Is it easier to play better teams?

Here’s a story from my days coaching in Sweden. On the train ride back from Stockholm, a group of my players talked about the prior evening’s match. We played the team second from bottom in the league. It was a team that only managed wins over the team last in the standings.

During the exchange, one of the players commented on how it can actually be harder to play weaker teams.

Now, as coaches I’m sure the first thing which comes to mind in a situation like that is motivation. For sure, it can be hard to get yourself up for a match you’re expected to dominate. Moreover, it can be hard to maintain your focus when you’re winning comfortably.

That’s not what this player was talking about, though.

She was actually looking at things in terms of predictability. The general thrust of it was that with better teams you basically know what they’re going to do. The ball comes over the net at predictable times and in predictable ways. With weaker teams, though, you are less sure of when and how the ball will come across the net. That makes things tougher.

One of my middles actually commented that during a certain stretch we had put them under so much pressure with our serve that for several points in a row she didn’t have to block at all. When they finally were able to run a good attack, she forgot she needed to block! 🙂

In situations like this, along with trying to keep the team focused on that things we want to work on, I also talk about the need to be constantly ready. You never can be sure when or how the ball will cross the net, so you have to be alert and in a position to make whatever move is required.

It’s important that we coaches also maintain our focus in matches like this.

I made a coaching mistake the other day

In hindsight, I think I made a personnel mistake in one of my Svedala matches. Of course there’s no way of knowing what would have happened had I acted differently. I just think I missed an opportunity from a couple of different perspectives.

Here’s the scenario…

We were away to the team second from bottom in the league (we’re currently in first). It’s a team whose only victories have come against the bottom team. We beat them 3-0 at home on the first day of the season.

A big focus for us was getting a clean 3-0 win. This is for two reasons.

First, we hadn’t done that in a while – about four months. The team joked about how we always seemed to want to play extra. At the time we led the league in sets played. The not so funny part of that is the extra play does take its toll. We had a very small squad (just 8 at the time). With 11 matches between then and March 6th, and then playoffs to follow, limiting the pounding on the bodies could only help.

The second reason is you never know when it might come down to a set differential tie break.

We won the first set 25-20. The second set had a kind of ugly start, but we pulled away after the 9-9 point and won 25-17. In the third set we went up 11-5 and 13-7 before allowing them to slowly claw back. They got it to 19-19. We eventually went back out in front 23-20, but again let them back in and only managed to win 27-25.

It had been my hope to try to get my second setter some setting time during the match, rather than just being used as a defensive sub for our OPP. During the match, though, I was fixated on having her set while in for the OPP. That would see our starting setter hit, which she is perfectly capable of doing (it’s something I’ve thought about being an option should we have an injury issue).

Not thinking of doing a direct swap of setters was my big mistake. It led to two things I regret about how the match went. One is obviously not getting the second setter in to set – and not even getting in at all during the second set because of how things played out. The other is that I think we lost an opportunity to spread the ball around to more hitters.

It’s that second point that really got me thinking upon reflection that I’d goofed. Our starting setter didn’t spread the ball around as much as I’d have liked. I understand that the hitters who didn’t get the ball as much (OPP and M2) weren’t putting the ball away while the others were. From a “we want to win” perspective, which I’m sure the setter was thinking, that’s perfectly fine. From an offensive development perspective, though, we needed the ball spread around more.

I tend to believe the back-up setter would have done more of that. Actually, that can be something of a weakness in her game. She tends to be a bit more egalitarian in her set distribution. In this situation, though, that might have been beneficial.

In many ways I was looking at the match as a progression of the development work we did in training the prior week (see my log entry). Unfortunately, I was overly fixated on the match action and desired 3-0 outcome at the time, and overlooked my options.

Need to file that experience away to keep in mind for the future.

