Archive for Volleyball Coaching Resources

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. 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 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. A number of drill ideas support this section.

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, is full of detail in terms of both what to evaluate 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 and 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 authored and published a book titled The Volleyball Debate. You may know Vinnie from the Off the Block blog focusing on US men’s collegiate volleyball, recently. 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. It is 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.

The book starts with a bit of back story history about the early years of both volleyball and Ball State. From there it goes on to the initial formation of the men’s volleyball club. That was 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. That’s 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. Think of it as a 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.

Probably the most notable of Shondell’s former players is Mick Haley. Haley is probably best know for coaching the USC women’s team from 2001 to 2017, 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 led 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 UK 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. It seemed the chapters were separate essays rather than proper planned out chapters. The author is also clearly showing Ball State volleyball in the best light. His enthusiasm for the subject is pretty obvious. But that’s understandable as 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.

Book Review: Volleyball Systems & Strategies

Volleyball Systems and Strategies is a book put together by USA Volleyball. It’s based on the work done in its Coaching Accreditation Program (CAP) – the US version of Volleyball England’s coaching certification sequence. It is a very comprehensive look at the next level of volleyball above that of individual skill. That’s how a team plays as a unit. To that end I think it has the potential to be very useful for new and developing coaches. It’s also useful for anyone thinking about how they can maximize the performance of their team given the types of players they have.

There are six primary sections to the book.

  1. Serve, Transition, and Serve Receive looks at the types of serves (float, jump topspin, etc.) and team serve receive patterns.
  2. Defensive Systems describes ways a team can set up in terms of both floor defense positioning and blocking.
  3. Defensive Strategies looks at different ways the systems above may be employed based on the strengths and weaknesses of your team and/or your opponent.
  4. Offensive Systems focuses on different offense configurations, such as the 5-1 or 6-2.
  5. Offensive Strategies discusses ways to employ an offensive system to put your team’s attackers at the advantage.
  6. Systems, Strategies, and the Team concentrates on developing good training plans and handling the team before, during, and after matches.

Each section of the book comprises chapters focused on one aspect of the bigger subject. These chapters generally feature five elements.

  • An initial description of the system or strategy
  • Personnel requirements
  • Advantages and disadvantages
  • Options for implementation
  • Coaching points

The final chapter of each section (except the last) lists drills to work on the system or strategy covered. There are as many as 20 drills listed. That’s plenty to work with.

There’s a companion DVD with the book. It covers the primary topics listed above, excepting #6. It also shows some of the drills included. Call it about an hour in length.

There’s a lot of material in Volleyball Systems and Strategies. I think it’s pretty safe to say that if the reader can grasp it all they will be well on their way to being able to find the right systems and strategies for any team they coach, regardless of competitive level.

Book Review: Aggressive Volleyball

Aggressive Volleyball is an excellent book. Full stop.

Even as an experienced coach there was plenty to get me thinking. For an inexperienced coach, or even for a player, there is loads of very useful material.

It’s probably worth noting that you might better than of the “aggressive” part of the title as proactive rather than what the term normally implies. It isn’t about things like hitting or serving the ball hard so much as playing volleyball with purpose, as opposed to playing in a reactive fashion. To that end, there is at least as much philosophy as there is technical and tactical discussion in the text. This makes for some dense sections of the book, but ones which give the reader plenty to think about.

After the conceptual introduction, the book is broken into seven sections:

  • Assessment
  • Offense
  • Defense
  • Out-of-System/Transition Play
  • Player Competitiveness
  • Communication
  • Match Coaching

There are collections of drills at the end of most sections (and some mentioned in the text as well), They are of the “Here’s how you can train the stuff I’ve just been talking about” variety. Where technical discussions are taking place there are also photos to provide visual support, and interspersed through the book are little stories from other coaches speaking to the importance of the particular subject being explored.

I honestly think this book has something for just about everyone. OK, maybe not if you’re Russ Rose or John Dunning, but for us mere mortal volleyball coaches Aggressive Volleyball is a great source of information and advice – maybe even inspiration – and reminds us of all the different facets there are to coaching volleyball successfully. It’s easy to forget them sometimes in the heat of a season. I can honestly see myself referring back to it again from time to time.

In short, get your hands on a copy, read it, and keep it handy.

Inside College Volleyball

Quick note here. In this case “college” is being used in the American way, which generally means institutions of higher education (2 or 4 year) beyond secondary school. That would be beyond A-levels, to provide an English comparison.

