Tag Archive for national team

Report on my Europe trip

This is a little more delayed than I’d intended, but here goes.

As previously reported, I spent a week in Poland observing the Australian Men’s National Team training camp. My friend – and Volleyball Coaching Wizards partner – Mark Lebedew was named head coach of the Aussie team in the latter part of 2016. This was his first camp and it’s focus is on prep for World League. Their first round of play will be in Slovakia. That being the case, and with many of the Aussie guys playing on club teams in Europe, it made sense to have camp there. Mark arranged for his club in Poland, Jastrzębski Węgiel, to host.

I’ve never been to a national team training. Also, I’ve only ever seen Mark coaching in the latter parts of a season when things were pretty well established. I was curious to see what he’d be doing with a new team from the start. So off I went to Poland!

Here’s photographic proof. 🙂

This was actually my second time in Poland. The first time was back in 2014. I was in Berlin at the time and Mark had a spare ticket to Men’s World Championships. So I tagged along with him to Wroclaw.

The training

I arrived late on Tuesday, so my first day in the gym was Wednesday. The team had the weekend off, and I was there through the following Tuesday, so I sat in on five days of work. The team did 2-a-days. The afternoons were team sessions. The mornings were split, however. How that worked varied a bit.

During the first three days I was there, the receivers started on the court. They worked with legendary coach – and future Wizards interviewee – Andrea Anastasi. After about 45 minutes they went to lift, then it was time for the middles to have the court. They worked on blocking with former German national team player and current Lüneburg head coach Stefan Hübner. Mark gave Andrea and Stefan complete control.

Andrea and Stefan left after Friday, so things were a little different for Monday and Tuesday. Mark took charge of the receivers, and they still worked on passing each morning before lifting. This time, though, the second group was the setters. They worked with an experienced professional setter named Mishkin. The afternoons were still team sessions.

I will follow up with a couple of posts that talk more specifically about stuff I saw. There were some interesting ideas and approaches. As you may have seen, I already posted a warm-up game Stefan used one day.

By the way, Mark told me in advance that I wouldn’t be required to help out at all in practice. He’d have more than enough help, he said. Somehow, though, I still found myself collecting and feeding balls.

The social stuff

Watching Mark and the others run court sessions was, of course, only part of the experience. Along with Andrea, Stefan, and Mishkin, there were a number of other coaches on-hand. One was Mark’s club team assistant from last season, Luke. He actually is the coach who preceded me at Svedala, and was recently named the head coach at Berlin. He’s an Aussie, and a member of Mark’s national team staff.

There were two other Aussies there as part of the staff. Lauren Bertolacci is a former Aussie women’s player. She currently coaches a men’s team in the Swiss league. It’s pretty rare to see a female coach at all, never mind for a men’s team! I’ve known of Lauren for a while, but this was the first time we got to meet.

The other coach was Liam Sketcher. He spent the last couple years coaching at Marienlyst in the Danish men’s professional league.

There was plenty of down time, so I got to speak quite a bit with everyone. And Andrea regaled us with many stories! 🙂

Unfortunately, my friend Ruben from TV Bühl had to cancel his planned visit. I spent time with him during his club’s pre-season in both 2014 and 2015.

The rest of my trip

After I left Poland I spent a week bouncing around. Most of my time was in England, but I also spent a couple days in Germany. In England I mostly did non-volleyball stuff. I spent a day visiting with an old friend in Ipswich and then a day in Exeter with my PhD supervisor talking about our on-going research efforts. While in Exeter I also had lunch with the guy who got me into coaching the university teams.

After Exeter it was off to Husum in Germany where I met up with Oliver Wagner. He is spearheading the effort to bring a team from the area into the German top men’s league – the Bundesliga. That club is WattVolleys. We talked A LOT of volleyball over the two days I was there.

The final part of my trip before returning home was a visit to the University of Essex. Former England national team and professional player Alex Porter runs the volleyball performance program there. Essex is one of the senior academies designated by Volleyball England. Alex showed me around the campus and we talked a lot about the university and coaching.

Volleyball England influencing university volleyball

Volleyball England a while back announced an extension of its Talent Pathway into the university arena. The Talent Pathway is the progression of volleyball athletes through the youth ranks toward senior national team selection. They call it a senior academy program. The expressed idea is that it will provide English players a way to continue their progression and development beyond the Juniors level. England brought back the senior national teams in 2015 after they were defunded following the Olympics.

The announcement relates to what I wrote about in regards to the conflict between the competitive needs of university clubs and the demands put on them in terms of growing volleyball participation. I am all for making university volleyball in the UK stronger. It benefits the sport overall, and it should eventually develop a player pipeline for the national team (as it does in the US). From that perspective, I approve of the move.

But …

Let’s be honest, though. University volleyball (BUCS) is simply not strong enough at the moment. It does not provide a meaningful developmental platform for prospective international and/or professional caliber players. Barring a massive influx of talented athletes, it won’t be any time soon. The reality of the situation is that this will be all about playing top level NVL volleyball. Specifically, that means Super 8s.

That’s all fine and good (if it works as intended). Let’s just not think this is something which will have a direct impact on university volleyball. All it will tend to do is create a very clear group teams far above the rest. If other schools are encouraged to better support volleyball to be more competitive, then great! I see just as much chance, though, of them looking at this and saying “Why bother?”.