Parent decisions on volleyball coaches

An interesting SWVA post derives from a Sports Coach UK piece. The subject was how parents decide about the coaches their volleykids play for, and by extension the clubs they join. The information comes from a parent survey. Unfortunately, they only asked a few people, or they got few replies. I don’t really think 11 responses is enough to draw good conclusions, but let’s go with it.

The article says parents use personal experience and word-of-mouth to judge coaches. This is seen as problematic in that it fails to take into account qualifications.

Now, I can understand why there would be concerns about parents not taking certifications and such into account. This is especially so when governing bodies certify coaches. I would make the following point, though. Having a qualification only means you went through the program to earn it, That may indicate a certain level of knowledge about the sport and about coaching. It doesn’t necessarily mean that person is a good coach, however.

I think it’s totally fair for parents to use word of mouth to learn about a prospective coach for their child. You’d do the same sort of thing for other services, so why not coaching?

The problem comes with parents who don’t know the sport. This is obviously a significant consideration for volleyball in the UK. It’s not a cultural institution. That’s not the only place, though. Even in the US there are lots of parents with little knowledge of the sport. As a result, most parents don’t know enough about the game to understand whether a given coach’s team is playing in a manner which indicates good coaching. This tends to mean choice of club and coach ends up driven by other considerations (cost, location, etc.).

Personally, as much as word-of-mouth can be a very good resource – assuming the data sources are reliable – I think probably the best thing for a parent to do is watch a coach in training as well as in a match situation. This will provide an indication of their temperament, teaching style, and other things not necessarily related to volleyball which parents can assess better than sport-specific stuff.

What are your thoughts?

Proposed FIVB rules changes ahead

There’s a lot of talk going around the volleyball community globally about the rules changes FIVB is looking at potentially institute in the future. Here’s one bit of analysis (and opinion) from The Art of Coaching Volleyball, and another from former US national team coach Hugh McCutcheon.. Volleywood has a post which tracks the recent changes regarding new rules for the current cycle, which includes the rule against taking serves overhead that was going to go in, but got postponed.

Here are some of what is being talked about by the powers that be:

  • Require servers to land behind the end line
  • Back row attackers must land behind the 3-meter or 10-foot line
  • Eliminate open-hand tip
  • Eliminate overhead serve receive serve
  • Penalties for a missed serve
  • Free substitution – any player can sub for any player at any time
  • Any contact with the center line is a violation
  • Any net touch by an athlete is a violation
  • Decrease the number of points per set

Personally, I’ve long been opposed to the rules changes allowing center line touch/penetration and net contact. Aside from it being a question of player safety, I also think body control is a key skill in volleyball and letting players swim in the net and such detracts from that.

The requirement that players land behind the end line on a jump serve probably wouldn’t have much impact (except in gyms where there isn’t all that much area behind the line to start with). Not allowing back row attackers to broad jump to hit things like BICs would be meaningful, though.

I’m not sure about dropping the open-hand tip. Sounds like it’s mainly intended to eliminate setter dumps with the idea being they are rally killers. I may be OK with it on that basis (though my immediate question is why not just play better defense?), but I’m mixed in terms of taking the tip away from hitters. Some suggest a roll shot can be used instead, which is fair enough, I suppose.

On the penalties for missed serves, I understand that they want to cut down on what is a pretty dull play and reduce the amount of time players just go back and bomb away. Missed serves are already penal, though, and not just in terms of giving the other team a point (see my post about when not to miss your serve).

In terms of free subs, you can see something moving in that direction in play in the US women’s collegiate game – which always seems to play just a bit differently than everyone else. There they use the libero (who can serve in one rotation) plus have 12-15 subs (it seems to change periodically). That obviously creates a lot of specialization opportunity. There is something to be said for having the best possible line-up on the court at all times for the highest level of play. I’d want to see exactly how this would be instituted, though. I personally would like to see the core rotational nature of the game being maintained.

And of course there’s the no overhead passes on serve receive rule which was to go in this year but his been pulled back for further review. I personally like cleaning up serve receive passing to get rid of the doubles, though completely ruling out the overhead pass seems unnecessarily restrictive. The hard bit will be having a whole generation of players who’ve come up playing with their hands suddenly having to change.

What about you? What are your thoughts?

