Archive for Volleyball Coaching News & Info

Heading for Texas!

I’ve shared this news with some folks already. Here’s the official and full announcement for everyone who reads this blog, though.

On Tuesday I was offered the Volleyball Assistant Coach position at Midwestern State University, which I accepted. Later today I’ll be ending my stay in Long Beach, where I’ve been since early February after my departure from Sweden, and heading to Wichita Falls, TX. That’s a bit under 2 hours drive northwest of Dallas. Oklahoma City is slightly further than that to the north.

Midwestern State Volleyball (MSU) is an NCAA Division II program competing in the Lone Star Conference (LSC). The conference is part of the South Central region. You can see the full set of Div II regions and the top 10 rankings for each here. The full 2015 set of rankings for the region can be found here (PDF). Angelo State, also from the LSC, was top. They ended up reaching the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament (full bracket PDF). Tarleton State and Texas Women’s also both made the field, though both fell in the first round. To get a sense for the level of play, give a watch to the 2015 LSC tournament championship match.

Why Midwestern State?

As you will see in the regional rankings, MSU ended up 25th out of 34. The squad finished 0-16 in the LSC, making it two years in a row ending the season at the bottom of the league standings. In other words, I’m heading into a program that needs a lot of work. Honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way! As I’ve said before, I want to be in a program building situation, as I was when coaching at Exeter University in England. This is exactly that kind of opportunity.

That said, you can only turn something around and properly build a program if there’s something to build. MSU has only once made the NCAA tournament in its history. That was back in 2007. If you look at the other teams at the school, though, you’ll see a lot of conference titles and tournament appearances. That tells you there is the commitment to athletics and the resources available to be successful. When I sat with the Athletic Director during the interview process he told me he’s pretty much sick of volleyball not performing. He clearly wants a winning team.

Now, a question which might come to mind is whether there’s something about MSU that hinders volleyball’s competitiveness. I haven’t seen anything about the school or the athletics which would seem to be an issue. Volleyball is fully funded (8 scholarships, the max allowed in D2), just like all the other sports. The Dallas area is a fertile recruiting territory and LSC is a strong league, making for good competition. That leads me to believe that with the right coaching, recruiting, and organizational work we should be able to build a competitive program.

I’m not the only one to think that. Ruth Nelson, who I interviewed for the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project, was the one to point me in the direction of MSU. That was back in January. She told me at the time that she thought within a few years this could be an Elite 8 caliber program.

Why assistant coach?

Given that I’ve been a head coach for the last four years, it’s natural to ask the question as to why I would take an assistant job. It might not be as much of a surprise, perhaps, if I were to take an assistant job in the upper levels of Division I, but I can understand how doing do in Division II might be a surprise. It must seem to many like a step backwards.

I did look at head coach jobs, and applied for ones I thought potentially interesting. At the end of the day, though, it was about the situation and not the title. The priorities I had were 1) to be somewhere I could have an impact on the program’s path forward, 2) to be in a location where volleyball isn’t a minor sport, and 3) being somewhere I would have the opportunity to pursue my other interests and activities.

To the first point, my new boss at MSU only has 3 years as a collegiate head coach (just one season at the school) and has a relatively inexperienced pair of other assistants (GA and volunteer). She was looking for someone with a stronger background that she could bounce ideas off of and problem-solve with at a higher level. She was also looking for someone with strong organizational skills to help carry the off-the-court load. It was this combination of things which saw Ruth encourage the two of us to connect (this is why networking is so important folks!). She felt like we’d make a good team to drive the MSU program forward.

To the second point, Texas loves volleyball. It is a huge sport in the state, with Dallas being one of the big hubs. Obviously, it doesn’t have the history of the West Coast, but it’s still got a pretty good pedigree. In 1988 Mick Haley led the University of Texas team to the first NCAA championship won by a non-West Coast team and that program has been a consistent top contender ever since (another title in 2012 and seven other trips to the Final 4). That’s encouraged a ton of kids to play high school and club ball across the state. Unlike my prior coaching stops, I’m not going to have to go very far to find good volleyball. In fact, Dallas will be hosting one of this year’s World League stops for the US men’s national team.

