Report: 2015 USA Volleyball High Performance Coaches Clinic

I will discuss here what I saw and did at the 2015 USA Volleyball High Performance Coaches Clinic. Before that, though, I have to take a moment to talk about the weather. It was absolutely gorgeous. I left England with temps around freezing and felt the same (or worse) when I overnighted in Dallas. Once I arrived in Colorado Springs, however, it was a whole different scene. During the two primary days of the clinic the highs reached around 70F/22C. Definitely not what you’d expect this time of year!

Sunrise on the Colorado Rockies

Sunrise on the Colorado Rockies

I didn’t mind so much that I added an extra day stay because the flight was about £200 cheaper flying on Monday rather than Sunday. 🙂

The clinic took place at the Olympic Training Center. It’s a nice facility, as I’m sure you can imagine. I opted for the residency package, which meant staying in a dorm onsite (the extra day cost me $45, meals included). I had two roommates – one from Wisconsin, one from North Carolina. Both were high school/middle school/club level coaches. Those of us staying in the dorms were provided with shuttle service to and from the airport. There was also a non-resident option for a lower price. I know some attendees chose that.

Would I stay in a dorm again given the choice? Not sure. It’s definitely cheaper that way, and really convenient, but there are definite tradeoffs.

The USAV staff made pretty good use of technology to keep every up-to-date on things. They developed an app with the schedule, messenging, and other administrative features that at least I found very useful.

I posted the clinic schedule previously, so I won’t re-post here. I just run through my impression of the sessions day-by-day. The focus here is on more of a general discussion rather than real detail. I followed this post with a series of others motivated by things I saw and/or heard, including a handful of drills/games.

Day 1 (Thursday)

Attendees were asked to arrive before 17:00 to get checked in. We had dinner, then the event began at 18:00. That first night was basically a 2014 retrospective for the various national teams (youth and senior). Plus there wasyour standard event intro type stuff. In his discussion of what the women’s national team did last year, Karch did address some coaching points. Largely, though, this wasn’t really a content day. Things rolled into an onsite evening attendee social.

Day 2 (Friday) – Morning

Things kicked off at 8:00 with two sessions in the gym. The first was by Julio Velasco. He talked primarily about the idea of creating players, not simply skilled athletes. The idea of developing solutions was a feature. The second gym session was by Laurent Tillie concentrating on serving and passing. He discussed technique (somewhat controversial) and used a group of area current and former Division I women’s players for demo work (they were involved in most of the on-court sessions).

These two initial sessions were followed by a breakout session. All attendees were assigned to groups of about 10-12 ahead of time. Each group was then lead through a discussion of the topics just covered by one of the clinic staff. One or two of the demo players also mixed in. These groups were a chance to ask questions, share insights, etc. My group happened to be lead by Karch that session. He disagreed with Tillie on the passing mechanics. 🙂

Karch Breakout

From there we moved into the seminar room for the rest of the morning with Steve Shenbaum (you might recognize him from his acting days). The focus of this partly interactive session was on helping people (coaches, players, whoever) get to know each other, develop better communication, and interact with each other in fun, non-threatening way. Quite a bit of good stuff there.

Day 2 – Afternoon

Back into the gym for the first two afternoon sessions. Karch led off showing some of the training methods they use in the national team gym. That was both in terms of games/drills (see Bonus Point Bingo) and how they use visualization. He also introduced a more upright serve receive starting position. It is meant to allow the passer to see the ball better (one of the current WNT liberos demoed). Three books were mentioned as recommended reading – Mindset, The Art of Learning, and Mastery.

The second of the gym sessions was run by Jamie Morrisson, Karch’s assistant. Jamie focused on motor learning. A major points he made was the idea of trying to maximize RPEs (Read-Plan-Execute). The other was the need to focus on one thing at a time for maximum effectiveness. This, he said, is now being supported by research.

The gym sessions were again followed by breakout discussions. This time my group’s facilitators were Cecile Reynaud and 5-time US Olympian Danielle Scott-Arruda.

From there, we again switched to the seminar room. First up was a discussion of mindfulness. It was concentrated on the idea that attention and other mental abilities can be developed and expanded with practice. Two books were mentioned to that end – How to Train a Wild Elephant and Wherever You Go, There You Are.

The final session was a panel discussion featuring five current and former national team players. They talked about their experiences working under different coaches, dealing with moving back and forth between club and national team training styles, and the like.

We had the evening off, though I’m sure some attendees went out. I was too tired to do anything more than linger over dinner with some of the others.

Day 3 (Saturday) – Morning

The final day again started at 8:00 with a pair of sessions in the gym. Tillie was back talking about developing defensive reflexes and courage in the first one. Shelton Collier and Rod Wilde split the second to talk first about getting players unfamiliar with each other (think tryout or new team development) to start working together and communicating and to run through some games/drills working on hitting against a block. Collier was then the facilitator for the breakout discussion.

It was back to the seminar room after that, with Velaso taking on the subject of operating in different cultural environments. Two of the more significant comments he made were 1) that as coaches our biggest job is to convince our players, and 2) that we should be looking for solutions to overcome hurdles, not making excuses.

Members of the national team technical staff then took the stage to talk about how stats could be used effectively. They focused on two primary examples from the last couple years. One was shifting all the jump spin servers to jump float serves because the analysis showed it was more effective in terms of opponent sideout (break point) percentage. The other was in the decision-making behind developing their fast offense. The book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There was mentioned along the way.