The Smelly Sock lesson

Early in my career I attended the Coaches Accreditation Program Level II (CAP II) course run by USA Volleyball. The lead instructor was John Kessel, who has a big reputation in international volleyball circles. John used a teaching technique one session, and it sticks with me to this day. Turns out that was exactly the point.

It was a session on setting. We reached the point of talking about setter penetration from the back row. I don’t recall the motivation, but John talked about the importance of the setter getting to their target spot. That target is at the net. It isn’t five feet off the net, as opposed to what so many setters seem to think it is.

Before I tell you what happened next, I should preface it by saying this was winter. We were in a facility which was not exactly well heated and it was cold!

At a certain point, John stopped and removed one of his shoes. Then he pulled off his sock as well. Standing barefoot on that freezing floor, he tied his sock on the bottom of the net at the setter’s target zone. Then, he turned to the players demonstrating the back row penetration and said, “Go to the smelly sock.”

Making use of the pattern break

With this surprising move John did two things. First, he gave the players a very memorable cue they could reuse in the future, even when there was no sock tied to the net. Second, he showed us coaches the value of doing something out of the ordinary to fix a reference in the minds of our players.

Did I ever tie a sweaty sock to the net? Not so far. That lesson, though, stuck with me over the years and is a constant reminder that I should always work to find ways to connect with my players in unique and memorable ways.

How can you leave a lasting impression on your players and import a key lesson on them at the same time? You don’t necessarily need to remove bits of clothing. It doesn’t even have to be a visual thing. Really, it’s anything that breaks the normal pattern.

Find those pattern break and you have new ways to leave an impression. Leave an impression and you have made an impact.

Volleyball Stretches

In my post about not wasting valuable time in your volleyball warm-up I think I expressed pretty clearly my view on stretching before becoming active. To my mind, we should outlaw jog-and-stretch. I have seen players take crazy amounts of time to stretch before even picking up a ball. A player on my Exeter team one year came to the gym 30 minutes before training just to stretch.

As this article notes, there is no evidence that stretching has any benefit in terms of preventing injuries or improving performance. In fact, the WebMD article I cited in that earlier post suggests there could be some negative effects. This Men’s Health article notes the following.

Although it’s often prescribed as an injury-prevention measure, static stretching before a workout might be the worst of all strategies. Because it forces the target muscle to relax, it temporarily makes it weaker. As a result, a strength imbalance can occur between opposing muscle groups. For example, stretching your hamstrings causes them to become significantly weaker than your quadriceps. And that may make you more susceptible to muscle strains, pulls, and tears in the short term.

So basically, static stretching before training or matches isn’t just a waste of time which you could put to better use. There’s a chance it’s actually harmful!

But I am NOT saying stretching in general is useless.

All three of the articles mentioned do include suggestions that one stretch regularly to maintain range of motion, increase flexibility, etc. The Men’s Health article actually goes further. It says that one should stretch twice a day to work on generally flexibility. Just don’t do it right before exercise. Here’s the rub, though. You have to stretch twice a day or the gains you make won’t be retained.

So when should players do volleyball stretches?

Well, after training and/or match play is a good time to get one of those 2/day sessions in. The muscles are warm, which is when stretching should be done. As a coach it gives you the opportunity to monitor what they are doing. If needed, you can provide instruction and focus. Be aware, though, that the research indicates no real anti-soreness benefit to stretching after training according to this article. Soreness comes from overworking the muscles. A bit of stretching isn’t going to fix that.

But of course if you’re not doing two-a-day training with your team, the after practice volleyball stretches won’t cover the suggestion of getting them in twice/day. The players will have to be responsible for themselves getting it done.

I know. That’s a horrifying prospect for many of us. 🙂

What volleyball stretches should players do?

I think a better question might be, “On what areas should volleyball stretches be focused?” I think we can all come up with the main ones like shoulders, quads and calves – the major drivers of volleyball action. There are a couple of places which tend not to get enough attention, though:

  • Achilles tendons
  • Hip flexors
  • Hamstrings
  • Pectorals

The Achilles relates to jumping ability. The others, though, spend much of the time in a volleyball match in a flexed state and not often in an extended one.

For example, there is very little long-stride sprinting in volleyball. As a result, the hamstrings don’t get much extension – or exertion, for that matter. That means they can shorten up and be relatively weaker than the surrounding quads and calves. This imbalance can create issues. This is why not only is it good to stretch those muscles, but also to make sure they’re included in strength training.

