Coaching Log – March 10, 2017

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

Spring Break is upon us! We just finished the first half of the semester and our period of 8 hours a week. When the players return from Break on the 20th we will begin our “non-traditional season”. That means like in the Fall we will be allowed 20 hours per week. In other words, more like the regular season. The one major difference is that we are required to give the players two days off per week. That will last five weeks.

Team Training

This week the players did their second round of testing, following the one from early in the term. They repeated the broad jump, standing jump, approach jump, and timed mile tests. There were good improvements on the run, but most of the jump measures were pretty similar to the prior results. That bothered the players some, but our strength coach told them it wasn’t a big deal. We did talk, though, about doing more work on jump technique. Some players are not as explosive as they can be.

As noted before, we had a weekly schedule that mixed small group and full team sessions. In the last two weeks, though, we tweaked that a bit. Last week we did a 90 minute team session and only 30 minute small group sessions. This week we only had a 2 hour team session, partly as a function of recruiting plans (see below).

Yes, cutting down on small group work limited the more individualized training. We felt, though, that big picture we need to work some team stuff out. The biggest part of that is playing mentality – in particular in defense.

I am happy to report that we have seen some really good defense in recent team sessions. We make plays now that we did not make in the Fall. Part of that is a personnel thing. The transfer DS added this semester is extremely active and aggressive. That mentality seems to have helped raise everyone’s defensive intensity. This is a good thing. 🙂

Recruiting

I only made one recruiting trip since my last update. That was to Dallas for one of the regional qualifier tournaments. I had 28 prospects on my list, about half of whom we did not see previously. As before, these are mainly 2018 players. There were a couple of 2019s mixed in, though, playing up an age group. Our other assistant looked at some 2019s that day as well to build that list.

We brought a handful of prospective recruits to campus over the last few weeks. Some of them are 2018s, but we still need to fill out the 2017 team. With that in mind we also brought in a potential transfer OH and a MB in the 2017 class. All the visits went pretty well. The transfer OH committed to come. We’re waiting for a final decision from the MB, but the prospects are good.

We’ll do more 2018 visits after the Break and still want to get another transfer pin hitter for the Fall. I think my next recruiting event is the 3-day Lone Star tournament in April.

Argentina Trip

The fund raising efforts for the trip are underway. The team – including in the incoming freshman – reached out to friends and family. There wasn’t a ton of success, but at least the process is underway. On Wednesday afternoon we had a meeting to allow the players to talk through plans for events they can run to raise money. We also talked strategy for more direct donation seeking as that is very likely to be the major source of funds.

I connected with our contact in Argentina to get the planning ball rolling on that end. Someone also suggested the other day that we reach out to the university in Buenos Aires. Why we didn’t think of that before, I don’t know. In any case, I got the email address for the coach there and sent him a note. Our levels of play are likely quite different. That will make it hard to play or train together. Still, there is probably some way we can connect. Certainly that sort of thing looks good to the folks here on our campus.

Coaching as a career vs. just coaching

Volleyball Coach

Matt at The College Volleyball Coach wrote an article in which he answers a reader question about moving into a career in volleyball. He takes a somewhat more negative view on coaching as career than I would. That said, he does make a number of very good points. I’ll leave you to read his comments and suggestions.

In the article, though, Matt brings up the idea of having a career in coaching vs simply coaching. His definition of “career” is not one I share, but it motivated some thoughts on coaching paths. That’s what this post is about.

Career in coaching

To my mind a career in coaching is one where you earn the bulk of your income from coaching. For most people that means being employed full-time by some organization. In the US that usually means a college or university. The other way people make coaching a career is by putting together several different jobs to earn a living. They might do something like combine coaching for a school with coaching for a club, and maybe doing individual lessons. Basically, they add together a bunch of part-time coaching jobs to make a full-time income.

I don’t count club directors in here. Even if they do coach one or more teams, they generally make much more from their administrative roles than their on-court work. But I’m fine if you want to lump that in with coaching as “volleyball income”.

Coaching just to coach

The alternative to having a coaching career is to just simply coach. It could provide a part-time income in addition to a regular job. Maybe it’s just volunteer. Either way, there is no expectation or requirement that volleyball be one’s main source of income.

