Archive for Volleyball Coaching Resources

New podcast finally in development

A while back I talked about having an idea to develop a volleyball coaching podcast. Well, that idea is turning into a reality, though not quite in the way I’d kind of originally envisioned.

Mark Lebedew and I just finished recording three episodes of the Volleyball Coaching Wizards podcast. They need to go through some editing and production work. They’ll be ready for consumption shortly, and I’ll get them up on iTunes for download.

The basic approach for this podcast is to take interesting elements of the interviews we’re doing and have a discussion about them. It should make for some interesting content. Each episode will be roughly 30 minutes long – a good length for a commute or a workout.

Look for more information shortly.

Volleyball Coaching Wizards now open!

Volleyball Coaching Wizards banner

I’ve mentioned Volleyball Coaching Wizards a number of times over the last couple months. If you missed it, basically it’s a project to interview the world’s great volleyball coaches – at all levels. I teamed up with Mark Lebedew of At Home on the Court (he coaches a pro team in Poland). We have a list of over 300 coaches taken from Hall of Fame lists and/or recommended to us. The work is still in the very early stages. A bunch of interviews with some really high profile and very successful coaches are already done. Numerous others are committed for the future.

We opened up access to the Wizards recordings publicly, which mean full access to each interview. They generally run 1.5 to 2 hours, and in them we talk about things like:

  • Coaching philosophy and how it’s changed
  • Team building
  • Training and season planning
  • Line-up decision and playing time
  • Managing expectations
  • Career development
  • and much more.

While Mark and I look to touch on basically the same basic coaching topics, each interview is different. They reflect the variety of coaching levels and circumstances, backgrounds and development paths, and personal philosophies and styles of each of these Wizards. The process of doing the recordings has been great, and what we’re hearing is really interesting – especially the common elements across coaches from very different experiences and backgrounds.

What’s really been awesome to hear from these coaches we’re speaking with is how great they think the project is and how it will contribute to volleyball coaching knowledge. They are as excited to listen to their peers as the rest of us!

Click here to learn more, see who we’ve already interviewed, and find out how to get access.


Using a serving machine in training

Periodically I hear a volleyball coach ponder an investment in additional equipment for their program. This is often as a result of having spare or donor funds. At other times coaches specifically fund raise for some item they think would be desirable. In cases like this, the subject of hitting/serving machines comes up. They tend to be the big price tag “it would be great to have” thing on coaching wish lists.

But is something like that really a good investment?

The bottom line is it comes down to how much you’ll end up using it. If it’s quite a bit, then it’s a good investment. Otherwise, spend the money elsewhere. The impression I get is that hitting/serving machines probably are not used as much as their buyers anticipated, especially when talking about a school team/program (clubs have more opportunity).

Related to this is the question of whether you should use one of these machines.

The rationale in favor is that they allow you to get in a lot of reps without putting a big strain on coach and/or player shoulders. Plus, they are pretty consistent, which allows for specific focus. Those are not bad reasons. They were why we got one when I was coaching at Brown University – especially for training in the Spring when it was individuals or smaller groups.

The argument against using a machine is that it removes the read element from the passing/defense process. If you’re receiving serve you’re getting a bunch of cues from the server’s position, toss, contact point, etc. Inserting a machine removes all those cues, cutting down on the receivers training per the concept of the read-plan-execute chain.

In the outside hitting and serving seminar I attended in 2014, instructor Mark Lebedew expressed the view that sometimes hitting/serving machines can be useful. He felt that was true in a situation when an individual just wants reps to work through some mechanics stuff. As soon as you have multiple players, however, he said he’s against using the machine. When players must communicate seams, etc. the lack of a read aspect is compounded, he argued.

Some things to consider if you’re thinking about making an investment in a hitting/serving machine.

Book Review: Sacred Hoops by Phil Jackson

Sacred Hoops by Phil Jackson is a book I’ve been aware of for years. I’ve heard it recommended by coaches a number of times. My Volleyball Coaching Wizards partner, Mark Lebedew, mentioned it during his interview. He mocked me when I admitted I was only just reading the book for the first time at that point.

Obviously, you have to take seriously any book written by a coach with as much success as Jackson had in his career. Honestly, though, at least part of my reason for not reading the book sooner is that it’s focus is basketball. I’m not a huge fan of the sport. And of course being a volleyball coach I have often been in conflict with basketball. We always seem to be at odds when it comes to court time, players, resources, etc. That may have been another underlying reason for not picking up Sacred Hoops. That said, I have read stuff by/about John Wooden, but I feel like his coaching stature goes far beyond basketball at this point.