Coaching Log – Jan 18, 2016

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

This week saw our focus shift back to Elitserie play, with our first league match of the second half on Saturday. That meant getting locked in on grabbing one of the top 3 spots for playoffs so we’d have the opportunity to choose our first round opponent. It seems likely that the top 2 seeds will come from ourselves, Hylte, and Engelholm. That would mean the other needing to hold off Örebro for third, which may not be easy given their schedule advantage.

Even before Gran Prix, I made a decision the prior week that I was going to change the way we did dedicated serve reception training. We were 6th in the official team passing stats, and were third best at GP. I was observing that things would be pretty good the first few minutes, then tail off. I decided that from now on, I would only do short, focused exercises and make them competitive. Basically, I’d do servers vs. passers. Each server would get X balls (maybe 5) and the passers would have to average 2.0 or better to win. This struck me as keeping things more focused (on both ends).

Monday
After playing 10 sets in less than 24 hours sandwiched between van trips of 10 hours on Friday and 8 on Sunday, I wasn’t going to do any training. I did want them to do something physical for recovery purposes, though, so I opted for a team lift (normally done on Wednesday).

Before the lift I had a team meeting to talk about our path forward. I told them ahead of time that I was going to have each player contribute their thoughts on how we can keep working on getting better, can be better than Engelholm and Hylte, who are clearly our two big rivals this season, etc. I told them that I would have them share their thoughts one-by-one in age order. I decided to go this way so that all the Swedish players would have their say before the Americans. The latter tend to dominate team discussions because of personality and experience.

Here are the main things that came up in the discussion:

  • The desire for more game-planning
  • More work on technical passing
  • Being less up and down in our play
  • Having a better understanding of defensive positioning and communication with the block

On the game planning, I brought up the Engelholm away match from back in October. We did a lot of game planning the week leading up, including having some guest players in to play the part of the opposition’s big OPP. I came away from the match, though, feeling like we’d focused too much on them and it contributed to us freaking out under pressure in the match. I explained to them that was why I’d backed things down to providing annotated video (which they were expected to watch) and having discussions based on them. The focus has been more on how we attack them rather than how we defend against them.

One of the players did comment that we should keep in mind that just like we’re game-planning, so too is the other team. The important thing is being able to make adjustments, which I feel like we do fairly well.

The funny thing about the game-planning request is that it came right after I’d just gotten done saying I wasn’t going to spend much time focused on our next opponent. By that I mean I want us focused on our own play rather than worrying about what they’re doing. We need to take a bit of time to get things on our side of the net cleaned up, especially with two important matches coming up next week.

Not surprisingly, given prior discussions, there was a fair amount of talk about doing more drills. Players always want more “reps”. The argument, “We came up doing drills,” was once more put forth. Of course just because you’ve done something in the past doesn’t mean it was the best thing to do then, or the best thing to do moving forward.

Interestingly, one player actually seemed to speak in favor of the game play focus we’ve had to-date. She made the comment that what she’s heard from other teams is that we make plays no one else makes. It was something she attributed to all the playing we’ve done.

Also, as much as they want more drills, they agreed with me that the way we’ve been doing serving and passing up to now needs to change. They liked the idea of making it quick and competitive. I suggested for the more individual aspect of passing, we could do it as part of our ball-handing warm-up. They liked that idea.

The fact of the matter is that at this point things are almost certainly going to have to be more “drill” oriented. I put that in quotes because I’ll still look to make things as game-like as possible.

The reality of the situation, though, is that our numbers and schedule are going to mandate some adjustments. As compared to the first half, the training-to-competition ratio is a fair bit lower. We have 12 matches in the next 8 weeks, as compared to 26 training slots. And with fewer bodies, it will be harder to do lots of game stuff as I’d normally like. They players need to stay fresh for our matches – of which the majority will be very competitive by the looks of things.

There was some talk about being more situationally aware. The example used was not missing our serve when our strongest line-up was at the net. It also extended, however, to hitters being more aware of their blocking match-up as part of my desire to get more effective when they call audibles.

