Coaching Log – Oct 12, 2015

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2015-16.

Based on the stats from the first match, there were a couple of areas of focus I had in mind for this week’s training. One was hitting. Our kill % from the Örebro match was only 30%, and we probably need to be at 40% or better. Also, our hitting error % was right around 18% (not counting blocked attacks), which is too high. It probably needs to be around 10%. These targets are based on last year’s statistics. A big part of this is increasing our effectiveness out of the middle. We only had 6 kills on 30 swings, which is way too low for that position.

By comparison, the official passing numbers look quite good, with a nearly 50% perfect rating. Our bench numbers have it at less than 40%, though, but one match with the vast majority of balls going to one player isn’t really enough to go on. That will remain an area of focus regardless.

The flip side of that is serving. We could be doing better there in terms of focusing on our targets, hitting seams, etc. Örebro is listed as having a 55% perfect rate, which no doubt is at least as inflated as our own, but still goes to show that we could put more pressure on the opposition.

I got the player’s impressions on Saturday’s match and shared my own at the start of training. We also walked through the 6 serve reception rotations to look at ways we can change things up if needed, and took a look at the rotation defense. That’s something we’ll probably do some work on in the future to have available in case we want to use it.

The talking and walk-through ate up some time in an already shorter session (Monday’s are 2 hours). I wasn’t worried about it, though, as I wouldn’t have wanted to go very long anyway since my plan was to put a heavy focus on the MBs.

After warm-ups I had them play the Amoeba serving game to work a bit on serving accuracy and to get the competitive juices flowing. That resulted in a discussion about over-thinking things because they were making assumptions about rules that were never stated or intended, which came back around later in training in a different context.

I had them play Winners after that, but with a new wrinkle. This time I had both the setters and middles be fixed. The rest of them were split up into teams of 2, so the final result was that they played 4s. I also had them run it on a narrow court to encourage rallies and to force the hitters to find more ways of scoring. About midway through I had the MBs switch to work with the other setter.

From there we progressed to a 5 v 5 playing 3 up and 2 back (Zone 6 was designated as out of bounds). In this game only the MBs could score. They got a point by either getting a kill or a block, or by the other MB making an error. If someone other than the MB scored, that team earned the right to receive serve. The first game had the setters in 1 for the purposes of serve reception.

What I ended up observing was that balls were being forced to the MB in positions where their chances of getting a kill were virtually nil. Again, the players were over-thinking as I never said only the MBs could attack. We talked about the decision-making and how sometimes the better play was to not go for the point. After that, I moved the setters to 4 for serve reception and had the MBs switch teams. The second set ended up being much more competitive.

I had them do some target serving to finish training.

I didn’t take any stats on it, but I felt like the focus on running the middle attack had the passers more locked in. It also served to force a bit more creativity and invention in the attack, and might have provided a few ideas for use in matches. That was the point, so good outcome from that perspective.

We had a couple of guest players for training to bring our number up to 12, so I took the opportunity to work in some 6 v 6 activities. After warming-up and doing some ball-handling I had them play Speedball. As with Monday, though, I had the setters and MBs fixed, so it was 4 teams of two playing with them.

We then moved on to a combination of games. The primary one was Baseball, which we played through all 6 rotations. That was to work on transition play. Because I only have two MBs and they would have to play front row all the time, after each inning I pulled them out to serve for a 3 point wash-game. It featured alternating serves to get a bit more serve reception work, with the winner of the initial rally getting a second ball. If they won that rally as well, they got the point. I saw a lot of good defense in those games.

After doing some target serving, I finished up with a couple rounds of Scramble to work on staying focused on the job at hand (letting mistakes go) and developing more calm during scrappy periods in matches.

Back to the core group. After a physically demanding session on Tuesday, and having weight training beforehand, this was a somewhat lower intensity practice. It actually started with a discussion about the stats from Saturday’s match. They were substantially adjusted at the league level. Our team hitting efficiency jumped up to .268 with a near 40% kill rate. Although the numbers for our middle attack were better, they still weren’t where they need to be, so I wasn’t operating under a false evaluation in my earlier sessions.

On the flip side, our passing numbers went totally the other way. Our perfect pass percentage was 11%. The thing about passing numbers, though, is they are heavily reliant on the characteristics of the setter. My suspicion is that the revised figures were strict interpretation rather than reality based. Regardless, we’ll be focusing on our own bench stats for consistency’s sake.

After our usual warm-up game, we did some positional digging in pairs. That was followed by serving and passing with setters and MBs getting some work on their connections. From there we went to back court attack winners 3s, and then Speedball with fixed setters. The remainder of the session was 5 v 5 play using a wash game. We played 3 front, 2 back. One side had defenders in 5 and 6 and the other had them in 1 and 5. The empty spaces were declared out. I rotated players around so they were attacking and defending in both ways.

