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Archive for Volleyball Coaching Resources

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.

Book Review: Legacy by James Kerr

Legacy, by James Kerr, is a book that often comes up when coaching book recommendations are discussed. I want to stress up front that this in not a coaching book. Amazon at this writing has it listed in Sports Psychology, but that doesn’t fit either, to my mind. I think the book description does a pretty good job of saying what it’s really about.

In Legacy, best-selling author James Kerr goes deep into the heart of the world’s most successful sporting team, the legendary All Blacks of New Zealand, to reveal 15 powerful and practical lessons for leadership and business.

Focus on that last part about lessons for leadership and business. That is most definitely what the author provides.

As for the rest of it, I have my issues. The description makes it sound like the story of the All Blacks is the core material. In particular, the team’s transformation after a period of uncharacteristic under-performance is meant to be the main focus. While that story provides a framework, that’s about all. You can perhaps work out the time line of that transition, but it’s presented piecemeal. One of my problems with the book was that at points I didn’t know where the author was in the All Blacks history when he shared certain stories. It was rather annoying.

Also, the All Blacks are not the only references the author makes. He includes ideas from the likes of Phil Jackson and Bill Walsh as well, in terms of sports. There are a number of non-sports references too.

Obviously, I have no problem with references to all-time great coaches. Sometimes the language of the text is a little too stereotypical of leadership books, and there is too much repetition of certain elements for my taste. Overall, though, the “lessons”, concepts, and explanations are quite worthwhile.

Overall, I’d say this is a book worth reading if you go into it with the right set of expectations.

Book Review: Fake Fundamentals by Brian McCormick

OK, Fake Fundamentals by Brian McCormick is a basketball focused book, and has nothing to do with volleyball. Even still, it might be worth putting it on your coaching reading list. Granted, you will probably get more out of the book if you know something about coaching basketball. I don’t, though, and still found some interesting stuff.

Basically, this is a book that challenges long-held views on what to do and how to do things. Think of anything that falls into the category of “that’s how everyone does it” and I think you’ll get the idea.

Actually, the first two chapters are not really sport-specific.

The mile run fitness test

The first chapter sets the tone for the whole book by challenging the use of mile runs as fitness tests. This is definitely something we see in volleyball, and no doubt other sports use it as well. McCormick basically destroys its usefulness on every level.

First, he demonstrates that the fitness required to run the mile has no relation to the fitness required to play basketball – or volleyball in our case. A mile is a sustained lower intensity effort for several minutes while what we’re after is repeated high intensity effort with rest intervals. McCormick uses the term Repeat Sprint Ability (RSA) as what they are after in basketball. Maybe we change that to RJA for volleyball – Repeat Jump Ability.

Next, he talks about the idea of training for the test rather than training for competitive fitness. This happens when the athlete is more concerned with passing the test than improving their sport-specific conditioning. The result is that training the latter is sub-optimal. In other words, training for the mile test acts as an offset to the RSA training the athlete is doing to prepare for their sport.

Now, many coaches who use the mile run claim that it is more about mental toughness than necessarily about fitness. McCormick challenges this as well. Mainly he does so by bringing up the increased risk of injury. This comes from two angles. One is that the athlete is performing an exercise they have not trained for (presumably – see the last paragraph). The other is that an athlete may attempt to push through an issue to demonstrate mental toughness.

Above and beyond the injury risks, the author makes the following observation:

Mental toughness involves coping with the many demands of sports and being more consistent and better at remaining determined, focused, confident, and in control under pressure.

He goes on to ask whether a pre-season fitness test is really the best way to determine and/or develop an individual’s level of mental fortitude. Basically, he’s suggesting it should be done in the context of playing the sport.

McCormick offers two alternatives to the mile as fitness tests. One is the Yo-Yo intermittent recovery test. Basically, it’s a repetitive sprint test. The other he describes as the “Man-Maker from Pavel Tsatsouline’s Enter the Kettlebell”. This is where a kettlebell is swung 2-handed repeatedly for some period of time, counting the successful reps. I’m not saying these tests should be used for volleyball. They do, however, provide an idea of what the author is trying to encourage.

