Archive for Volleyball Coaching News & Info

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.

 

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.

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.