We had a guest male player to get us up to 11 for this training, which actually was in our Monday gym because of a community event in our main hall.  After warm-ups, we did Continuous Cross-Court Digging to keep working on digging technique and general defensive mentality. I’ve seen definite improvements in both areas of late, particularly in the mentality.

To carry the defensive stuff over into game play while also starting to prepare for game play later, we next played back court attack Winners 3s with fixed setters. That then shifted to narrow court Winners 4s with fixed setters and middles to continue the week’s work on developing our middle offense.

From there we did a pair of alternating games. First was Bingo-Bango-Bongo to work on transition play. Because of the strain that puts on the MBs, though, after each round of that we shifted the MBs into a serving and defense roll and played a wash game of 5 v 5 with no middle blockers. The session finished with a regular game of 5 v 6.

Our match was at 15:00, after the second team played theirs. It was against Sollentuna, which is another one of the northern teams in the league. My review of their match from last weekend pointed to struggles in serve reception and a very shallow defense which made them vulnerable to deep attacks. The feeling was that the main focus should be on serving effectively and putting up a good block against their strong OH.

Unfortunately for the home crowd, it didn’t turn out to be the most exciting match. Aside from a couple of tricky patches, we were the dominant side in a 3-0 win. As expected, Sollentuna struggled in serve reception, which resulted in a lot of high outside sets. Our block was a bit off to start, but adjusted and forced their best hitter into quite a few errors.

Thoughts and observations
We continue to get overly excited in our play. It’s getting better, but we’re still making errors of the over-aggression type – like wanting to win the match with a single swing. Need to keep working on that.

Defense generally showed good improvement over the week, especially in the commitment perspective. I’d like to see more 2-armed digging efforts, though, to improve ball control.

I’d like to see us do a little more bettering the ball at times.

Other stuff
I finished up with initial individual meetings this week, which I think went pretty well. I could see immediate effects from some of the discussions in training during the week.

The second team coach asked to use two of our non-starters in their match, which was before ours. Both got a lot of playing time, especially since the match went 5.

Be cautious with away from motivation

In an interview, former German Men’s National Team Coach (and Volleyball Coaching Wizards interviewee) Vital Heynen shared the process which saw him hired to that position. He talked the coaching philosophy he expressed to the committee. It was essentially the opposite of the one of the coach who proceeded him. This made me think of the numerous cases of “away from” motivations that can be seen in hiring processes. And in other aspects of things, for that matter.

There are two basic forms of motivation. One is “toward”, which is when there is something we want and we act to try to get it. The other is “away from”. That’s the, “I know what I don’t want”, or potentially fear-based, motivation.

Away-from motivation sometimes comes up when a team has had a certain type of manager or coach. For example, some coaches/managers are considered “players” coaches while others are viewed as more disciplinarian. When club ownership feels things aren’t going in the right direction, oftentimes they replace one style of coach with the other.

I’ve seen a similar sort of thing happen with players. My last year at Brown the team established some clearly away-from motivated based on this they didn’t like the previous year. The result was a shift from basically one extreme to another, which in my experience tends not to work out all that great.

In the case of the hiring of a manager/coach who is the opposite of the one before, it might work in the short-term. Over the long run, though, it’s a dubious prospect. In fact, the change in the team’s performance may have little to do with the personality and/or philosophy of the new coach.

Just something to consider when you find yourself not liking some aspect of things.

Line-up and substitution strategies for a 12s team

I received the following email from a reader yesterday.

My husband and I are new coaches to 12u club volleyball team in Missouri. One thing that we struggle with is the substitution rules and rotation strategies. We have been running a 5-1 for ease, but would like to introduce the 6-2. We have 8 players. Do you sub a player for position only? Can libero only go in for any player in the back row only? Do most setters play all around or come out when on the back row?

My immediate response in this case is to suggest that 12s is too early for positional specialization. This is something I talked about in the post Coaching Youngsters Like College Players (the comment by Rich is very worth reading). There should be no libero. There shouldn’t be players who are only setters. Every player should be playing in all positions. Plenty of time for specialization later.

With these young players the focus is 100% on development in all facets of play. I know this is the stance of USA Volleyball. Volleyball England has expressed the same view, and I’m sure there are other national federations who agree.

It’s not about winning on the scoreboard. It’s about winning in terms of development. Sally Kus talks in her book Coaching Volleyball Successfully about using alternative scoring methods to have the kids focused on playing the game properly, not simply trying to win.