As for my final point about being able to pursue other activities, a big part of that is just being back in the States where I think there is probably more ability for me to connect and develop opportunities. That’s not so say I won’t continue to do things internationally, though. I definitely will. I’ll leave discussion for all this stuff to future posts, though. 😉

Final thoughts

At the very end of my interview process at MSU the A.D. sat down with me for a few minutes. We’d already met and talked the day before, but he wanted to leave me with something to think about. That was to make sure MSU was a good fit. I can understand why he had that on his mind. Arguably, I’m WAY overqualified for a Division II assistant coaching job. He wants someone who is going to be committed to the program, not someone who will quickly find themselves feeling like they should be somewhere else. I got it.

From my own perspective, there were a few key things I was looking at when evaluating MSU (or anyone else). Did I think there was an opportunity to be successful (support, etc.)? Could I get along with my immediate co-workers (volleyball staff)? How was the overall working environment? Did I like the location?

The first three things were to my mind answered very positively. It was the last one that was the big question. I’ve never lived anywhere like Wichita Falls. I have no point of reference for that, and a couple days visiting doesn’t really tell yo what it’s like to live in a place. After doing my research into things like housing options and stuff, though, I started feeling like I could be reasonably happy there.

Obviously, there’s no guarantee in any of this, but it’s a good starting point. That’s all we can ask for.

Year in Review: 2015

Well, 2015 was certainly an interesting and eventful year!

Job

On the personal front, I went through an often frustrating job hunt process in which I put in for over 100 college coaching jobs in the States and only managed to get a single interview out of the process. That all ended positively enough with me landing my first ever job in professional volleyball, though.

Education

I also went through an often frustrating PhD completion process. Things just seemed to drag out. Part of it was semi-intentional related to my funding, but there were long periods when I just wished certain things could move more quickly forward. Again, though, that all ended positively.

Travel

Aside from traveling around Sweden and the Copenhagen area while coaching Svedala, I got in four volleyball trips in 2015. Most of them were to Germany. The first was to hang out with with Mark Lebedew of At Home on the Court. and his then team Berlin Recycling Volleys (Mark now coaches for Jastrzębski Węgiel in Poland). I got to watch them play their big domestic rivals and a CEV Champions League match.

That was in January. Shortly afterwards, Berlin was selected to host the Champions League Final 4. I went back to watch in late March. Pretty cool experience!

In August I made a return visit to TV Bühl. You may recall I spent about 10 days with them in 2014 as well. This time it was closer to three weeks altogether. They were going through the early stages of their preseason. I used it as a kind of coaching preseason of my own as the trip was right before I had to report to Sweden to start work with Svedala.

The single non-German trip was the one I made back to the States in February to attend the USA Volleyball High Performance Coaches Clinic. That was a really worthwhile experience. I came back with a lot of things to think about – and write about, as you may have noticed. Unfortunately, I can’t go again this year. The Svedala schedule is quite full for January and February. I’d do it in a heartbeat if I could, though!

I did contemplate going to the AVCA convention last month. In the end, though, it would have been a really tight thing to schedule. Plus it would have put a strain on the budget.

New Project

Alongside finishing my degree and starting a new coaching job, I also began the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project with Mark Lebedew. That has been a really cool new adventure. Yes, it’s been a TON of work! It’s also, however, given me the chance to connect and talk with some really great coaches. We’ve done something like 25 interviews so far, with many, many more folks on the list for future conversations. What’s been really interesting is that the coaches we’ve interviewed are some of the biggest supporters of the project. They all thinks it’s a great idea!

The Blog

Coaching Volleyball crushed it in 2015. It’s as simple as that!

