Tag Archive for Coaching Philosophy Books

Book Review: My Profession – The Game

My Profession – The Game is the English translation of the last of several books written by legendary Russian volleyball coach Vyacheslav Platonov. He led the dominant USSR teams during the late 1970s and first half of the 1980s. He left the team after the 1985 World Championships, but returned in 1990 to lead them to another World Championship in 1991. Mark Lebedew of At Home on the Court was part of the book project (his father did the translation). It’s currently available in both ePub and print versions. I read it via the former on my iPad.

This book is a blend of theory and practice. You won’t find any drills or anything like that. This is Platonov sharing is views on things like handling teams and players, training, game strategy, and the like. The one place where he gets into a quite technical discussion is in the area of blocking. That is a chapter unto itself.

As with any coach sharing their personal opinions, there are things you will probably disagree with. And of course the book was written before recent developments in the game (though Platonov predicted some of them in the book). That means certain aspects are out of date. Still, it’s always worth hearing the thoughts of someone who had as much success as he did.

The book is quite easy to read. It’s relatively short and broken down into bite sized chunks. That makes it ideal for the coach on the go. Definitely worth getting hold of a copy.

Book Review: Little Black Book of Volleyball Coaching

The other day I finished reading Little Black Book of Volleyball Coaching by John L. Betcher. It’s not a book I would have bought for myself. I added it to my Kindle collection before a trip to Germany as something I could read during down times for review purposes. Hopefully, my small investment of time and money saves you some of your own. This isn’t a book I recommend.

There are a couple of interesting and worthwhile bits in the book. They are particularly in the area of developing a coaching philosophy. I don’t agree with some of it personally, but that isn’t why I’m not a fan of this book. It’s the fact that so much of the book is just weak. And we’re talking about a book of only a bit over 100 pages.

A major part of the text defines and describes the phases of transition play. The author claims he included it because he didn’t see it specifically done in other books. I say there’s a reason for that. There’s no need. If there was an in-depth exploration of transition attack – play calling, training methods, etc. – then we might have something interesting, but that’s not the case here. Instead, we get a long-winded explanation of what I think most coaches already grasp pretty well.

The one thing this book does offer is a number of coaching anecdotes. I think these might actually be the most interesting and potentially valuable parts for the reader. Beyond that, there’s about enough meat for a couple of interesting articles, not a full book. A much better option is Coaching Volleyball Successfully by Sally Kus.

Book Review: Thinking Volleyball by Mike Hebert

Are you looking for a book to make you think about your coaching rather than just something that presents you with a bunch of drills and systems? If so, then look no further than Thinking Volleyball by Mike Hebert. A 50-year volleyball veteran, Hebert offers his latest book as something he sees as at least attempting to fill the gap he perceives in the coaching literature when it comes to learning how to think about volleyball and coaching. I read both of his earlier books, The Fire Still Burns and Insights. Each had a big impact on me as a developing coach. I therefore eagerly snatched up a copy when the book came out. I’m glad I did!

The broad theme of the book is being ready, willing, and able to think beyond the conventional. That’s not as simple as being OK with taking risks in how you do things. Obviously, though, that’s a requirement (Hebert considers himself something of a coaching maverick). It first and foremost requires actually understanding what that conventional wisdom is. Why is it conventional, and what are its strengths and weaknesses?

The book has 10 chapters. One focuses on offensive philosophy, while another looks at defense. These are the only two which can be classified as technical/tactical in nature. Even then it’s not the main point. The other eight, in various ways, look at different aspects of coaching. These are things like running a program, developing a style of play, gym culture, team trust, and match coaching.

Personal anecdotes are a common feature of Hebert’s writing. He’s got loads of material from which to work! They come from his own playing days and all the major programs he coached. My one little criticism is the stories are strongly biased toward the positive. Maybe a few failures could have been mixed in for balance. Let’s face it. Not everything works as intended. We coaches often find ourselves trying to figure out how to recover when that’s the case.

One of the more interesting elements of the book is the author’s views toward the modern focus on statistics. This is both in terms of common stats and things like the competitive cauldron (I attended a seminar on that at the 2013 AVCA convention). Hebert is a self-described early-career stats evangelist. He came to question their value relative to the amount of time spent gathering them, though. Not that he discounts stats completely. He definitely asks the trade-off question, though, and suggests a potentially more useful way of looking at things.

Chances are, at least one chapter in Thinking Volleyball will make you critically about what you’re doing as a volleyball coach. Hebert applies his considerable experience and insight into a discussion of just about every aspect of coaching volleyball you could think of. And he does so from all kinds of angles most of us will never have the opportunity to explore personally. From that perspective, I recommend it for coaches at all levels and career stages.