Static Stretching

The second chapter brings up another relic – the idea of static stretching in warm-ups. You may already know where I stand on this subject. Fortunately, I think many coaches these days realize that static stretching is no longer advised for warm-ups. There is no evidence to suggest it does anything to reduce injury, and actually may impair performance. As the author notes, “Static stretching is a flexibility program, not a warm-up.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, McCormick favors a dynamic warm-up instead. He didn’t always, though. He says he used to think non-ball warm-ups wasted time. Then he spent time in Europe and noted a lack of ACL injuries among female athletes there. This was in contrast to what he called an epidemic of non-contact injuries in the US at the time. That motivated him to bring in the dynamic warm-up. He provides a list of exercises in an appendix. I do not know if the idea that either dynamic warm-ups or ball warm-ups are better for injury prevention (or performance) is backed by science, though.

The rest of the book

The remaining eight chapters focus on basketball specific things. They include certain movements, methods, and game-play elements. The author challenges them all from a couple of different perspectives. One is what theory might suggest vs. what reality demonstrates. The other is in terms of not replicating game conditions (game teaches the game). In most cases he’s going against decades of traditional coaching.

I think that last part is the real value of the book. It encourages the reader to look at everything critically. How much of our coaching is just repeating the past? Is there really any scientific or performance support for it?

Book Review: The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallway

It took me several months, but I eventually finished reading The Inner Game of Tennis  by W. Timothy Gallway. The women’s soccer coach at Midwestern State loaned it to me. He uses it quite a bit with his team. The reason I took so long was that I read it in small doses rather than sitting down for long reads. I probably should have just read it in one go. After all, it’s a short book (134 pages).

The fact that I had not read the book already was a source of shock and sadness to one of my coaching friends. I suggest you not make the same mistake. It was recommended during my CAP III course.

I personally think the measure of any good non-fiction book is how much it makes you think. By that standard, Inner Game is a great offering. Yes, it’s a book focused on tennis. And yes, that does mean at times the discussion is not overly useful for volleyball coaches. Broadly speaking, though, the concepts and ideas translate easily from sport to sport.

Inner Game was written primarily for players, but is easily translatable to coaching. It talks a lot about player thought processes. In particular, a big focus is on getting the conscious mind out of the way. Doing so allows the parts of us where performance and learning actually take place to do their thing. A big part of this is removing judgement from the equation.

We all have players who think too much about their technique. It is usually to the detriment of their performance. The problem is we coaches exacerbate things at times. This is the result of how we provide feedback and technical instruction. I definitely thought of the concepts of internal vs. external feedback while reading the book.

There are some good sections on focus and concentration in the book. I also really like the discussion of competition. If you struggle to express its merits to your athletes, I definitely recommend that section.

Here’s the bottom line. If you haven’t already, read The Inner Game of Tennis. It will stimulate all kinds of thoughts about your coaching methods. That’s a good thing!

A coaching documentary worth watching

If you have a Netflix account, look up the film Trainer! and put in on your watch list. Seriously. Do it now.

Trainer! is a documentary about a group of coaches. No, it’s not volleyball, unfortunately. It’s soccer. Specifically, it’s German soccer. In Germany, and across most of Europe, trainer is what they call the coach. In the film they actually translate it to head coach.

And before you ask, yes. The film is in German, but subtitled in English. It’s about 2 hours long, so you’ll need to be able to dedicate time to actually sit an watch if you don’t speak German.

But enough of the minor details. Let me get to why I think it’s worth watching – even for volleyball coaches. The film follows three coaches of lower division (2nd and 3rd) coaches over the course of the 2012-13 season. You see them in a variety of different scenarios, on and off the field.

Along with following the experiences of those three, the film intersperses commentary from several well experienced others. If you know European soccer, you may recognized some of them. Even if not, you can still gain from what they say. One of the best of the group is the lead trainer for the German coach licensing program. He’s got some really interesting stuff to say, especially with a couple of the coaches in the program going through his course.

A great feature of the film is how well it describes the situation of coaching in the professional environment. It is something I could very much relate to from my own experience coaching in Sweden and from spending time at clubs in Germany. There’s also plenty to it that can be related to coaching in a high school or college program.