A comment was made about being more positive in our huddles. The thought was that perhaps part of the reason we’re a bit up and down is that we have a tendency to focus on what we’re not doing well rather than on how we can increase our application of what’s working. It was felt that maybe that brought the team down rather than allowing it to sustain momentum. I understood this to be more an issue of the players talking with each other, but there may also be stuff said by staff.

At the end I posed a question to the group on serving. I’ve noticed that we have a tendency to perhaps get overly target locked on a particular passer we’ve identified as weak. The result can sometimes be better than expected passing because of relatively easy serves. I asked them how they felt about the idea of starting matches off taking more of a “best serve” approach (the players go with their best serve regardless of target), and then, if we identify someone passing poorly that day, really narrowing in on them.

Tuesday
This was a heavy talking session. The main developmental points discussed in Monday’s meeting were the core priorities – serve reception, block-defense, and transition offense. The bulk of the time ended up getting spent on defense against attacks through 2 and 4. We went slowly. Blockers were focusing on proper positioning while defense was working on positioning around the block and reading the hitter.

We spent time after that basically flipped around with blockers against hitters, but no defenders. This was to work on the hitters making better audible decisions. The blockers were told to vary their starting position so the hitters would have to look at them before making a set call.

After that, I ran them through some 6 v 5 which started with serves to get some full game play in. We wrapped up with Winners 3s, back row attack only.

Wednesday
Apparently, Monday’s team weight training session was somewhat limited by the mass of folks in the fitness center motivated by New Year’s resolutions to get fit and/or lose weight. As a result, the players made a decision after Tuesday’s training to have a second team lift in their normal time slot. So basically the normal Wednesday schedule was followed.

We continued the work done on Tuesday in terms of working on block-defense and hitter audibles. I turned the order around, though, so hitter set calling got more attention. One of the things we talked about was the MBs giving the OHs more information on what they were doing so the latter could anticipate what would be called by the quicker hitters.

We also continued the serve reception work with the servers vs. passers game. Cooperative back row “team pepper” featured in the warm-up stages.

Friday
I was hoping to have an extra player, but it didn’t work out. That kind of limited things in terms of getting something like full game-play in. That was disappointing, but in many ways I was looking at Saturday’s match as a kind of live-fire training session.

After pre-hab, serving, and ball-control work at the outset, I had the players do some blocking technical work against hitters on boxes. I’m not a huge fan of that because it takes out much of the read aspect involved, but the focus was more on penetration and hand position. And in any case, a later exercise involved attackers essentially going against a team without a MB. That meant 1 v 1 swings against the pin blockers, with the defense in behind to work in their reading.

In between we did the Continuous Cross-Court Digging drill as a defensive preparation. I was actually pretty pleased with what I saw. Players are starting to expand their defensive range.

After the hitters vs. defense exercise, we played back court Winners 3s for the remainder. That was enough jumping and swinging, even though we finished in less than 2 hours all together. Even the players didn’t feel the need to do anything extra when I offered the opportunity.

Saturday
The day started with an early train ride up to the Stockholm area for the match against Sollentuna. The original plan had been to fly up and train back on Sunday, but in the end the cost decided that it was rail both ways (though still with a Saturday overnight stay).

Sollentuna’s men’s team had a home match as well, so our start was a bit later than usual at 5pm.

Sollentuna

We finally got a 3-0 win when our turn came. The first two sets we won comfortably. After getting out to a good lead in the third, though, we let them back in and only managed to win 27-25.

Serving was a big factor in both when doing well and when not. We ended up with 19 aces against 12 errors. Our two OHs each had 6 aces, and every starter had at least one. Now, that’s not a bad ace to error ratio at all. The problem was, a number of our misses came at bad times – after timeouts, when the other team had scored points in a row, etc. In particular, we started the second set by missing 3 out of our first 4 serves. That was something we’ve not had problems with for the most part in a while, which suggests either overly aggressive serving or a lack of focus.

Serve reception was better than average. Our pass rating was about 2.09. It was a bar bell type of distribution, though. The stats indicate 13 aces against out of 60 passes. That is much too high a percentage, but we had a lot of very good passes as well.