The blog had more than twice as many visitors and page views than it had in 2014 – nearly 60,000 and 130,000 respectively. December, which has normally been one of the quieter months in terms of traffic, saw four days of over 1000 pages views thanks largely to the Rules for coaching volleyball from John Kessel post [with a little help from Volleyball calendar girls (and boys) on one of those days]. The “rules” piece seems to have gone viral on Facebook. Before that one went up, the highest single day for pages views was in the 800s, I believe.

Here’s where the visitors came from.

CoachingVB-2015-Geo

The king of page views for 2015 is the Volleyball Try-Out Drill Ideas post, though. That one garnered over 13,000 looks. Not surprisingly, they were clustered mainly around the start of the school season and the Juniors club season. As such, it was responsible for establishing a new monthly high readership of over 21,000 views in August.

It may not come as any surprise that search engine traffic was the largest contributor to page views given all the interest in the try-out post. Facebook was a distant second. Interestingly, nearly five times as much readership came from there than from Twitter. This is despite the blog having basically the same number of followers on both platforms.

Magazine articles

For a while now the folks at the AVCA have pulled selected posts from the blog to include in the Coaching Volleyball 2.0 online magazine. In 2015, though, I finally got into the main flagship Coaching Volleyball magazine with the first in a series of articles about my experience coaching overseas. I’ve already written a second that should be included in the next issue, though they could use it (and the others to follow) on one of their other platforms.

Looking forward

Honestly, I have no idea where 2016 is going to take me!

With any luck, it will involve a bunch of winning with my Svedala team. Our first shot at hardware (at least in the regular season) is coming up next weekend. We’re the top seed for the 4-team Gran Prix tournament. The club won two years ago, so we’re looking to repeat. After that, it will be all about going for Svedala’s first Elitserie championship. You can keep track of our progress via my coaching log.

Of course, work on the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project will continue. Aside from the interviews themselves, the podcast is something Mark and I have fun doing. It gives us a chance to talk about all the interesting stuff we’re hearing from the Wizards.

The huge number of page views for the try-out drill ideas page makes it pretty clear that there’s a lot of demand for information and ideas on that subject. One of my plans for the new year is to develop something – maybe a mini course – to help folks out there. I’d wanted to do it in 2015, but never seemed to get around to it.

Beyond that, who knows? I’m only on a 1-season contract at Svedala, so at some point I’ll have a decision to make about my future in coaching. At the same time I have a bunch of non-volleyball stuff I’m working on as well. I guess we’ll see where it all takes me! 🙂

Taking a bit of a break

Just a quick note to let you know that I’ll be taking a bit of a break from the blogging and stuff.

The first half of the season ended for Svedala on Tuesday. That’s a bit ahead of much of the league, which finishes up this weekend. I’ll have a final 2015 coaching log entry on Monday with all the final details.

Other than that, though, I’m going to take a break from volleyball to get some other things done between now and when we get back together on the 28th. If you find yourself suffering from withdrawal, be sure to check out the Volleyball Coaching Wizards Podcast for some interesting coaching discussions.

You can call me Doctor now

Well, I’m not sure what the timing is in terms of when the degree is officially conferred, but effectively it’s a done deal. I’m a freshly minted PhD. 🙂

On Monday I was back in Exeter doing what they call “viva” in UK academic terms. It’s roughly equivalent to what would be referred to in the US as a doctoral defense. Basically, I met with my two examiners – one from the Exeter faculty (internal) and one from another university (external) – in this case from the University of Reading. They received copies of my thesis shortly after I submitted in in early October, reviewed it, then discussed their views on it between themselves.

The viva was basically me talking about the thesis with them. I was asked to do about a 5 minute summary and then we went over the full document. They asked questions about the theory that went into it and the analytic methods I used, and pointed out a handful of minor issues. I then left the room for a couple minutes as they conferred.

When I was called back in, they shook my hand and congratulated me. The official result is I’ve been awarded my doctorate subject to completion of minor corrections to the thesis. Today I was provided a list of those corrections (they really are minor) by the internal examiner. I’ll get an official letter shortly with the same details. Once I’ve made the corrections, I’ll have to submit the final thesis along with a letter outlining the corrections I made to my supervisor and that will basically complete the process.