Definitely give it a watch and let me know what you think.

 

Report from AOC Forth Worth

I spent most of last weekend in Fort Worth, TX in the gym at TCU. I was there to attend the Art of Coaching Volleyball clinic. As you can see from the photo of my name tag, I had VIP status. 🙂

This was my first time at an Art event. They got started during my hiatus from coaching. And of course up to a few months ago I was out of the country.

It was a working trip for me. I was there to interview the big three guys from Art – John Dunning, Russ Rose, and Terry Liskevych. It was a kind of cross-over thing between Art and Volleyball Coaching Wizards. As a result I didn’t get to see everything that went on during the sessions, though I got a pretty good overall feel.

I was asked a couple of times along the way for my impression. My initial reaction was probably not something you’d expect, though. It was, “Entertaining”. The guys have a good interaction with each other and generally have fun during their discussions and demonstrations. There was much smiling and laughter, both on the court and in the stands among the over 400 attendees (their biggest event so far).

The other thing that comes to mind is “fire hose”. I saw that because there are part of the clinic where the clinicians – in this case which also featured Jill Kramer (TCU), Christy Johnson-Lynch (Iowa State), and Tod Maddux (The Bishop’s School) – went rapid fire through drills and games that could be used for specific training desires (setting, hitting, competitive, etc.). It struck me as being a lot of ideas in a short period of time. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Most clinics for newer coaches end up being like a fire hose of information.

Of course there were other sessions which had a single clinician focusing on a specific topic. The morning of the first day and the whole second day were all on-court. The afternoon of the first day a mixture of court and classroom. The court sessions featured Wizard Ruth Nelson doing BYOP sessions and Deborah Newkirk doing sessions included ways to get kids handling the ball on their own and on generating energy and communication. Because of the interviewing stuff I couldn’t attend the classroom sessions and could only pop my head in on the Saturday afternoon on-court sessions.

Attending coaching education events is always an interesting experience for me. I’m well past the point of learning a bunch of new stuff or picking up several new drills or games. Still, there are usually some little things along the way that get me thinking about stuff. This event was no different.

Overall, I think the attendees got a lot out of the clinic. As I understand it, the bulk of the group was in the high school and/or juniors category. The content was definitely well suited for that group and I would recommend it strongly for early-career coaches.

Book Review: Gender and Competition by Kathy DeBoer

I’ve had Gender and Competition  by Kathy DeBoer on my list of coaching books to read for a while now. As a male volleyball coach who has mainly worked with female athletes (though having coached a few male teams along the way), I have long been interested in the differences in how you need to approach coaching the two genders. Kathy’s book has come up many times in the discussions I’ve had with other coaches on the subject. That includes multiple Volleyball Coaching Wizards interviews I’ve conducted.

Bottom line? Read this book!

You’ll find it a pretty quick read. It comprises just four chapters that add up to a little over 150 pages. Kathy’s writing style strongly favors story telling. The book is full of anecdotes from her coaching and athletics administration career. Basically, it’s teaching by way of example.

There’s one key phrase that I’ve heard attributed to Kathy on the basis of this book. It goes something along the lines of, “Men battle to bond and women bond to battle.” While I don’t recall seeing that exact phrase in the book, certainly it is what is expressed when looking at the differences in how the genders approach competition. It’s something that comes out very early in the text.

The first three chapters look to describe the difference in communication style and general approach to life, competition, and cooperation between men and women. It also looks at the challenges they pose. This isn’t true just for cross-gender interactions, but even for same gender ones, as Kathy demonstrates in some examples of her interactions with her own female athletes. The forth chapter focuses on advice for how to deal with the differences from both perspectives.

I can tell you that a lot of what Kathy talks about in terms of how men and women approach competition and the differences in how the two genders view leadership ring very true to me. I’ve seen them in my own coaching and have heard similar views from fellow coaches.

I can’t recommend Gender and Competition more strongly. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a male or female coach. It doesn’t matter whether you coach male or female players. You will gain insights that will help you do a better job working with your athletes – as well as colleagues, supervisors, and everyone else in your life.

