Archive for Volleyball Coaching Resources

Book Review: Karpol: Lunatics – That’s What I Need

If you’re like me, you probably know Nikolai Karpol as the Soviet/Russian women’s coach notorious for screaming at his teams. If you’ve read any of my posts about yelling, like this one, you know I’m not a big fan. From that perspective it’s hard for me to have a lot of respect for Karpol. The fact of the matter, though, is he’s been extremely successful through his career – both internationally and at the club level. That’s why I decided to read Karpol: Lunatics – That’s What I Need. We tell our players to go outside their comfort zones. This is one way we can do it as coaches.

I should note, a Croatian journalist wrote this book. The version I read is obviously an English translation. As such, there are some places where phrasing and meaning could be a little unusual. Generally speaking, though, it’s not hard to comprehend.

Also, Karpol is a product of his environment – as we all are. As such, there are places where his comments seem to quite strongly reflect a different mentality than might be the case of someone from a different part of the world and/or a different era.

The first part of the book, not surprisingly, is a biographical look at Karpol’s career going back to the late 1950s. After that it’s set up kind of like a series of short essays. Each chapter – of which there are over 30 – has it’s own general theme, but there isn’t a real sense of a defined progression. At only a bit over 100 pages, it’s a short, quick read.

There’s an interesting chapter on the way players were selected for and progressed through the club Karpol coached. One of the things it talks about is how you can influence a players height through how they eat and where they go. Of course there’s no scientific evidence offered. I did find it interesting, though, how much cross-training he said they did. The players didn’t just train volleyball. They did a lot of different things.

Karpol is, as I mentioned, well known for his yelling. Interestingly, he does address yelling in a chapter about midway through the book. It’s brief, and probably doesn’t go too far in really explain something many in the world see as his biggest attribute. You might find it both interesting and surprising, though.

The feeling that you get throughout the book, however, is that Karpol truly loved his players. He always wanted the best for them – even after they stopped playing.

In the latter part of the book Karpol bemoans how the world – and to a degree volleyball – has changed. Honestly, it struck me as fairly typical of someone on in years talking about how things were better before. I’m not saying he’s wrong, necessarily, but it was a kind of predictable mindset.

Here are some interesting quotes I came across in the book.

“It is the coach’s job to get everyone to go one step further, to go beyond their limits.”

“The coach’s task is to motivate the sportsman. Some children simply love sport, and in others that love can be nurtured. Let us say that a child is brought to the training session by his father, but he resists, he does not want to exercise, he almost hates sport. However, the coach can make the child love sport so much that he never wants to give it up. The same is true for teachers in school.”

“Young girl players, and the same is true for men, need to get involved in training with older players as soon as possible, for they will then be able to put together the little stones of the understanding of the game into a mosaic. It reminds me of the many little pictures that make up a film. Even by just watching the best players, those they admire, young players can learn a great deal. Not to mention training with them.”

“There is no volleyball on television because there are no stars. As soon as a true star emerges, television will be interested. However the creation of a star is not for a national side, but for the clubs. These days there are a lot of international matches and when the national sides are in action, the clubs take a break. The championships are put on hold. That is why the clubs are not interested in creating players, rather they try to buy them. If there are no quality players, that is stars, television will never broadcast volleyball matches. However much we change the rules of the game and shorten the match time to make volleyball more suitable for television, whatever we do, televisions will not be switched on until we create stars.”

With respect to that last quote, Karpol was very critical in the book of the major international organizations for their marketing of volleyball. We must realize this book was published in 2009, though. Some things have changed since then, hopefully for the better in that regard.

All in all, I think Karpol: Lunatics – That’s What I Need is a book worth reading. I wouldn’t put it at the top of my list, but it’s worth the time.

Book Review: Wooden on Leadership – How to Create a Winning Organization

If you’re a coach of any sport and you don’t know the name John Wooden, then you’ve missed out. Many consider The Wizard of Westwood is one of the all-time great coaches, with a career highlighted by winning 10 NCAA men’s basketball national championships when he coached UCLA.. No doubt legendary UCLA volleyball coaches Al Scates (men) and Andy Banachowski (women) would tell you they were influenced by Wooden. Both their careers overlapped with his.

Back in the early days of my volleyball coaching career I read They Call Me Coach. It was definitely influential. If you don’t know much about Wooden, that book might be a good starting point as it’s his autobiography.

