Archive for Volleyball Coaching News & Info

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.

Being ready is often a function of trust

A while back, Mark from At Home on the Court wrote a post on the subject of technical vs. non-technical reasons for errors in volleyball. In it he blamed lack of readiness for many of the mistakes we see in play. He recently specifically highlighted that with regards to players playing the ball with their feet.

Now, we’re not talking about a player sliding toward the sign boards or the score table. We’re talking about a player who has their weight on their heels and basically has no option but to perform a “kick save” type action. Their lack of defensive readiness prevents them doing anything else.

I’ll add a layer of readiness to the mix by including trust in the discussion. Specifically, I’m talking about the trust between players that someone is going to make a play.

This is something that was very much on my mind following Monday’s first training session with Svedala. I saw players making really outstanding plays on the ball. They were recovering balls from out of the net, chasing balls down all over the place, and keeping what looked like sure-thing kill balls from hitting the floor. Too often, though, I saw teammates not anticipating and being ready to make a good next contact.

The same can be said to apply to hitters with respect to sets. While I was at Exeter I had a setter one year who loved to do counter-flow back sets to the Zone 2 pin. This sometimes caught our hitters flat-footed because they weren’t expecting it, even though it was exactly the right set to make in the situation.

Trust in one’s teammates to do their job and to make plays goes a long way toward being ready.

Player-run small-group training session

I watched some of the Svedala area players do a little bit of a training session one evening during July 2015 before I took over the team. It was something they organized and ran among themselves. There were two players from the Elite team, with three from the lower and youth teams. While watching, I found myself thinking it provided something of a template for a small group training situation, so I figured I’d share the basic outline.

They didn’t do any kind of formal warm-up. Instead, they basically played themselves warm through a progression. That started with a 1-touch game played inside the 3m line with the 2 Elite players against the 3 others. They started with forearm passing only, then shifted to overhead passing only.

From there they moved to a 2-ball, 2-person tennis type of game. Basically, each team served the ball underhand simultaneously. From there they played 1-touch until both balls were dead. Again, it was the Elite players against the 3 others, with the latter rotating a player in after each rally.

After that they moved to some serving and passing. One player served. One player was setter. There was a passer in 6 and a passer in 5, with one off as a sub. Each good pass resulted in a set to 4 attacked by the passer in 5. After each play, the players rotated with the 6 moving to 5, 5 coming out, and the remaining player coming in at 6. After a set number of reps, they switched servers.

Next up was a diagonal attacking and defense drill. They had a fixed setter setting both sides, then split the Elite players and partnered each with one of the younger players. Players were in positions 4 and 5. Each rally started with a free ball (initiated by a player’s mother, who coaches the U15s). Every set went to 4 and after the ball crossed the net the players switched positions. This was not a cooperative game. The hitters were swinging to score, but there were rallies.

That covered the first hour.

In the second hour they spent a bit of time working on 4-person defense with players in 1, 4, 5, and 6 with a player hitting from a stack of pads in 4 on the other side with periodic rotation. They did some more of the diagonal attacking and finished up with just some individual serving.

I feel like I’m forgetting something, but I think you get the idea. Maybe this gives you some thoughts for helping players in an open gym situations and the like.


Leaving college early for professional volleyball

The plan for today is to focus almost exclusively on my PhD work. No volleyball or other outside distractions – or at least keeping them to a minimum. I’m aiming to end the day with a full draft of my thesis for my supervisor to review – or at least to get very close. I also have to finish up work on the slides for a presentation I have to give in Glasgow next week. I saw a bit of news from Vinny at Off the Block come across the wires that got my attention, though, and decided to put down some thoughts.

Jaeschke leaves Loyola early, signs with Polish pro team

For those who don’t know, Thomas Jaeschke is a member of the US National Team and recently finished his Junior year at Loyola where he won back-to-back national championships. He was the 2015 AVCA National Player of the Year.

While leaving college early to go pro is a common occurrence in basketball and football (and it’s probably happening a bit more often in soccer now), it’s not something you see in volleyball. There was talk last year about Micah Christenson (Team USA setter) leaving USC after his junior year, but he stuck it out (he’s now signed for an Italian team). That makes the Jaeschke move unusual. While volleyball players generally speaking don’t make nearly the money of athletes in other major sports, some of them do pretty well for themselves.

