Archive for Volleyball Coaching Resources

A selection of book recommendations for coaches

I mentioned having attended a seminar at the American Volleyball Coaches Association convention in which there was a panel discussion with the subject “When Winning is Your Job”. During that session each of the panelists was asked for a book recommendation. Here’s what they offered up.

Mindset by Carol Dweck and The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni are two that I hadn’t heard of before, but both sound interesting. Sacred Hoops is a well-known book by basketball coaching great Phil Jackson, and The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle is a book which has gotten considerable attention in a variety of performance fields since its publication. I haven’t yet read either of those titles, but expect to do so eventually.

The one book mention that I have read is Training Soccer Champions by Anson Dorrance. I picked that one up years ago when I was a newbie coach. It’s where he made famous the Competitive Cauldron concept, which was the subject of one of the other convention seminars, as I mentioned. I found it a very worthwhile read, though I haven’t looked at it in years.

You will notice the absence of any volleyball books in there. Not a huge surprise. So many are heavily focused on drills, training methods, etc. When you reach a certain stage in your development as a coach you come to realize that a great deal of doing your job well is on the motivation and management side of things. This is stuff which overlaps readily with many other sports and fields (like business). Truly professional coaches interested in continuous personal development will look for inspiration and education in many different areas.

Review: Court & Spark – A Volleyball Documentary

Previously I mentioned picking up a copy of the documentary Court & Spark. I pre-ordered it before my trip to the 2013 AVCA Convention. I saw the trailer for it beforehand. It was something I thought my Exeter players at the time would enjoy. Here are my thoughts.

The film has USA national team setter Courtney Thompson at its core. Arguably, though, it isn’t really about Courtney. She is just the vehicle to present the major themes. The video includes footage of Courtney with the US national team. The are also clips of her with her Polish professional club team.

Of course lots of interview content is from different locations and times. It also includes quite a bit of material from a wide array of additional sources – players, coaches, etc. Some of it’s about Courtney personally. A lot if it, however, is about higher level things. Those are subjects like teamwork, dealing with adversity, and the commitment to putting in the required effort day-in and day-out.

To be honest, I was expecting a bit more “overcoming adversity” in the film because of Courtney’s “too short” status and her ability to overcome that. It isn’t the major theme, though. I did not really find it disappointing. It’s a good documentary, well worth seeing.

Book Review: Mental Toughness Training for Volleyball

The title basically says it all. Mental Toughness Training for Volleyball by Mike Voight looks at how the game is played between a player’s ears. Small sections consider and discuss physical factors. Broadly, though, the focal points are things like motivation, intention, concentration, and confidence. As such, this book could be quite handy to help surface and address any number of issues for coaches seeking ways to go beyond technical and tactical training.

The text comprises four sections. The first two mainly focus on defining mental toughness, and they point out issues contributory to performance problems. The third section is where the author addresses mental toughness. For most readers this is the meat of the book. The last section wraps things up. It looks at the responsibilities of players and coaches in the process. The chapters tend toward being short, making for a book which is pretty easy to read.

Throughout the book the author provides a number of questionnaires and other tools. You can use these tools to help assess where players are at in terms of their motivation and mental toughness. Further, they can help identify potential issues, both with individuals and the team overall. Additionally, there is a good-sized reference section at the back of the book for further reading. All together, this makes a pretty good long-term reference for volleyball coaches.

Volleyball Coaching App Review: TapRecorder

A while back, I looked into apps I could potentially use to help keep track of statistics in practice. I didn’t want to resort to going the old clipboard method. I wanted something that went beyond just match type stats. That’s in terms of being able to cover the whole squad at once rather than just 6 players. I also want to do more than just the standard kills, blocks, digs, etc.

Most of the apps out there are oriented toward match stating. I did find one which seemed to fit the bill, though. That was TapRecorder from Volleyball Ace.

TapRecorder What really attracted me to TapRecorder was its flexibility. It is based on a spreadsheet model, making it highly customizable. Basically, you can keep track of just about anything you like. In my case, I could do something like putting all my players on a single screen and track their passes in a serve receive drill.

The app comes with a set of sample recordings (downloadable from the website). You can use either on their own or as the basis for developing your own templates. Creating new recording sheets is pretty easy. I can be a bit tedious when you need to add in a long list of players, however. There’s a companion application which will allow you to do it on your computer for upload to the tablet. I haven’t used it yet, though.

As with any stating app, there’s going to be a little bit of a learning curve, though designing your own recording sheets helps to at least make things more intuitive for you. And obviously if you’ve only got TapRecorder on one device only one coach at a time can use it, which is no different than working with a clipboard. You’d need multiple versions of the app to have more than one coach stating, but there’s a companion desktop application (Excel-based) which will allow you to aggregate data from multiple recordings. I haven’t used that yet myself, but when I do I’ll add my observations here.

It’s all the parents’ fault!

There was an article on an Australian news site a while back that’s worth a quick read. It looks at the causality of kids dropping out of sports. It starts with the statistic that 70% of kids who start a sport give it up by age 13 and never play it again. There are a lot of reasons why this happens. I’m sure you can rattle off several without too much thought.

The one this particular article focuses on is parents, though.

In brief, parents are way too personally invested in their children’s sports. Particularly, the ride home afterwards is identified as a major problem area in the child-parent relationship. It’s something coaches of youth players would do well to address with their parent groups.

Now, I will say that in my volleyball experience most kids get into the sport competitively later than in other sports (in the US it’s often not until 14-15). That doesn’t mean I haven’t seen and heard about some unfortunate parent behavior, however. And even if the quit rate after age 13 is much lower than the 70% level of before, that doesn’t mean there can’t be negative impacts from how parents interact with their kids regarding their play.