A selection of book recommendations for coaches

I mentioned having attended a seminar at the American Volleyball Coaches Association convention in which there was a panel discussion with the subject “When Winning is Your Job”. During that session each of the panelists was asked for a book recommendation. Here’s what they offered up.

Mindset by Carol Dweck and The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni are two that I hadn’t heard of before, but both sound interesting. Sacred Hoops is a well-known book by basketball coaching great Phil Jackson, and The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle is a book which has gotten considerable attention in a variety of performance fields since its publication. I haven’t yet read either of those titles, but expect to do so eventually.

The one book mention that I have read is Training Soccer Champions by Anson Dorrance. I picked that one up years ago when I was a newbie coach. It’s where he made famous the Competitive Cauldron concept, which was the subject of one of the other convention seminars, as I mentioned. I found it a very worthwhile read, though I haven’t looked at it in years.

You will notice the absence of any volleyball books in there. Not a huge surprise. So many are heavily focused on drills, training methods, etc. When you reach a certain stage in your development as a coach you come to realize that a great deal of doing your job well is on the motivation and management side of things. This is stuff which overlaps readily with many other sports and fields (like business). Truly professional coaches interested in continuous personal development will look for inspiration and education in many different areas.

Book Review: Coaching Volleyball Successfully by Sally Kus

I feel an initial warning is in order here. If you are merely thinking about getting into coaching – especially at something like the high school level – you may not want to read Coaching Volleyball Successfully by Sally Kus.. It could scare you right into not coaching, and nobody wants that! 🙂

Seriously, though, the author talks at good length about what makes for a good volleyball program (not just a good team). There are many facets to it. Thinking about it all as someone new to coaching can be a bit overwhelming.

If I remember correctly, Sally was one of the Cadre on the CAP II course I took. While I was at Brown, I also went against her on one occasion when she coached at the University of Buffalo, and I’m pretty sure her team won. Sally’s teams won a lot. The Sweet Home high school team she coached holds the record for most consecutive match wins with 292 (1978-1987).

Part I

The first section of the book is described as the Coaching Foundation. The two main focal points are coaching philosophy and communication. Coaching philosophy may be something assistant or apprentice volleyball coaches don’t need to worry too much about, as that will come down from the head coach. For anyone running a team themselves, however, it’s a major consideration. Since a large proportion of lower level coaches don’t have the benefit of starting as an assistant, that is likely to cover most readers.Not only does Kus talk about developing a philosophy, she shares some tips for implementing it as well.

The second focus is communication – in all its forms. We’re talking player-to-player, coach-to-player, coach-to-coach, coach-to-parents. Add in any other line of exchange you can think about – verbal, written, and otherwise. Kus leaves no doubt about how important it is for the health of your team, your program, and yourself to make sure there is good, positive communication with and among all parties involved. Player and team motivation is part of that equation.

Part II

The second section of the book is Coaching Plans. Again, we’re talking about a very comprehensive look at the planning aspect of being a successful head volleyball coach. A lot of it concentrates on developing effective training plans. No doubt that will interest most readers considerably. There are a number of drills, games, and warm-up ideas included here.

Part III

Part III tackles the instruction of individuals skills. This is quite detailed. It looks at player mechanics with lots of suggestions for ways to address common issues and bad habits. This section is also supported by a number of drill ideas.

After the skills section, in a natural progression, comes two sections dealing with systems, strategies, and tactics. These feature a comprehensive look at both offensive and defensive systems of play and how to development them, as well as a considerable discussion of how to manage teams in preparation for and during matches.

The book wraps up with a sixth section which goes over evaluations – both players and program. Kus, as with all the other parts of the book, gets quite detailed in terms of both what should be evaluated and how you can do it.
Overall thoughts

As you may have realized by this point, this book is absolutely loaded. It’s not something you will breeze through in a few hours. That said, though, the writing is very direct well paced. I seriously doubt you’ll find yourself bored anywhere along the way, as can sometimes be the case in coaching books.

The bottom line is Coaching Volleyball Successfully is a fantastic book. It does focus a great deal on high school volleyball, but there are a lot of references to collegiate, Juniors, and youth volleyball as well, and much of the material can be applied across the board. If I were offering suggestions as to what a new or developing coach should read, this one would be right on the top of that list.

Book Review: The Volleyball Coaching Bible

The Volleyball Coaching Bible is a book which got me excited right away. It features contributions by several experienced, successful coaches. There are 24 chapters authored by as many individuals. The come from the ranks of Juniors, high school, collegiate, and national team levels – even beach. Once I dug it I found my excitement justified. There are a lot of golden nuggets in this book.