Wooden on Leadership is more of a management book. It was clearly intended to target business people, but retains a strong coaching flavor. Naturally, that means lots of basketball talk. That’s more in terms of context than anything technical, though.

The first part of the book focuses on Wooden’s famous Pyramid of Success. He takes you through each of the 15 blocks. Not only does he explain what each one is about, but also why he placed them where he did.

The second section carries on from the Pyramid concepts and drills down on things. Here you get Woodens views on leadership, managing emotions, incentives and motivation, focusing on performance rather than the score, and the importance of character among several other topics.

The last part of the book actually brings his old coaching notebook in to the discussion. In this section Wooden shares a number of different snippets. They cover a variety of topics related to coaching and leadership.Obviously, they are from a basketball coaching journal, but he does a good job generalizing them.

If you’re like me you’ll stop on a regular basis while reading this book to grab a quote. Here are just a couple that caught my attention.

“The best leaders are lifelong learners; they take measures to create organizations that foster and inspire learning throughout. The most effective leaders are those who realize it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts most.”

“For any leader, any organization, the plans are a starting point. That’s why I put them at the beginning of Part Three. The much more difficult task for anyone in a leadership position is to create an environment, a way of thinking, a set of beliefs, that ultimately gets everyone working eagerly and to the best of their ability to make those plans result in a winning organization.”

This is just a taste of the wisdom you’ll find in Wooden on Leadership. I definitely encourage you to put it on your reading list.

Book Review: Dream Like a Champion – Wins, Losses, and Leadership the Nebraska Volleyball Way

There are loads of volleyball books, but there aren’t a lot of books with a biographical and/or historical perspective in the volleyball literature. That’s one of the motivations for the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project. Dream Like a Champion – Wins, Losses, and Leadership the Nebraska Volleyball Way by Brandon Vogel and John Cook adds to that list. It joins Mike Hebert’s books there, adding much-needed depth.

Try not to be jealous

The first thing you may have to get over while reading this book is jealousy. Nebraska volleyball has access to resources most of us could never dream of having. In some ways, the book is a constant reminder of just how well off that program – and others on their level – really is. I’m sure you can get past that, though. 🙂

Fourteen chapters, fourteen topics

The book begins with what is essentially a personal biography from Cook. After that, though, each of the chapters has a different theme. They include things like going deeper on player physical development, understanding how to coach the current generation of college athletes, looking at who you work and surround yourself with, and continuing education and development as a coach.

Cook uses stories to make his case on the different subjects throughout the book. I might argue too many in some cases, but it’s not over the top. I’m sure some folks will enjoy them as they focus on elements of volleyball history at Nebraska. I’m not a part of the Husker universe, but I can appreciate Cook’s perspective on the program’s past.

Some real nuggets

A sure sign of a good book is the number of pages or sections you flag throughout the text. I pulled out several along the way myself. Here’s one of the deeper ones where Cook talks about how his coaching mentality changed over time.

“I coached for a long time like that before realizing that it did not have to be that way. I had a choice to make when I walked into the gym every day: I could coach with love or I could coach with anger. I could be in the moment every day and remember why I wanted to do this in the first place. I could marvel at all of the amazing athletes I was getting to work with and really be grateful for the opportunity we get each season to take a group of players, coaches, and staff and try to make our dreams come true.

He continues.

The other option? I could focus on every practice failure. I could take every loss personally. I could try to eliminate mistakes through fear. Every coach gets to make that choice. I write daily reminders to myself to make sure I am choosing to be the coach I want to be. I wish I had recognized sooner that the choice was up to me.”

This theme of personal growth is a common one throughout the book, and it is clearly part of the message Cook wishes to share. I flagged some other, more narrow, thoughts and ideas as well, though. For example, he shares different policies he’s had and ways he’s helped encourage improved team chemistry. And while the book certainly isn’t drill oriented, he even mentions one or two that he likes.

Get it, read it

I think the title, Dream Like a Champion – Wins, Losses, and Leadership the Nebraska Volleyball Way, probably overstates the whole “Nebraska way” concept in terms of the book’s content. Yes, Nebraska is central in terms of most of the anecdotes, but at the end of the day this is mainly a look into the mentality of one coach – John Cook. From that perspective, it’s well worth a read for coaches at any level.

One bit of advice. At the time of this writing the print book is listed as $19.99, while the Kindle version is $23.70. That’s pretty expensive for an e-book. If you can find someone who owns a copy of the Kindle version, though, they should be able to lend it to you. That’s how I read it.

