Archive for Volleyball Coaching Product Reviews

Book Review: The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallway

It took me several months, but I eventually finished reading The Inner Game of Tennis  by W. Timothy Gallway. The women’s soccer coach at Midwestern State loaned it to me. He uses it quite a bit with his team. The reason I took so long was that I read it in small doses rather than sitting down for long reads. I probably should have just read it in one go. After all, it’s a short book (134 pages).

The fact that I had not read the book already was a source of shock and sadness to one of my coaching friends. I suggest you not make the same mistake. It was recommended during my CAP III course.

I personally think the measure of any good non-fiction book is how much it makes you think. By that standard, Inner Game is a great offering. Yes, it’s a book focused on tennis. And yes, that does mean at times the discussion is not overly useful for volleyball coaches. Broadly speaking, though, the concepts and ideas translate easily from sport to sport.

Inner Game was written primarily for players, but is easily translatable to coaching. It talks a lot about player thought processes. In particular, a big focus is on getting the conscious mind out of the way. Doing so allows the parts of us where performance and learning actually take place to do their thing. A big part of this is removing judgement from the equation.

We all have players who think too much about their technique. It is usually to the detriment of their performance. The problem is we coaches exacerbate things at times. This is the result of how we provide feedback and technical instruction. I definitely thought of the concepts of internal vs. external feedback while reading the book.

There are some good sections on focus and concentration in the book. I also really like the discussion of competition. If you struggle to express its merits to your athletes, I definitely recommend that section.

Here’s the bottom line. If you haven’t already, read The Inner Game of Tennis. It will stimulate all kinds of thoughts about your coaching methods. That’s a good thing!

Book Review: Gender and Competition by Kathy DeBoer

I’ve had Gender and Competition  by Kathy DeBoer on my list of coaching books to read for a while now. As a male volleyball coach who has mainly worked with female athletes (though having coached a few male teams along the way), I have long been interested in the differences in how you need to approach coaching the two genders. Kathy’s book has come up many times in the discussions I’ve had with other coaches on the subject. That includes multiple Volleyball Coaching Wizards interviews I’ve conducted.

Bottom line? Read this book!

You’ll find it a pretty quick read. It comprises just four chapters that add up to a little over 150 pages. Kathy’s writing style strongly favors story telling. The book is full of anecdotes from her coaching and athletics administration career. Basically, it’s teaching by way of example.

There’s one key phrase that I’ve heard attributed to Kathy on the basis of this book. It goes something along the lines of, “Men battle to bond and women bond to battle.” While I don’t recall seeing that exact phrase in the book, certainly it is what is expressed when looking at the differences in how the genders approach competition. It’s something that comes out very early in the text.

The first three chapters look to describe the difference in communication style and general approach to life, competition, and cooperation between men and women. It also looks at the challenges they pose. This isn’t true just for cross-gender interactions, but even for same gender ones, as Kathy demonstrates in some examples of her interactions with her own female athletes. The forth chapter focuses on advice for how to deal with the differences from both perspectives.

I can tell you that a lot of what Kathy talks about in terms of how men and women approach competition and the differences in how the two genders view leadership ring very true to me. I’ve seen them in my own coaching and have heard similar views from fellow coaches.

I can’t recommend Gender and Competition more strongly. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a male or female coach. It doesn’t matter whether you coach male or female players. You will gain insights that will help you do a better job working with your athletes – as well as colleagues, supervisors, and everyone else in your life.

 

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 has 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.

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.

 

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). It’s currently 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 the book was written 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.

Book Review: Little Black Book of Volleyball Coaching

The other day I finished reading Little Black Book of Volleyball Coaching by John L. Betcher. It’s 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.

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.

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.