Archive for Volleyball Coaching Resources

Watching US collegiate volleyball abroad

There is an ESPN online properly available to those outside the US called ESPN Player which features streaming live and on-demand sporting events. One of the parts of that service is the College Pass. This is where they have a collection of collegiate sports, one of which is volleyball.

I don’t know the specific geographic availability or pricing for the service (perhaps those who know can comment below), but in the UK it is £8.99 for a 24-hour pass, £17.99 if you go monthly, and $99.99 for a yearly subscription. I’ll get to what I think is the best way to go in a minute.

As I noted recently, watching more volleyball can help your development as a volleyball coach. Having players watch matches can also help them become better players. I have recently done this with the Exeter University men and women by bringing them together to watch an excellent match between USC and UCLA (at this writing it is still in the archives dated September 25). I spent time with both teams back in August, which helped me do my own additional commentary on the match. 🙂

I also suggested the ESPN Player service to an English juniors player I coach and her father for two reason. One was developmental so she could see what real quality high level volleyball looks like. The other was so she could watch matches between teams of different levels from all over the US as part of her research into where she might want to go if she targets a collegiate volleyball career there.

One thing to note, though, before you watch any of the matches. The rules for the US women’s game vary noticeably from FIVB in a couple of ways. The first is that the libero is permitted to serve in one rotation. Since in most cases she is going in on the MBs, that means she will serve for one of them, but the other will do her own serving. The second is there are 15 subs allowed per set. This allows teams to run a 6-2 offense in which the back row Setters and RS hitters are rotated in and out. It alternatively allows teams to liberally use defensive specialists along with the libero. I’ll leave the discussion as to whether this variation is a good thing or not for another time.

Getting back to the best subscription option, if you only want to watch a single match or spend a day watching several of them then clearly the 1-day pass makes the most sense. If, however, you’d like to watch matches regularly (as I do) then I’d suggest the monthly pass. I say this because the women’s season generally goes from early September until mid-December. This is when the most matches will be available by far. The men’s season runs about February to mid-May, but aside from the semifinals and finals at the end I’m not sure how many matches will even be put up on the service. As a result, you’ll only have a handful of volleyball watching months. Unless you’re also a basketball fan, the yearly pass probably is more than you need.

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 area 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.

Book Review: Coaching Volleyball Successfully by Sally Kus

I feel an initial warning is in order here. If you are merely thinking about getting into coaching – especially at something like the high school level – you may not want to read Coaching Volleyball Successfully by Sally Kus.. It could scare you right into not coaching, and nobody wants that! 🙂

Seriously, though, the author talks at good length about what makes for a good volleyball program (not just a good team). There are many facets to it. Thinking about it all as someone new to coaching can be a bit overwhelming.

If I remember correctly, Sally was one of the Cadre on the CAP II course I took. While I was at Brown, I also went against her on one occasion when she coached at the University of Buffalo, and I’m pretty sure her team won. Sally’s teams won a lot. The Sweet Home high school team she coached holds the record for most consecutive match wins with 292 (1978-1987).

Part I

The first section of the book is described as the Coaching Foundation. The two main focal points are coaching philosophy and communication. Coaching philosophy may be something assistant or apprentice volleyball coaches don’t need to worry too much about, as that will come down from the head coach. For anyone running a team themselves, however, it’s a major consideration. Since a large proportion of lower level coaches don’t have the benefit of starting as an assistant, that is likely to cover most readers.Not only does Kus talk about developing a philosophy, she shares some tips for implementing it as well.

The second focus is communication – in all its forms. We’re talking player-to-player, coach-to-player, coach-to-coach, coach-to-parents. Add in any other line of exchange you can think about – verbal, written, and otherwise. Kus leaves no doubt about how important it is for the health of your team, your program, and yourself to make sure there is good, positive communication with and among all parties involved. Player and team motivation is part of that equation.

Part II

The second section of the book is Coaching Plans. Again, we’re talking about a very comprehensive look at the planning aspect of being a successful head volleyball coach. A lot of it concentrates on developing effective training plans. No doubt that will interest most readers considerably. There are a number of drills, games, and warm-up ideas included here.

Part III

Part III tackles the instruction of individuals skills. This is quite detailed. It looks at player mechanics with lots of suggestions for ways to address common issues and bad habits. This section is also supported by a number of drill ideas.

After the skills section, in a natural progression, comes two sections dealing with systems, strategies, and tactics. These feature a comprehensive look at both offensive and defensive systems of play and how to development them, as well as a considerable discussion of how to manage teams in preparation for and during matches.

The book wraps up with a sixth section which goes over evaluations – both players and program. Kus, as with all the other parts of the book, gets quite detailed in terms of both what should be evaluated and how you can do it.
Overall thoughts

As you may have realized by this point, this book is absolutely loaded. It’s not something you will breeze through in a few hours. That said, though, the writing is very direct well paced. I seriously doubt you’ll find yourself bored anywhere along the way, as can sometimes be the case in coaching books.

The bottom line is Coaching Volleyball Successfully is a fantastic book. It does focus a great deal on high school volleyball, but there are a lot of references to collegiate, Juniors, and youth volleyball as well, and much of the material can be applied across the board. If I were offering suggestions as to what a new or developing coach should read, this one would be right on the top of that list.

Book Review: The Volleyball Debate by Vinnie Lopes

Vinnie Lopes, who runs the Off the Block blog focusing on US men’s collegiate volleyball, recently authored and published a book titled The Volleyball Debate. The book is essentially a history of the Ball State men’s volleyball program. For those who don’t know, Ball State has long been a dominant program in the Midwest, one which has compiled over 1000 victories. Only one other men’s volleyball program has reached that mark – UCLA. Unlike UCLA, though, Ball State has yet to win a national championship (Penn State remains the only non-West Coast team to do so on the men’s side).