There are basically four elements to Sacred Hoops. One is Jackson’s personal road to philosophical development. I’ve read quite a bit on Zen and other philosophies, so I found his perspective in that regard interesting. Another is a discussion of how Phil developed as a coach. I think those sorts of things are worthwhile generally speaking. They can be sources of inspiration and motivation.

The third is a history of the Bulls teams up to the point of the book’s writing. That bit I could care less about, as you can imagine. Interwoven in that history, though, is the fourth element, which is how Jackson – at least in his own mind – dealt with a variety of different coaching challenges along the way. The level of athlete may be considerably different from the ones we have to work with, but many of the issues Phil brings up have parallels at all levels and in all sports.

I’m not going to say Sacred Hoops was some kind of major “Wow!” read for me. There weren’t any parts which forced me to rethink things in my own coaching in a serious fashion. Perhaps that’s at least partly because I’d already read about some of the philosophical stuff seemingly at the core of Jackson’s way of thinking, so there weren’t a lot of new ideas in that vein. Still, I thought it was a useful read from the perspective of offering up a different set of ways to look at things that could be filed away for potential future use or reference. For that reason I do recommend it for volleyball coaches. Content aside, it’s a convenient read as it comprises a lot of short sections so you can read it in short bursts as I did.

One interview down, dozens to go!

Yesterday I did the first of the Volleyball Coaching Wizards interviews. It was with my partner on the project, Mark Lebedew from At Home on the Court. We ran it as a kind of webinar to allow some others to listen in and ask questions of their own. There were a couple of technical glitches on Mark’s end, and a “family” interruption or two, but overall the interview went well and covered a lot of good ground. Once I edit the recording we’ll be making it available, and Mark has offered to do the transcription to produce a text version.

Want to know what the biggest takeaway was for me from the interview?

It was that this project is going to be A LOT of work. The interview took about 2.5 hours. It will probably take at least that much time to edit, produce and upload. Add in the time required to arrange for an interview and to do all the other little admin things around it and you’re basically talking about a full day’s effort for each one. And that’s not even counting the transcription of the audio, which after this one we will almost certainly outsource.

Now consider that we already have over 30 coaches who have agreed to be interviewed and that’s just about 10% of our prospect list. Starting to get the idea of how much work this project will involve?

By the way, those who attended the interview – which we ran as a Google+ Hangout – was very positive.

Volleyball Coaching Wizards project update

In case you haven’t been following the Volleyball Coaching Wizards blog, the Facebook page, or the Twitter feed (why not!?) there have been a number of very positive developments since I mentioned the project two weeks ago. I think we’re now up to somewhere around 300 top notch coaches on our list of nominees. Many of them are there on the basis of being in the AVCA Hall of Fame and/or on on the lists of the winningest coaches in US collegiate and high school volleyball. The remainder, though, have come by way of recommendations from coaches all over the world.

And they continue to come in! As far as I’m concerned, we’ve only just scratch the surface in many ways – especially outside the US.

The process of inviting the nominated Wizard coaches to be a part of the project has gotten underway. As of this writing, 19 have already agreed to be interviewed. That includes some of the most noteworthy names in the game, including 11 AVCA Hall of Famers. It’ll be a couple weeks before we can start lining up the interviews (my partner, Mark Lebedew, is in the middle of the German championship finals series). The excitement is building, though. The response to the project has been really positive!

Definitely make sure to stay up-to-date. Things are likely to start moving very quickly in the weeks ahead.

Best volleyball coaches – nominations wanted

As some readers are aware, roughly in parallel with my volleyball coaching I’ve had a career in the financial markets. My coaching in England the last three years has been on the back of working on a PhD in Behavioral Finance, which can be thought of as combining financial markets with psychology. I actually authored a book on trading that was published back in 2006.

In that arena there is a series of books by a gentleman named Jack Schwager, the first of which is titled Market Wizards. They comprise a collection of interviews with some of the world’s elite traders. These books are widely considered among the best, most educational and inspiration ever published in financial market circles. (As and aside, I actually interviewed Schwager not long after the first book came out.)

I’m not entirely sure what triggered it, but some combination of thoughts and ideas sparked a fusion in my head a couple weeks ago. It occurred to me that a similar sort of book would be really awesome from a volleyball coaching perspective.

Thus was Volleyball Coaching Wizards born.

