Archive for Volleyball Coaching News & Info

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?

Is volleyball business or entertainment?

This post is motivated on an article on the WorldofVolleyball site.

That article’s title is Volleyball – Entertainment or Business? My immediate response to seeing it was, “Yes.” The two are intertwined. Volleyball is an entertainment business. It’s just as the NFL is an entertainment business and the English Premier League is an entertainment business.

Obviously, I’m talking primarily about the professional and international level of the sport here. That is the main focus of the WoV article. That isn’t to say, though, that lower levels of the sport aren’t about entertainment either. The waters just get a bit muddied when talking about something like high school or Juniors. You could also add marketing into the mix when it comes to colleges and universities. Clearly, sports impact applications and attendance at schools.

Professional teams

The primary focus of the WoV article is on teams, specifically teams from Poland, excluding themselves from competing in next season’s CEV club competitions – Champions League, Cup, etc. The reporting goes that the clubs are doing so because they don’t feel like they will be strong enough to legitimately challenge to win. As a result, they would rather save themselves the expense. This is a similar sort of discussion to the one I brought up in Properly professional or just participating?

When I coached in Sweden, this sort of decision-making was very much going on for the clubs there. No doubt it will continue to be the case. For the most part they did not see enough value being derived from taking part in CEV competition (or NEVZA) to justify the expense involved.

Non-Professional organizations

And it’s not like professional clubs are the only one making these sorts of choices.

Clubs and teams at all levels make decisions all the time about whether certain competitions or matches makes sense. When I coached at Brown we made choices about pre-conference tournaments. They were based on likely recruiting potential (which is why were frequently went to California). College coaches regularly pick out-of-conference competition with an eye toward the level of competition and how it will help them achieve their season objective (e.g. helping their RPI for NCAA tournament inclusion/seeding). Juniors clubs evaluate tournaments to play in with regards to the level of recruiting exposure they will provide, among other factors.

It all comes down to a cost vs. benefit (at least perceived) analysis.

Make it make sense to stay in

My view with regards to CEV and the like is that they should be doing everything they can to bring the clubs from the lower level countries into their competitions. You want to make the sport more relevant and financially stronger? Then you need to expand its popularity in places where it doesn’t get the exposure you’d like.

Find ways to incentivize clubs to take part in your competition. The NCAA pays travel expenses for teams playing in its tournament. It also does things to try to minimize those costs and travel times through how it structures it’s tournaments. The CEV needs to look at the reality of the sport at the lower levels and find ways to make their competitions more inclusive.

And this obviously isn’t something for just the less competitive countries and leagues, as the Polish clubs seem to be demonstrating.

I’ll return to the point I made above. Volleyball is an entertainment business. A major part of any business is ensuring that is will be able to continue operating – which means this applies to non-profit organizations as well as for-profit ones. This is something every confederation, league, and club needs to understand.

Sweden Coaching Log – Apr 29, 2016

Now that the Swedish season has ended, I wanted to provide something of a footnote to my coaching with Svedala.

Elitserie
Svedala managed to finish 3rd in the table at the end of the regular season. As you can see on the final table below, Engelholm was the clear top finisher. Only three points separated 2nd through 4th, and it was only three more points to 5th. Ă–rebro was definitely helped in having the softer northern group schedule, as it put them in position to have home court through the semifinals.

ElitSerie-Table-Final

Svedala’s 3rd place saw them matched up against Gislaved in the playoff quarterfinals, which they won 3-0. They then faced Ă–rebro in the semifinals. That series went five, which each team taking a 3-2 victory on the road the second time around. As the higher seed, Ă–rebro hosted the deciding match, which they won 3-0. The first two sets were tight, but the third not so much.

Engelholm won the other semifinal 3-0, putting them in the final vs Ă–rebro. Svedala played for 3rd against Hylte/Halmstad. Engelholm went on to win the final 3-0. Svedala lost to Hylte to end up in 4th.

While it represents an improvement over last year, I think there is probably at least some disappointment in the club that the team didn’t finish higher than 4th. I’m sure they really thought making the final was a good prospect. No doubt it was tough to play in the 3rd place play-off after having lost in 3-2 in the semifinal series.

Oresund Liga
Svedala ended up finishing 2nd in the Danish/Swedish cross-boarder league. Here are the final standings:

OresundLiga-Final

Brøndby had already sealed up 1st place by the time I left Sweden and we were looking good for a top-3 spot. At that stage Engelholm was the other likely contender, but they obviously fell off the pace.

Honors
My young Swedish MB at Svedala was selected as the season’s Break Through Player. I think the fact that she had the opportunity to work with arguably the best middle in the league (the team’s American) was a real plus for her growth and development. The team’s American setter was nominated for Player of the Year, but not surprisingly was beaten out by the OPP from Engelholm.

The American MB was in the statistical Best Team for the regular season as the #1 in her position. The young Swedish middle ranked #4, so was in the second team. The American OH was #3 in her position. Officially, the setter ended up #2, but the player in the #1 spot wasn’t actually the starting setter for her team, so shouldn’t really count.

I held all year the Svedala had arguably the three strongest foreign players. That was borne out by the All-Star team selections in which they all were chosen. Interestingly, Hylte took three of the other four spots, with Engelholm’s OPP getting the remaining one.

Busy weekend ahead!

Today starts what looks to be a pretty intense four day sequence.

This evening I’m working my second High Performance try-out in Dallas. Before that, though, I ‘m meeting up with a Volleyball Coaching Wizard for lunch (she’s also working the try-out). That’s supposed to be about a 2 hour and 15 minute drive. Last week, though, it was more like 3 hours – each way.

