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Olympic Training Center here I come!

The learning and coaching education never stops!

I’m back on the educational circuit once more this week. I am off to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs for the USA Volleyball High Performance Coaches Clinic. It’s is run annually this time of year. As you may have read, I previously attended back in 2015.

That edition had a strong international flavor. Julio Velasco (Argentina) and Laurent Tillie (France) spoke. This looks much more domestic. I expect a heavy dose of Olympic talk given how the teams performed in Rio. Sitting is included. I believe multiple members of that staff on-hand are to speak. The speaker list is actually quite long. It is just really a 2-day event, after all.

Before the clinic, though, there is CAP. That is the Coaches Accreditation Program, and I’m sitting the Level III edition. Actually, CAP is both before and after the clinic. We go all of Wednesday, most of Thursday, then again all day Sunday. Earning CAP III will put my US certification on the same level number as my England certification. 🙂

Look for posts about both the clinic and CAP III as I have time to write them.

Providing players room to create

There’s an article you should read. It’s an interesting discussion of how much coaches seem to appreciate creativity in their players, yet how they do so much to limit it. The article is aimed at business managers, but speaks from a sports perspective. Here’s a quote that hits the main point:

Here is sport’s problem with creativity: professional systems crave control, but creativity relies on escaping control.

This doesn’t just apply to professional environments. It happens anywhere coaches look to constrain player freedom. I’m not talking about creating a dictatorial state here, mind you. Some coaches certainly act in that fashion, but that’s not really where I’m going. Think instead about coaches teaching specific techniques. Think about coaches employing very structured systems of play.

I doubt most coaches in those latter categories think of themselves as constraining their players. My guess is they think they will simply be the most effective ways to go. What they are doing, though, is providing solutions to players. They aren’t letting the players find their own solutions. The latter is where creativity comes in.

This is why it’s great to just let you players play at times. They might surprise you with the solutions they develop.

Addressing player effort and quality differences

An email came in from a coach working with a group of players. It deals with the question of how to handle a situation where effort and playing caliber don’t match.

I have two young and two older experienced hitters. The older players don’t give their all. They do what they must, but without the involvement. When we have a match, they play very well, with very good effect, and they can win a point under pressure.

The young players don’t understand why they are a reserve players if they play the as well as the older ones in training (a lot of times better). Unfortunately, in matches the young players make more mistakes and don’t have stable form (sometimes they can play amazing volleyball, but sometimes they can do simple mistakes). They were the most important players in the youth club and they don’t understand that in the senior league it is different.

Have you ever had similar problem in your career? What would you do, if you were me?

I’ll summarize the situation this way. We have two experienced players who go through the motions in practice, but are clearly the best come match time. We then have two young players who work very hard in practice, but are not yet consistent performers in matches.

To my mind there is a question of priorities here. The reference at the end about “senior league” makes me think competition is the priority for this particular team. That means putting the best team on the court for each match is what it’s about.

To my mind there are two ways to try to handle this sort of situation.

The younger players

The first thing we have to do is to make sure the younger players who aren’t playing understand the team’s priority – winning. They further need to understand why the more experienced players are the starters – fewer errors, more consistent performance, etc. The younger players may not like the situation, but at least they will understand the logic.

Explaining things is not enough, though. You also need to provide those players with a path toward increased playing time. Where do they need to improve to push the experienced players? What do they need to do to make those improvements? Give them hope and steps they can take to move toward their goal.

The experienced players

It obviously isn’t any fun when some of those best players realize they will start no matter what and don’t bother to give full effort in training. The challenge is to find ways to motivate them to change that behavior. What is it they can target as a reason to push themselves in training?

Ideally, their motivation is simply to make the team the best it possibly can be. If the players are motivated by the collective good, then the coach’s job is to show them how better training by those players will help achieve that goal.

Unfortunately, some players have more selfish motivates. Maybe they want to earn some honors or recognition. Maybe they want a better contract or to move to a bigger club. You have to find out where their motivation is and try to appeal to that.