Inside College Volleyball is a book I published back in 2011. I worked with a fellow coach by the name of Matt Sonnichsen. Matt authored most of the content while I did the editing and publishing. He’d been blogging for several years as The College Volleyball Coach. At that time he was coaching at a Division I university in the States, having been working in the field for 15 years. Prior to that, he was a player of some note:

  • 2 time NCAA Champion at UCLA
  • MVP of the National Championship his senior year.
  • 3 time All American setter
  • USA National Team setter
  • 2 years playing professional volleyball in Europe
  • 5 year touring member of the AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour

Matt left coaching a few months after the book’s release and now consults volleyball families on the collegiate recruiting process. He continues to write regularly on his blog on recruiting subjects.

The book was developed as a collection of the best of Matt’s blog. It is structured in a useful way to discuss the recruiting process and to provide answers to some of the most commonly asked questions. There is some discussion of life as a collegiate volleyball player, and Matt shares some of his opinions (he has many strong ones!), but mainly it’s about recruitment.

College volleyball is well established in the US, but less so elsewhere. As a result, there is interest in playing volleyball at a university in the States among foreign athletes. The opportunities to do so are considerable (there are over 300 schools in women’s Division I alone), with the potential to get a scholarship. This may be a very worthwhile option for some of the better international Juniors players. (Note: men’s volleyball in the U.S. is much smaller than women’s, so the opportunities are more scarce – at least in terms of scholarships.)

Having coached BUCS volleyball in England, and NCAA Division I and Division II volleyball in the US, I can tell you there is definitely a major difference in the caliber of play. The Northumbria and Durham teams I saw play in the 2013-14 BUCS championships were at a comparable level, in large part thanks to having a number of former US collegiate players. Aside from those two teams, though, the caliber of play in BUCS is well below that seen in the States. I’d venture to say that many teams in Division II and probably the better ones from Division III (and the NAIA as well) would be a stiff challenge for the top UK sides.

No real surprise there. The US teams train and/or play up to 6 days a week for a 3-4 month season. In the upper divisions there is also a secondary “non-traditional” season. That about 6 weeks in the off-season when teams can train full-time. Players also do individual or small group sessions, and have strength & conditioning work just about year-round. All of this is after most of them spent four years or more playing/training 5 days a week for 3 months for their high school teams then going through a 5-6 month Juniors volleyball season where they may have been playing/training up to 3 days a week.

In other words, for the player looking to train and compete at a level higher than can be achieved in the UK, and with the desire to get a good education at the same time, attending university in the States is something very much worth considering. Meg Viggars, setter for Team GB, has recently gone that route. With US programs adding beach volleyball into the mix as well, there may be even more opportunities.

I’m always open to answering questions about US collegiate volleyball recruiting, but Inside College Volleyball is a good starting point for you and any of your players/parents interested in exploring that option. The book is available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. The reviews to-date have been very good.

Book Review: Volleyball Drills for Champions

Published in 1999, Volleyball Drills for Champions is a collection of chapters authored by some of the more prominent US collegiate coaches (current and past). Each author (or in two cases a pair of them) focuses on one particular subject area: Serving, Passing, Setting, Attacking, Blocking, Digging, and Drill Design.

Right at the beginning of the book is a handy guide listing all the drills included. The 2-page table includes the primary and secondary skill(s) covered by the drill. It also includes how many players it incorporates and how many balls it requires. This makes for a nice quick reference for a coach looking to develop a practice plan.

Each primary skill chapters averages 12 drills. The drill descriptions include a:

  • Purpose describing the intention of the drill
  • Procedure outlining the execution of the drill
  • Key Points to help both the coach and player focus on desired outcomes
  • Variations discussion to make the drill more or less challenging or focused
  • Equipment Needed section listing the requirements for running the drill.

At the beginning of each section is a couple of pages worth of preliminary material. This is where you find the variation from different contributors. Some of the sections are technical while others are more philosophical. One of the short-comings of this arrangement is that where things get technical there are no visuals.

There are a few dated references in some of the discussions. This is understandable. The book was published before the introduction of rally score in US collegiate volleyball for more than deciding games. None of these references, though, have any real impact on the content of the text.

The bottom line is this is a drill book intended to act as a reference source. You will no doubt be familiar with some or many of the drills. That doesn’t devalue the book, though. My experience is that coaches forget about drills not used in a while. It’s nice to have a refresher for those times when you need to change things up or are working with a different caliber of team or player.

Along the same lines, the intros to each of the drill sections are quite useful. They are brief (as is the last section on designing drills), but act as reminders of the key coaching points for each skill. Some even provide a bit to think about in terms of how you approach a given facet of the game with your team. For example, will your focus be on aggressive serving or minimizing errors?

Overall, I’d say Volleyball Drills for Champions is a pretty good reference to have on your bookshelf.