One thing I wasn’t pleased with was the set distribution. Our M2 and our OPP needed to have gotten more sets. I realize from a “want to win in 3” perspective that others were more likely to get kills, but this was a chance to spread the ball around and build depth in our attack that was missed. This relates to what I feel was a coaching mistake on my part in terms of substitution use.

We spent the night in Stockholm, with everyone basically given the night free. Then it was a 9:21 train back in the morning.

Thoughts, observations, and other stuff
Leaders Brøndby played a pair of Oresund Liga matches on the week. The first was a Danish league fixture vs. Amager on Thursday which counted toward both competitions. They won that 3-0. The second was a Saturday match against Gislaved. That one also ended 3-0. Those were the only two for the Liga this week.

The January schedule, in fact, is light. Only two more matches left on the month. Svedala doesn’t play it’s next match counting toward the Liga until February 10th.

The two wins sees Brøndby well clear of the pack at the top of the table. At this point, they are going to be very hard to catch. They are on 20 points while we only have 13 and Engelholm is on 10 (one fewer match played). Their remaining matches are against the stronger teams in the league – Holte, Engelholm, and ourselves – so it’s not a sure thing yet. We and Engelholm can only get to 22 points, though. That means if we both drop another match or Brøndby gets a 3 point win, they will be champions.

Encouraging our players to be spectators as well

Wisconsin Head Coach Kelly Sheffield once authored a plea to Juniors volleyball coaches. He asked that they actively encourage their players to spend time watching college volleyball matches. I think there are three major benefits to do this, or more generally of getting lower level players watching higher level ones.

Aspiration

There’s no denying that kids develop idols. They look to replicate things they see done by those they view as being “great”. We want our players to have something to aspire to as they develop. It doesn’t have to be a specific role model. It can just as easily be a way of playing or the execution of a certain type of skill. Reaching a certain level of competition (high school varsity, NCAA Division I, professional club 1st team, national squad, etc.) is another one. Either way, it gives them an extra motivation to get better.

Education

Along with giving players something to aim for, there is much they can learn by watching higher level play. Chances are, this will require more coach involvement that is the case in terms of aspirational elements. Lower level players may not have the understanding (yet) of what they are seeing. They will need you as their coach to explain it to them. This gives you the opportunity to reinforce the things you’re working on with them.

Spectatorship

The third benefit of getting players out watching higher level volleyball is that it can help turn them into regular spectators of the sport. Volleyball is a big participation sport around the world. It is still, however, very much a fringe type of sport when it comes to viewership and attendance. At least broadly speaking. The more we create educated, passionate fans out of our players, the more we can grown the sport.

Are you a 1000-different-drills coach?

A while back I jokingly coined the phrase Fancy new drill syndrome. It’s a condition which seems to afflict most of us early in our coaching careers. Basically, it’s where we always seem to be looking for a new, better drill. We think we need them to get our players to learn some aspect of the game. As a result, we constantly look for them. Call it our drill collection phase.

This is something discussed in an article posted on LinkedIn. In it, the author bemoans the 1000-different-drills coach who thinks they need to constantly mix things up for to keep players focused. He talks about how that kind of approach can actually be detrimental to development. His main argument it doesn’t allow players to really go through the pattern recognition acquisition process.

The author also talks about how players will play one game for hours, given the opportunity. They don’t feel the need to change things up. Why? Because they’re having fun!

I think that’s an important point right there. Players play volleyball because they enjoy playing volleyball. They don’t do it because – for the most part – they love training repetitions. It makes for a really simple solution. Make training as game-like as possible. The players will get more out of it developmentally and they’ll be less likely to get bored.

There’s a reason many top coaches only have a handful of drills and games they use. They just make little modifications to focus them on where they want work done.

That’s why you don’t need a new drill.

