Tag Archive for program development

Train them together, or separately?

When interviewed noted Juniors coach Mike Lingenfelter (Munciana) for the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project, the conversation at one point turned in an interesting direction. We were talking about the difficulty of moving a player up or down over the course of a club season based on their performance (or lack thereof). It’s not something you see a lot of in my experience.

Mike and I both agreed that there’s a lot of value in being able to move players around. Inevitably, certain players placed on lower level teams end up advancing quite rapidly in their development. That brings them up to the level of a higher team. Similarly, it isn’t unusual for players on a higher team to fail to keep up with their teammates progress. Thus, realistically they deserve to drop down.

Yes. We can all hear the parental screaming and yelling should their dear child get a team demotion. Let’s turn our attention to another consideration, though.

Team Chemistry

With females teams in particular, the bond between teammates is important. Moving players around mid-season can have a very serious chemistry impact. Popping a new player into a team that has trained and played together for half the season already can lead to all kinds of problems. It does not matter how good that player may be.

The idea that Mike and I discussed to try to get around this sort of thing was to avoid fixed teams. Instead, a group of players all trains together. Then, when it comes time to compete, the players are divided up into teams based on where they are at that point in time. This allows for upward and downward mobility, but without the chemistry issues noted above. Or at least there is a reduced risk of them since the whole group practices together all the time. Everyone knows each other.

This was something we did, after a fashion, when I coached at Exeter. Going into my second year we decided the number of players in the club warranted adding second teams to play in university competitions. We didn’t have enough practice time to have these teams train separately, however. So what we did was to train the first and second teams together as one group. We then divide them as needed when it came time to play matches. Certain players were always in the first team and certain players were always in the second team. Some, though, swung back and forth based on performance and development.

This system definitely has it’s challenges. You can read about how I handled coaching them in my 2013-14 coaching log. In the end, we had a pretty good season – if you believe reaching the national semifinal for the first time in school history counts as good. ๐Ÿ™‚

Coach Development

Potential player movement aside, the other aspect of this kind of set up that Mike and I talked about is from the coaching perspective. By training the group all together rather than as multiple separate squads, you can create a master coach/mentee coach situation. By that I mean one master coach is in charge of training. Multiple under-coaches help out. Those sub-coaches then take charge of individual teams come competition time. At Exeter my assistant coached the second team on days when both teams played. This sort of arrangement is very useful in the development of inexperienced coaches.

Ever tried or seen something like this?

My question to you is whether you’ve seen or tried this sort of structure out before. And if so, how’d it go?

Clearly, this is mainly something you’d be looking at in terms of a club program. It could also come into play for high schools, though. Or even colleges that run junior varsity teams. And obviously whatever roster locking rules there are need to be accounted for in all this.

Lessons from a Coaching Legend

I’m going to talk a little bit of football/soccer here for a moment. Don’t be alarmed! The volleyball link will become apparent in short order. ๐Ÿ™‚

One Sir Alex Ferguson has gotten himself in the news of late. The recently retired legendary manager of Manchester United is the subject of an article in the Harvard Business Review that caught the attention of the folks in the business press and even ESPN. It’s titled Ferguson’s Formula, and it has as it’s foundation a case study a Harvard professor did back in 2012. Obviously, the main perspective is therefor a business one, but since it is also an organizational and leadership based look at how the successful manager operated, it is something volleyball coaches would do well exploring also.

Here are the eight key points:

  1. Start with the foundation
  2. Dare to rebuild
  3. Set high standards
  4. Never cede control
  5. Match the message to the moment
  6. Prepare to win
  7. Rely on the power of observation
  8. Never stop adapting

I could go into my thoughts about each of these ideas, but I think I’m going to hold off and do so separately (plus, you should read the piece for yourself). There are a couple of them (at least) which deserve their own posts, and hopefully in that way a discussion about them can develop.

