Archive for Volleyball Coaching News & Info

Turning participation into competition

A while back I wrote about the participation vs. competition conflict. It was mainly from the perspective of English volleyball, but with wider implications. Later, I received an email on the subject from Amy Dennis, the Young People Manager at Volleyball England. I want to share what she said.

This isn’t the full text of the email Amy sent me. It’s the stuff that I think speaks to the main points and will be of most interest to readers, though.

A defense of HEVO

Since the HEVO programme has been in place (over the last 4 years) there has been an increase in BUCS teams. While this will not all be due to the programme, there is link to universities starting recreational activity and then linking to BUCS. Albeit, it’s at the lower end of the leagues. Still, it is increasing the number of competitive opportunities for students to play volleyball. It could be argued that a competitive player does not just apply to experienced players. You can still be competitive as a beginner. Beginner players can be developed through a strong club structure that supports the player to progress into a BUCS team (depending on what the Club Development plan focuses on).

However, the students view point needs to be considered. They may be happy just being a recreational player and have no desire to play competitively in the BUCS league. I have some great examples from Universities where volleyball started as a recreational sport through the HEVO programme, developed into BUCS competitive teams and is now a performance sport at the university. The University of Derby and University of East London, to name just two.

Changes and developments

The recent changes to the league structure, introducing the Premier league has allowed for motivation and a goals for institutions regarding volleyball competition in BUCS. Many of these players also play in the National League teams in the Super 8s/ Div 1, so the level is clearly high. It is also important to offer competitive outlets for all levels of students, though. We have found where there is entries into local leagues this has both retained students and increased the ability of those playing. You have this set up already within Exeter so this is great and will develop the club for the long-term.

The English player verses international player debate is a difficult one. There are developments in place both within Volleyball England and BUCS to look at this. Volleyball England just launched our Senior Academy Programme. That will extend the athlete pathway within England. BUCS have also recently shared a proposal for an English Universities structure, which is due to vote on in December. It has not been confirmed which sports this could involve, though.

My points hold

This response obviously defends the HEVO program and the participation side of things. That’s totally fine. They are fair comments. I wasn’t really attacking it. I just said I’d like to see more effort put in to help develop and improve the competitive side of things. I’m talking about things like sharing best practices, etc. between and amongst university volleyball clubs. HEVO was, in my mind, in a prime position to facilitate.

AVCA Convention reports?

I’m feeling incredibly jealous of everyone who’s attending this year’s AVCA Convention. Getting to hang out with your fellow coaches. Attending interesting seminars. Watching some excellent volleyball. Alas, it just wasn’t in the cards for me this year – though I did at least get to watch the matches.

Last year I blogged my own convention reports (here, here, here, and here). I would love to hear from any of this year’s attendees what they saw, did, thought, etc.

Stoked for the next round of NCAA matches

The NCAA Championships continue this weekend with the Round of 16 on Friday and the Elite 8 on Saturday. ESPN has all the coverage, which means for online viewing it will be WatchESPN for those in the States and ESPNPlayer for those of us abroad.

Here are the match-ups for Friday:

05:00 PM ET #2 Texas #15 vs. Colorado State
05:00 PM ET #4 Wisconsin vs. Ohio State
06:00 PM ET #1 Stanford vs. Oregon State
07:00 PM ET #5 Penn State vs. #12 UCLA
07:00 PM ET #7 North Carolina vs. #10 Oregon
07:00 PM ET #6 Florida State vs. BYU
08:00 PM ET #8 Florida vs. #9 Illinois
09:30 PM ET #3 Washington vs. #14 Nebraska

I think the Washington-Nebraska and Penn State-UCLA will probably get a lot of attention seeing as they’re match-ups of former champions. I will be interested to see how North Carolina does against Oregon. The Oregon offense is quite fun to watch – very fast!

You can see the full bracket here.

Four hundred posts and counting!

Friday’s entry in the Coaching Log series marked the 400th post in this blog’s history, which goes back to June 2013. It still amazes me at times how much interest and readership the site has garnered. As I write this there have been nearly 25,000 users and almost 70,000 page views. Content from the blog has been used in the AVCA’s Coaching Volleyball 2.0 magazine on three separate occasions, and the site was a big part in my developing contacts in professional volleyball and elsewhere. Not bad for something that started off to be a resource for volleyball coaches in the South West of England!

