Archive for Volleyball Coaching Product Reviews

Book Review: Living on the Volcano by Michael Calvin

We can’t only read books about volleyball and volleyball coaches. Heck, there just aren’t that many books about volleyball coaches! Sad, but true. That’s one of the reasons I developed Volleyball Coaching Wizards.

Anyway, an interesting book about managers from the world of soccer (football) is  Living on the Volcano, by Michael Calvin. Basically, it’s a series of profiles on coaching in the English professional realm. They run the gamut from the Premier League all the way down, but are mainly in the middling ranks. Many of the coaches have worked across multiple levels, either because of the performance of their teams or through moving clubs. It’s a really interesting set of perspectives. These managers come at things from all different angles. Their backgrounds are diverse. As a result, the way they think about the elements of coaching vary considerably.

I actually shared something I found interesting from one of the managers on the Volleyball Coaching Wizards blog. It had to do with the mentality of allowing others to watch you coach. Unfortunately, I would not call that the most positive of the things you read in the book. It presents the reality of their thought process, though. For better or for worse, it’s not the most positive.

I will admit, the structure of the book did present some challenges. There are a lot of names, and they overlap quite a bit. Moreover, there were different threads of managers mentioned in the same chapter. That made it hard to follow threads at times.

Those issues aside, I think Living on the Volcano is an interesting book and worth a read. The variety of coaches is such that you’re likely to find someone in the mix who has a similar point of view as yourself. At the same time, though, you also get to see how others think about things.

Beyond that, the internal view of what it’s like to be a coach under constant performance pressure (in most cases) is really insightful. The volcano idea is definitely appropriate as even successful managers seem to constantly be on the hot seat because of everything that can happen with a club.

Book Review: Legacy by James Kerr

Legacy, by James Kerr, is a book that often comes up when coaching book recommendations are discussed. I want to stress up front that this in not a coaching book. Amazon at this writing has it listed in Sports Psychology, but that doesn’t fit either, to my mind. I think the book description does a pretty good job of saying what it’s really about.

In Legacy, best-selling author James Kerr goes deep into the heart of the world’s most successful sporting team, the legendary All Blacks of New Zealand, to reveal 15 powerful and practical lessons for leadership and business.

Focus on that last part about lessons for leadership and business. That is most definitely what the author provides.

As for the rest of it, I have my issues. The description makes it sound like the story of the All Blacks is the core material. In particular, the team’s transformation after a period of uncharacteristic under-performance is meant to be the main focus. While that story provides a framework, that’s about all. You can perhaps work out the time line of that transition, but it’s presented piecemeal. One of my problems with the book was that at points I didn’t know where the author was in the All Blacks history when he shared certain stories. It was rather annoying.

Also, the All Blacks are not the only references the author makes. He includes ideas from the likes of Phil Jackson and Bill Walsh as well, in terms of sports. There are a number of non-sports references too.

Obviously, I have no problem with references to all-time great coaches. Sometimes the language of the text is a little too stereotypical of leadership books, and there is too much repetition of certain elements for my taste. Overall, though, the “lessons”, concepts, and explanations are quite worthwhile.

Overall, I’d say this is a book worth reading if you go into it with the right set of expectations.

Book Review: Fake Fundamentals by Brian McCormick

OK, Fake Fundamentals by Brian McCormick is a basketball focused book, and has nothing to do with volleyball. Even still, it might be worth putting it on your coaching reading list. Granted, you will probably get more out of the book if you know something about coaching basketball. I don’t, though, and still found some interesting stuff.

Basically, this is a book that challenges long-held views on what to do and how to do things. Think of anything that falls into the category of “that’s how everyone does it” and I think you’ll get the idea.

Actually, the first two chapters are not really sport-specific.

The mile run fitness test

The first chapter sets the tone for the whole book by challenging the use of mile runs as fitness tests. This is definitely something we see in volleyball, and no doubt other sports use it as well. McCormick basically destroys its usefulness on every level.

First, he demonstrates that the fitness required to run the mile has no relation to the fitness required to play basketball – or volleyball in our case. A mile is a sustained lower intensity effort for several minutes while what we’re after is repeated high intensity effort with rest intervals. McCormick uses the term Repeat Sprint Ability (RSA) as what they are after in basketball. Maybe we change that to RJA for volleyball – Repeat Jump Ability.

Next, he talks about the idea of training for the test rather than training for competitive fitness. This happens when the athlete is more concerned with passing the test than improving their sport-specific conditioning. The result is that training the latter is sub-optimal. In other words, training for the mile test acts as an offset to the RSA training the athlete is doing to prepare for their sport.

Now, many coaches who use the mile run claim that it is more about mental toughness than necessarily about fitness. McCormick challenges this as well. Mainly he does so by bringing up the increased risk of injury. This comes from two angles. One is that the athlete is performing an exercise they have not trained for (presumably – see the last paragraph). The other is that an athlete may attempt to push through an issue to demonstrate mental toughness.

Above and beyond the injury risks, the author makes the following observation:

Mental toughness involves coping with the many demands of sports and being more consistent and better at remaining determined, focused, confident, and in control under pressure.

He goes on to ask whether a pre-season fitness test is really the best way to determine and/or develop an individual’s level of mental fortitude. Basically, he’s suggesting it should be done in the context of playing the sport.

McCormick offers two alternatives to the mile as fitness tests. One is the Yo-Yo intermittent recovery test. Basically, it’s a repetitive sprint test. The other he describes as the “Man-Maker from Pavel Tsatsouline’s Enter the Kettlebell”. This is where a kettlebell is swung 2-handed repeatedly for some period of time, counting the successful reps. I’m not saying these tests should be used for volleyball. They do, however, provide an idea of what the author is trying to encourage.

Static Stretching

The second chapter brings up another relic – the idea of static stretching in warm-ups. You may already know where I stand on this subject. Fortunately, I think many coaches these days realize that static stretching is no longer advised for warm-ups. There is no evidence to suggest it does anything to reduce injury, and actually may impair performance. As the author notes, “Static stretching is a flexibility program, not a warm-up.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, McCormick favors a dynamic warm-up instead. He didn’t always, though. He says he used to think non-ball warm-ups wasted time. Then he spent time in Europe and noted a lack of ACL injuries among female athletes there. This was in contrast to what he called an epidemic of non-contact injuries in the US at the time. That motivated him to bring in the dynamic warm-up. He provides a list of exercises in an appendix. I do not know if the idea that either dynamic warm-ups or ball warm-ups are better for injury prevention (or performance) is backed by science, though.

The rest of the book

The remaining eight chapters focus on basketball specific things. They include certain movements, methods, and game-play elements. The author challenges them all from a couple of different perspectives. One is what theory might suggest vs. what reality demonstrates. The other is in terms of not replicating game conditions (game teaches the game). In most cases he’s going against decades of traditional coaching.

I think that last part is the real value of the book. It encourages the reader to look at everything critically. How much of our coaching is just repeating the past? Is there really any scientific or performance support for it?

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). 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

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.