I would, however, make the point that there is much to be learned from our coaching peers in other sports. One of the things I always found beneficial when coaching collegiately in the State was being part of an Athletic Department where I could go talk with a coach from the softball team or the squash team or the wrestling team about recruiting, player management, organizational issues and whatnot. If you coach in a club environment this isn’t quite so easy to do, but I definitely encourage you to seek out successful coaches in other sports (and it doesn’t just have to be coaches who win a lot). In my experience, coaches in all sports love to talk shop.

Volleyball a niche mainstream sport?

In an edition of the Volleyball Ace Power Tips newsletter, American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) president Kathy DeBoer had a bit of a rant. She got quite fired up about the perception of volleyball as a sport in the States. If you’re not a US reader, don’t flip the channel, though. I’m going somewhere with this discussion with a broad implication.

In the newsletter, Kathy took a look at some figures related to high school and college level volleyball participation. It started with the state of Michigan where there are more girls’ volleyball teams at the high school level than any other female team sport (20% more participants than the next highest). This was been the case for the last 15 years. In fact, only boys’ basketball had more schools sponsoring teams in Michigan at the time. Despite this, volleyball was only sponsored by 50 of the colleges in the state while women’s basketball was in 56.

Kathy said the AVCA manager of media relations made the comment, โ€œVolleyball is the only mainstream sport that everyone thinks is a niche sport, even the people in it. I can tell you right now, no male sport with the participation and sponsorship numbers of volleyball would ever consider itself a niche sport.โ€

I think there’s a key bit in there which is really telling. It’s the “…even the people in it.” bit. I’ve been involved in volleyball since the latter 1980s. Thinking on that phrase, I couldn’t help but look back on all those years and realize he’s totally right.

The newsletter went on to show that 22 of the 50 states featured girls’ volleyball as the top team sport. Soccer came in second in the rankings at 16 states. Basketball was a distant third with only 7 states. And yet, basketball continues to have a higher profile than either volleyball or soccer at the collegiate level.

There are at least two parts to this problem.

One of them is the lack of a comparable men’s sport with a high profile. Unfortunately, men’s volleyball is way behind the women’s side of the sport. Some blame Title IX for that. There’s a lot of competition in male sports, though. Also, for a long time volleyball was viewed as a girls’ sport (as indicated in The Volleyball Debate). In some places it still is!

Regardless of the reason, not having a strong men’s counterpart does play a part. Title IX compliance strongly encourages schools to provide equal funding and other support to women’s teams as given to the men in the same sport. Thus, when men’s basketball gets loads of money, media coverage, etc. it will invariably follow that women’s basketball does too.

Actually, now retired Brian Gimmillaro from Long Beach State suggested something to me during a chat we had once. It was about the business side of things. He said women’s volleyball determines the support of the men’s team instead of the other way around. He said the men’s coach there told him to keep on winning because the men benefit from it. That means things like getting the best locker and team room facilities in the conference. The decision by the Athletic Director at the University of Pacific to cut men’s volleyball (which had a budget of about $100k less than the women) for funding purposes provides an idea of the state of the game on that side of things.

This sort of development suggests that we really need to be looking to address the profile of women’s volleyball, both in its own right and potentially as a way to elevate the men’s side of the game as well. There being no male counterpart to the recently developed collegiate Sand Volleyball competition tends to support this argument. The high profile of Misty & Kerri, and then Kerri & April, at the pro and Olympic level have brightened the spot light on the women’s side of the beach game as well.

So how do we do increase the profile of women’s volleyball – or volleyball in general?

At the grass roots level, the AVCA newsletter offers some good advice about dealing with local media to make it easier for them to write about the sport. Part of it is just realizing that most media types do not have volleyball backgrounds. That means it needs extra support from those of us in the community to cover the sport effectively and efficiently. Obviously, getting our own teams, clubs, etc. press coverage is the main focus, but by doing just that we raise the profile of volleyball in general.

On top of all that, we have to make sure we are constantly letting everyone out there know how great a sport we have and how the sport is developing in a way which demonstrates how mainstream it is – or in the case where it’s still developing, how well it’s growing. In short, we need to be evangelists. Just don’t be obnoxious about it. ๐Ÿ˜‰