Of course that isn’t to say you don’t spend lots and lots of time coaching. Some of the coaches we’ve interviewed for Volleyball Coaching Wizards are only part-time coaches. It’s the love of the sport which motivates them, not the need to earn an income. That isn’t to say those who having coaching careers aren’t motivated by love of the game. It’s just that they also have other considerations involved.

So let’s break it down. What are the pluses and minuses of one vs. the other?

Full-time income from part-time work

Obviously, the big thing that motivates people to pursue coaching as a career is the idea that you can make a living doing something that you love. Isn’t that what we’re all after?

That’s all well and good, but it’s not as nice as it sounds. Nothing ever really is, right? 🙂

First let’s look at the coach who cobbles together multiple different coaching jobs into one living income. That usually means you get to focus mainly on coaching – the stuff that happens on the court. It’s probably about as close to “pure coaching” as you’ll get because you’re spending the majority of your time on-court.

Sounds great, right?

It does, until you think about the downside. First, you probably won’t be making all that much money. That’s fine if you’re young and single. Start adding a family into the equation and it becomes more of a challenge. Second, you’ll probably always have to be hustling. It could be very seasonal. This isn’t a very stable situation in most cases.

Full-time coach

Now lets look at the case where you get the majority of your income from one job. Let’s look at the situation for a college coach in the US. As Kevin Hambly commented in an interview with The Net Live, you actually spend only a small fraction of your time coaching at the college level.

During the season you spend a couple hours on the court each day. Outside of the regular season you spend, on average, even less time on-court. All those other hours that add-up to a full-time job have to be filled with something to justify your wages in the eyes of the university. That means recruiting, meetings, monitoring player academic performance, fund-raising, scheduling, travel planning, teaching for some, and a long list of other administrative and organizational work. In other words, a whole lot of stuff that isn’t coaching.

Things are a little different for coaches of professional teams. There a lot of the administrative work college coaches do is handled by team managers and the like. Still, they have to do things like sponsor events, meeting with the media, and plenty of other stuff that isn’t strictly coaching.

On top of all this, volleyball coaching careers aren’t particularly lucrative. It’s a pretty small minority of top coaches who make really good money. Most are much more modestly compensated and some are pretty poorly paid. Plus, coaching can be a very unstable career. There aren’t many who stay for a long time in one position – either by choice or by force. This requires a career oriented mentality, which is different from a pure coaching one.

Part-time coaching

In contrast to coaching as a career, most part-time coaches don’t have the same off-court demands. There will almost always be some kind of administration to be handled, but it won’t be as much. For example, if you coach Juniors the vast majority of that stuff tends to get handled by the club. The bulk of your time is spent at practice and in matches. Clearly, you’ll need to have something else to pay the bills, but you’ll be closer to “pure coaching”.

Time is one of the potential issues with this sort of coaching. Since you’ll probably have a full-time job alongside volleyball is squeezed into your limited free time. That means you must feel like you get something valuable from it, especially if it means lots of time away from friends and/or family.

Then there’s your level of coaching obsession. You may very well find yourself thinking about line-ups and practice plans when you should be paying attention to your day job. The boss probably won’t like that much. 🙂

The bottom line

The bottom line is you have to look at things from your own situation. You need to consider the pluses and minus. I’ve been in both situations. I have coached part-time and I’ve coached full-time. Both have their attractions and both have their negatives. Each is rewarding in its own way.

Statistical analysis in volleyball recruiting

An article about Daryl Morey, the General Manager of the Houston Rockets in the NBA got me thinking about Moneyball for Volleyball. Should I trademark that phrase?

Using statistics in player evaluation

For those who don’t know, the “Moneyball” concept is where a sports organization uses statistical metrics to evaluate potential signings. This is in contrast to the old school eyeball analysis of scouts. The term Moneyball comes from the Michael Lewis book of that title about how baseball’s Oakland A’s used statistical methods to evaluate players and built a highly competitive roster with limited resources. There is also a movie based on the the book staring Brad Pitt. I recommend the book. It provides a bit more insight.