The 10 most viewed individual posts to this point in the site’s history are:

  1. Volleyball Try-Out Drill Ideas
  2. Volleyball Conditioning – A Sample Program
  3. Drill: Run Serve Receive
  4. Are your warm-ups wasting valuable time?
  5. Volleyball Set Diagram
  6. Game: Bingo-Bango-Bongo
  7. Scoring Serving and Passing Effectiveness
  8. Planning your volleyball strength and conditioning training
  9. Game: Winners (a.k.a. King/Queen of the court)
  10. Drill: Passing Triplets

It’s worth noting that both of the first two posts, have actually each received more visits than the site’s home page thanks to how often they bring in visitors from Google, etc.

Happily, several posts have generated some interesting exchanges via the comment section. They include:

Hopefully I can continue to write stuff that people find interesting, thought-provoking, and/or useful.

A defacto U.S. professional volleyball league?

A while back via Facebook and Twitter I shared a link to a brief article from Coaching Volleyball magazine. That’s published by the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA). Actually, it was less an article and more a letter to the membership from AVCA Executive Director Kathy DeBoer. In it she shares her thoughts on the potential future of NCAA volleyball. In particular, Kathy is concerned about the move toward a collegiate structure where five conferences stand apart from everyone else in terms of money and resources. I won’t go into the back story behind all this. I’ll just say it’s mainly driven by football and men’s basketball, but has the potential to influence all sports.

My general feeling on these sorts of things is change is inevitable. We simply have to adapt to the new conditions. NCAA women’s volleyball has the advantage of being in quite a strong situation at the moment. Even men’s volleyball is making some gains. Volleyball at the high school level is the top girls’ sport in most states, with participation on the rise. As a result, I don’t think there’s a big risk of changes at the top of the collegiate hierarchy putting the sport in jeopardy. In fact, the reality of the current state of affairs is we already have a major divide.

The split is already there

As of this writing, the last time a school from outside the so-called Power 5 conferences (Pac-12, Big-10, Big-12, ACC, SEC) won the national championship was 1998. That’s when Long Beach did it. In fact, since then only once has a team from outside the Pac-12 and Big-10 won. That’s Texas. Taking it a step further, Long Beach in 2001 is the only lesser conference school to have even made the finals in that time. A couple of others have managed to reach the Final 4, though – (Hawai’i, Pacific, Santa Clara).

To put a finer point on it, among the Power 5, three conferences are hardly represented at even the Final 4 stage. Since 1998 the SEC has only had three entries (Florida x 2, Tennessee), and the ACC just one (Florida State). Nebraska and Texas have done fairly well for the Big-12, but the Huskers are now in the Big-10, leaving the Longhorns as the only current Big-12 team ever to have made the Final 4.

In other words, we have a fairly narrow collection of teams contending for the national championship in any given year. That leaves a whole lot of teams playing for much smaller stakes. For the vast majority of the 320 or so Division I teams, a conference title is about as high as they are likely to ever reach. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with that. The same is true in other sports. Actually, it could be said that we currently have a better situation these days. Back in the 80s and 90s only a relatively small group of West Coast teams dominated.

Is college volleyball already professional?

What struck me reading Kathy’s thoughts, though, was that at the top level of the sport we are moving toward what could be viewed as a defacto professional league. We may really already be there! A case can already be made that individuals being given scholarships to play volleyball are essentially professionals. They are being compensated in some fashion for being athletes. This is particularly so given the price tag of modern education. Paying players above and beyond that, though, would put things into a different category. That is especially true when considering the other perks players at the top schools get in terms of support.

There are many similarities between NCAA collegiate volleyball and the experience of pro players at clubs in Europe and elsewhere. I wrote about it after spending time with a pair of professional clubs in Germany, That is only furthered if the top conferences continue to channel more resources into their programs.

Note: Business Insider posted a list of the top 20 university sports programs. It is based on athletics revenue, NCAA championship results, home football and men’s basketball attendance, and student survey responses. Interestingly, only two of those 20 schools has ever won a volleyball championship. Just seven have reached the Final 4.

