Tag Archive for team psychology

Coaching Log – Oct 26, 2015

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

Generally speaking, the weekend league results went probably about as might be expected. Gislaved won 3-0 over the youngsters at RIG and Lindesberg won 3-0 over Sollentuna. We might have expected Örebro to have a harder time with Engleholm than a 3-0, but they seemed to be able to contain Engelholm’s main attacker. This was of interest to us as we played the latter on Tuesday.

Those results have the league table looking very top-heavy, though Hylte/Halmstad and Svedala remain on top despite playing one fewer match.

ElitserieTable-18 Nov. 2015

Click for full-sized version

Obviously, it’s too early to make any real strong forecasts, but the distribution of results so far does tend to suggest it will be a 6-team race for the four places available in the Gran Prix. Those spots are based on the first half of league play, which basically means up to the December break.

As noted, Engelholm was on our schedule for Tuesday – at their place. This is one of the domestic matches which also counts toward standing in the Oresundliga. A win would see us go top of both that and the Elitserie.

Monday
Had a sick player, so only 9 healthy bodies in training. I allowed the players to determine a warm-up exercise to do. They opted for a new variation on volley tennis. From there the focus was on preparation for Tuesday’s match, but mainly from the perspective of working on long-term developmental needs as well.

After getting their shoulders warmed up for serving, I had them do some serving against a 4-person reception formation, which is what we were expecting to primarily see in Tuesday’s match. I used boxes to have them work on hitting the seams.

From there we did some serving and passing with one setter and a MB in to have the latter working on hitting the corners. This is something that we observed would likely be successful against Tuesday’s opposition, but is something I’ve wanted to get our MBs better at generally anyway.

After that we did a cooperative cross-court drill with the attacking from 2. I had the two MBs and the libero rotating around through the setting positions on both sides. The two starting OHs stayed in 6 while the Setters and OPPs flipped back and forth between positions 1 and 2. Again, this was to work on something defensively for Tuesday, but we also could stand the work on defense on that side of the court in any case.

Next up was back court attack Winners 3s. The last part of the session was a team serve reception through all 6 rotations with 3 blockers. Myself and the team manager were the servers. The focus was on attacking to certain areas of the court.

Overall, I think it was a good preparation session for the next day’s match.

Tuesday
Really tough match. We went up 2-0 in the match, and were up late in both sets 3 and 4, but ended up losing. A case could be made that we didn’t deserve on our own merits to have the 2-0 lead, but the other team made a lot of mistakes – especially in serve – to keep us in contention. At different points they swapped both their setter and libero. We definitely struggled to contain their strong OPP but my feeling overall was that we tightened up at the end of the 3rd and 4th sets and were playing not to lose.

The official match stats are a joke, so I can’t really use them for much in the way of analysis. Our bench stats point to major struggles scoring in Rotations 1 and 6 (using the international rotation labeling system based on where the setter is). In prior matches were were consistently above 50% overall, but this time only Rotation 5 was that high. That was our starting rotation, so it’s a positive from that perspective (and we sided out at 77%). Those other two rotations were below 30% in terms of point scoring, and in the case of Rotation 1 we sided out less than 50% as well. Despite passing only 1.80 for the match as a team, we still managed to side out at 57%. Admittedly, that was boosted by all the opposition’s missed serves.

I’m going to need to really go over the video and re-stat the match myself (probably at least the other Elitserie matches we’ve played as well) to do a thorough analysis . Generally speaking, though, we continue to suffer from a lack of composure. There were a number of inexplicable errors and poor decisions.

Despite the loss, we still temporarily went to the top of the standings in the Elitserie on the basis of earning a point for winning two sets. We also got a point in the Oresundliga, where we now sit 3rd.

Wednesday
I sat the team down before training to talk about the previous night’s match. It was a positive, productive meeting. There was a sense of anger about losing, but no one was down about it. Everyone was eager to move forward and get better.  I started it off by getting the observations of the players who were on the bench. Communication and defensive responsibility issues were mentioned. We talked about playing not to lose and getting too conservative in crunch time.

One of the more interesting parts of the discussion was on ways to improve training. There was talk about trying to incorporate more positional relationships in the game-like exercises – meaning making the line-ups more closely approximate match-day rotations. The issue there is not overworking players and trying to give them opportunities to be challenged in all their roles, which is the tricky part of having such a limited roster. I need to give the MBs breaks and I need to give my OHs the chance to play back row as well as front row.