Before going on too far, I should say the Morey article got my attention because of it’s link to behavioral economics. My PhD work was in a closely related field. The article’s focus is largely on the interview process teams use. It’s a long one, so give yourself a block of time to read it.

Anyway, back to the Moneyball idea. Statistics have long been part of volleyball. In recent years it’s gotten a lot more focus thanks to improved applications and data. Joe Trinsey, who works with the USA women’s team, is one of the leaders in that regard. Have a listen to the Coach Your Brains Out podcast he’s on (Part 1, Part 2) for a bit of what he’s looked at.

That stuff is all about analyzing our players and teams. And there’s also the scouting element. How are we most effective? What is the other team’s weakness? That sort of stuff.

Stats in volleyball recruiting

What we don’t see much, if anything, about is using stats in the recruiting process. I have no doubt they get used by professional coaches. When I evaluated American players to sign for Svedala I definitely looked at their college stats, though I don’t know how far others take it. One day maybe I will get Mark to talk about it on a Volleyball Coaching Wizards podcast.

But what about college recruiting?

How many college coaches evaluate recruit statistics? My guess is few, if any. I say that in part because of how much time they spend watching video and attending Juniors tournaments. That’s basically the definition of old school scouting as described in Moneyball. The question, though, is whether they could actually go with analytics. I think most will argue that they can’t.

Why? Lack of useful data.

Issues with statistical data in volleyball recruiting

Yes, it is true that lots of high school teams keep stats these days. And much of that information is public. Juniors clubs, though, don’t really publish that information. That’s assuming they even collect it in the first place. My guess is most don’t in any comprehensive fashion. Though a few probably do.

Even if a high school or Juniors team does collect and publish stats, there is the question of reliability. Who is recording the stats and do they know what they’re doing? Even at the college and professional level there are issues regarding the quality and accuracy of the stats we get. Imagine a bunch of junior varsity kids taking them!

Finally, there is the question of comparability. What can you ascertain from a given player’s high school stats? What do they really say about that player? We want to gauge how a player will do at our level. I think, however, most college coaches don’t know how high school and/or Juniors translate. Juniors stats are probably a bit better as college coaches very often understand levels of play across the clubs.It can be a lot harder with high school stats. Unless you recruit in a very small area, you struggle to know the caliber of the schools your recruits play against, and more importantly how that compares to a recruit from a different part of the country.

One exception

The exception to the above is transfer prospects. Since those are college players, it is easier to draw a comparison. True, at the junior college level you often have the same statistics issues as you have in high school in terms of quality. It is easier there, though, to know the relative level of play the stats come from. And of course a player transferring within your own level of four-year school play is even more straightforward.

I would say the junior college to four-year college transfer process is most akin to the college-to-professional evaluation process. It provides an opportunity to make better use of statistics.

Are we doing enough?

Those are, I suspect, the reasons college coaches would put forward as to why they don’t use stats in recruiting. Are they valid reasons, though? Should high school and/or Juniors stats get more use? Or should we perhaps base things most heavily on something like the VPI developed by the AVCA?

I am not suggesting we shift completely to an analytic approach. I think most, if not all of us, agree that there is a personality element which must be considered. After all, we’re talking about a sport where one individual’s success is highly dependent on the performance of their teammates. Still, it does seem like some work on what statistics are predictive of success at the next level is worth doing.

Player rotation and substitution limits

A reader asked the following:

If a team wants to use ten players in its regular rotation that means substitutions for three positions. Would this cause a problem bumping into the substitution limit for a set?

I asked for clarification and this is what I received:

What I am thinking about is six hitters, one setter, one libero, two DS’s and one of the hitters setting when she is on the back row. That is ten total players with only one playing all the way around.

We’re talking about a modified 6-2 system here. One of the two setters plays all the way around while the other is replaced by a hitter in the front row. Presumably, the libero replaces the middles in the back row and defensive specialists replace the outside hitters. Of course it could be the other way around. It’s doesn’t really matter, though.

Quick note: This type of approach is not possible under FIVB rules because of the substitution limits (6 total, one in/out per player).

This adds up to a total of 6 substitutions per trip through the rotation. The emailer coaches high school volleyball. His state follows NFHS rules, which allow 12 subs per set (some states use NCAA rules, which currently allow 15). That means he will be out of subs after two times around.

