Archive for Volleyball Coaching Product Reviews

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.

Book Review: Incredible Volleyball Lead-Up Games and Drills

Incredible Volleyball Lead-Up Games and Drills by Wally Dyba is basically a volleyball drills and games manual. There’s a bit more to the book. When you boil things down, though, it’s a pretty straightforward compilation of ideas for things volleyball coaches can incorporate into their training sessions.

Structure

The book actually starts off with a pair of chapters which look like contributed essays from a second author. They are listed as “Parts”, but effectively they act as chapters. The first is Effective Coaching Methods which focuses on teaching and learning. The second is The Coach as Motivator, which has a pretty obvious focus. Both chapters are relatively short – as I say, more like essays.

Part III is an interesting feature of the book. It takes the form of a chapter which looks at the very foundational elements of volleyball in some detail. This is not a common inclusion in most coaching books. They tend to assume a certain minimal level of play and/or understanding. The addition of this section makes this book particularly useful for those working with beginners.

The next couple sections (IV and V) are where the games and drills really come thick and fast. All major skills are covered, along with various types of game situations. There’s even a section on circuit training for those after some conditioning ideas.

Observations

One thing which stood out to me was some different terminology than what I’ve seen/heard before. An example that really jumped out at me was “volley pass”. This is what I have most often heard referred to as an overhead pass – taking a first-ball contact with your hands. The author is a Canadian, so perhaps this reflects common phraseology there. The book does have a bit of an “old school” vibe to it, however, despite only being published in 2005.

There is some discussion of the technical execution of individual skills, though it’s not a major focus. I disagreed with things here or there in that respect. That is often the case when coaches get to talking technique, though. The reader should take from it what makes sense to them – as always recommended.

I won’t put Incredible Volleyball Lead-Up Games and Drills at the top of my recommended reading list. For a volleyball coach looking for some drill and/or game ideas, however – or one looking for help teaching the very basics of the game – it could come in handy.

Book Review: Thinking Volleyball by Mike Hebert

Are you looking for a book to make you think about your coaching rather than just something that presents you with a bunch of drills and systems? If so, then look no further than Thinking Volleyball by Mike Hebert. A 50-year volleyball veteran, Hebert offers his latest book as something he sees as at least attempting to fill the gap he perceives in the coaching literature when it comes to learning how to think about volleyball and coaching. I read both of his earlier books, The Fire Still Burns and Insights. Each had a big impact on me as a developing coach. I therefore eagerly snatched up a copy when the book came out. I’m glad I did!

The broad theme of the book is being ready, willing, and able to think beyond the conventional. That’s not as simple as being OK with taking risks in how you do things. Obviously, though, that’s a requirement (Hebert considers himself something of a coaching maverick). It first and foremost requires actually understanding what that conventional wisdom is. Why is it conventional, and what are its strengths and weaknesses?

The book has 10 chapters. One focuses on offensive philosophy, while another looks at defense. These are the only two which can be classified as technical/tactical in nature. Even then it’s not the main point. The other eight, in various ways, look at different aspects of coaching. These are things like running a program, developing a style of play, gym culture, team trust, and match coaching.

Personal anecdotes are a common feature of Hebert’s writing. He’s got loads of material from which to work! They come from his own playing days and all the major programs he coached. My one little criticism is the stories are strongly biased toward the positive. Maybe a few failures could have been mixed in for balance. Let’s face it. Not everything works as intended. We coaches often find ourselves trying to figure out how to recover when that’s the case.

One of the more interesting elements of the book is the author’s views toward the modern focus on statistics. This is both in terms of common stats and things like the competitive cauldron (I attended a seminar on that at the 2013 AVCA convention). Hebert is a self-described early-career stats evangelist. He came to question their value relative to the amount of time spent gathering them, though. Not that he discounts stats completely. He definitely asks the trade-off question, though, and suggests a potentially more useful way of looking at things.

Chances are, at least one chapter in Thinking Volleyball will make you critically about what you’re doing as a volleyball coach. Hebert applies his considerable experience and insight into a discussion of just about every aspect of coaching volleyball you could think of. And he does so from all kinds of angles most of us will never have the opportunity to explore personally. From that perspective, I recommend it for coaches at all levels and career stages.

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 being committed 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 was not really disappointed. 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 what 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. These tools can be used 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.

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.