From that perspective, the preferred system is a 6-6 where everyone sets and everyone hits. Substitution strategy is then down to appropriately sharing out playing time.

That’s my view, anyway. I’m happy to hear other opinions.

Ding dong, the thesis is gone!

It’s a joyous day today the world over!

I have finally sent my PhD thesis in for printing and initial submission. Talk about a gigantic weight off my shoulders!

This isn’t the end of the process. I have to go through what is called “Viva” at a time which is to be determined. Basically, it’s me sitting down with my two thesis examiners to talk things over. In the US it would be called a “defense”, though I don’t know if they are quite the same. In any case, barring some major issue, after the viva I will probably have to do some minor edits before final submission and at least earning the right to be called Dr. Forman.

The major work is done, though. Three years of reading academic research papers, running untold numbers of regressions and other forms of statistical analysis, and trying to turn it all into some sort of cohesive and meaningful document are finally at an end.

Of course all this just means I can shift my focus to other work that’s been awaiting my attention. :-/


A fellow blogger’s Waterboy influenced coaching tips

A fellow blogger posted an interesting list of tips for coaches a while back. The film Waterboy was at least partly influential in their creation. They are, paraphrased:

  1. Manage your body language
  2. Finishing training on time
  3. Discuss the theme of training at the start of each practice
  4. Love the sport and share that love
  5. Recruit help
  6. Team activities should be both fun and purposeful
  7. The “pay to train, not to play” idea is crap
  8. Expose your players to alternative coaching
  9. Young players should spend half their time working on serving
  10. Consider why you’re angry and where you’re pointing that anger

I’m generally on board with all of these suggestions. A couple of them in particular have things worth definitely thinking about.

A suggestion for #1 is to actually be able to see yourself in action by getting someone to video you. I’ve seen myself in training footage, but not in a match yet. I tend to be pretty calm, but I’m sure there are little things I do amid my general pacing around.

I didn’t always go by #3, but it’s something I definitely do now. It helps the players know what they need to focus on and keeps you on task.

I find #7 interesting. That rejects something often expressed by the likes of John Kessel from USA Volleyball. She takes a parent’s point of view, though, that she wants to see in matches what her child has learned in training.

Coaching Log – Oct 5, 2015

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2015-16.

The season is finally underway! Here’s how the first week went.

This was a very light session following the three straight days of play over the weekend. It was a “no jump” training. We focused on technical work related to ball-handling, both in serve reception and defense. In particular, I had the players work in pairs and groups of three on passing high center line balls, and dig balls in front of them and to the sides.

No training today because I had to go to a league meeting with our team manager/Sport Director and team captain. The players, though, were involved in a “club evening”, which brought players from most or all of the club’s teams together.

Just the core 10 for training. We had a reporter come by before we got going. He was supposed to be there 30 minutes ahead of our start time, but was 15 minutes late. Then he only interviewed one player and I had to pull her away so we could get things started. The player in question is the one Swedish addition this season, so no surprise there would be interest in talking with her, but it was a surprise that she was the only one.

I talked with the players for several minutes before we started about stuff from Tuesday’s meeting, having taken a bit of a look at the upcoming opposition, and generally some things i want the team to focus on. Block positioning and using more shots were the two main ones.

After our usual Wednesday start-up game and some technical ball-handling work, I had the players play Speedball winners in teams of 2 with fixed setters as their game-play warm-up. From there we moved on to a 5 v 5 version of High Ball to Receive. The motivation was to work both on block positioning and hitting against a well-formed block, both of which I saw as developmental needs. I instructed the setters to mix up the sets to the OH about 50/50 between normal balls to the pin and inside sets. On the one hand that’s to work on getting the blockers to recognize the attack angles and position themselves properly. The other is to work on being able to vary our attack. We finished with one round of 22 v 22.

The tempo of this training was a bit lower than I’d normally like because the players did a lot of talking with each other working through offense and defense stuff. I was OK with that both in terms of encouraging their communication and because they’d had their weight training session before-hand.

We were in an alternative gym doing a make up for missing Tuesday’s session. Because we were sharing the gym, the set-up was one with almost no space beyond the end line, so generally I avoided things which were player serving oriented. After warm-ups, to continue the technical defense work we’ve begun this week, we did the Continuous Cross-Court Digging drill. The players did the hitting, so the power and accuracy there’d be if coaches were hitting wasn’t quite the same. That slowed the tempo a little, but resulted in a wider variety of required dig movements which isn’t a bad thing. It’s much closer to random.