Book structure

The editors broke the book down into five sections:

  • Coaching Priorities and Principles
  • Program Building and Management
  • Innovative and Effective Practice Sessions
  • Individual Skills and Team Tactics
  • Game-Winning and Tournament Winning Strategies

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the Skills & Tactics section is the biggest. It has nine chapters. They cover all the major facets of volleyball skills and systems. The Program section comes in second with five. Three of them focus on college, club, and high school volleyball programs in specific. The Practice section has four chapters. They cover practice planning, drill development, teaching methods, and volleyball conditioning.

In the technical chapters there are things some readers will no doubt disagree with in terms of mechanics, focal points, or whatever. That’s going to happen in any book where such things are discussed. I personally really liked the setting chapter. It spends lots of time on the mental side of setting and what it takes to be a good setter.

There are specific drill sections included in the Serving and Blocking chapters. A couple of the other skill chapters mention drills as well. This is definitely not a volleyball drill book, however.

The bookend sections each have three chapters. The Priorities one focuses most on the mental and behavioral side of coaching. That’s in terms of setting goals, handling yourself with the various people and groups you will interact with along the way. The last section is on Strategies. As it’s name suggests, it focuses on maximizing your teams in competition when game day comes.

Considering Contents

Naturally, when you talk about a book comprising contributions from multiple authors you have variation in writing style and voice. That’s certainly true here. Some are quite well written and very engaging, while others are less so.

It must be noted that the book was published in 2002. As a result, in places it reflects the shift from sideout to rally score taking place in US volleyball in that period. Different levels of play adapted rally scoring at different times. As a result, there are references to sideout scoring in places. This is especially in the sections on offense. This may make you think the material is dated. Certainly, there are a couple of points made which are not really relevant in the modern game. They are minor, though, and do not detract from the overall value of the book.

Admittedly, there are a couple of chapters under the Program Building and Management section with a very US-centric view. That may make them a bit less useful than other chapters for those outside the States. Even here, though, there are some bits worth latching on to. John Dunning’s discussion on how the focus of a team or program must be the players is one. Tom Pingel’s  is a very detailed (and action oriented) look at how to develop a successful club program. Yes, the latter has the US Juniors system as its foundation. In my experience, though, the details and issues involved in running clubs are common no matter where you go.

One quirky element is the drawings used to show the mechanics of the skills discussed in those chapters – at least some of them. They are quite reminiscent of the style of illustrations from much older coaching books.

What I really liked

One of my favorite chapters is Pete Waite’s “Competitive Edge”. It is largely dedicated to addressing the mental and emotional side of training, competition, and general player/team management (Waite later authored Aggressive Volleyball).

Jim Coleman’s “scouting & evaluating” chapter could have your head spinning. It addresses volleyball statistics. It does so in ways I’m sure most coaches have never really considered them before.

Personally, as a more experienced coach I found the chapters focused on planning, philosophy, and management the most interesting and valuable. Were I less experienced, the skills and systems chapters would no doubt be of considerable value. Of course, then the other material might be less so. As a result, perhaps the best way to look at The Volleyball Coaching Bible is as a long-term reference. It can be used to different ends as one develops as a coach.

Book Review: Aggressive Volleyball

Aggressive Volleyball is an excellent book. Full stop.

Even as an experienced coach there was plenty to get me thinking. For an inexperienced coach, or even for a player, there is loads of very useful material.

It’s probably worth noting that the “aggressive” part of the title might better be thought of as being proactive rather than what the term perhaps is normally taken to mean. It isn’t about things like hitting or serving the ball hard so much as playing volleyball with purpose, as opposed to playing in a reactive fashion. To that end, there is at least as much philosophy as there is technical and tactical discussion in the text. This makes for some dense sections of the book, but ones which give the reader plenty to think about.

After the conceptual introduction, the book is broken into seven sections:

  • Assessment
  • Offense
  • Defense
  • Out-of-System/Transition Play
  • Player Competitiveness
  • Communication
  • Match Coaching

There are collections of drills at the end of most sections (and some mentioned in the text as well), They are of the “Here’s how you can train the stuff I’ve just been talking about” variety. Where technical discussions are taking place there are also photos to provide visual support, and interspersed through the book are little stories from other coaches speaking to the importance of the particular subject being explored.

I honestly think this book has something for just about everyone. OK, maybe not if you’re Russ Rose or John Dunning, but for us mere mortal volleyball coaches Aggressive Volleyball is a great source of information and advice – maybe even inspiration – and reminds us of all the different facets there are to coaching volleyball successfully. It’s easy to forget them sometimes in the heat of a season. I can honestly see myself referring back to it again from time to time.

In short, get your hands on a copy, read it, and keep it handy.

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