facebook_pixel

Archive for Volleyball Coaching News & Info

A rethink happening at Volleyball England

An article came out from Volleyball England recently. It’s a rather frank discussion of where things are at with that organization. In it they talk about the likelihood of losing funding from higher up, which is a regular issue. I wrote before about how much of VE’s funding came on the basis of increasing participation in sports. It leads to some issues in terms of participation/competition conflicts.

It sounds like the leadership – or at least what they are hearing from membership – have realized the focus on participation in recent years has led them astray. In the article they talk about getting back to their main purpose.

“In the quest to drive up volleyball participation in recent years, we rather lost sight of who we were supposed to serve and support. We will now rectify this.”

That’s an admirable statement. I’ll be curious to hear from my friends closely connected to V.E. to hear their thoughts on the subject. Clearly, the organization needs to develop its own sources of revenue to avoid such a major reliance from government sources.

Looking back on 2016, and ahead to 2017

This time last year I did a review of what had been a really interesting year of 2015. It’s interesting to look back at that, and in particular the things I had in mind for the new year, and compare it to what actually happened. That being the case, here’s a similar look back for 2016 and look forward to 2017.

Education

Well, I finally completed all my PhD requirements. It ended up taking about 3 years and 4 months. I submitted the finished version of my dissertation in January and received notice of the conferral of my degree in February. Here’s the letter I received. The picture is from when I was reading it on my phone as I waited for my baggage at LAX.

I did not actually attend graduation in July (I think I was doing camp), but they sent me a copy of my diploma. One of these days I might get around to framing it or something. 🙂

On I guess you could call a related subject, I taught my first college course during the Fall semester. It was a volleyball activity class, so not exactly something academically rigorous. I did have them take a midterm and submit final papers, though.

Job

This time last year I was in Sweden coaching the women’s team at Svedala in the country’s top league. The team finished the first half of the 2015-16 season on top of the standings. We had also done well in the Oresundliga, and had won a pre-season tournament in Denmark. For that reason, perhaps the biggest news of the year – or at least one of the most surprising developments – was that I was let go in early February.

After a brief job hunt, I landed at Midwestern State University (MSU) in Texas. It was an interesting new challenge from my perspective. I joined a program in the early stages of a rebuild, with a coach just off her first season with the team. MSU is a Division II program, which is a level I had not coached before. It was also not only a new locale in terms of places I’ve lived, but also in terms of being in a place where volleyball is a big sport.

Travel

In 2016 volleyball once more took me to a bunch of places – most of them new.

With Svedala I got to visit a very cold Upsala for Gran Prix in early January. I then got to see some of Stockholm while there for a league match about a week later.

When I was hanging out in Long Beach between jobs, I attended a men’s NCAA match for the first time ever. Not that I really had to go far. The Pyramid was just across town from where I was staying.

Of course with MSU I toured all over Texas, as well as to places in Kansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico for matches during the season. I made a couple of trips to Dallas for recruiting in Spring. I worked a couple of High Performance try-outs there as well, and I spent a weekend in Forth Worth on the campus of TCU for an Art of Coaching clinic.

As you may have seen, my last volleyball trip for 2016 was to the AVCA Convention. I was there to present, but took in plenty of seminars as well. It was my first time ever visiting Columbus, OH.

Writing and publishing

I don’t think I had any volleyball articles published in magazines in 2016. At least if I did I can’t remember them as I write this post. Of course I did have a book project – the very first Volleyball Coaching Wizards book. That took up big chunks of my Summer and early Autumn time!

I also developed a volleyball try-outs course. This is something I’d had in mind to do for years. I finally sat down and got it done. The response to it was really positive, so it was definitely worth the effort.

This has nothing to do with volleyball, but I twice submitted a paper for consideration toward publication in an academic journal. This is from my PhD research. The first time we (my PhD supervisor and I) aimed quite high. We didn’t expect an acceptance, but hoped for some good feedback. As anticipated, we got a rejection. It did come with a bunch of useful comments, though. We used them to revise the paper and submit to a new, slightly lower ranked journal. At this writing we are waiting for a response.

The blog

It was another record year for the blog in 2016. For the year there were about 161,000 page views from more than 86,000 visitors. That’s about a 25% increase over 2015 figures in terms of pages, and almost a 50% bump in visitors.

As you can see from the map, once again there were visitors from just about everywhere.

No surprise that the US dominates the readership.

As has been the pattern, August was once more the largest traffic month. In 2016 it accounted for nearly 13,000 visits and almost 25,000 page views. September was also above 20k views, making it the first time with two months crossing that threshold.

