Archive for Volleyball Coaching Resources

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.

Book Review: My Profession – The Game

My Profession – The Game is the English translation of the last of several books written by legendary Russian volleyball coach Vyacheslav Platonov. He led the dominant USSR teams during the late 1970s and first half of the 1980s. He left the team after the 1985 World Championships, but returned in 1990 to lead them to another World Championship in 1991. Mark Lebedew of At Home on the Court was part of the book project (his father did the translation). Along with the Kindle version, it’s also available in both ePub and print versions. I read it via the former on my iPad.

This book is a blend of theory and practice. You won’t find any drills or anything like that. This is Platonov sharing is views on things like handling teams and players, training, game strategy, and the like. The one place where he gets into a quite technical discussion is in the area of blocking. That is a chapter unto itself.

As with any coach sharing their personal opinions, there are things you will probably disagree with. And of course Platonov wrote the book before recent developments in the game (though Platonov predicted some of them in the book). That means certain aspects are out of date. Still, it’s always worth hearing the thoughts of someone who had as much success as he did.

The book is quite easy to read. It’s relatively short and broken down into bite sized chunks. That makes it ideal for the coach on the go. Definitely worth getting hold of a copy. You’ll probably find it something you read multiple times.

Book Review: Little Black Book of Volleyball Coaching

Little Black Book of Volleyball Coaching by John L. Betcher is not a book I would have bought for myself. I added it to my Kindle collection before a trip to Germany as something I could read during down times for review purposes. Hopefully, my small investment of time and money saves you some of your own. This isn’t a book I recommend.

There are a couple of interesting and worthwhile bits in the book. They are particularly in the area of developing a coaching philosophy. I don’t agree with some of it personally, but that isn’t why I’m not a fan of this book. It’s the fact that so much of the book is just weak. And we’re talking about a book of only a bit over 100 pages.

A major part of the text defines and describes the phases of transition play. The author claims he included it because he didn’t see it specifically done in other books. I say there’s a reason for that. There’s no need. If there was an in-depth exploration of transition attack – play calling, training methods, etc. – then we might have something interesting, but that’s not the case here. Instead, we get a long-winded explanation of what I think most coaches already grasp pretty well.

The one thing this book does offer is a number of coaching anecdotes. I think these might actually be the most interesting and potentially valuable parts for the reader. Beyond that, there’s about enough meat for a couple of interesting articles, not a full book. A much better option is Coaching Volleyball Successfully by Sally Kus.

Book Review: Winning Volleyball by Al Scates

Let’s face it, a volleyball coaching book published in 1993 is going to have a lot of dated information. It predates rally scoring, the let serve, the libero, and a number of other rules changes which have come into the game in the last 15 years. Winning Volleyball by Al Scates certainly reflects its time in that regard. No question. This doesn’t make it a worthless read, however.

If you can read the writings of someone with over 1200 career coaching victories, it’s probably worth doing so. That’s what you get from Al Scates. He won 19 NCAA volleyball titles with his UCLA during a career which ran from 1963 to 2012. Granted, quite a bit in the book doesn’t reflect the modern game. Still, there is a fair bit one can latch onto as worthwhile. For example, Scates talks at one point about serving strategy. He does so in a way that will be familiar to modern coaches. At least it should be! It’s all presented in a pretty blunt, straightforward style.

And if you’ve any interest in volleyball history at all, you’ll love this book! It has loads of old pictures of some of the legends of the game. Mainly it’s from a US perspective, but that’s hardly surprisingly. Scates also talks a fair bit about the history of the sport in different respects. He does so both in discrete parts and threaded through other sections as well.

So if you can get your hands on an old copy of Winning Volleyball somewhere, it’s worth thumbing through.

Pondering a volleyball coaching podcast

For a little while now I’ve been thinking about developing a volleyball coaching podcast. Podcasts have become quite popular in recent years. I subscribe to a number of them across different subject areas myself. It’s a great way to learn new things, hear different perspectives, and generally engage in one’s interests.

I haven’t come across many volleyball podcasts, though. The one I do listen to is The Net Live. It’s very much US-centric, but it covers good ground and is entertaining. There are even some good coaching discussions at times, but it’s not a coaching-specific program. It seems to me there’s a gap in the podcast market that is worth trying to fill.

What do you think?

I’d really like to hear what you have to say on the subject. Please use the comment section below, or Facebook or Twitter, to share your thoughts on opinions on things like:

  • Frequency (weekly?)
  • Length (60 minutes seems common)
  • Subject matter
  • Number of primary presenters/personalities
  • Examples of similar types of podcasts
  • Groups/organizations I could link up with for guests, promotional support, listeners, etc.

And of course most importantly –

Would a volleyball coaching podcast be something you’d be interested in listening to on a regular basis?

Thanks in advance for your input.

P.S.: It’d be great if you could spread the word to coaches you’re in contact with so we can get input from as many people as possible.

Book Review: Volleyball Skills & Drills

Volleyball Skills is a compilation from the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA). It features 10 chapters with contributions from several coaches. Some names you probably know, but others may be new. The first six chapters cover the main volleyball skills – serving, passing, setting, hitting, blocking, and defense. They are followed by a chapter on team offense. Then there is another on team defense. The last two chapters focus on transition and practice. In many ways this is a newer version of Volleyball Drills for Champions in structure and general approach.