New coach advice

Matt over at The College Volleyball Coach, my partner on the Inside College Volleyball book, recently responded to a question from a reader about transitioning from long-time player to coach. While he offers up a couple of other little bits and pieces, Matt’s primary response is to be consistent. To quote:

Players will be a myriad of challenges, but the coach absolutely must be consistent in their program parameters.

This is very similar to the advice offered by Volleyball Coaching Wizard Stelio DeRocco in his interview. Here’s that excerpt.

I know I shared that clip before, but it’s worth repeating. It is very easy to fall into the trap of being a reactionary coach and letting things influence how we project ourselves outwardly. We need to remember that people are watching basically at all times. As I wrote about in Watching yourself coaching, these days you always have people looking when you coach. And thanks to online video, people can look at you well after the fact as well!

I had that lesson reinforced on me over the while coaching in Sweden when I spotted myself in video from the Gran Prix.

That’s my O1 from Svedala, Mo Simmons (Clemson) being interviewed.

By the way, one of my former players from Exeter – a Swedish one – spotted me in the video. She didn’t realize I coached in her homeland.

The point is, you’re always on display. And who do you think watches you the most? Your players. You will be amazed at times the things they pick up and remember.

So give a bit of thought to what you project to your team.

A side story from Gran Prix

In this coaching log entry I talked about how my Svedala team did at Gran Prix in 2016. What I didn’t really talk about was some of what went on through the course of things when we weren’t on the court. Of course, as is always the case for tournaments like that, there were a number of side discussions with other coaches in attendance. All were interesting and engaging, as they tend to be.

One person I spoke with at a couple of different points was Volleyball Coaching Wizard Ismo Peltoarvo. At that time he was recently was named the Swedish Women’s National Team coach and was on-hand mainly in that capacity. After our match on Saturday, Ismo told me he really liked one of our Americans. She’s probably the league’s best all-around player in her position, so it’s easy to see why he’d say that.

When we were heading out to dinner that night I mentioned Ismo’s comments to the player in question, jokingly asking if she’d be interested in playing for the Sweden. That got her attention. She started asking our manager about what it would take to become a Swedish citizen.

Of course he joked the easiest way was to marry a Swede.

Without missing a beat, she asked if we knew of any eligible guys.

I mentioned the conversation to Ismo the next morning at breakfast. He smiled and said he’d take her in the team. 🙂

Oh, and it was COLD in Uppsala, where they held the event. The temperature when we went out for dinner on Saturday night was close to 0 Farenheit (about -17C). It snowed on and off most of the weekend, though got a bit warmer on Sunday.

You can see the official tournament articles and videos at http://www.grandprixvolleyboll.se/ and/or on the Swedish Volleyball Facebook page.

Coaching Log – Jan 11, 2016

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

Back into competition this week. We played our first Oresund Liga match of the second half on Wednesday (essentially scheduled as a tune-up coming off the break) and then headed up to Uppsala for Gran Prix over the weekend. Most of the rest of the league played a set of Elitserie matches on Tuesday.

Monday
This wasn’t a great session in terms of focus and intensity. It was apparent right away. I had them start with volley tennis and it was ugly. This is normally a pretty competitive game with good rallies, but today that wasn’t the case at all.

After that, I wrapped to spells of target serving (1 to 5, 5 to 1 then 1 to 1, 5 to 5) around a game of back row 3s with fixed MBs blocking and doing the setting.

The remainder of training involved a series of 5 v 5 games. One side didn’t have a front row OH and the other didn’t have a front row OPP (back row setter). For each game one team served every ball. The score started at 18-20 in favor of the serving team on the idea that the receiving team should have a point scoring edge. We played 2 games, flipping the serving side for the second, then I rotated players around. Overall, we probably played 10 games.

The lack of focus really showed up in serve reception. As I told the players afterward, the passing made the servers look really, really good. I said I expected more focus and higher intensity on Tuesday.

Tuesday
We talked scouting for Wednesday’ match before the start of training. After that, told the players we wouldn’t go more than about 90 minutes and that I expected full intensity. The plan was to only do two primary exercises, one to focus on blocking and OH set tempo, and the other to mix serve reception and transition play.