In the case of the pectorals, they do get stretched a bit when serving and hitting. Otherwise, though, a player’s shoulders tend to be rolled a bit forward (think passing and blocking mechanics). This can result in a slouch, which is a muscle imbalance. Not only should the pecs be stretched, but players need to ensure the opposing back muscles are worked for balance. Or you can walk around poking your knuckle between players shoulder blades. A strength coach I knew did that to get them in proper posture. 🙂

So what I’m saying is make sure the muscles and whatnot opposing the primary ones are getting at least as much attention as the main ones. Think of things like the core muscles and how most players will do a lot of twist reps in one direction due to hitting and serving.

USA Volleyball posted a series of stretches used my the Men’s National Team you can use as a reference.

This goes for coaches too!

Keep in mind that as a coach you run the risk of creating imbalance situations as well because of the way you initiate balls. In any given training session you may actually do more torso twisting and shoulder work from hitting, serving and such than your players. One of the things I have done to try to counter that is to try to do lefty reps either hitting or throwing (I’m a righty) to work the twisting and such in the opposite direction for at least a bit of balance.

Use dynamic as well as static stretches

I mentioned in my other post (and provided some examples) how dynamic stretching has become popular in volleyball over the years. Static stretching is good for extending maximum range of motion, but dynamic stretching develops effective functional range of motion.

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.

Game: Baseball

Synopsis: Also known as softball- this game concentrates on both serve receive and free ball play in a way which has one teams strongly focused on scoring while the other is equally strongly focused on not allowing a point.

Age/Skill Level: This game is suitable for all skill levels.

Requirements: two teams, full court, 6 balls

Execution: This game begins Team A serving to Team B. If Team B fails to win the service rally an out is registered. If Team B wins the rally and gets a point (run). It then receives a free ball. If it wins that rally, it gets another point and receives another free ball. This continues until Team B loses the point, at which stage an out is registered. Team A then serves again. This continues until three outs are made, at which point Team B becomes the serving side. An inning is complete when Team A reaches 3 outs, at which time the teams rotate and a new inning starts. The team with the most runs at the end of six innings wins.

Variations:

  • The game could be played with fewer than 6 players, in which case there would be less than 6 innings, but you could double up to extend the game.
  • To increase focus on winning the serve receive rally you could make that worth more points and/or make a first ball rally win worth extra.
  • Similarly, you could make winning the first ball in a free ball rally worth extra.
  • And of course there’s plenty of room for bonus points if you want to encourage (or discourage) certain things.
  • You can add on an extra inning at the end which pits the best rotation from each team against each other either as a last inning or as some kind of winner take all.

Additional Comments:

  • Since only the team receiving serve can score points (kind of an opposite to sideout) there is the opportunity for that team to be more aggressive than might otherwise be the case. As a result, this can be a good game to use if you want to encourage the players to take chances hitting hard, using new plays, etc.
  • Keep the tempo up by having a new free ball initiated as soon as the rally is dead. This gets players focused on the next play and adds a conditioning element.
  • Consider the impact anything you might do with the serve receive rally to make it more meaningful will have on serving. Certainly if the receivers get more points for winning a first ball, for example, then the servers will quickly realize how penal a missed serve becomes – unless you don’t count that in the scoring structure.
  • If you play this regularly, you’ll want to consider how you set the starting line-ups for each side to either mix up the match-ups for balanced appraisal or to concentrate of certain rotations in different ways (like matching strong vs. weak).
  • This can be a quite helpful game in identifying problem rotations for further concentrated work. Unfortunately, the stronger offensive rotations will tend to get a lot more opportunities in this particular game. On the flip side, from the perspective of the serving team the rotations which struggle to stop points being score will actually tend to get more work.

Drill: Amoeba Serving

Synopsis: This is a drill which focuses on serving accuracy, providing the weaker servers with more reps than the stronger ones.

Age/Skill Level: This is a drill for beginner and intermediate players.

Requirements: A team, a full court, one ball per player

Execution: Split the team into two even groups and place the groups at opposite end lines. The drill starts with one player from each side serving a ball. They then go sit or lie down where their serve landed – assuming it went in (if not, the next player serves). The rest of the players then start serving, trying to hit their teammate on the other side of the net. If successful, they go join them. The drill ends when one team has all of their players reach the other side.

Variations:

  • For better players you could require them to execute more than one successful serve before they can go over to the other side.
  • In order to give the initial server some reps you could have them swap with the first teammate to hit them.