 

The value of personality testing with your team

As I mentioned in my recent coaching log post, last week the team did a session with a sports psychology specialist who took them through a basic DISC personality type analysis (Myers-Briggs is another popular one). This is part of a semester-long process of working with the team to improve chemistry and cohesion in the squad.

As is often the case, the findings of the tests were interesting. The gentleman who lead the session did a good job of not just providing information about what the different basic personality types represent, but also what they mean in terms of developing effective lines of communication across groups.

Obviously, this sort of testing isn’t meant to provide a detailed analysis of each player (and coach, in this case). And simply thinking in terms of individuals by their primary group would be a mistake. There’s a lot of overlap and nuance. Still, to my mind it’s a worthwhile exercise to streamline the process of figuring out the best ways to reach a given player and for players to communicate with each other.

Once isn’t enough
That said, just doing the test once and thinking that’s all you need to do is not really sufficient if you really want to follow this path.

Obviously, if you’re a club coach or otherwise in a situation where you’re basically starting a new team each season, then you’d have to do a new analysis every time. If you’re coaching a school or professional team then you need to account for the fact that you have players (and coaches) regularly flowing in and out of the team. That means new testing requirements and constantly changing team composition.

On top of that, just doing the testing and having the conversation one time is almost assuredly not enough for the lessons to stick. They need to be reinforced on a regular basis over time, in some fashion or another. That might be something the coaching staff can handle, or it might require having an outside expert making regular appearances.

Cost – Benefit
And of course there is usually some kind of cost involved.

At a minimum, there is a time requirement. This is something which needs to be considered, especially where something like NCAA weekly hour limitations are involved.

If you bring in someone from outside, there’s probably a financial cost involved. That means making a decision on the prospective gains to be had from the personality testing, or any other type of psychology work. Is it worth the investment? For some the answer will be, “Yes.” For others, either because of other priorities or because of limit funds, it’s a different story.

I think it is very worth us coaches understanding these sports psychology principles. We may not use them explicitly at any given point in time, but it’s always good to know what tools are available to us to accomplish what needs doing when the priorities line up and the resources are available.

Incorporating delayed video into training

One of the things I’ve been able to incorporate into my training sessions at Svedala is a video delay system. It’s something I’ve talked about using in my Coaching Log entries. I thought it would be worth sharing the specifics of what I’m using.

It starts with my iPad mini and the BaM Video Delay app. The app takes in video from either the forward or rear facing camera and allows you to watch a delayed video stream from it, with a delay you can set to whatever you like. I’ll admit, I’m still learning the ins and outs of BaM, but it’s pretty easy to use and suits the purpose.

The most basic way to use video delay in this fashion is to put the tablet on a tripod and have the players go to it after a rep to watch the replay. The more advanced approach would be to send the video feed to a bigger screen that would be easy to see, which is what I’m doing.

In our main gym at Svedala there is a projection screen on one wall that we can send the video to so everyone can look at it without having to come off the court. To get the video there, we have to send it to the video projector via a VGA cable input located near the stands. It’s conceptually similar to running the video to a TV or monitor. You have to get the feed to a device which plus into the output system, or sends it there wirelessly if that is an option.

The solution I have put together is to stream the video from the iPad to an Apple TV device. It will accept a mirroring feed from the tablet via either wifi or bluetooth. The Apple TV has an HDMI output, which can then be plugged in to most modern TVs and monitors. As I noted, though, the gym projector only takes a VGA feed, so I need a HDMI to VGA adapter to convert the signal to get it to the projector. Having the video feed transmitted to the projection system allows me to put the camera anywhere I like, and to move it around as needed.

Of course there is always the question of where to put the camera – both for angles and equipment safety. A standard tripod is one option. I have found, however, that one of the flexible tripod provides more options in terms of placement. Using a tripod requires a mount for the iPod.

This is not the perfect system by any stretch. For one thing, I’d love a somewhat better camera with more options in terms of zoom. We make do with the resources available, though.

Video delay is only useful if the players actually look at it, though. That’s something you’ll need to train them to do. Once they get into the habit, though, it provides excellent immediate feedback – and sometimes lots of laughs. 🙂