Volleyball England influencing university volleyball

Volleyball England a while back announced an extension of its Talent Pathway into the university arena. The Talent Pathway is the progression of volleyball athletes through the youth ranks toward senior national team selection. They call it a senior academy program. The expressed idea is that it will provide English players a way to continue their progression and development beyond the Juniors level. England brought back the senior national teams in 2015 after they were defunded following the Olympics.

The announcement relates to what I wrote about in regards to the conflict between the competitive needs of university clubs and the demands put on them in terms of growing volleyball participation. I am all for making university volleyball in the UK stronger. It benefits the sport overall, and it should eventually develop a player pipeline for the national team (as it does in the US). From that perspective, I approve of the move.

But …

Let’s be honest, though. University volleyball (BUCS) is simply not strong enough at the moment. It does not provide a meaningful developmental platform for prospective international and/or professional caliber players. Barring a massive influx of talented athletes, it won’t be any time soon. The reality of the situation is that this will be all about playing top level NVL volleyball. Specifically, that means Super 8s.

That’s all fine and good (if it works as intended). Let’s just not think this is something which will have a direct impact on university volleyball. All it will tend to do is create a very clear group teams far above the rest. If other schools are encouraged to better support volleyball to be more competitive, then great! I see just as much chance, though, of them looking at this and saying “Why bother?”.

The competition/participation conflict

I coach in a country where volleyball is a developing sport. I also coach in a country where there is a big government focus to have a more physically active society. This creates a bit of a conflict. I brought this up before in different ways. A recent Volleyball England blog post highlighted this (to my mind), though.

The short article speaks of the gains made in volleyball participation at the university level of the sport. It talks about what the Higher Education Volleyball Officers (HEVOs) are doing to bring more people into the tent. This is all fine and good. A big part of Volleyball England’s funding comes from the government in the form of participation-linked moneys. Naturally, they will push programs and efforts to increase the number of people playing the sport.

As a coach on the competitive side of university volleyball, however, I can’t help but look at something like that and ask, what about the BUCS side of things? Where are the discussions of ways to increase the competitiveness of BUCS teams? What about how to turn beginners into competitive players? Or about ways university clubs can succeed when they are usually a lower priority sport? How about ways to attract more English players (BUCS has a strong international participation rate)?

Generally, those who push the sport forward are those who come through the competitive ranks, not those who are just recreational players. Volleyball in England will only benefit from a stronger BUCS volleyball structure.

We face this competition vs. participation conflict constantly at Exeter. The club is about 130 members strong – only around 30 of which are BUCS players. The rest are Beginners or Intermediates (our Intermediates do compete in the local area adult club league). The club only has a certain amount of gym time available. That must be split between BUCS training and Beginner and Intermediate sessions. The club is judged both on the success of the BUCS teams (3rd overall in BUCS points last year) and in the size of the club. We’re up against a wall, though. We’re in a Catch-22 where we need to get bigger to be seen as a more important sport at the university, but we can’t do it without more gym time, which we’d only get by raising our profile further.

The position of the sport at each university varies, though. At some schools, such as Northumbria and Durham, it is a performance sport. They offer scholarships to attract good players (some schools more than others – see Volleyball England influencing university volleyball). Exeter is not in that group, which obviously puts us at a disadvantage. Some schools have coaches while others don’t. Some schools get better support from their Athletic Union (or the equivalent) than others.

I would like to hear from BUCS coaches, club captains, and the like about their own experiences. How do you balance the demands of competition and participation?

Try-outs drove a big traffic uptick in August

I made mention of this briefly on Twitter and/or Facebook earlier, but August was by far the biggest month for Coaching Volleyball. Nearly 3700 people visited the site, 75% of whom were first time visitors, and there were over 10,000 page views. That’s basically double July’s figures, which had been the highest traffic month up to that point. When you see gains like that it’s always interesting to find out what was bringing people to the website in such big numbers.

Of course, as an author one would hope that all the increased attention was the result of some recent blog post that really captured people’s attention. Alas, that wasn’t the case in August. Over 70% of the site visits came from Google, which means people were coming into the site to find stuff written at some point in the past.

So what were they after?