So here is the big question. How many times around do teams go in typical high school matches? If it’s more than two then it’s a problem.

There is one way to stretch things out a little. You can start the back-row-only setter in Position 2. Alternatively, you can start the hitter who plays front row for the back-row-only setter in Position 5 and have the other setter set from the front row for that rotation. This is especially useful when you are in receive to start the set. Either one saves you one sub at the outset.

That only gets you a little further. If you only need an extra couple rotations, though, it could work.

Anyone in this kind of position must look hard at their options. If running out of subs is a real risk, maybe you have to allow one or more of your hitters to go all the way around for part of the set. An option to consider is to rotate the DS’s. One of them plays across the back row the first time, while the second does so the second time.

Book Review: The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallway

It took me several months, but I eventually finished reading The Inner Game of Tennis  by W. Timothy Gallway. The women’s soccer coach at Midwestern State loaned it to me. He uses it quite a bit with his team. The reason I took so long was that I read it in small doses rather than sitting down for long reads. I probably should have just read it in one go. After all, it’s a short book (134 pages).

The fact that I had not read the book already was a source of shock and sadness to one of my coaching friends. I suggest you not make the same mistake. It was recommended during my CAP III course.

I personally think the measure of any good non-fiction book is how much it makes you think. By that standard, Inner Game is a great offering. Yes, it’s a book focused on tennis. And yes, that does mean at times the discussion is not overly useful for volleyball coaches. Broadly speaking, though, the concepts and ideas translate easily from sport to sport.

Inner Game was written primarily for players, but is easily translatable to coaching. It talks a lot about player thought processes. In particular, a big focus is on getting the conscious mind out of the way. Doing so allows the parts of us where performance and learning actually take place to do their thing. A big part of this is removing judgement from the equation.

We all have players who think too much about their technique. It is usually to the detriment of their performance. The problem is we coaches exacerbate things at times. This is the result of how we provide feedback and technical instruction. I definitely thought of the concepts of internal vs. external feedback while reading the book.

There are some good sections on focus and concentration in the book. I also really like the discussion of competition. If you struggle to express its merits to your athletes, I definitely recommend that section.

Here’s the bottom line. If you haven’t already, read The Inner Game of Tennis. It will stimulate all kinds of thoughts about your coaching methods. That’s a good thing!

How long should practices be?

Here’s an interesting question from the mail bag.

What do you think is the maximum (or optimal) amount of time High School teams should practice each day? I coach Freshmen but I am also the assistant for JV and Varsity. I ask this question because last season our Varsity team practiced only about 1.5 to 2 hours per day. Two other teams in our district practiced 3-4.5 hours/day! And it just so happens those two teams ended up playing for the state championship….

The first observation I would make is that you can’t necessarily equate practice time to playing in the state championship. It could simply be that those schools have a higher level of talent in their program than everyone else. This sort of analysis is fairly common. Winning Team does this so everyone else starts doing it too because they think that’s the reason for the success when it might have little or nothing to do with it. In other words, beware of false causalities.

Now, getting to the question of optimal practice length…

It seems to me that being in the gym more than 3 hours at a time is pretty old school. If you ask around these days I think you’ll find that the vast majority of coaches – especially the betters ones – come in under that. Certainly none of the Volleyball Coaching Wizards we’ve interviewed are going 4 hours these days – though some certainly did back in the day. What you hear from them is that they might start the year at 2.5-3 hours, but by the end of the season it’s 1.5-2 hours.

My personal philosophy is that you should only practice as long as you need to get done what you want done. Know what you need to work on. That’s only going to be a couple of things for any given session (at least it shouldn’t be more than that). If you are efficient in structuring your practice and maintaining your focus, you don’t need four hours. In fact, going that long to me sounds like you’re wasting a lot of time.

Efficiency aside, there is the question of how much the players get out of practice after a certain point. Plus, what’s the implications for their long-run fitness and health? Players are less able to learn as they become more fatigued. This includes mental fatigue, which is definitely an issue for long practices. Fatigue also increases injury risk, particularly if there isn’t sufficient rest/recovery.