Book Review: The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier

While The Coaching Habit, by Michael Bungay Stanier, does feature “coaching” in the title, it’s probably thought of best as a management book. It’s not about coaching as we sports coaches would think of it. It is, however, about managing people. Since this is at the core of our work as coaches, I think you might find it worth a read.

The subtitle of the book, “Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever”, touches on the approach the author takes. I don’t think, though, it really provides a full sense of what the book’s about.

Basically, this is a book of questions. The idea is to use them to help get to the heart of issues. It’s also about helping people help themselves rather than solving problems for them ourselves. You may find at least some of them useful in working with your athletes.

There’s also a set of questions presented later in the book aimed at succeeding and achieving. I think they are foundational with regard to expectations and seeing your path forward. Here they are quoted.

What is our winning aspiration? Framing the choice as “winning” rules out mediocrity as an option. If you want to win, you need to know what game you’re playing and with (and against) whom. What impact do you want to have in and on the world?

Where will we play? “Boiling the ocean” is rarely successful. Choosing a sector, geography, product, channel and customer allows you to focus your resources.

How will we win? What’s the defendable difference that will open up the gap between you and the others?

What capabilities must be in place? Not just what do you need to do, but how will it become and stay a strength?

What management systems are required? It’s easy enough to measure stuff. It’s much harder to figure out what you want to measure that actually matters.

I won’t say this is a must read book. All in all, though, I think it’s worth a look if you’ve got a bit of time. It’s pretty quick to get through.

Book Review: The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle

If you’re a coach, or teacher, and haven’t read the The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle, make it the next book on your list.

The book starts of with some serious science about myelin development, which is a major factor in skill acquisition. Don’t worry, though. It’s not hard to follow, and more behavior based concepts quickly come in to play.

Basically, the book talks about how we develop skill (deep practice), what motivates that development (ignition), and how coaching fits into that equation.

There’s a part of Chapter 9 that I think really hits on a major factor in sports coaching. It compares the coaching of Brazilian soccer players with the training of violinists in Japan. In the latter case the teachers are constantly providing specific feedback to the students. In the former case, though, the coaches hardly say anything. Why is this?

It’s not cultural. It’s about the requirements of the skills to be developed. Playing violin is about consistency of very specific execution. Playing soccer is dynamic. Situations constantly change. As a result, the player has to continuously adapt to stimuli and find the right solution for their current situation. The games the Brazilian coaches have the kids play both create the situations they want them in and provide the feedback.

To quote Coyle, “The lessons the players teach themselves are more powerful than anything the coach might say.” This relates close to what I wrote about in Teaching or facilitating? It is also part of our need to think more broadly about feedback.

The book’s epilogue provides a bunch of real-life examples of the ignitition/deep practice/coaching link. They are from a bunch of different parts of life and society. You definitely want to give this book a read. It could change how you think about your coaching.

That said, there are a couple of little things worth mentioning.

First, while the book clearly presents a path toward creating skill in just about everything, it doesn’t really address constraining factors. In the case of volleyball, height is an obvious example. A short player can develop maximum skill as an attacker. That simply won’t be enough, though to make the national team roster.

Second, Coyle walks a line with respect to whole vs. part training. He talks at a couple of points about breaking skills down into their parts. That may be fine when you’re learning to play a specific note on a violin. As the late Carl McGown preached for years, though, in terms of the science of motor learning in our arena, training in parts is not as effective. This also ties in with block vs. random training.

So, as much as this book has some really great information, realize it’s just one part of the whole set of factors.

I have some extra money. What should I buy with it?

From time to time a coach in a forum or discussion group looks for some advice about buying new equipment. Often it starts with something like this:

I have $1000 left in my fundraising account. What should I buy with it?

My personal philosophy on this sort of thing is to think about what you’ll get the most use from over its lifetime. Maybe that comes from my background in business and finance. 🙂

Anyway, with that in mind, here’s what I would look at in order of priority. I should note, I’m thinking here in terms of stuff to help from a coaching perspective. I’m not thinking about things like uniforms and other player gear.

Balls and ball carts

There is definitely a limit to how many balls it makes sense to have. You need space to store them, and the size of your gym plays a part.

For example, when I coached at Exeter our main practice gym had almost no space around the court. That means stray balls were always at risk of getting underfoot. As such, having a big number of balls didn’t make sense. I think we had 18s balls maximum. Different situation at MSU where the gym is much larger and balls roll well away from the court, allowing us to have four or five ball carts full of balls.