After that, I had them play Winners 3s, this time without fixed setters. The last part of the training was the 22 v 22 game covering 5 rotations – at least in terms of where the setter came from in serve reception. I had a former member of the club’s 2nd team helping out. She served all the balls and played defense in 6 on the serving side, while the receiving side only had 5.

We started the session with a bit of video review, watching Saturday’s opposition Örebro. It was a pre-season match they played against Lindesberg last weekend. Watching pre-season play is always a bit iffy, but it gave the Swedish players a chance to talk about what they know of the Örebro players.

There were 11 players for the session. I didn’t want to run training too long – only about 90 minutes. After the warm-ups I split out the setters and middles to work on quick sets and some blocking footwork, while the rest of the squad did serving and passing. From there we progressed to Winners 3s with fixed setters. I had assigned teams to ensure a MB on each so they could continue working on the quick sets.

After that we played five point games of 5 v 6. The team of 5 featured the OH playing backrow, leaving Zone 4 empty, so I required the team of 6 to attack through 3 or 4 or back row. The team of 6 served each ball with their 3 back row players alternating. I ran through every rotation but 1, constantly shifting players around. We finished up with a single 25-point game in which Zone 6 was out on the side of the team with 5. It ended up being very tight.

I wasn’t really happy with the tempo of the game play for much of the session. It came down to the amount of talking they were doing in between plays. It was constructive communication, but it was really slowing things down. After the first few points of the final game I had to put a stop to it, which definitely helped.

Our match was at 15:00. The home match-day routine features a 1-hour serve and pass session, which we did at 11:00. After a dynamic warm-up they played 2-ball volleytennis, peppered a bit to warm up their shoulders, then did serving and passing. We finished up with a rotating back court attack exchange activity for a few minutes. The team then had lunch together before getting some free time before meeting up again for the pre-match preparation. A couple of the Swedish players did a bit of a photo shoot for some of the promotional material.

The match was a mixed bag. Perhaps not surprisingly, the match was a bit sloppy from an administrative perspective. There were constant delays at the score table and the opposing coach actually cost her team a point and sideout at the start of the first set by not submitting her line-up in time.

From the indications we’ve had we get the impression that Örebro will be the strong team of the northern four (the other three being Soluntuna, Lindesberg, and RIG Falköping). They were down a starting OH for this match, however, because her work visa hadn’t cleared yet. That hurt them quite a from the looks of things, as they ended up shuffling players around looking for something that worked.

As has become a troubling pattern which needs to get addressed, we went down by several points early in the first set (0-6, I think) before settling down. Once we got going, though, Örebro struggled to stop us. We got back to level at 11-11, though couldn’t quite get over the hump and push ahead until after 20-20. We did close it out strong, though, to finish 25-21.

The second set was a complete blow-out at 25-13. Even that might have flattered the opposition a bit (it was 16-6 at the first timeout), as I used nearly all my subs and things got a little unfocused toward the end.

After the 10-minute intermission, we again had a bit of a rough start to the third set. We clawed back again, but we couldn’t really hold and extend our leads. As a result, it was uncomfortably close until once more we pulled away in the latter stages for another 25-21 win.

Örebro had a clear game plan of serving our American OH, Mo Simmons. By our count, she passed 31 balls, with no other player in double digits. This despite me taking her out one time across the back row during the second set. The funny thing is she had the best passing numbers on the team (2.03 on a 3-pt scale). It will be interesting to see if other teams try to follow suit because Mo was the best hitter in the match with 17 kills and 23 points overall.

We expect a tougher match when we face them at their place during the second half of the season – and potentially at Gran Prix in January.

Thoughts and observations
So far we’re 6-0 on the season if we count the pre-season results. At no point would I say we’ve played our best volleyball – at least over a full match. That’s good from the perspective of being able to win even when not in top form, but it definitely leads to concerns about eventually having someone take advantage. On the plus side, we are adapting how we play in-match quite well in terms of things like set distribution, adjusting on defense and block, etc. The communication is generally very good.

We need to sort out that early-set/match issue, which strikes me as a combination of tenseness for some players and over-aggression from others. In rallies there is a bit too much excitedness at times, so we need to work on playing with more calm. Serve reception remains a developmental area, as is individual digging. A couple players need to work on some of their hitting in terms of precision, and we need to incorporate more shots into our hitting. Right now it’s a lot of power and not much finesse.

Other stuff
In the other Saturday results, fellow southern team Gislaved handled Sollentuna rather easily in 3, which wasn’t too much of a surprise. The Lindesberg 3-2 win over RIG Falköping is interesting. RIG is an academy team (basically meaning Juniors age group players). I don’t know if this result says more about the young players doing well or Lindesberg not being so good. Maybe some of both, maybe neither. Hylte/Halmstad hosted Engelholm on Sunday in a battle of the other two southern teams. The home team won easily, which isn’t a surprise based on what we’ve seen of the two teams so far.