Short-term/long-term

Linked in with all of this is the time frame you are working in. Are you just concerned with this season? If so, then you are probably going to have keep picking the more experienced players for the starting lineup. If, however, you have the ability to think longer term, maybe you can find some opportunities to bench the experienced players from time to time. That would give the younger players valuable experience and show the experienced ones there are others looking to take their positions.

Those are some thoughts I had on the situation. I’d love to hear what others have done in a similar circumstance, or would do. Leave comment below and share your thoughts and/or experience.

Coaching Log – January 23, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

School is back in session, which means we are back in action!

Roster moves

As I mentioned in my last update, we had a player with major academic issues. We met with her last week. It wasn’t an easy meeting, but we decided that she needs to not be on the roster next season. She’s had two poor semesters on the grade front while in-season. That tells us she struggles to balance school and sports. We obviously want her to graduate. That means she needs to prioritize academics at this point. She can stay involved with the team, though.

On Wednesday we had a prospective transfer on campus for a visit and tryout. She’s a libero who played two seasons at an NAIA school, but wanted a different volleyball experience. She had some good qualities and we decided to bring her into the team straight away. Since she left her last school at the end of last semester, and it’s early enough in the new one here, she can join us for this term.

These moves put us at 11 players for the Spring. Two of them will be pure defensive players, with one other a DS/OH and another a DS/S. We have two straight up setters, three outside hitters, and two middles. There will be no OPPs, so one of the OHs will have to fill that spot when we play matches. We have one more setter on the squad, but in order to be eligible for Fall she cannot be full-time in the Spring.

Recruiting

Myself and our Grad Assistant were down in San Antonio for the Tour of Texas qualification tournament on the 15th and 16th. It was split between the Alamodome and San Antonio Convention Center. Our focus was on seniors in positions we might still want to fill with incoming freshmen, and on juniors for the 2018 recruiting class.

These big multi-day events are always a challenge. Basically, what you’re doing is spending all day on your feet walking and standing on concrete. One day is already enough for sore feet and a stiff lower back. When it comes to two or three days, it just all gets compounded. Plus, we spent about 12 hours on the road traveling to and from.

We looked at A LOT of players, which tends to be the case in these early events. The start of the club season is when players and families usually get going on recruiting efforts. As a result, we get a steady stream of emails from prospective players this time of year. To be honest, most of them simply are not at the level we need. That means a lot of what we do this time of year is culling the list.

Team Meeting

We had our first team meeting of the Spring on Thursday afternoon. We talked about the Argentina trip plan and fund raising. Our athletic trainer gave the team an update on personnel stuff among the training staff for this semester. We talked with them about what we took away from their end-of-season individual meetings, and went over some Spring planning stuff. A feature there was raising the level of expectations across the board. We also talked about some of what we’ll be doing to help further individual development and team cohesion.

Initial Testing

The players went through their initial Spring testing with our strength coach on Friday morning. They tested their verticals and broad jumps and ran a timed mile. They start strength and conditioning work on Monday.

A rethink happening at Volleyball England

An article came out from Volleyball England recently. It’s a rather frank discussion of where things are at with that organization. In it they talk about the likelihood of losing funding from higher up, which is a regular issue. I wrote before about how much of VE’s funding came on the basis of increasing participation in sports. It leads to some issues in terms of participation/competition conflicts.

It sounds like the leadership – or at least what they are hearing from membership – have realized the focus on participation in recent years has led them astray. In the article they talk about getting back to their main purpose.

“In the quest to drive up volleyball participation in recent years, we rather lost sight of who we were supposed to serve and support. We will now rectify this.”

That’s an admirable statement. I’ll be curious to hear from my friends closely connected to V.E. to hear their thoughts on the subject. Clearly, the organization needs to develop its own sources of revenue to avoid such a major reliance from government sources.