Finally, I’d bring up match length. How long do your matches typically go? Two hours? Why would you train twice as long as your matches? That doesn’t really make a lot of sense, especially if you do a good job of keeping intensity up.

I would suggest that the teams going 3-4.5 hours are actually not helping themselves. But that’s without seeing exactly what they’re doing in that time. Maybe it’s not all on-court.

Coaching Log – February 20, 2017

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

It’s been nearly a month since my last log entry, so I figure it’s about time for an update as to what we’ve been up to during the off season.

Team Training

During this part of the Spring semester we can only work with the players 8 hours a week, two of which may be on the court. Most of the rest is with our strength coach. They are with him three early mornings each week for weight training and conditioning and speed/agility work. We then have them do small group sessions for one hour and a full team session for an hour to get the two courts hours. We also periodically mix in team/culture building activities.

The small group sessions allow us to work with each player on specific developmental needs. Meanwhile, the team session let’s the players apply things in a game setting. We are also using the team sessions to reinforce improvements we want to make in our playing mentality.

After Spring Break, which is in three weeks, we’ll go into full training mode once more. We will be allowed 20 hours per week and we will play three 1-day tournaments over the course of about six weeks.

Recruiting

I’ve been on a couple of recruiting trips over the last month. The main focus was 2018 prospects. A big part of the work this time of year is pruning the list – eliminating the players who just won’t help your program. We get lots of recruit emails to add to our list. Also, at the end of last season I noted some interesting potential prospects playing at the 16s level who also went on our watch list to start the new Juniors season. That made for a long list that needed to be cut down. Getting rid of the clear No’s – sometimes possible via video – allows us to focus on the Yes’ and Maybe’s.

As we’ve identified Yes’s and strong Maybe’s we began inviting them to campus. As I noted above, we are on a limited schedule with the team at the moment. When we bring a prospect to campus we mix them in with the team. That lets us see them play in our context and lets them experience playing with their prospective future teammates. Only having the one day per week of team on-court stuff, though, limits when we can bring recruits to campus. Plus, we want to avoid having players in the same position together. The first of the 2018s will visit this week.

That said, we are not done filling out our squad for the Fall. The head coach is looking to bring in three more players. We want to add a Middle to get us up to four. We also need probably two pin hitters. One of our returning starters at OH may not be able to carry on as an attacker and we don’t have an experienced OPP at this point, so we’re looking closely at the transfer market.

Argentina Trip

We have started the fund raising process for the trip to Buenos Aires we plan to do with the team. There was some push back on those plans earlier in the semester. Some of it was a bit of fear of the unknown and some of it was misconceptions about certain elements. We showed them some video and talked more about the plan, though. That seemed to ease a lot of concerns.

 

What’s the optimal player-coach ratio?

The following question came in from a reader:

Is there a recommended coach to player ratio? aka: 1:8 or 1:10 or 1:15?

In an ideal world there would be one coach for each player. That way the player gets lots of focused, consistent feedback. The coach also gets to concentrate on just one thing.

Alas, real life is less than idea.

My personal feeling is you want something below 1:6. A lot of club teams have 9-10 players and they have a head and assistant coach. That gets them to a ratio of about 1:5, or just under.

At the college level teams can have up to 4 coaches. That includes a head coach, two paid assistants, and a volunteer. Some also have a few other staffers, but let’s leave it as just coaches for the moment. Four coaches spread out over 20 players is 1:5. Most teams don’t carry that many players, though, so the ratio is lower.

Of course in many places teams don’t have four coaches. They might just have two. Unfortunately, oftentimes those programs also have lots of players. That moves the ratio into the 1:10 range. That isn’t ideal, but they manage it. Not like they have much choice!

Report: 2017 USA Volleyball High Performance Coaches Clinic

Back in 2015 I attended my first USA Volleyball High Performance Coaches Clinic. I wrote a report about the experience. I just attended the 2017 edition, along with the Level III Coaches Accreditation Program (CAP). Here’s the report on that one.