What’s the greatest coaching book ever?

What’s the greatest coaching book ever?

Mark Lebedew flat out says it’s Phil Jackson’s Sacred Hoops. I won’t disagree that it’s a good book. I personally would not call it the best ever. Sorry Mark.

There’s no debating Jackson’s success. I’m going to ask the question, though, how many of those rings Phil would have had without having had the best players of their respective periods on his teams? This speaks to the degree of impact a coach really has in determining a team’s success, which Mark separately talked about.

Putting the question of Jackson’s coaching greatness aside, though, what generally ends up being the prime factor in someone’s choice of “best” tends to be its impact on that person individually. For me, Sacred Hoops didn’t have much impact. Were there some interesting bits? Sure. I’m relatively well-read in at least part of Jackson’s underlying (Zen Master) philosophy, so from that perspective there wasn’t very much new or novel. For others, though, there could be.

In terms of books with the biggest influence on me as a coach I would have to say They Call Me Coach by John Wooden – with Training Soccer Champions by Anson Dorrance another once I can remember having an impact on me. I’m certainly not the only coach to have Wooden as an influence. His name always comes up when talking about on the subject.

What I realize, though, is that I read that book at a very pivotal point in my early coaching development. As such, it has considerable influence on me. There are definite parts of my coaching philosophy which match Coach Wooden’s, though at this point I don’t know what came from reading his book and what I either already had or developed myself along the way.

My point is that if I read that book now it would probably be far less influential. That’s just the nature of things. As you absorb more knowledge, any new material only provides incremental gains. As such, it’s hard to feel like you’ve read the greatest ever once you’ve been around the block a few times.

So what about you? What’s the best coaching book you’ve ever read?

A long day of off-court stuff

On Tuesday I had one of those types of coaching duties that all of us have to deal with along the way. I had to attend an Elitserien league season kick-off meeting in Falköping. That’s where the Swedish federation has their national training center and the national volleyball academy (RIG). It’s in the middle part of the country. I left home a bit after 6:00 AM and returned around 11:30PM, with most of what happened in between being travel.

All the men’s and women’s Elitserien clubs sent their managers, coaches, and captains (well, at least most of them) for what was a kind of combination administrative and press event. The clubs all did presentations on their squads and their expectations for the season to come – mostly in Swedish, though a couple of the men’s teams presented in English. Pictures were taken. Some folks were interviewed (not us from Svedala).

At the end the managers had a meeting together while the players and coaches sat in on a presentation by Volleyball Coaching Wizards interviewee Ismo Peltoarvo on physical performance measurement. Ismo has taken over overseeing the national training center and part of what he wants to do it to develop a database of player performance metrics across all ages and levels for both genders for use in benchmarking and comparison. The main thrust of the presentation was to encourage the clubs to both measure and report, which will be facilitated by some free tools the federation will be making available.

Ismo Peltoarvo

Perhaps the most interesting part of the whole experience was finding out that the Women’s Elitserie clubs had voted Hylte/Halmstad as the favorites to win the league this year. They got 4 votes and no other club got more than 1. You may recall that was the team we beat in the finals of the pre-season tournament we played in. A little bit of motivational material there! 🙂

I also met a couple of coaches at the meeting who know of me through my online efforts, including this blog. One coaches at the RIG and with the Swedish U19 women’s team. We talked a bit about my two players who are in that team for the upcoming NEVZA championships. The other is the men’s coach at Falkenberg. He’s an American who came over as a player, then shifted into coaching and has now been here for 12 years.

A young coach learns about ego and other things

Long-time experienced coaches can sometimes struggle to remember what it was like when we were rookie coaches. Yes, you can (and should) retain that desire to keep learning and improving. It’s hard sometimes to remember those early days when we were a clean slate, though. Well, at least a cleaner one. All coaches are influenced to some degree by what they experienced as players, or otherwise saw before they began coaching.

That’s why it’s interesting to read the Life of a Coach blog. A relatively young coach named Lauren is documenting her experience and what’s on her mind. Her first entry was on the subject of ego, In it Lauren shares the lesson she learned that as coaches our internal value shouldn’t be determined strictly by whether our teams win or lose.

I say internal, because inevitably people on the outside will judge us by wins, championships, and the like. There’s not much we can really do about that.

Lauren posted pieces on her motivation for coaching and dealing with playing time, among other things. She even has a rant about the modern generation of athletes. That seems obligatory on coaching blogs these days. 🙂