And so ends 3+ years of struggle and strain!

Can’t complain too much. I got back into coaching volleyball while I was doing it. 🙂

 

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Turkey Day to all the readers in the States and to all my fellow ex-pats where ever you are in the world.

Thanksgiving

Some things to make volleyball better

There’s an article on Volleyball Country in which a contributor talks about three things he thinks would make volleyball better. This is from a spectator’s perspective They are:

  • Emotions
  • Live statistics
  • Better video challenge

The other two are fairly straightforward. In terms of emotion, the author’s idea is to allow players to basically taunt the opposition. For example, a blocker would be able to scream in the face of a hitter they just roofed.

Maybe he doesn’t remember, but that sort of thing used to be allowed – at least in men’s volleyball. On the women’s side the rules of conduct were more strict in my remembering. I recall always thinking it was stupid that a girl would get a yellow card, or at least a warning, for something that boys did all the time. These days male and female players basically operate by what I remember were the expectations for girls when I was involved in high school volleyball in the late 80s.

Personally, I’m fine with things the way they are. I think there’s plenty of emotion in the sport. The author specifically mentioned football as an example of a sport with a lot of emotion, but the NFL banned taunting years ago.

For me, there’s a real difference in watching men’s volleyball live vs. watching it on TV. I much prefer the former because you experience the emotion, the athleticism, the power and speed, etc. in a way which has yet to really translate through the broadcast medium. I think women’s volleyball, with it’s generally longer rallies and lesser reliance on physicality, is a better TV/streaming watching experience.

Of course, the quality of the broadcast is a central factor, which speaks to the live stats and video replay improvement desires.

Ding dong, the thesis is gone!

It’s a joyous day today the world over!

I have finally sent my PhD thesis in for printing and initial submission. Talk about a gigantic weight off my shoulders!

This isn’t the end of the process. I have to go through what is called “Viva” at a time which is to be determined. Basically, it’s me sitting down with my two thesis examiners to talk things over. In the US it would be called a “defense”, though I don’t know if they are quite the same. In any case, barring some major issue, after the viva I will probably have to do some minor edits before final submission and at least earning the right to be called Dr. Forman.

The major work is done, though. Three years of reading academic research papers, running untold numbers of regressions and other forms of statistical analysis, and trying to turn it all into some sort of cohesive and meaningful document are finally at an end.

Of course all this just means I can shift my focus to other work that’s been awaiting my attention. :-/

 

New Volleyball Coaching Podcast Up and Running!

I’ve mentioned before (here and here) my intention to eventually get a volleyball coaching podcast going. It’s finally a reality!

The Volleyball Coaching Wizards Podcast went live on Monday. The first episode, which is dubbed Episode 0, is simply an introduction from myself and my co-host, Mark Lebedew from At Home on the Court. We share our own coaching histories, what motivated each of us to develop the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project, and some thoughts on interesting things that have come out of the interviews done so far.

Starting next week, the podcast win running on a weekly basis with regular episodes. They will each run about 30 minutes. The subject matter will mainly come from the Wizards interviews, though we’ll also mix in some interesting coaching and volleyball stuff we come across or hear about more broadly as well.

I know we’re not the first or only volleyball podcast out there. The Net Live is one both Mark and I listen to regularly. That one is very US-focused and covers a lot of ground between beach and indoor, college and international play. There’s a Canadian volleyball podcast with a similar concept at the Volleyball Source. There are even a couple of volleyball coaching podcasts that have started up in the last year or so. Technical Timeout is run by a former Canadian national team player. USA Volleyball technical guy Joe Trinsey also has one.

What’s life without a little competition, though! 🙂

Don’t worry if it gets a bit quiet

I might be a bit quiet these next couple of weeks.

My PhD thesis submission deadline is September 24th. Needless to say, when I’m not in the gym with the team – or planning training sessions – I’ll likely be mainly focused on putting the finishing touches on that document. This is initial submission – the first step in a 3-stage process of finishing my doctorate.

I will maintain the coaching log, though.