After warm-ups I put the players in the following configuration. Setter, OPP, MB, OH, and Libero on one side. Front row setter, two MBs, and two OHs on the other. One of the back row players on each side was designated server. We did alternating serves. The first ball had to go to the front row OH, but if a rally ensued later balls could go anywhere. The focus for me was watching the positioning of our block, though the setters and OHs working on their tempo was also a key. After 5-7 good serves for each side, I rotated players around.

The other exercise was 6 v 4 using the starting line-up against the rest (the B side had 3 front, 1 back). We started with Rotation 4, which has tended to be the one we’ve struggled in the most. Each sequence had 3 balls. The first was a serve from the 4 side. The second was a free ball to the 4 side. The last was a free ball to the starting 6. To finish a rotation the 6 had to win 21 rallies. We only got through 4 rotations, but that was enough.

Energy and focus were much improved. The starters could have done better in the last part considering, but the intensity was good. The passing was markedly better than it had been the day before.

We found out at the end of training that Engelholm had easily beaten Örebro in their league match. This was a bit of a surprise – not in terms of them winning, but in terms of how lopsided the scores were (18, 11, 20). Lots of hitting errors for Örebro.

Wednesday
The match against Holte was a lot like when we played them the first time around. By that I mean it was a battle and nervy – at least from a coaching perspective. In a lot of ways, it was like going into a match against someone you’ve never seen. Over the break Holte brought in a new MB from Poland where her PlusLiga team folded mid-season (interestingly, the Brøndby coach was on-hand scouting the new addition). They also had back some players who didn’t play us the first time around, and one we did play was in a different position.

We won 3-1, but didn’t make it easy on ourselves. The first set was our best overall, with a 25-22 win. We passed a 1.86, sided-out at 64% and scored at 44%. Passing was pretty much downhill after that.

We got off to a horrible start to the 2nd set, falling behind 0-7 before finally getting going after I took a timeout. We played a lot better from there and clawed back to within 2 by midway into the set, but then had another rough patch that saw us get to down 14-20. Again, we pulled ourselves back into it to eventually fall 21-25. Had our back-up setter not missed her serve (subbing for our M1) to give Holte set point – after which we scored 4 points – we might have been able to get even closer.

We were the ones to jump ahead in the 3rd set, going up 5-1, but they slowly pulled it back, and by mid-set they manged to nose ahead. They eventually got out to a 22-17 advantage. From there, however, we dominated and eventually won 25-23.

Our starting setter suggest before the start of Set 3 that we spin the rotation a bit to get a better our O1 more swings against their small setter. I resisted at that point because we would almost certainly start in the same rotation on Saturday against Engelholm in Gran Prix. As a result, I wanted us to work through any issues we had. I did, however, turn the rotation back 2 clicks for the start of Set 4. I didn’t do this for a match-up, but rather to change things on our side in hopes of not repeating the start of Set 2.

Not sure that really worked, though, as we fell behind 0-4. That eventually saw us down 10-14 and 13-18 before we finally started to legitimately get on top of things. We tied it at 19-19 and eventually won going away 25-21.

Passing in the 4th set was pretty poor – 1.58. We managed a 59% side-out rate, but it was our serving that really made the difference. We had a 50% point scoring rate, thanks in part to 5 aces, which was nearly half of our match total.

Serve reception aside, I wasn’t really pleased with our defense. Positioning was, in particular, problematic (6 playing too shallow, line defender off the line and/or too shallow, etc.), but we also didn’t make digs we should have made. Our block seemed, for the most part, to be pretty well positioned. We only got 6 total blocks, but that doesn’t necessarily tell the story. I think a couple of our servers could have been more aggressive (too soft and loopy).

I was reasonably satisfied with our offense, though I did talk with our setter about play calling. She felt like she didn’t have a very good match in terms of execution, which is probably fair. There were a number of tight sets. One of the things I found myself thinking about afterwards is that we need to have a discussion about hitter audible set calls. They are making the calls, but I’m not sure how much tactical thinking is going into them.