We also talked about incorporating more drills in training. Not surprisingly, the desire for “more reps” motivated this from the player perspective. In parallel, though, my American OH expressed her feeling that the load of the game play exercises was too high for her – that by the latter parts of training she was telling our setter not to give her the ball. The players may not have realized this, but we have actually been doing more drills in training since the season started. The point on the game-play load is one I need to think more about. In particular, it occurs to me that perhaps the small-sided stuff I usually do before we shift to full-team games could be dropped or cut back – or counted as part of the game-play portion of training if I’m using them to focus on specific elements.

The actually training after the meeting was meant to mainly be recovery oriented – work on a few technical things and generally keep the bodies active. After they warmed-up and played a bit of volley tennis, I split out the setters to do some reps. For the American setter it was to work on the consistency of her sets for the OHs – each of which needs a slightly different height. For the young Swedish setter it was about working on her mechanics, in particular on her back sets. While that was going on, the rest of the players played 2 v 2 games of 2-touch.

After that, I brought everyone together for what was a serving and passing focused game at it’s core, but with a couple other elements. Each side had a MB and Setter front row, with an OH, Libero, and OPP in the back row. The teams alternated serving. The primary objective was to run the MBs on front and back quicks, but if that wasn’t on, they could attack out of the back row. We thus had the passers focused on getting good passes so the MBs could run their attacks, and the middles had a chance to attack against a solid 3-person defense to work on finding the gaps. The energy and attitudes were good. The passers did well, resulting in the middles getting some really nice swings.

Friday
I had planned for a few weeks to give everyone this day off. We don’t have a match until next Saturday and for the most part haven’t had more than a single day off at a time since we started training. The Swedish players primarily work or go to school, so for them it was a break to do some of their own things. For the Americans it was a few clear days to do whatever (they had talked about taking a trip) – and to allow aching bodies to recover some. I told them after Wednesday’s training to make sure they stayed active so that Monday’s training wasn’t some kind of shock to the system.

Thoughts and observations
Losses are great motivators for change. I’ve been feeling like in some ways we were winning despite our performance. To a certain degree, that was even true in the first part of Tuesday’s match when we won the first set in large part because the other team made so many errors. I’ve identified some of the broader issues in need of focus before (e.g. lack of composure), so in this case it’s not about a major change in concentration.

That said, I do feel like I need to really map out where I want the team to be going into the play-offs. Then it becomes a question of getting buy-in from the team and plotting the path toward that destination.

Other stuff
I spent a lot of the latter part of the week trying to sort through video and statistical analysis options, applications, and efforts. We have access to a very basic version of DataVolley (Media) which has no video integration. Part of what I was trying to do was learn about the options we might be able to use to overcome that and to get to the point where I can do a more specific analysis of different segments of play. Because of my internet access limitations, it took me a LONG time getting the match video from Tuesday downloaded so I could share it with the team and go through an do my own analysis (and eventually to pull individual player clips).

I was approached by our second team coach on Friday about using up to 6 of the first team players on a Svedala team for a national U23 tournament the first weekend of November. We have no matches then (because of said tournament), and nothing until the following Sunday, so no issue on my end. It’s up to the players if they want to take part.

The importance of how we as coaches talk about errors

Mark Lebedew once shared a video clip on his Facebook page. If features USA and UCLA men’s coach John Speraw talking about how errors are handled in coaching volleyball. I would embed it here for easy viewing directly. It’s got some privacy settings, though, which don’t allow that. You’ll need to click the link. It’s definitely worth checking out.

The video is only about a minute long, but it summarizes quite nicely my own views on the subject.

Basically, John talks about the importance of addressing the subject of errors with players and the team in a way that avoids them being afraid of making mistakes. Instead, coaches should encourage risk taking as part of the development process. This is something I’ve written about before. It’s one of the first things I talk about with any team I take charge of when we have our first meeting.

Why isn’t the team together during timeouts?

I was never particularly comfortable seeing the bench players jog across the end of the court or whatever during timeouts in matches when the rest of the team was in the huddle talking strategy, adjustments, etc. I’m sure you see it. Perhaps your team even does it. I understand the basic value of those players staying warm. You might call on them to enter the fray. It always seemed a bit odd that they were apart from everyone else, though.

This really hit home with me during my first league match with Svedala in 2015. I saw my bench players kept to themselves during a timeout early in the match. This wasn’t something we discussed. They just did it, which suggests that’s how they did it in previous years.

That practice ended right away. I walked over to them during the next rally and told them to join the huddle from then on. I don’t want any of my players left on the outside watching. Everyone is part of what’s going on. I want them all in the huddle to hear what we talk about. I want them to contribute if they have something meaningful to add based on what they see. That, to me, has much more value than a little light exercise.

What do your bench players do? Why?