Interesting, the biggest single day ever for the blog came in early May at just over 2900 views. The Teach them how to throw post went viral. For the month it garnered over 4000 page views. Honestly, that surprised me. I didn’t really think of that as more or less interesting or insight a post than many others. Just goes to show that like the Rules for coaching volleyball from John Kessel post from late 2015, sometimes you just hit it right at that particular moment.

In line with prior years, search engine traffic was by far the single largest source of readership. Facebook once more led the social media sources by a large margin.

Since its inception in June 2013, the blog has now had nearly 178k visitors and over 365k page views. The post count now exceeds 825.

Looking forward to 2017

This is probably something I can say at the start of each new year, but I go into 2017 with a mixture of uncertainty and plans. There’s something in the works in the background that would be a big development for me, though it’s a long way from being concrete. As such, I will leave it for later discussion if things move in the right direction.

One of the things I can say with high confidence is that I will once again attend the USA Volleyball High Performance Coaches Clinic in February. As you may have read from when I attended in 2015, I found it to be a great experience. This time I will add the CAP III course to the mix as well.

My partner Mark and I will continue to develop the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project. We definitely want to produce more books from the content we are collecting. I think we’ve decided what the next book will be.

I also hope to produce a new edition of Inside College Volleyball. That’s the college recruiting book I developed several years ago with another (now former) coach. It’s overdue for a revision and update.

Of course things will progress at MSU. The head coach is expecting her first child in April, which could make for an interesting Spring season. We are working on plans for a team trip to Argentina in August. That’s going to mean a big fund raising effort in the months to come.

Away from volleyball, I need to produce at least one more academic paper for potential publication. I’m scheduled to teach my second semester of the volleyball class as well.

 

 

College volleyball outside the USA

In the U.S. college volleyball is a pretty big thing. As I show in this post, the number of schools with varsity teams approaches 2000. The vast majority are women’s teams. These numbers don’t include school club teams. There are hundreds of those as well.

For none American readers, a varsity team is one administered by the school. It’s budget is part of the Athletics budget. A club team, in contrast, is student run. They might get some funding support – often through something like the school’s recreational program – but otherwise they are self-funded and self-managed.

College volleyball outside the U.S.

In Europe and elsewhere there are also college (university) teams. They follow a primarily club structure, however. It’s much like the one US college club teams use.

Let me use the University of Exeter (U.K.) as an example.

When I coached at Exeter the club comprised of something like 120 members. It had a board lead by a pair of Club Captains. All board positions were elected annually, toward the end of the Spring term. Members of the club paid an annual fee, part of which went to the Athletic Union (AU) to cover administrative and facilities costs.

Think of the AU as the Recreation Department for the school. It oversees all sports clubs, manages facilities scheduling, and ensures clubs stay within their budgets. The AU also manages the clubs’ relationship with BUCS, the rough U.K. equivalent of the NCAA. Actually, it’s probably closer to the NAIA in terms of its rule set.

The Exeter volleyball club featured three levels of participation. At the top were the teams playing in BUCS competition. In my last two seasons there we had two each for the men and women. Those teams also played in regional adult club tournaments, and some individual players played on higher level National League (NVL) teams.

Below the BUCS teams were the Intermediates. They played in an Exeter city league. There was also a Beginners group run entirely in-house.

All three levels had weekly training sessions.

Very loose rules

I mentioned above that the BUCS rules are probably closer to NAIA than NCAA. The bottom line is there aren’t a lot of rules. Pretty much as long as you’re a registered full-time student at the school you’re eligible to play for the team. Doesn’t matter whether you’re brand new to the sport or have played professionally.

There also aren’t any sorts of limits on training/playing hours. Nor are there differences between what you can do in-season and out-of-season.

Really, the focus of the BUCS rule book is on scheduling and competition. Everything else is at the discretion of the universities and the clubs.

Multi-national competition

Recently, one of the top U.K. college programs – Northumbria – competed in the European University Games (EUG). There’s a short write-up about how their men and women did here. The 2016 Games took place in Croatia and featured university teams from some interesting places. I count 13 different nations on the men’s side and also 13 on the women’s side, though not all the same. Not surprisingly, the host country had more entries than most. Overall, though, Germany was tops in terms of team count.

One can’t help but wonder how a U.S. college team would do in this kind of competition. The European teams would almost certainly have more experience given the inclusion of older players. The U.S. teams, though, would very likely have more in the way of resources and support.

As and aside, I saw that the University of Split was one of the entries on the men’s side. I’ve been to Split and really liked it. Wouldn’t mind coaching there. 😉

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 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.