To make things even more interesting, he signed with Asseco Resovia. That’s a pretty good club. They were in this year’s CEV Champions League final where they lost to Matt Anderson’s Zenit Kazan side. From that perspective, it’s pretty easy to see the appeal to making a move like that. Fellow US player Paul Lottman actually just left Resovia for Berlin, which might have been what opened up a roster spot for Jaeschke.

Here’s the concern for me, though.

I’m a soccer fan, and have been for many years. During that time I’ve seen a lot of young US players go abroad with mixed results. In particular, players who sign on with larger, stronger clubs and/or in the better leagues often find their careers stunted because they can’t crack the starting line-up. They would have been better off going to a smaller club and/or to a lower level league where they would likely have been a starter and thus gotten a lot of playing time rather than riding the pine.

Is there a risk of something like that happening to someone like Jaeschke?

I honestly don’t know the answer. Maybe some of my friends in the professional coaching ranks will chime in.

Coaching Volleyball turns 2

Happy Birthday Coaching Volleyball!

On this date in 2013 the very first post on the blog titled Welcome to Coaching Volleyball! went up. Looking back at it now, in some ways the motivation for the site was quite ambitious. In other ways, though, it was perhaps narrower in scope than it could have been. Certainly the readership has gone well beyond England!

It’s funny for me to think that it’s only been two years since that first post. Seems like ages ago now. There have been over 40,000 visitors to the site in that time, resulting in north of 115,000 page views. The first full month of the blog, July 2013, there were fewer than 500 page views. In 2015 so far there hasn’t been a month with fewer than 5800 pages views.

The site set a new record on June 13th when I came just short of reaching 1000 views in a day, main thanks to the purpose of defense post. Amazingly, that came on a Saturday, which tends to be the lowest traffic day of the week. The prior peak was back on February 12th, with the focus then in my review of the High Performance Coaches Clinic.

The fun part of how the blog has grown and developed is going to all kinds of different places and having people tell me they read it. Many of them are, as you might expect, developing coaches. Others, though, are vastly experienced with Hall of Fame credentials. That is always surprising and amazing to hear.

On a related note, the blog has also allowed me to do a lot of things I might not have been able to do before. Most significantly, perhaps, it helped me develop connections in European professional volleyball which allowed me to spend time with three German Bundesliga teams at different points, and eventually resulted in me landing my own job coaching at the professional level.

And of course the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project almost certainly would never have developed had I not started Coaching Volleyball just two short years ago.

Making yourself progressively unnecessary

A while back, John Kessel from USA Volleyball tweeted out a photo from a presentation he did.


Replace “teacher” with “coach” and you have what I basically believe should be the mission of every volleyball coach. I wrote on the subject of play-calling in volleyball. In some sports, like football and baseball, there are discreet plays. They allow coaches to call plays directly. In other sports, like soccer and hockey, the more continuous flow minimizes a coach’s impact during play. Volleyball slides somewhere in the middle, albeit more toward the continuous sports. Yes, it has discreet stoppages for play-calling. First ball unpredictability is a major wrinkle, however. As such, our players are mostly left to decide for themselves the best course of action in the heat of battle.

There’s a Phil Jackson quote from his book Sacred Hoops describing the final play of a championship winning game that goes:

“In that split-second all the pieces came together and my role as leader was just as it should be: invisible.”

Basically, we have to train our athletes to think and act for themselves. We must teach them to make the best possible decisions in every possible circumstance. And we have to develop in them (and ourselves) the understanding that we will trust them to do so.

I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but at some point I shifted from being primarily a technical coach to being much more focused on decision-making. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped coaching technique (ask my Exeter women’s players how much work I had them do on serving!). Now, however, I do a lot more of putting things in context. I do that to get them problem-solving and thinking from a solutions perspective. That way, we can address the thought processes behind their actions.

Not that a coach can ever completely become superfluous – at least if they are doing their job properly. A major part of what we do is to act as objective observer to provide players external feedback with regards to their development and play. Of course we also handle managerial duties which free players up to focus on being players and provide an outside perspective during play to help develop strategy.

So go ahead and train your players not to need you on the court. You’ll still have plenty to do. 🙂