Coaching Log – Sep 7, 2015

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

I returned to Sweden on August 30th. The weekend was primarily spent in a combination of meeting with the three American players in the squad and getting my new housing situation sorted out. The latter remains a work in progress.

Here’s how things went over the first week as far as the volleyball is concerned:

Monday
This training session, which was in our alternative gym, was all about starting the players getting to know each other and shaking off the off-season rust. As a result, I focused a lot on getting them all lots of touches and including a lot of game play. You can see the training plan I used here. I had the 10 players committed to the squad, plus one from last year who is expected to train periodically with the team and maybe help out with the coaching.

Tuesday
I had a team meeting immediately prior to practice. The focus was on the sorts of things I expect to see in training and what the players can expect from me.

The actual session, which was in our main gym, still had as a primary focus the “getting to know each other” and “shaking off the rust” elements. We had all the players from Monday, plus a young setter in the mix as well to make 12 (3 setters, 3 middles, 1 true right side, 2 true outsides, 1 libero, and 2 OH/Ls). That gave me the opportunity to do some 6 v 6 play for about the last hour of training. I used the 22 v. 22 game, and rotated the players around quite a bit.

The lead up to the 6 v 6 started with serving, and then serving and passing in groups of 6 on 2 courts. I included the middles and setters in the passing. Along the way, though, I learned that I should plan anything serving-focused for when we’re using the main court because when we’re using a multiple court set-up there isn’t enough approach room for the jump/jump float servers.

After serving and passing we moved to 6-person diagonal over-the-net team pepper.  I kept the players in the same 2-court split from before. They started with both sides attacking through 4, but they also worked 4 and 2, 2 and 2, and 2 and 4 to get all the angles. At then end I had them return to 4 and 4 and shift from cooperative to competitive. One of the groups was struggling during the first phase, so at a point I had them get together and talk through finding a solution.

From there we shifted to Speedball winners with 4 teams of 3 that I assigned. That started with backrow attacks only. About halfway through I opened it up.

Up to this point we hadn’t really talked about offensive play-calling, seam responsibility, switching, and other team related stuff. I wanted to force maximum communication and interaction as part of the team-building process by having them work that stuff out among themselves.

Wednesday
This day started with the players together in the fitness club doing their weights work. I haven’t given them a specific plan yet, so just had them carry on with the program they’ve been using. After a 30 minute break we were together in the main hall for training. I’m not overly thrilled by by that scheduling, but it does give the team a chance to workout together (they mostly do weights on their own in small groups because of individual schedule considerations), and I will probably use it to check on technique from time to time. It does mean, though, that Wednesday trainings likely won’t be ones where I’d want to do much technical work because they will already be somewhat fatigued.

The other aspect to Wednesday’s trainings is that we have about a 45 minute overlap with the 2nd team at the start of our session. Since physically they were already warmed-up, I had them start off with what I guess is called Brazilian 2-ball volley tennis (teams of 2, 2 balls in play, the team that wins both balls gets the point, else it’s a wash). It was something they could do on the side court that would get them mentally engaged and competitive. I had the 10 core players and they opted to split on the basis of age. The younger group go out to a lead, but eventually the older ones caught up and ended up winning 10-9.

After that fun, I shifted them to a less fun exercise – the Hard Drill with the count holds as long as the ball remains in play variation in force and with rotation (no fixed setter). They did it fairly easily initially, then I told them to do it again and only count “good reps” on legit swings and balls set with hands. That took them a while, and at one point I had them stop and meet to talk things over. Eventually they got it, though only because I didn’t halt rallies on 3m line violations. I told them next time we do the exercise those will be rally-enders, which they seemed to readily accept.

I then had them do some target serving on the main court, which was now free. They were required to complete 5 sets of serving first to Zone 1 and then to Zone 2, and 5 sets serving first to Zone 5 and then to Zone 4. They had to get both in that order to count. I did timed. Some of them were able to finish one pair of zones, but no one did both.

After that we played Bingo-Bango-Bongo. Since we only had teams of 5, I had to make some rules. The two defined libero’s were fixed in the back row and everyone else rotated around them. When the middles were front row the teams played 3 front, 2 back, but when the middles were back row they played 2 front, 3 back.

I meant to do another round of target serving after that, but forgot and instead went straight into another 5 v 5 game. It was one where the teams alternated 2 serves (from players in the same back row position – e.g. the setters). They then played to 7 points in this fashion. I think we played 4 total games with me flipping OHs and S/OPPs each game and having the setters switch sides after two games. I’d planned on going a bit longer, but they were looking a bit weary, so I called it quits a bit early.

Thursday
No training. This is our regular day off.