At a minimum, you probably want at least one ball per two players. That allows you to do partner work. More is definitely better, though. It lets you keep drills and games going without needing to stop to collect the balls. Granted, you can use that as a break, but you don’t want to have to halt things too often. So get as many balls as you can reasonable handle.

As for ball carts, you obviously need at least enough to hold all the balls. Beyond that, think about how you can distribute carts around your gym to facilitate ball entry and the like in your exercises. For example, if you like to do station work or otherwise split the team, you probably need at least one cart for each group.

Poles, nets, and stuff for additional court(s)

If you have the opportunity to increase the number of courts you can set up in your gym, grab it! That could be something as simple as creating a situation where you can suspend a long net across to run mini volleyball courts. Or you could set up full competitive courts. Whatever the case, you can add more nets to use for practice – perhaps to do stations or small group work. You can also potentially use the extra courts to host tournaments, and maybe even make some money in the process.

Video equipment

These days, if you are not using video in your practices you are behind the times. It could be something as simple as an tablet you use to record players doing reps and playing it back for them. Or it could be an delayed video system. This is the sort of thing where you can find a solution that fits your budget.

Addition coaching help

If you’re in a situation where you don’t have a full staff and could use a bit more help in the gym, maybe you can put the money to use on an assistant. This is not something you’d think of as having a long-term benefit, which is why I put it here. You never know, though. An extra pair of eyes or another voice in the gym could make a big impact with lasting effects, even if it’s just for a short period.

Coaching education

Can you use the money to go to a coaching clinic or convention? If so, that might be a great investment. Increasing your coaching knowledge is something that can have both an immediate positive impact and long lasting ones.

Ball throwers, targets, and other devices

As it’s position on the list implies, I think investing in one of the many devices available on the market should be a low priority. Most of the time these devices are quite expensive and are not used all that often. You have to really look your situation and make a realistic estimate of how often you’d use the new piece of equipment your considering. Then you should probably reduce that estimate because we all tend to overestimate these sorts of things. We have all sorts of grand ideas, but then the reality of having to pull the device out of storage, set it up, and take it down hits.

A serving machine is a prime example. First, you want to consider whether you really want players passing off a machine instead of from an actual server where they are also learning to pick up on visual cues. Second, could you not simply use real servers, thereby also giving them serving practice?

Admittedly, there are situations where a machine makes sense. For example, in men’s volleyball it is hard to get a high volume of reps off a live jump serve because of the physical demands on the servers. A serving machine in that situation makes quite a bit of sense.

Another situation where it might make sense is in a small group or individual training session. Maybe you don’t have someone who can serve, or at least serve the way you need. That’s another time when it makes sense to have a serving machine. Even still, you have to consider how often that kind of situation comes up to decide whether the machine is worth its large price tag.

Book Review: A Fresh Season by Terry Pettit

I previously reviewed Terry Pettit’s book Talent and the Secret Life of Teams. I also interviewed Terry for the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project. A Fresh Season is Terry’s second coaching-related book (he published a book of poetry). Like the first, this one is a collection of different essays and the like, including a poem or two.

This is not a coaching book, per se. You are unlikely to learn from it how to do X, Y, or Z.

Rather, it’s a variety of stories, observations, and commentary. Some of it is recent in origin, while other stuff seems to have been written years ago originally. The subject matter is all over the place.

For example, there is an essay by one of Terry’s daughters that is a kind of “letter to my freshman self”. In it she offers advice on how to get through that first college season, and the seasons to follow.

There’s a chapter called A Letter to the Parents of a Prospective recruit that is a coach’s appeal. If you coach college volleyball you will seriously think about using it in your own recruiting efforts!

A theme of a couple of different chapters is the idea of being uncomfortable. Terry advises recruiting players who have willingly made themselves uncomfortable. He talks about how players need to be put in uncomfortable situations to develop. He also admonishes coaches to put themselves in uncomfortable situations. We cannot, he says, demand less of ourselves than we do of our athletes.

There is a chapter outlining the factors which predict future head coaching success. Prior head coaching experience is top of the list. Not surprisingly, passion and integrity also rate quite highly.

Terry focuses directly on juniors coaches in one section. It’s perhaps the one part of the book where he gets pretty explicit about what he thinks they need to focus on. People probably won’t agree with everything he says, but at least is provides plenty of food for thought.