All the skill chapters include a discussion of the mechanics. They also share a group of drills at the end. Worthwhile in each case is a collection of specific coaching tips related to the various skill elements discussed. They appear in separate boxes for easy reference. You will recognize many of the drills, no doubt.

We can debate the validity of certain techniques. That is true for any technical book. Nothing here struck me as dubious, though.

I found two aspects of the book quite useful. One is a section in the Setting chapter (Chapter 3). It shares a setter development progression plan. This isn’t meant to be something coaches use as is. It definitely provides a nice conceptual framework, though. The other is Chapter 10, which focuses on practice. It includes a good discussion of practice planning. It goes beyond that, however, into the areas of training philosophy, managing players, feedback, and the like. Definitely a valuable read for a developing coach.

Overall, I put Volleyball Skills on par with one like Coaching Volleyball Technical and Tactical Skills. The latter gets more detailed in certain ways. This is partly because it’s few years newer. It lacks a bit in terms of the broader coverage, though.

A couple of coaching resource ideas

As I mentioned in this post, I attended a Continuous Professional Development (CPD) workshop titled Coaching Children & Young People. It was one of three CPD workshops I needed to take to complete my Volleyball England Level 3 coaching certification. I won’t call the workshop one that really expanded my knowledge. In part that’s because I’ve got a fair bit of experience. Also, in part it’s because some of it was covered in a fair bit of detail on Day 2 and Day 3 of the Level 3 course itself. Mainly, it came down to some interesting discussions between the four of us attending and the instructor. All of us had different sports backgrounds. Out of that came a couple of different ideas for coaching resources.

The first is more a concept than an actual thing. It’s the idea of Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD). This is a subject worthy of a post of its own, though. I won’t go into it here beyond saying it’s a kind of training and sports involvement progression model.

Of more practical value…

Reaction time

The workshop instructor talked about reaction time apps. One of the old school ways of measuring reaction time was to have someone hold a yard stick (meter stick?) between the thumb and forefinger of a second person. Then you let it go to see how far it drops before that person catches it. These are mobile apps for phones and tablets which essentially replicate that idea They measure how long it takes you to react to something.

Video app

There are a number of apps out there the coaches can use to do video analysis. A specific one we looked at was Cricket Coach. I think, like other similar apps, it’s based on stuff originally done in golf. You can do side-by-side video comparison and also mark-up. Coach’s Eye is another one along these lines that I know a number of volleyball coaches like.

More video

Another potentially quite useful resource is Chromecast. While I haven’t used this USB plug-in device myself before, I’m familiar with it as something that can be used to stream content from a computer or mobile device to a TV or monitor. If you use a phone or tablet (or other WiFi enabled device) to record video during training, you can use Chromecast to stream that to a large screen for easier viewing.

And even more…

As a little add-on, during the coaching conference I had a conversation with one of the Volleyball England staff who showed me a really small GoPro camera they were working on getting a good deal on. The camera was so small that a player could wear it on a headband and with their app the video can be streamed to a mobile device, which was quite interesting.

Book Review: Coaching Volleyball Technical and Tactical Skills

It’s always interesting to review a book written by someone you met. Coaching Volleyball Technical and Tactical Skills fits in that category. I spent some time with its author, Cecile Reynaud at the 2013 American Volleyball Coaches Association annual convention when I sat in on a committee meeting she chaired. We also spent time together at the 2015 HP Coaches Clinic. Cecile is now retired from coaching. She spent over 25 years in NCAA Division I volleyball and accumulated more than 600 wins.

A major feature of the book is a section about teaching volleyball technical skills. Obviously, this sort of thing is found in many books. Here, though, we have a couple of elements to set this one apart.

The first is the breadth of coverage. We don’t just have a look at the basic skills of serving, passing, setting, hitting, blocking, and digging. This is more specific. It goes into the various types of serves, the different types of hitting, and different ways of playing the ball defensively, among other things.

The other differentiating element is a section included with each skill. It details common errors and ways to correct them. No doubt many readers will find this quite useful. It can help diagnose and address players’ struggles.

The novelty of the book doesn’t stop there, either. The next section looks at the tactical elements of volleyball and discusses them individually. It has a sort of “…for Dummies” feel. It comes in two separate chapters. One is for the offensive side of the game, while the other is for defense. This section includes things like serving strategy, how to use a libero, varying the attacking, and defending the slide. It also features a number of other tactical decisions. Each tactical element has several key common component elements. They included reading the situation, what to watch out for, key knowledge, decision-making guidelines, self knowledge, and strengths & weaknesses of the opposition. Collectively, they offer the reader lots of things to think about in terms of tactics and implementation.

Backing up a bit, the first section of the book focuses on evaluation and teaching and includes key things to consider. There are also tools to help in evaluations. The fact that it is the shortest section (only 9 pages) gives you a good indication that the book’s main focus lies elsewhere. Still, the teaching and evaluation precursor, followed by the technical and tactical sections which follow, does set up the fourth section. That gets into the planning side of coaching. Here, key elements of developing season and individual practice plans are introduced. There are several sample practice plans provided. There is one for a season as well.

Part V of the book is the last one. It covers in-match coaching. A rather short section, it isn’t a lengthy discussion. You’ll find much more in-depth coverage of that subject and other “off the court” aspects of coaching elsewhere.

Overall, if you want a book focused on the technical and tactical elements of the game – as the title suggests – then I think Coaching Volleyball Technical and Tactical Skills is a quite good choice.