Day 1

As per usual, the program began in the evening with a social and USAV presentation. The presentations focused on 2016 developments in the various national programs. We heard about what was happening in the High Performance program from its director. Karch Kiraly took us through things for the Women’s National Team, and Nate Ngo from the Men’s staff did the same for them. We also got to hear from Bill Hamiter on the performance of the sitting teams. The last part featured Kathy DeBoer (AVCA), Jerritt Elliot (Texas), and Alexis Shifflett (women’s sitting team player) sharing short personal stories. After that it was just mingling and socializing.

Day 2

The first full day began in the gym. Jerritt Elliot went first. He focused on middle blocker transition. In particular, he concentrated on the transition from the net to attack readiness being as quick and efficient as possible. Keegan Cook (Washington) followed up with a session on transition offense. He shared some interesting heat maps and stats related to passing targets and other things. The third court session was from Beth Launiere (Utah) on serve receive offense.

Following the normal pattern, the court sessions were followed by breakout groups. Attendees are divided into a number of groups (6-8 people) in advance for these. They are then assigned members of the clinic cadre on a rotating basis. This is to allow for follow-on discussion guided by those cadre. Unlike in 2015, I did not get any of the higher profile small group leaders.

The last two morning sessions were in the presentation theatre. Nikki Holmes (North Carolina State/Girls’ Youth National Team) and Jesse Tupac (Denver) talked about data collection and statistics use. The other session was by Jimmy Stitz, the sports psychologist and strength & conditioning coach for the Women’s National Team.

After lunch, Dr. Andrew Gregory (Assistant professor of Orthopedics and Pediatrics, Vanderbilt University) did a good session on injury prevention and supplement use. Bill Hamiter came next with a more detailed exploration of the Women’s Sitting Team’s build up to the Paralympics and performance in them. Wrapping up the trio, Karch did a talk about transitions. Small group breakout sessions followed.

There was a “mic’d up match” that evening featuring Keegan and Beth leading teams that evening. I did not attend, though.

Day 3

It was back in the gym for two sessions to start the day. Beth did her session on blocking. In particular, she talked about differentiating in-system vs. out-of-system schemes. She also talked about how blockers could prepare for transition. Keegan did the second session. It was titled “Practice to Performance”. It looked at ways of doing some basic stats in practice and how those could be applied. Small group break-outs followed.

Back in the lecture theatre, Aaron Brock (USA Men’s Athletic Trainer) did a talk focused largely on recovery. After that, Shelton Collier (Wingate) and Jonah Carson (Mountain View VB Club) did a joint session on coaching mentorship. In particular, they focused on efforts in the High Performance program to develop the coaches there.

After lunch, Matt Fuerbringer (Men’s National Team) did a court session on transition work. Karch came after that doing his own session. It didn’t really seem to focus on any one thing in particular. Karch just coached a practice session with the demonstration players and everyone watched. Again, small group sessions came after.

The final two sessions were once more in the theatre. Kathy DeBoer did a DISC-oriented presentation. The main thrust of it was understanding differences in personality types and how that impacts communication and interaction. Finally, there was a panel discussion. It featured five members of the Women’s Sitting team talking about their experiences.

Thoughts and Observations

The demonstration team was a groups of 14s. Apparently, they were a last minute fill in. This created some challenges for the coaches presenting court sessions. On the one hand it made things less efficient than would have been true with older, better players. On the other hand, many of the attendees were club coaches working with players in similar age groups. That made things more directly translatable for them. Also, they couldn’t say stuff like, “That’s all good, but it doesn’t apply to my level.”

I’m to the point where on-court sessions don’t really do a lot for me anymore. There were a couple of interesting nuggets, but mainly I was waiting for them to be done so I could get out of the uncomfortable bleachers. Some of the theatre sessions were repeats of material from CAP III, but mostly it was interesting.

For me, though, the biggest benefit to the HPCC is the location and what it allows. The event is at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. That means there are dorms available and a common dining hall. I didn’t stay in the dorm this time around (did in 2015), but once more the meals were great. They are excellent opportunities to talk with other coaches – from national team staff all the way down to local area youth coaches. This makes for a different type of event than something like the AVCA Convention.

I’m not saying the HPCC is necessarily better than the AVCA. The latter is much more college oriented, while the former caters more to Juniors coaches. I do think, though, that the single track and common dining help to make it a bit more intimate.