Another repeated theme in the book is recruiting, requiring, and relating. Terry introduces them as the Three Rs of Coaching in one chapter. They then pop up again from time to time in other chapters.

Those are some of the highlights. There are nearly 40 chapters, but the book is only about 180 pages, so each is quite short. The only lengthy one is the last (nearly 20 pages), which relates the history of Nebraska Coliseum, where Nebraska Volleyball played for so many years – including all of Terry’s time coaching there.

Overall, I think A Fresh Season is a good book. It’s length and structure make for a pretty quick read. At times it’s funny. In many places it’s thought-provoking.

Book Review: A Program with Purpose by Johan Dulfur

A Program with Purpose, by Johan Dulfur is a volleyball turn around story, sort of. The Clarkson University volleyball team is an NCAA Division III program in upstate New York. The author is, at this writing, head coach at Ithaca College (also Div. III), but when he wrote the book he was in the middle of his 10 years at the helm of Clarkson. The text, published in 2013, speaks to how he took that program from nothing to become a team that eventually made seven straight trips to the NCAA tournament and reached the Elite 8 four straight times.

This sort of thing appeals to me. After all, it’s the intention to do just this sort of thing that saw me join Midwestern State.

At only a bit over 130 pages, A Program with a Purpose is a quick read. It’s made even quicker by a number of large visuals. You can read it in a couple of hours. It’s definitely worth that small time investment.

I mentioned at the outset that this book is a turnaround story, sort of. I say that because it’s not a narrative text. The author doesn’t start at the beginning and walk you through a sequence of events. Think of it more as a manual for program development with some historical examples interspersed.

There are seven primary chapters to the book.

  1. Program Vision
  2. Communication
  3. Confidence Building and Goal Setting
  4. Building a Support Structure
  5. Tactical Choices within the Game
  6. Recruiting and Team Composition

Their titles pretty much tell you what they’re about. Each shares the author’s thoughts, experience, and views on that subject, and it’s good material. You may or may not agree with everything he says, but at least it will get you thinking about things. Even if you have experience running your own program, it’s worth going through this book. It can be a good reminder of things to focus on, and we all need that from time to time. The book could have used some editing in places, but not so much that it was overly distracting.

It is noteworthy that the author spent some time working under legendary coach Mike Hebert, who wrote Thinking Volleyball. You can see a bit of his influence in Dulfur’s philosophy, though you also get a big dose of his Dutch heritage as well.

I’ve previously reviewed Sally Kus’ book Coaching Volleyball Successfully. Sally also gained her reputation coaching in Upstate New York, which is interesting. Her book focuses more on high school volleyball, while this one is obviously from a college perspective. Still, they share much in common.

Quick note. This book is not available in Kindle format. You can only get it in print.

Book Review: Living on the Volcano by Michael Calvin

We can’t only read books about volleyball and volleyball coaches. Heck, there just aren’t that many books about volleyball coaches! Sad, but true. That’s one of the reasons I developed Volleyball Coaching Wizards.

Anyway, an interesting book about managers from the world of soccer (football) is  Living on the Volcano, by Michael Calvin. Basically, it’s a series of profiles on coaching in the English professional realm. They run the gamut from the Premier League all the way down, but are mainly in the middling ranks. Many of the coaches have worked across multiple levels, either because of the performance of their teams or through moving clubs. It’s a really interesting set of perspectives. These managers come at things from all different angles. Their backgrounds are diverse. As a result, the way they think about the elements of coaching vary considerably.

I actually shared something I found interesting from one of the managers on the Volleyball Coaching Wizards blog. It had to do with the mentality of allowing others to watch you coach. Unfortunately, I would not call that the most positive of the things you read in the book. It presents the reality of their thought process, though. For better or for worse, it’s not the most positive.

I will admit, the structure of the book did present some challenges. There are a lot of names, and they overlap quite a bit. Moreover, there were different threads of managers mentioned in the same chapter. That made it hard to follow threads at times.

Those issues aside, I think Living on the Volcano is an interesting book and worth a read. The variety of coaches is such that you’re likely to find someone in the mix who has a similar point of view as yourself. At the same time, though, you also get to see how others think about things.

Beyond that, the internal view of what it’s like to be a coach under constant performance pressure (in most cases) is really insightful. The volcano idea is definitely appropriate as even successful managers seem to constantly be on the hot seat because of everything that can happen with a club.