Book Review: Talent and the Secret Life of Teams by Terry Pettit

Talent and the Secret Life of Teams (available at Amazon or the author’s website) is a collection of essays penned by former University of Nebraska head coach Terry Pettit. As such, it’s not really a unified coaching text in the same way as other coaching books. The subject matter of the essays is varied.

The very last chapter, which shares its title with that of the book, is the longest by a healthy margin. It is also probably the meatiest from a volleyball coaching perspective. By that I mean it goes deeper specifically into volleyball coach thinking and decision-making. That is done in the context of what happens during a season and in matches. Specifically, it’s a look back on the 1995 Nebraska NCAA championship season. Naturally, there is a lot of focus on what developed in the tournament and finals. Personnel management is as much a focus as match strategy and tactics.

In the second-to-last chapter, Pettit shares a letter he received from another volleyball coach. I would classify it as a “this is why we coach” type of story. It’s the sort of thing that happens that times in a coaching career. It reaffirms to us exactly why we do it.

The rest of the chapters are a mixture of humor and studies in leadership. The lighter stuff is often specifically related to life as a collegiate volleyball coach. That means there’s an element of inside joke to it. This may be lost on readers not experienced in that arena. Even without that reference, though, I think readers will get a few chuckles.

This is not your classic coaching manual, and shouldn’t be approached that way. Still, it offers some nuggets throughout to make it a worthwhile read.

Actually, to get a flavor of what’s in the book, listen to this YouTube webinar featuring Terry Pettit hosted by John Kessel from USA Volleyball. The first half of it isn’t the greatest, in my opinion, but I found the the second half or so quite interesting.

Worth a Listen: The Net Live

For those who don’t know, there’s a weekly broadcast/podcast that may be worth your time to give a listen. It’s The Net Live. It is a live broadcast, and you can find out information about that here. It is also available as a podcast you can listen to on that same site as well as via iTunes.

Two words of warning:

1) This is a longer-than-average length broadcast. That likely is reflective of it being a live show at its core. The result is a 2-hour program, which can be a bit of a long listen from a podcast perspective.

2) The show is very much American-centric. Lots of talk about US national team programs, collegiate and beach volleyball in the States. It does, though, touch on international competitions.

The latter may seem to make the show less than appealing to those outside the US, but from a volleyball coaching perspective don’t jump to any conclusions just yet. I have listened to a number of quite good coaching discussions. There was one about half-way through the September 3rd, 2013 show, for example. This is one of the advantages to being able to listen to the show via podcast.

In general terms, the show covers quite an array of subjects. They have lots of call-in and in-studio guests talking about everything from playing and coaching to news and events to different aspects of the business of volleyball. In one episode, for example, beach volleyball legend Sinjin Smith detailed the history of the AVP in a way which most folks have probably never heard before.

Give it a listen.

Book Review: A Guide to Physical Preparation to Play Collegiate Volleyball

A Guide to Physical Preparation to Play Collegiate Volleyball is co-authored by John Cook and Laura Pilakowski. They are the Head Volleyball Coach and Head Volleyball Strength & Conditioning Coach at the University of Nebraska respectively at the publishing date (2006). Basically, it is a pamphlet with five short chapters, and those chapters go as follows:

Chapter 1 – The physical demands of collegiate volleyball

This chapter starts with a talk of three evaluation elements used in the recruitment process. They include landings, symmetry of strength and movement, and arm-swing mechanics. This is all linked to core strength. The authors then go into the specific requirements of the sport and individual positions. There are some suggestions for ways to prepare for the jump from high school/juniors to collegiate volleyball’s higher demands.

Chapter 2 – Building a foundation

The three focal points of this chapter are Balance, Posture/Strength/Stability, and Jumping Skills. The respective sections have suggested exercises.

Chapter 3 – Expand on the foundation in the areas of jumping power and court quickness

As suggested, this chapter extends into working at improving vertical jump and quickness. It presents lots of exercises, and offers tips and thoughts.

Chapter 4 – The elements of a basic program

Here we get into the specifics of how to put together a strength & conditioning program for volleyball. This includes thoughts on how to do testing. The chapter also features an 8-week program, which includes both strength/power training and conditioning.

Chapter 5 – Information on how to develop a community of support personnel

The final section is contributed by an editor of the Performance Conditioning Volleyball Newsletter (under which banner the book was published). Conceptually, these few pages are worth reviewing. To suggest the list of support personnel suggested to help young volleyball players with their physical and mental development is ambitious may be an understatement, though.

Overall, I think this pamphlet can be quite useful for both volleyball coaches and players/parents.

Required volleyball reading?

I did the last of my planned collegiate program training visits on Wednesday, this time at UCLA. Interestingly, when I got to the gym ahead of their training session I found them doing a review/discussion of the book Crucial Conversations. Assistant coach Stein Metzger told me it was something they were looking to use to improve on the communication front as that was seen to be a problem with the team last year. I haven’t read the book before myself, but it’s a best seller so clearly quite a few others have done. Might just give it a look to see what’s what.

I’ve got just about a week left in the States. While I don’t have any plans on visiting any more schools and their practices, I may yet get a bit more volleyball in before I head back for England. The University of Wisconsin will be playing at Pepperdine on Saturday evening. Pepperdine is supposed to be a beautiful campus (located in Malibu), so I’d like to go just to have a look. I happen to also know the Wisconsin coach from my days at Brown when he was coaching at Albany and they came to one of our tournaments. He’s definitely moved up in the world since!

I may also make a trip to the famous Manhattan Beach. I’ve been told there’s a fantastic little Mexican food joint there. Oh, and it’s known for some pretty good beach volleyball action too. 🙂

I think once I have some time to let everything settle and can reflect I’ll write a post looking back on my 5 campus visits and the different things I observed. Look for that when I get back.