Bill Neville wrapped up the morning with a discussion of the various sub-senior national team programs and the High Performance program from a coaching perspective.

Day 3 – Afternoon

The first on-court session of the afternoon was an active one run by members of the youth national team coaching staffs. Part of that was a discussion of scouting with regards to hitter tendencies, but mainly the focus was on ways of training attackers to develop different shots.

Velasco was back in-frame for the second on-court session. It was nominally titled “What does it mean to play well?” Honestly, though, it was basically him running the demo players through a short training session, starting with some warm-up activites. Most of his attention was focused on them rather than on the attendees.

There was no breakout group discussion after that, so we shifted straight to the seminar room where Tillie talked about his training structure. He noted Science of Coaching Volleyball, Switch, The Talent Code, and the aforementioned Mindset as being influential.

The final session of the clinic was a panel discussion featuring several of the prior presenters. The focus was on developing a coaching staff from the perspective of a head coach.

HP Clinic Panel

Some of the points were doing a personal inventory to know where you needed help offsetting your own weaknesses, having specific roles and finding people for them, and ensuring you have alternative opinions. Multiple panelists mentioned letting staff learn by doing.

The clinic was capped off with an off-site social attended by a good fraction of those involved, including the presenters and staff. Some folks, though, had very early shuttles to the airport the next morning, so opted out.

Thoughts, observations, etc.

As noted above, I followed this outline of the clinic’s educational content with a series of more narrowly focused posts to address a number of different training methods, philosophical ideas, etc. Here, though, it’s worth sharing a few things from what I saw and experienced.

First, if you really go in with the right mindset you can do quite a bit of networking at an event like this. There were coaches from all different levels of play, all over the US, and even a few from as far away as Australia. We ate all our meals together, had two dedicated social functions, the breakout sessions, and plenty of transitions between sessions to talk and connect with others (plus time in the dorm). This is not just with other clinic attendees. The presenters were with us at all times and accessible.

Personally, I found the meals and the socials to be really great times. I talked with a current Ivy League assistant about what it’s like these days, had a conversation about FIVB coaching certification courses, talked stats and DataVolley, saw John Kessel using breakfast table stuff to describe games and drills for maximum ball contacts (see 2 vs. 0), had a conversation about Gold Medal Squared training, talked about conference levels of play, discussed what it’s like for an American coaching in Europe, and a number of other subjects.

Second, while I’m beyond the drill collection stage (those I jotted down during the clinic were mainly to share on the blog), I do look for different ways to approach things. Also, sometimes watching or listening to other coaches helps affirm the things that you’re doing (as I mentioned before). That was certainly the case with this clinic, just about right from the first session.

So will I attend future HP Coaches Clinics?

It depends on circumstances, obviously, but I’m positively inclined. The cost is quite reasonable as these things go, and the structure is really good. The focus is different than the AVCA Convention, which has a strong NCAA women’s volleyball bias. I’m not saying that is a bad thing. It’s just an alternative perspective and aim. USA Volleyball is looking at the national team program and promoting its systems, methods and philosophies. The AVCA is a professional organization for coaches dominated by those in the college ranks. As such, each event can be beneficial in its own way, depending on one’s aims and perspective.

I think that’s about it. Thanks to jet lag and other factors, I haven’t gotten a great deal of sleep on the trip, though, so there may be stuff I’m forgetting or a perspective that I could share of things that I haven’t. Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll try to answer them for you.


Cost Addendum

I was asked about the total cost of the clinic, so here are some additional details.

The clinic fee was $475, which was inclusive of housing, meals, and a shuttle to and from the airport. There was no need for spending any money beyond that. Of course you could have done so if you went out beyond the official activities and/or took part in the silent auction of stuff that went on in support of the scholarship foundation which supports players attending the HP program events. If you wanted to stay off-site the cost was $375, which included the meals. Non-USAV members (read foreign coaches) paid $775. There were discounts for groups of 5+.

Obviously, there is also the cost of actually getting to Colorado Springs. You can estimate that based on your own location. For me it was a complicated trip because of the timing of flights. You need to have arrived by about 4:00pm on the first day to get picked up and check-in before dinner and that evening’s events. There weren’t any flights from London that would have got me in early enough (given the need to connect somewhere to reach Colorado Springs), so I had to fly a day in advance (to Dallas, the connecting the next day).

Making things more complicated, there were no trains early enough from Exeter to get me to Heathrow with enough margin to get my flight over, so I had to go to London a day ahead. Basically, my trip started on Tuesday. It then also ended on Tuesday because my flight back to London was a Monday red-eye, after having stayed the extra day (they charged me $45 to do so) as mentioned above.

I was able to defray some of my costs by using airline miles, though.

Postscript

About a month after the clinic they gave us access to all the seminar recordings online.

John Forman
About the Author: John Forman
John recently compelted a stint as head coach for a women's professional team in Sweden. Prior to that he was the head coach for the University of Exeter Volleyball Club BUCS teams (roughly the UK version of the NCAA) while working toward a PhD. He previously coached in Division I of NCAA Women's Volleyball in the US, with additional experience at the Juniors club level, both coaching and managing, among numerous other volleyball adventures. Learn more on his bio page.

One comment

  1. John Forman John Forman says:

    One of my fellow attendees shared his thoughts here: http://www.umbcretrievers.com/sports/wvball/2014-15/releases/201502133mrw0k

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