Only, my partner Mark Lebedew and I will be taking things to a higher level. The conceptual framework of interviewing the best of the best remains. We’re just going to build on the original in a couple of ways.

First, we’re not just going the book route. These days the internet and audio/video delivery offer much greater opportunity for distribution than Schwager had when he published his first Wizards book. The specific plan is still a work in progress, but for us a book (probably multiple books) is only one of the ways we plan on sharing content from the interviews we do. We also want to use audio and video, and every other available platform, to be able to reach volleyball coaches everywhere.

Second, we’re going deeper. There are great volleyball coaches at all level of the sport and all over the world. Certainly, we’ll be looking to interview the big names in coaching – international and elite collegiate coaches everyone knows. We also, though, want to interview coaches much less well-known but who are still great coaches in their own right.

I’ve already been in touch with a number of my contacts around the world about the project and the response has uniformly been extremely positive. I think this is something that has the potential to be really special.

All of this means Volleyball Coaching Wizards is likely to be a major undertaking, though. I can easily see us doing more than 100 interviews just in the initial phase. I would expect to add additional interviews over time as new coaches distinguish themselves.

We’d appreciate your help

At this early stage you can help us out big time by bringing great coaches you know of to our attention. In particular, we want to hear about lower profile coaches. It’s easy enough to pick out the the likes of great international coaches based on medals won, top US collegiate coaches based on wins and being in the AVCA Hall of Fame, etc. To an extent, the same is true for US high school coaches. What about Juniors coaches, though? Or university, high school, and club coaches outside the US? Those are the folks we most need the help identifying.

The best way to submit a great coach for potential inclusion is by filling out the nomination form.

You can also help by spreading the world. The more folks we have providing Wizard nominations, the better the pool of candidates will be. So like the Facebook page, follow the Twitter feed, send your friends and coaching colleagues to, and whatever else you can think of to get people connected to the project. Any help you can provide will be greatly appreciated.

And definitely feel free to share your thoughts, suggestions, ideas, etc. about the project in general with us.

Book Review: Spike! by Doug Beal

During a visit with him in Berlin, I took advantage of Mark Lebedew’s library to read Spike!. That’s Doug Beal’s account of the 1984 Olympic gold medal winning USA men’s volleyball team. It was published in 1985, so pretty soon after the events. I got through it in only a few hours of reading as it’s not much more than 100 pages.

The book actually covers a fair bit of ground. Beal was a member of the national team before taking over as coach. As a result, there’s a little of the history of how the program evolved. Of course the main focus is on how the 1984 team came together in the years immediately prior to the Olympics. And of course what happened during the Games themselves.

For those who’ve been around the game for a while, a lot of interest and focus may be on Beal’s side of the story of different players and their involvement in the national team. Most notable are the likes of Karch Kiraly, Sinjin Smith, and Tim Hovland. Karch and Sinjin wrote books with their sides of the story, and I’m sure other accounts are out there as well. In Spike! we get Beal’s side of handling the different personalities and antics.

I found the account pretty well presented. Beal doesn’t toot his own horn. In fact, he seems pretty forthright about sharing his own short-comings and missteps along the way. He goes so far as to share the experience of having the Soviet Union coach in the latter 1970s, Yuri Chesnokov, teach him what he should be doing.

While this is certainly a book of history rather than a coaching text, it includes discussions of the sort of thinking and decision-making that was behind a variety of coaching decisions. Many of them are the same sort of thing we volleyball coaches deal with today. As such, I found it to be a book that is both interesting from a historical perspective and quite relevant. If you can get hold of a copy, I think it’s well worth a read.


Volleyball coaching book in the works

Back at the start of the year I mentioned my intention to write a volleyball coaching book. As I suggested at the time, I want to develop something of practical value, but not yet another drill book. My intention is to focus on getting the most out of training sessions when you have limited resources – help, equipment, space, time, etc. These last couple of years coaching in England have pushed me to find ways to do just that, and I want to share what I’ve learned as a kind of best practices discussion.

That said, my experience and perspective is just one coach’s. For the book to truly be a good resource it would be valuable to have additional input. So to that end I have two questions for you.

1) What sorts of limited resource problems have you faced, or are you currently facing in your coaching?

2) How have you dealt with limited resources in your own coaching?

It would be great if you could leave your response to one or both of these questions in the comment section below. Not only will it help me in developing the book, it could also help your fellow coaches more immediately.

I look forward to learning about the challenges you’ve faced on the ways they’ve been overcome.