After the try-out, which will end around 8pm, I have to drive back to campus as I have to be there for Friday practice (6:30am). I will be running it because the head coach will be in Dallas with her club team playing in the Lone Star qualifier.

After practice I’ll be headed back to Big D once more, and staying until Sunday. I’ll be making my first appearance on the recruiting circuit in Midwestern State University colors at Lone Star. I’ve been to other qualifiers in the past, but this will be my first time at this particular one.

I’ll try to get some decent pictures and/or video to give those of you who haven’t seen anything like this an idea of how truly big these events are. There’s over 100 courts, mostly running 4-team pools in two waves.

Heading to HP try-outs

I’ll be having a new volleyball experience today. I’m working the USA Volleyball High Performance try-outs in Dallas this afternoon.

For those who don’t know, the High Performance program is USA Volleyball’s talent identification program. It’s been in place for more than a decade. Basically, during the course of each juniors season there are try-outs for the program run in conjunction with the national qualifier tournaments. They are used to select players for the HP program camps and programs which run during the Summer.

I actually helped out with a Volleyball England try-out one time. That was for their girls’ Cadet and Junior national teams, which is something like U16 and U18. That try-out was also meant to identify a group of players to bring in to future camps, but obviously on a much smaller scale than what we’re talking about here in the US.

Today’s try-outs are for U14s. Next week on Thursday there’s a second try-out for the older girls. I’ll likely be working that one as well. I’ll provide a report on the experience in a future post.

Properly professional or just participating?

Yesterday on his Facebook page, Mark Lebedew made the comment that, “Professional sport is not for clubs who want, but for clubs who can.” Mark told me that observation was made based on something a mutual friends of ours had to say combined with a bankruptcy issue in the top German league.

I was recently told there are four bankrupt teams in Bundesliga 1 on the women’s side. That is pretty amazing, especially when supposedly the women’s side of the game in Germany is stronger than the men’s (it was suggested to me that was because the women’s side is more cooperative). Might be even more amazing when you consider that you don’t tend to have spendthrift operations there.

Competition vs. Participation
Mark extended his comment by bringing up the idea that you’d be better off with fewer teams who are stronger than more teams just for the sake of having some defined number in the league. Basically, competition vs. participation. It’s something fledgling sports leagues definitely deal with.

Major League Soccer (MLS) is an example of this. In it’s early years the talent was spread very thin. Things have gotten better, obviously, but it took a while to get there. And the league has been expanding fairly steadily over the years, which tends to dilute the talent if players of a high enough caliber cannot be brought in to fill those squads.

Here’s the thing, though. MLS has a salary cap structure. It’s a bit fluid these days, but in the early-going it was very rigid. That served to keep teams on an even playing field, at least with respect to the player talent. This is something you don’t generally see in professional sports leagues around the world. In German volleyball, for example, two clubs dominate the men’s league as they have far more in the way of financial resources. Everyone else is playing for the scraps. I talk about this gulf in competitive level some in my Professional volleyball country league rankings post.

Mark may not have been specifically taking on that particular issue in professional volleyball (or other sports for that matter), but there is definitely the question of whether teams are legitimately there to try to compete or just there for the sake of being able to say they are.

I’d say in some respects it was the latter case for Svedala, where I coached in Sweden. Part of the club wanted to be legitimately competitive in the Elitserie, but part of it saw the focus of the club as being the youth teams with the pro team as just being a sort of marketing tool. Certainly, putting national youth academy teams in the first division – as happens in both Sweden and Germany – strikes me as being more about participation.

Making it sustainable
Personally, I would really like to see teams in our sport – be they professional or collegiate – reach a level where they can be self-sustained. What does that mean? To my mind in means bringing in revenue which is not heavily dependent on just one or two big sources – like major sponsors. What happens if those sponsors pull out? That’s at least some of the issue with clubs in Germany.

We’re a long way from being there, especially without the big television contracts enjoyed by other sports. It’s something we can work toward, though.

Trying to please television

The FIVB is at it again. They are once more experimenting with changing the set structure to try to get a volleyball match to more predictably fit in to the 2 hour time slot television supposedly favors. Those of us who’ve been around the game for a while will recall something similar attempted early in the rally score era. Obviously, it didn’t go very far as we’re still doing best of 5 matches these days.

A question I have is whether it’s really worth trying to fit into that 2-hour time slot. Will volleyball suddenly be that much more attractive to broadcasters if the matches were of a consistent length?

I don’t know the answer to that, but evidence from other sports suggest it doesn’t matter as much as some might think. Tennis is essentially the same type of scoring structure as volleyball. Baseball certainly can be all over the place in terms of game lengths.

I think if you’re going to confine volleyball to a certain preferred time length for matches you probably need to put it on the clock in some fashion. That said, I don’t think timed games is the way to go. The nice thing about the point goal set-up of the sport is that lopsided games get cut-off fairly quickly. When you’re on the clock things can get out of hand, and as a result become quite boring. I experienced this while in England. A team I coached won a 20-minute timed set by something like 55-10.

Actually, in order to keep underdog teams in those sorts of match-ups fighting to the end they gave credit for not getting totally blown out. A team got 3 points for a win (maybe it was only 2). If the losing team was within 25% of the winning team’s score, they would earn a point. That made for much more interesting play when it came down toward the end of those games as the losing teams were fighting to get/stay above that threshold.

But that’s a side note.

The thought that occurred to me is if we don’t want those kinds of very one-sided situations, but want to retain a time clock we need to think in different terms. I had the idea of teams playing a series of mini sets – say to something like 8 points. The team winning the most sets within the allotted time wins the match.

The reason I say mini sets is because there is more opportunity for upsets, which keeps things interesting. There are a lot of things in terms of line-ups and subs that would have to be worked out, though.