Archive for Volleyball Coaching Product Reviews

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 the commitment 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 did not really find it disappointing. 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 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. You can use these tools 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.

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.

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.