Teaching Volleyball Log – Spring 2017 Initial Entry

This week starts off the Spring semester at Midwestern State University. That means a new group of students for my volleyball activity course (see my posts about last semester here and here). I met them for the first time today. Here’s what I’m looking at for the term.

Course adjustments

I needed to make a couple of changes to my course syllabus for the new semester. One reflects the fact that we are not in the volleyball season. Last semester part of the class requirement was working two of our home matches. The students either acted as line judges or managed the ball rotation. This term we obviously have no official matches. We do, however, have a home tournament at the start of April. I have put down working 2 hours that day as part of the class requirement.

The other main thing I changed was the weighting of grades. Last semester attendance was only 40% of the grading. I used the break down my predecessor used, but never felt very comfortable with it. This is an activity class, so shouldn’t most of the grading be based on taking part? I think so. As a result, I bumped that weight up to 60%. Related to that, I also increased the penalty for missing class above and beyond the officially permitted 3 unexcused absences.

In terms of actually running the class, this semester the course runs three days a week for 50 minutes. Last semester it was twice a week for 80 minutes. This will require some adjustments to how I structure class time.

Class composition

I have – at least at this initial point – eight students. Three are male, and five are female. I also have a female graduate assistant. A quick poll of the group indicates very little experience. One played up to sophomore year in high school, and another up to junior year. Not surprisingly, both were female. My GA is not one of them. By comparison, all the students last semester, plus my GA, had playing experience expect the one male.

I’m going to be doing A LOT more teaching of basic skills.

Coaching Log – January 13, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

My last post in this long was more than a month ago now. I’ll be honest. There wasn’t a lot done after that in December. The whole coaching staff attended the AVCA Convention. Mainly we were all enjoying the break and doing our own things. Things got a lot more intense once 2017 hit, though! The last two weeks have been very busy, and next week school starts back up.

Roster Changes

We had another player let us know that she won’t be playing for us next year. It’s one of the red shirt juniors I mentioned in my last update. She’s facing ankle surgery and the timing of when she would have it down (May) is such that she would still be rehabbing by the team the season rolls around. She graduates in May and is looking at grad school elsewhere as we don’t have her desired program here. That combination really makes her decision fairly straightforward, if unfortunate.

The other red shirt Junior I mentioned in my last update will be carrying on with us. She will be a graduate student.

I mentioned one other player previously who was an injury question. It turns out her grades for last semester were very poor (the team generally did quite well). She is now behind the NCAA requirements in terms of credits earned. That means she is not eligible for the Spring. That does not make much of a difference given her injury recovery needs. It definitely is an issue moving forward, though.

Recruiting

There wasn’t much opportunity to ease into the recruiting. I had to go down to the Dallas area last weekend to spend a day splitting time between watching Juniors for the 2018 class and a few Seniors for 2017. That continues this weekend with two days evaluating a long list of prospects. The emails have been streaming in. Mostly it’s the 2018s, but a number of 2019s have emailed as well.

At this point we have two objectives. There are a couple of spots for the 2017-18 team we still need to fill. We are looking at potential transfers for one or two of those positions, but are looking at 2017 graduates for one or two. We want to bring in another middle to replace the freshman who left the team after the season. The lack of an outside hitter in our current sophomore class already had us thinking to bring in a transfer pin hitter for next season. The departing red shirt Junior mentioned above, pushes us further in that direction now. We are also looking for a good libero, either transfer or incoming freshman.

Spring planning

In my last update I mentioned the outcome of the player year-end meetings. The other day we met as a staff to discuss them and start planning. We already met with our strength coach to work out the schedule and plan there, so that’s in place. The tricky thing in the Spring is always player class schedules. We need to work around them to arrange team and small group training and activities.

Obviously, technical development is always a feature of Spring practices. We want to continue developing a winning team culture too, though. Arguably, that’s even more important for this program than the physical work the players do. Top of that list is establishing a higher standard of expectations for both practice and play. At the same time, though, we want to continue to develop the overarching chemistry. The group gets along really well off the court, which is great. They need more cohesion on the court, though.