The other broader issue I brought up with them during the match was that the energy level wasn’t where we normally play at. Our M1 at one point during a break specifically addressed body language and facial expressions and how we needed to fix them. The way we play with joy and passion is a key factor in our success so far, and something often commented on by those who see us in action.

Since we didn’t have a proper training coming up before Gran Prix, I took a minute after the match to speak with the team about the performance, which I don’t normally do. It was positively focused, though, and brief. I just complimented them on the big comebacks in the 3rd and 4th sets, telling them to file those away for use in the future when things get a bit rough.

We found out late that evening that Engelholm and Hylte were both in the process of signing new American OHs. These were anticipated moves. The timing was such that it would be really tight getting all the paperwork done in time for Gran Prix, but it might have been possible. Hylte’s signing is Kelsey Fien from Nebraska, who will be a big presence at the net, but is going to be a question in terms of back row play as she didn’t play back row in for the Huskers. Engelholm’s signing is Erin Fairs from Louisville.

Separately, Lindesberg has brought in a new setter – a Dutch player named Lydie van Deursen who played in the States for 2015 NAIA National Champs Columbia. Lydie’s last season at Columbia was in 2014, though.

Friday
Uppsala is a lengthy drive, which we started at about 10am. The plan was to stop for lunch along the way, and then to have an hour of court time after we got up there to shake off the effects of the long drive, with dinner following. That is what happened, but not on the time line expected. What was expected to be a 6-7 hour trip turned into a 10 hour haul due to snowy weather, road conditions, and dodgy tires on one of our vans.

We found out Thursday that Fien got her clearance to play for Hylte. I got to peak in on Engelholm’s training when we were waiting for our own upon arriving in Uppsala and saw Fairs working in with the first team as O1. Looked like she’d been cleared as well.

Saturday
We were given an 8:45-9:30 serve & pass slot ahead of our 12:30 match. The first semifinal between Hylte and Örebro started at 10:00. Hylte won 3-1, with their new player in the line-up – though I doubt they’d have needed her.

Gran Prix 2016 program 2016-01-10 08.00.16

Our match was definitely the more competitive of the two. Engelholm  did indeed start their new OH, and I’d have to say she made a difference. She was more solid in passing and defense then the player she replaced, and more potent in attack as well. Their big OPP was the still the main offensive threat, but especially early in the match we were able to limit her impact and force a number of hitting errors.

We traded set victories with us taking the first and third fairly comfortably, and them grabbing the second and fourth in closer fashion. In the end, they held us off to take the fifth 15-13. Arguably, there was a bad call by the R1 toward the end of the fourth set that might have cost us that one. I was at a bad angle to see the play, but others told me it was a bad call. Even still, you have to win by 2, so one single play wasn’t the difference in winning and losing.

I was asked by our club chairman for a comment on the match. After a bit of thought, I said the two teams could have been said to be quite even in the first half of the season, having split our regular season matches by equal 3-2 scores. Arguably, they made a significant upgrade to their team. The fact that we fought them very close without a similar upgrade of our own means we’re doing some good things.

I think the biggest thing we could have done better was decision-making, particularly in the offensive side of play.

By the way, this was the first time in my coaching in Sweden and Denmark that we had line judges.

Sunday
Our loss on Saturday meant a 9am match with Örebro to compete for the tournament bronze. Personally, I was happy to have a chance to play them given we haven’t seen them since the first week of the season. In a sense, it was like playing someone new. It was also an opportunity to reinforce the comparative strength of the southern group vs. the northern one.

All that said, anyone who’s ever been in a position to play for 3rd place after a heart-breaking loss in a semi knows how tough it can be to get motivated. Combine that with the early start and you get a 25-12 drubbing like we took in the first set. We passed horribly and our serving was lackluster resulting in them having about a 75% sideout rate. After the side change, the line judge on that side of the court asked me before the new set where our fighting spirit was. I told him apparently it was still in bed.