Additional Comments:

  • By requiring a successful server (one which hits a growing target) to go to the other side of the net this drill provides more reps to the players who struggle the most with their serving.
  • Because winning the drill often comes down to the performance of the weakest server, you will generally see their teammates become quite supportive and encouraging, which can help overall team chemistry.

BUCS Volleyball showing 13%+ growth y/y

A little while back I posted about the growth in the number of Western League volleyball teams competing in BUCS for the 2013-14 campaign. As I noted then, we’re seeing net growth on both the men’s and women’s side such that in both cases there will A and B sub-divisions within Division 2 whereas in 2012-13 there was only Division 2A for both genders.

Being the curious sort, I decided to take a look to see if there’s growth in other parts of BUCS system. As it turns out, there is.

On the men’s side, excluding the Western League, there’s a net gain of 12 teams for the new campaign. The Midlands and Southeastern Leagues are both growing by 5 teams, leading to the addition of a Division 3 in both places where none existing last season. The Northern League added a pair of teams, while the Scottish League held steady.

On the women’s side the gain was six teams. The Midlands League gained 5 teams, resulting in a split in Division 2 in to A and B groups. The Northern League actually lost 4 teams, seeing Division 3 dropped. The Scottish League gained 2 teams, causing Division 2 to be split to create Division 3. The South Eastern League gained 3 teams on net, adding a Division 3B.

So here are the total 2013-14 net team gains by League:

Midlands +10
Northern -2
Scottish +2
Southeastern +8
Western +8

That gives us a total net gain of 26 teams in a single year, which is just over 13%. That puts BUCS volleyball up through the 200 team mark. Not bad for a place that supposedly doesn’t care about volleyball.

Planning your volleyball strength and conditioning training

There were a couple of articles posted on the subject of volleyball conditioning. Volleywood had one on developing endurance. Volleyball Magazine had a Q&A with several strength & conditioning coaches who work with top collegiate programs.

Volleyball Strength

It used to be that strength training for volleyball, as with most other sports, involved pretty standard weight lifting exercises such as bench press and squats. Those still have their place. The use of so-called Olympic lifts have come into common practice, however. They use the whole body rather than just one primary muscle group. These include exercises like power cleans and the snatch, clean, and jerk. The Volleyball Magazine article talks about different useful exercises. It brings up the requirement to work on opposing muscles as I discuss in my Volleyball Stretches post.

Volleyball Conditioning

Beyond strength training is the conditioning which is the core aspect of volleyball fitness. It’s a sport of high intensity bursts with intervals of rest. That takes a certain type of training. It is the type featured in the sample volleyball conditioning program. In it you’ll notice the progression toward shorter, more frequent exercises as the program gets closer to the start of preseason training.

Of course volleyball training and playing in and of themselves are forms of conditioning. If you train and/or play regularly at a high intensity then you’ll likely not need to do further conditioning through the season. If, however, your training is only 1-2 times per week with matches only a couple times a month (especially if they aren’t high intensity affairs) it’s a different story.  You’ll want to add a conditioning element to your work. That will make sure you to achieve maximum preparedness for those highly competitive matches. More importantly, it increases your training capacity.

Peaking

You may need to think about in how you structure your training with respect to your season configuration.

In the US system (both collegiate and youth) there is often a structure which goes from non-conference play to conference play to post-season. In that sort of situation the team wants to be peaking into the post-season. That will give it the best chance of success. Teams in many professional leagues can think the same way. So can one facing a relegation/promotion play-off at season’s end.

For those playing in a structure where league play is the primary focus there isn’t the same sort of desire to build toward optimal end of season performance. In this case it is about reaching a certain level and sustaining it. This can be a real challenge. Having said that, though, there can be points during a season where you want to be running on all cylinders. A key rivalry match is an example, or a tournament.

The UK university season I experienced can combine elements of both the post-season and league consistency focus approaches. There was the need to do as well as possible during BUCS league play to get maximum points, earn promotion (or avoid relegation) and/or qualify for championships. That’s more of the consistent effort focus. On top of that, though, there were cup competitions. A team may want an early-season peak for the Student Cup qualifiers and another for the finals, should they advance. And for the top teams there’s Final 8s at season’s end. Even teams below that level have play-off matches for competitions like league cup and championship/trophy knock-out rounds.

In other words, the structure of your volleyball season will have a lot to say about what sort of strength and conditioning work you do and when you do it.