coming up with the right kind of mentality.

Only about 7% of the blog traffic comes from those over 55. Dare I draw any conclusions about that? 🙂

The gender split is basically 50/50. This is interesting because I regularly see a larger % of male readership of the Coaching Volleyball Facebook page, and FB is a major source of traffic for the blog. Miles ahead of Twitter. Apparently, volleyball coaches hangout on Facebook.

Speaking of Social Media, I created Facebook and Twitter accounts for the site at the same time as I started the blog. The FB page is now approaching 1000 likes. The Twitter account recently crossed 800 followers (rising rapidly of late). For the record, I’ve not done any advertising to boost those numbers along the way.

By the way, I managed to complete a PhD in that time as well!

One blog, many connections
A major result of my developing this blog has been the connections I’ve made with coaches in many different places. I was already coaching in England when I started posting to this site. Since then, though, I can attribute many of my coaching experiences to relationships fostered by this website.

I’ve been a visiting coach at a couple of professional teams in Germany, and got the opportunity to watch the men’s CEV Champions League Final 4 in Berlin in 2015. I’ve worked Volleyball England Junior/Cadet tryouts, and USA Volleyball High Performance tryouts. I got my job coaching in Sweden directly because of my German contacts, and my current job at Midwestern State is linked to my work on Volleyball Coaching Wizards, which in turn links back to this blog.

It’s actually kind of amazing to think about all the people the blog has helped me connect with across the volleyball world. Seems like where ever I go someone will tell me they’ve been to this site, which started so small.

Where to from here?
That’s a good question. I’m putting a lot of time and effort into the Wizards project because I think it’s something which has the potential to have a major impact on the volleyball coaching community. Hopefully, you’ve at least been following along with that podcast. My partner Mark and I have, I think, done some really interesting stuff there.

I’ve also been working on some more focused educational material in recent months in areas where I see a lot of demand for information and solutions among visitors to the blog. You’ll hear more about that shortly.

Those two things have probably kept me from being as prolific in my posting as I’ve been at other times, though I’ve still managed to top 750. They may continue to slow me down in the future. So long as I’m coaching and/or interacting with other coaches, though, I’m sure there will be plenty of material to keep me writing.

I’m always open to suggestions, too. If you’ve got something you’d like to see me talk about here, just let me know. Some of the more interesting stuff – at least to my mind – has come from reader questions.

750 posts and counting!

Yesterday’s post was the 750th of this little volleyball coaching blog. 🙂

We’re a few weeks away from Coaching Volleyball’s third anniversary since it’s launch, so I guess I’m averaging just about a post every weekday. By the point you’ll probably have noticed that’s my general schedule. I don’t always get them in, but it’s pretty close.

According to the stats, here’s the top 10 posts by page views.

  1. Volleyball Try-Out Drill Ideas
  2. Volleyball Conditioning – A Sample Program
  3. Are your warm-ups wasting valuable time?
  4. Drill: Run Serve Receive
  5. Volleyball Set Diagram
  6. Teach them how to throw
  7. Game: Bingo-Bango-Bongo
  8. Scoring Serving and Passing Effectiveness
  9. Game: Winners (a.k.a. King/Queen of the court)
  10. Rules for coaching volleyball from John Kessel

Not surprisingly, most of the posts above date back to the first year of the blog, giving them lots of time to accumulate reads. Interestingly, though, #6 and #10 are both posts from in the last 6 months. They obviously reflect an interest in the material. Equally, though, they indicate how far the blog has come in terms of reach.

In fact, those two posts are responsible for the 3 largest individual day’s of readership for the blog.

Something I find interesting is that in terms of social media, Facebook is miles ahead of Twitter in terms of where readers come from to get to the site. I think it’s about a 5:1 ratio. This is despite the fact that I have a similar number of followers on both platforms. Clearly, there’s more sharing going on among coaches on Facebook than on Twitter.

What the stats can’t tell me is how much readership some of my posts are getting in print media. Over the years quite a few of them have been picked up for publishing in other places, most notably the AVCA’s Coaching Volleyball 2.0 magazine.

Anyway, I don’t have plans to stop writing any time soon. Got thoughts for future post topics? Let me know!

Questions for John, Russ, and Terry?

In about a week and a half I’m going to be attending the Fort Worth clinic being run by The Art of Coaching Volleyball. I’ve been invited by the organizers to interview the three lead clinicians, John Dunning (Stanford), Russ Rose (Penn State), and Terry Liskevych (recently retired from Oregon State). I’ll sit down with each of them for something like 45 minutes and we’ll record some stuff for them to use on their website and stuff down the road.

I’d like to get your thoughts on interesting questions to throw at the guys.

Here’s the qualification, though. I want to step back from the technical and tactical stuff they normally focus on in their clinics. I’m not going to ask them about drills or games and playing systems. There’s plenty of that material out there.

Instead I’m going more in the Volleyball Coaching Wizards direction. By that I mean I want to focus on the underlying sets of philosophies and coaching developmental considerations which serve to motivate the technical and tactical stuff.

So, with that in mind, what questions should I put on my list?