The second set didn’t start off much better. I think I called timeout at 3-8 and was pointed with them. I said something along the lines of asking them if they wanted to play like crap for another set and a half. Things didn’t get a whole lot better from there until we 10-19 down. Then the switch got flipped, or something. We scored the next 10 points and ended up winning 30-28. Our attack got in gear and we started digging more balls.

The next two sets were both one-sided. We couldn’t hold on to the momentum and lost 25-17. After that I turned the rotation to put our O1 going across the front from the beginning and we ran away 25-15 winners. The funny thing is in both those sets we passed a 2.0. The difference was in the 3rd we sided out at 50% and scored at 25% and in the 4th we sided out at 75% and scored at 54%.

I kept the 4th set rotation to start the 5th and we got out to an early lead, but then allowed them to get ahead in to the side change, 8-6. They eventually got to up 10-8, but then we ran off six straight to go up 14-10. We finished 15-12.

They have to keep learning the lesson of having to play with good energy and spirit and attacking aggressiveness to succeed.

Thoughts, observations, and other stuff
The other two Elitserie matches from Tuesday went basically as expected. Gislaved and Lindesberg beat RIG and Sollentuna respectively 3-0. Those results didn’t alter the table at all. Engelholm’s win, however, drew them into a tie with us on 24 points, but we retain top spot on sets.

Our win over Holte moved us up to 2nd in the Oresund Liga table. We’ve played more matches than the teams above and below us, however.

Engelholm ended up winning Gran Prix with a 5-set victory over Hylte. One of the sets they won was 25-5. We had already left by then, but I was told it was 16-0 before Hylte finally scored. Wow!

Let them figure it out on the court

Keeping the theme from this post, here’s another article I came across from the non-volleyball world. This time it’s football (American). This news story is about the turnaround experienced by the Houston Texans during the 2015-16 season. They started the year 2-5 and were 8-7 at the time of its writing. Head coach Bill O’Brien attributed the turnaround to a change in training philosophy.

“When it’s 11-on-11, it’s the players’ practice,” O’Brien explained on Monday. “The coaches, George and RAC, they’re on the side and they just signal the play in and the players practice. I think we made a decision to do that, so that we could help everybody understand what we were trying to do better because let the players figure it out.”

He was further quoted:

“We’re not going to be out there on the game field to figure it out for them, so let’s let them figure it out on the practice field,” O’Brien said. “I think the players have done a great job of that. Our leaders have done a good job of that.”

Anyone who’s ever been in my gym for training will notice that I’m not a big talker. A feature of my coaching philosophy is the more I talk, the less they train. By extension, the less they learn. Also, the more I talk the less I can gather information and make assessments for future use. Further, if I constantly tell players what to do, they won’t learn to develop their own solutions (to use a phrase from Julio Velasco). This is something I wrote about before in Let them figure it out for themselves.

Less instructing, more facilitating

I think the result of this mentality – at least for me – is that one becomes a facilitator of learning rather than being a teacher. By that I mean I set up situations related to things I believe we need to work on. Then I let the players come up with their own solutions to the problems posed rather than providing my own.

Does that mean I never offer any input into the process? Of course not!

If I see something I think should be addressed or I believe I can give the solution development process a push, I step in. Most of the time that’s to talk with a specific player. Sometimes, though, I must address the whole group. Either way, it’s quick and I get them right back to work.

Related to this is something from the Jan De Brandt interview for Volleyball Coaching Wizards. Jan made the observation that women’s teams tend not be be as creative in their play as men’s teams. I can understand where this comes from. In my experience female athletes tend to be more literal than their male counterparts. They do what they’re told! 🙂

The downside of that is they sometimes just do what they’re told, not some variation on it. I chafed a bit at Jan’s comments in that regard because my team at Svedala was the exact opposite. They constantly worked with each other to come up with new ways to do things. I’d like to think at least some of that was down to my coaching style of letting them work things out for themselves, as Coach O’Brien started doing.