As a staff we talked about the need for us to set the higher standard of expectations right from the outset and fostering an environment where the players pick up on that and perpetuate it of their own accord. We also talked about being more intentional in our feedback.

We will do our Spring (non-traditional) season after Spring Break (mid-March). That will include three days of competition. Between now and then, we can only do two ours of court time with each player per week (plus 6 hours in other activities). That will be split up between small groups and team work.

Foreign trip

The big development for our proposed team trip to Argentina in the Summer is that the interim Athletic Director has given us the thumbs up to move forward. We got group ticket price quotes and will not put down a deposit. Now the attention turns to fund raising. We estimate a total cost of about $62,500, which is no small amount of money. Thanks to our efforts in the Fall, we already have about $6000.

Naturally, a number of ideas for fundraising activities have been put forward. As you might expect, several are events of one kind or another. What it is going to come down to, though, is soliciting donations. I will keep you posted on what we do.

Looking back on 2016, and ahead to 2017

This time last year I did a review of what had been a really interesting year of 2015. It’s interesting to look back at that, and in particular the things I had in mind for the new year, and compare it to what actually happened. That being the case, here’s a similar look back for 2016 and look forward to 2017.

Education

Well, I finally completed all my PhD requirements. It ended up taking about 3 years and 4 months. I submitted the finished version of my dissertation in January and received notice of the conferral of my degree in February. Here’s the letter I received. The picture is from when I was reading it on my phone as I waited for my baggage at LAX.

I did not actually attend graduation in July (I think I was doing camp), but they sent me a copy of my diploma. One of these days I might get around to framing it or something. 🙂

On I guess you could call a related subject, I taught my first college course during the Fall semester. It was a volleyball activity class, so not exactly something academically rigorous. I did have them take a midterm and submit final papers, though.

Job

This time last year I was in Sweden coaching the women’s team at Svedala in the country’s top league. The team finished the first half of the 2015-16 season on top of the standings. We had also done well in the Oresundliga, and had won a pre-season tournament in Denmark. For that reason, perhaps the biggest news of the year – or at least one of the most surprising developments – was that I was let go in early February.

After a brief job hunt, I landed at Midwestern State University (MSU) in Texas. It was an interesting new challenge from my perspective. I joined a program in the early stages of a rebuild, with a coach just off her first season with the team. MSU is a Division II program, which is a level I had not coached before. It was also not only a new locale in terms of places I’ve lived, but also in terms of being in a place where volleyball is a big sport.

Travel

In 2016 volleyball once more took me to a bunch of places – most of them new.

With Svedala I got to visit a very cold Upsala for Gran Prix in early January. I then got to see some of Stockholm while there for a league match about a week later.

When I was hanging out in Long Beach between jobs, I attended a men’s NCAA match for the first time ever. Not that I really had to go far. The Pyramid was just across town from where I was staying.

Of course with MSU I toured all over Texas, as well as to places in Kansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico for matches during the season. I made a couple of trips to Dallas for recruiting in Spring. I worked a couple of High Performance try-outs there as well, and I spent a weekend in Forth Worth on the campus of TCU for an Art of Coaching clinic.

As you may have seen, my last volleyball trip for 2016 was to the AVCA Convention. I was there to present, but took in plenty of seminars as well. It was my first time ever visiting Columbus, OH.

Writing and publishing

I don’t think I had any volleyball articles published in magazines in 2016. At least if I did I can’t remember them as I write this post. Of course I did have a book project – the very first Volleyball Coaching Wizards book. That took up big chunks of my Summer and early Autumn time!

I also developed a volleyball try-outs course. This is something I’d had in mind to do for years. I finally sat down and got it done. The response to it was really positive, so it was definitely worth the effort.