Volleyball Try-Out Drill Ideas is the big winner. That one page, written in September 2013, accounted for over 16% of all page views. Are your warm-ups wasting valuable time? was the only other page to garner more than 5% of the page views for August. Even the site’s home page only got 4.7%. I guess that gives you a pretty good idea of what volleyball coaches were searching for last month!

August is prime try-out month for volleyball teams in the US, especially for high school squads. As a result, it will come as no surprise that US coaches were the most represented among site visitors. In fact, they accounted for over 80% of visits! The UK was second at about 4.3%, with the Philippines coming in at 2.5% in third place, which is interesting in and of itself.

I’m starting to observe a pretty consistent traffic pattern on the website as well. Monday is almost always the peak day. Visits then trail off over the course of the rest of the week, with Saturday generally being the low point before things tick back up a bit on Sunday. Seems like coaches do their research early in the week.

BUCS volleyball 2014-15 schedule out

BUCS has posted the schedule for the new UK collegiate volleyball season ahead. It actually strikes me as being earlier than was the case last year, but don’t hold me to that. With the introduction of the new Northern and Southern Premier Leagues for the upcoming season, there’s had to be a restructuring through the divisions and various competitions. Somewhere along the way, it was decided not to do the relegations from Division 1 they had originally signaled, as I wrote about in early June.

As it turns out, that means the Exeter women’s 2nd team won’t move up to Division 1 after all. That may have an impact on how we structure training this year. Last season we trained the Division 1 and 2 teams together. I don’t know if that will be practical this year, though. I’m sure I’ll write about that later as things develop.

The introduction of the Premier Leagues has resulted in a shift in the structure of the Championship and Trophy competitions. In the past, the top 3 teams in each of the five Division 1 leagues qualified for Championships with Final 8s capping off the season. The rest went to the Trophy competition, which is a knock-out cup structure. Moving forward, only the Premier League teams will qualify for Championships. If the Final 8s structure is kept, which I think is the plan, then presumably there would be some kind of preliminary entry play-off, perhaps with the top teams byed. All Division 1 teams now go into the Trophy bracket, which turns into a season-long cup competition – in addition to regular league play, of course. The lower divisions retain their League Cups alongside the regular season.

The promotion/relegation system for the Premier League will involve the last place PL team in each league playing off, presumably against the winners of the geographically appropriate Division 1 leagues. That means relegation isn’t automatic, unless that bottom team has forfeit one or more matches. In the case of the Northern PL, two teams will be brought up this year to get their final count to 6 as they only start with 5.

As for scheduling, we shall see. I’ve written before about my frustrations with how that’s been handled. BUCS has posted a schedule based on their standard Wednesday fixtures. Given the distances involved for the PL teams, they have at least made a pair of concessions. The first is that they seem to have had both the men and women for schools where both genders are in the PL playing at home on the same dates, and playing other schools with dual participation on the same dates. This is what the Exeter schedule looks like:

Men Women
15-Oct @Warwick @Sussex
22-Oct Cambridge Cambridge
29-Oct @UEL @Oxford
5-Nov UCL KCL
12-Nov @Bournemouth @Bournemouth
19-Nov Warwick Sussex
26-Nov @Cambridge @Cambridge
4-Feb UEL Oxford
11-Feb @UCL @KCL
18-Feb Bournemouth Bournemouth

You’ll notice that the Exeter teams play the Cambridge and Bournemouth squads on the same dates, both home and away. Both teams are also home on the same dates. Not only does this help out in terms of travel, it also helps out in terms of coaching. I have coached both the men and women the last two years. Mostly, it wasn’t an issue because we generally avoided direct conflicts in the schedule. The risk this year was that there was going to be a load of conflicts, making it quite unreasonable for one coach to handle both squads. The schedule above only has three conflicts when the teams are away at different places.

Again, who knows if this will all hold. Exeter is certainly not keen to host on Wednesdays and I know some of the other schools – based on conversations I’ve had with coaches – aren’t keen on playing Wednesdays in general terms. They prefer weekends. We may yet end up with a very different looking schedule – perhaps one which features triangulars or something along those lines.

Actually, something does need to happen to adjust things. The last round of fixtures is currently scheduled for after the February 11 cut-off to get them all played!

However they do it, I hope it at least is sorted out ahead of time. There’s very little that’s much more frustrating than not knowing from week to week what the match schedule looks like.