Archive for Volleyball Coaching News & Info

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. 🙂

Volleyball Coaching Wizards developments

After an initial flurry of activity and attention, the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project has settled down into a calmer state of affairs. Partly that’s because I’ve been in heavy crunch mode with my PhD thesis development and my partner Mark has been involved in the German championships. While my own work continues for at least a little longer, Mark is now done for the season (though he’s now on the job market). That means he can actually start doing some stuff! 🙂

We have a lengthy list of coaches who are prospective Wizards thanks to research and recommendations. I’ve begun reaching out to a number of them with invitations to take part and the response has been very positive. The guys at The Art said “No” at first (though John Dunning individually said “yes”), presumably because they thought of Wizards as being a competitor to their own stuff. I don’t see it that way. If anything, I see it as potentially supportive, and told them so. They said they’d reconsider.

The list of those who have committed is at about 25 now. Most of them are AVCA Hall of Famers. You can see the full list here. So far the international/professional contingent is limited, but now that Mark is freed up I expect that to grown rapidly in the days and weeks to come. I personally will also be turning more attention to the high school and Juniors area, which are also under represented at this stage.

I expect us to start doing interviews in a matter of a couple of weeks. We just need to iron out a couple of things. Announcements will be forthcoming, so keep an eye out for updates on the Volleyball Coaching Wizards blog, the Facebook page, or on Twitter.

500 Volleyball Coaching Blog Posts and Counting!

As of right now this little volleyball coaching blog has reached the 500 post mark. I can’t help but to shake my head at that. What started in the Summer of 2013 as a way for me to share information and insights with volleyball coaches in the South West part of England where I’ve been based the last 2.5 years has turned into a kind of global brand.

The crossed the 100,000 lifetime page view threshold a week ago. That’s nothing compared to the 1,000,000 views Vinny’s gotten at Off the Block, but his site is much more news oriented with higher post volume and a broader audience (and has been around twice as long). The Coaching Volleyball Facebook page has over 300 likes and the Twitter feed @CoachingVB is almost to 500 followers. Literally thousands of coaches come to the site each month, which is pretty cool – and that’s with no major promotional efforts.

What is perhaps even more satisfying is that content from the blog regularly gets used in other places. The AVCA Coaching Volleyball 2.0 digital magazine is probably the most prominent, but there have been a few others, and I’ve had requests to extend things even further than that.

Here are some of the most viewed posts to-date:

I don’t have plans to stop any time soon. If anything, projects like Volleyball Coaching Wizards will probably only serve to give me more to think and write about!

Report from the CEV Champions League Final 4

Back in 2015 I spent a weekend in Berlin attending the Final 4 for the men’s CEV Champions League. The event was hosted by Berlin Recycling Volleys, which was coached by my friend Mark Lebedew. He is author of the At Home on the Court blog. The other three teams involved were Zenit Kazan from Russia, PGE Skra Belchatow, and Asseco Resovia Rzeszow – the latter two from Poland. Berlin put up a good fight, but lost 3-1 to the Russian side in the first semifinal. Rzeszow then won the second semi 3-0. Berlin won a tight 3-2 battle of the losing teams to win the bronze medal. Kazan retained their championship by a 3-0 score line.

The atmosphere in the place was fantastic – helped by the home team’s performance, of course. Max Schmelling Halle was at capacity, setting an attendance record. Here’s a clip I posted on showing the end of the set Berlin won against Kazan.

Berlin’s bronze was their best ever Champions League finish. It was great to see a friend have that kind of success. [Note: In 2017 Berlin reached the Final 4 for the first time without being host. They only took 4th, though.]

During that weekend I got to spend a fair amount of time talking about coaching with Alexis Lebedew. He’s Mark’s brother, who authors the Coaches Corner blog and worked with Mark and their father to publish the Platonov coaching book. He and I literally spent just about 4 hours talking in the gym on that Friday afternoon while Kazan and Berlin were doing their final training sessions.

I also got to spend time with Ruben Wolochin from TV Bühl, along with his assistant Santiago. That is one of the German professional teams I visited back in August 2014. We talked about how things went with the team this season and what the future might bring for them. Of course we also talked about the play going on as I sat with him during the non-Berlin matches.

There were a few hiccups along the way, but all in all it a very good experience. I would highly recommend attending that sort of event to any volleyball coach. If nothing else, as I’ve said before, analyzing the play of top competitors will show you that just because they are bigger, faster, stronger, etc. it doesn’t mean they don’t make the same mistakes our players make.

Heading off to the States

As I mentioned previously, I’m attending this year’s USA Volleyball High Performance coaching clinic. The clinic actually runs from Thursday evening through Saturday (see the schedule here), but I started the trip yesterday because of the challenges of actually getting to Colorado Springs from Exeter – at least if you are trying to make it as cost effective as you can. I will be connecting through Dallas, so the full trip is Exeter to London to Dallas to Colorado Springs, and back along the reverse path.

Two things made it a pain to plan. First, I needed to arrive at my final destination before 5pm because of when things get going. I could find no flights/connections that would accomplish this, though, meaning I have to fly over the day before (today). I will overnight in Dallas. I was last there for an AVCA Convention back in 2004 or 2005. I then connect on to Springs tomorrow.

The second issue was that the London-Dallas flight is too early for me to get a train from Exeter to London. That meant starting the trip with an initial overnight stay in London (last night).

The back-end of the trip was equally interesting to work out. It was at least £200 ($300+) more expensive to fly back on Sunday than on Monday. So I’m staying an extra night at the Olympic Training Center ($45). Of course, the Dallas to London return will be on a red-eye, so I won’t get back until Tuesday.

In total, it’ll be an 8-day trip for a 2.25 day clinic. Better be worth it!

I’m sure it will. Educational stuff aside, I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to connect with a whole bunch of coaches. The schedule actually is set up to encourage regular participant interaction.

I don’t know to what extent I’ll be able to get anything posted during the trip. The clinic schedule is quite full, though obviously I’ll have plenty of down time outside that. Just depends on my connectivity. You can count on full reporting at some point, though.