This has nothing to do with volleyball, but I twice submitted a paper for consideration toward publication in an academic journal. This is from my PhD research. The first time we (my PhD supervisor and I) aimed quite high. We didn’t expect an acceptance, but hoped for some good feedback. As anticipated, we got a rejection. It did come with a bunch of useful comments, though. We used them to revise the paper and submit to a new, slightly lower ranked journal. At this writing we are waiting for a response.

The blog

It was another record year for the blog in 2016. For the year there were about 161,000 page views from more than 86,000 visitors. That’s about a 25% increase over 2015 figures in terms of pages, and almost a 50% bump in visitors.

As you can see from the map, once again there were visitors from just about everywhere.

No surprise that the US dominates the readership.

As has been the pattern, August was once more the largest traffic month. In 2016 it accounted for nearly 13,000 visits and almost 25,000 page views. September was also above 20k views, making it the first time with two months crossing that threshold.

Interesting, the biggest single day ever for the blog came in early May at just over 2900 views. The Teach them how to throw post went viral. For the month it garnered over 4000 page views. Honestly, that surprised me. I didn’t really think of that as more or less interesting or insight a post than many others. Just goes to show that like the Rules for coaching volleyball from John Kessel post from late 2015, sometimes you just hit it right at that particular moment.

In line with prior years, search engine traffic was by far the single largest source of readership. Facebook once more led the social media sources by a large margin.

Since its inception in June 2013, the blog has now had nearly 178k visitors and over 365k page views. The post count now exceeds 825.

Looking forward to 2017

This is probably something I can say at the start of each new year, but I go into 2017 with a mixture of uncertainty and plans. There’s something in the works in the background that would be a big development for me, though it’s a long way from being concrete. As such, I will leave it for later discussion if things move in the right direction.

One of the things I can say with high confidence is that I will once again attend the USA Volleyball High Performance Coaches Clinic in February. As you may have read from when I attended in 2015, I found it to be a great experience. This time I will add the CAP III course to the mix as well.

My partner Mark and I will continue to develop the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project. We definitely want to produce more books from the content we are collecting. I think we’ve decided what the next book will be.

I also hope to produce a new edition of Inside College Volleyball. That’s the college recruiting book I developed several years ago with another (now former) coach. It’s overdue for a revision and update.

Of course things will progress at MSU. The head coach is expecting her first child in April, which could make for an interesting Spring season. We are working on plans for a team trip to Argentina in August. That’s going to mean a big fund raising effort in the months to come.

Away from volleyball, I need to produce at least one more academic paper for potential publication. I’m scheduled to teach my second semester of the volleyball class as well.

 

 

A coaching documentary worth watching

If you have a Netflix account, look up the film Trainer! and put in on your watch list. Seriously. Do it now.

Trainer! is a documentary about a group of coaches. No, it’s not volleyball, unfortunately. It’s soccer. Specifically, it’s German soccer. In Germany, and across most of Europe, trainer is what they call the coach. In the film they actually translate it to head coach.

And before you ask, yes. The film is in German, but subtitled in English. It’s about 2 hours long, so you’ll need to be able to dedicate time to actually sit an watch if you don’t speak German.

But enough of the minor details. Let me get to why I think it’s worth watching – even for volleyball coaches. The film follows three coaches of lower division (2nd and 3rd) coaches over the course of the 2012-13 season. You see them in a variety of different scenarios, on and off the field.

Along with following the experiences of those three, the film intersperses commentary from several well experienced others. If you know European soccer, you may recognized some of them. Even if not, you can still gain from what they say. One of the best of the group is the lead trainer for the German coach licensing program. He’s got some really interesting stuff to say, especially with a couple of the coaches in the program going through his course.

A great feature of the film is how well it describes the situation of coaching in the professional environment. It is something I could very much relate to from my own experience coaching in Sweden and from spending time at clubs in Germany. There’s also plenty to it that can be related to coaching in a high school or college program.

Definitely give it a watch and let me know what you think.