After a bit of back story history about the early years of both volleyball and Ball State, the book begins with the initial formation of the men’s volleyball club during Don Shondell’s time as a Ball State student (he graduated in 1952). Things really get going, though, with Shondell’s return to Ball State as a faculty member after his military service. This is when he re-formed the club, which had gone away in the interim. The story then focuses on the period from 1960, when it played its first matches, until 1964 when after a couple of years of battling the team was granted varsity status. It ends with a bit of a look at the history of Ball State men’s volleyball since then – kind of a where are they now view.

Don Shondell went on to coach the team until 1998 when he finally retired. During that time he compiled over 750 wins. He was also actively involved in volleyball management and development, having helped form the Midwest Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) and acting as its first president. He co-edited The Volleyball Coaching Bible, which I reviewed earlier.

Probably the most notable of Shondell’s former players is Mick Haley. Haley is currently the head women’s coach at USC, but has a long history of coaching success going back to his days as a junior college coach. He was the first coach to lead a non-West Coast team to a National Championship when he coached the University of Texas women to the title in 1988 (I remember watching that match). He also coached the US women’s national team in the 2000 Olympics.

In terms of my feelings about the book, I think if you like reading about the history of the sport, you may find The Volleyball Debate interesting. As a I noted, it has a bit about the general history of volleyball in the US as well as the specific history of Ball State men’s volleyball. For my peers in U.K. volleyball where the fight to develop the sport is ongoing, there is probably a fair bit to which one can relate. That could make it an interesting read in and of itself.

I must make one negative comment about the book, though. It is in massive need of an edit. I’m not talking about there being loads of typos and such, as there really isn’t. Rather it’s the frequent repetition of things already mentioned which bothered me. I came away with the impression that the chapters were written as separate essays, then put together. The author is also clearly biased toward showing Ball State volleyball in the best light, and his enthusiasm for the subject is pretty obvious, but that’s understandable given he’s an alumnus of the university (though not as a player).

Book Review: The Volleyball Coaching Bible

The Volleyball Coaching Bible is a book which got me excited right away. It features contributions by several experienced, successful coaches. There are 24 chapters authored by as many individuals. The come from the ranks of Juniors, high school, collegiate, and national team levels – even beach. Once I dug it I found my excitement justified. There are a lot of golden nuggets in this book.

Book structure

The editors broke the book down into five sections:

  • Coaching Priorities and Principles
  • Program Building and Management
  • Innovative and Effective Practice Sessions
  • Individual Skills and Team Tactics
  • Game-Winning and Tournament Winning Strategies

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the Skills & Tactics section is the biggest. It has nine chapters. They cover all the major facets of volleyball skills and systems. The Program section comes in second with five. Three of them focus on college, club, and high school volleyball programs in specific. The Practice section has four chapters. They cover practice planning, drill development, teaching methods, and volleyball conditioning.

In the technical chapters there are things some readers will no doubt disagree with in terms of mechanics, focal points, or whatever. That’s going to happen in any book where such things are discussed. I personally really liked the setting chapter. It spends lots of time on the mental side of setting and what it takes to be a good setter.

There are specific drill sections included in the Serving and Blocking chapters. A couple of the other skill chapters mention drills as well. This is definitely not a volleyball drill book, however.

The bookend sections each have three chapters. The Priorities one focuses most on the mental and behavioral side of coaching. That’s in terms of setting goals, handling yourself with the various people and groups you will interact with along the way. The last section is on Strategies. As it’s name suggests, it focuses on maximizing your teams in competition when game day comes.

Considering Contents

Naturally, when you talk about a book comprising contributions from multiple authors you have variation in writing style and voice. That’s certainly true here. Some are quite well written and very engaging, while others are less so.

It must be noted that the book was published in 2002. As a result, in places it reflects the shift from sideout to rally score taking place in US volleyball in that period. Different levels of play adapted rally scoring at different times. As a result, there are references to sideout scoring in places. This is especially in the sections on offense. This may make you think the material is dated. Certainly, there are a couple of points made which are not really relevant in the modern game. They are minor, though, and do not detract from the overall value of the book.

Admittedly, there are a couple of chapters under the Program Building and Management section with a very US-centric view. That may make them a bit less useful than other chapters for those outside the States. Even here, though, there are some bits worth latching on to. John Dunning’s discussion on how the focus of a team or program must be the players is one. Tom Pingel’s  is a very detailed (and action oriented) look at how to develop a successful club program. Yes, the latter has the US Juniors system as its foundation. In my experience, though, the details and issues involved in running clubs are common no matter where you go.

One quirky element is the drawings used to show the mechanics of the skills discussed in those chapters – at least some of them. They are quite reminiscent of the style of illustrations from much older coaching books.

What I really liked

One of my favorite chapters is Pete Waite’s “Competitive Edge”. It is largely dedicated to addressing the mental and emotional side of training, competition, and general player/team management (Waite later authored Aggressive Volleyball).

Jim Coleman’s “scouting & evaluating” chapter could have your head spinning. It addresses volleyball statistics. It does so in ways I’m sure most coaches have never really considered them before.

Personally, as a more experienced coach I found the chapters focused on planning, philosophy, and management the most interesting and valuable. Were I less experienced, the skills and systems chapters would no doubt be of considerable value. Of course, then the other material might be less so. As a result, perhaps the best way to look at The Volleyball Coaching Bible is as a long-term reference. It can be used to different ends as one develops as a coach.