Friday
This is a 3 hour time slot, though we got going a little late because of train issues. I just had the core 10 players. After they warmed up, I put the team through a pair of agility tests (‘T’ and a cone touch exercise) and did a pair of sets of measurements. One was broad jump and then 3 consecutive broad jumps. The other was medicine ball throws from lying on the back, from one knee, and then from two knees. The main objective was to evaluate plyometric fitness. I wanted to also measure jumping from a loaded position (already squatted) vs. jumping from with the full counter motion, but there was a technology fail, so I’ll have to try that another time.

Once we got to the volleyball, the main focus was on getting the offensive terminology and signal calling sorted out. We did that initially between the setters and middles while the others were doing a team pepper exercise on the other court. We then brought that into a team context by doing some 5 v 5 game play, which always started with a serve. To say the serve reception passing wasn’t good might be an understatement.

Saturday
This was just a 2 hour slot, again with only the core group of 10. My main focus was on reinforcing the offensive stuff developed on Friday, so after warming-up with some serving and some half-court 2 v 2 with fixed setters, I had them play Speedball winners. In this case, the setters were fixed, so there were 4 teams of 2 which I designated. Additionally, I had the requirement that the non-passer/digger was to run a quick attack while the other hit either a 2nd tempo or high ball.

We then did some Second Chance game play 5 v 5 with the setters and liberos back row. Initially I had the libero’s in 6, so we constrained the attacking to 5/6. In this case the MBs took the second ball on a setter dig. After a while, I moved the liberos to 5 and had them take the 2nd ball (and said no hitting to 6). It turned out that the second chance proved quite beneficial for one of the right side players who started to go block-out after getting stuffed a few times.

From there I flipped the rotations so the setter and libero were both front row and all the hitters were back row and did Scramble. A couple of balls dropped unchallenged in the first round, but after I told them they’d get an extra 30 seconds for that happening there weren’t any in the two remaining rounds. The intensity level and communication definitely rose nicely.

Thoughts and observations
Most of the time when we’ve been playing games I’ve allowed the players a second serve if they miss the first. This is something I do to allow them to be more aggressive in their serving, while also reinforcing the desirability of not missing two serves in a row, which is something I talked with them about in Tuesday’s meeting.

I intentionally avoided doing much in the way of specific “coaching” during the first three training session. I wanted to help stimulate the integration and communication development process by putting them in situations where they needed to sort things out together rather than relying on me giving them instructions. That inevitably led to some confusion (especially between middles and setters on quick set play calling), but that forced them to talk with each other about it. On Friday I began to do more concentrated coaching, and increased on that on Saturday. It will be a feature from now on. By that I mostly mean quick comments/corrections to the players, though sometimes quick broader points to the whole team.

From here I need to start really working on the offensive tempo and the incorporation of the back row attack (pipe/bic) in to the scheme. At least one of my OHs looks likely to be quite effective. This, in turn, likely means defensively we play with the libero in 5. It seems likely that we have a pretty solid offense, and I think the defense will be pretty good. I need to take a closer look at our blocking in the week ahead, and serve reception definitely needs to improve.

Other stuff
I found out that I have to attend an all-day event on the 29th for coaches, managers, and team captains as part of the Elitserie kickoff. I think it will be partly promotional and partly a technical seminar of sorts. That’s a Tuesday, which means no training. Not ideal the week before our first league match, but decent timing for a break when considering we have a pre-season tournament in Copenhagen that runs Friday through Sunday. We’ll probably get in a make-up training on Thursday that week, though.

Being ready is often a function of trust

A while back, Mark from At Home on the Court wrote a post on the subject of technical vs. non-technical reasons for errors in volleyball. In it he blamed lack of readiness for many of the mistakes we see in play. He recently specifically highlighted that with regards to players playing the ball with their feet.

Now, we’re not talking about a player sliding toward the sign boards or the score table. We’re talking about a player who has their weight on their heels and basically has no option but to perform a “kick save” type action. Their lack of defensive readiness prevents them doing anything else.

I’ll add a layer of readiness to the mix by including trust in the discussion. Specifically, I’m talking about the trust between players that someone is going to make a play.

This is something that was very much on my mind following Monday’s first training session with Svedala. I saw players making really outstanding plays on the ball. They were recovering balls from out of the net, chasing balls down all over the place, and keeping what looked like sure-thing kill balls from hitting the floor. Too often, though, I saw teammates not anticipating and being ready to make a good next contact.

The same can be said to apply to hitters with respect to sets. While I was at Exeter I had a setter one year who loved to do counter-flow back sets to the Zone 2 pin. This sometimes caught our hitters flat-footed because they weren’t expecting it, even though it was exactly the right set to make in the situation.

Trust in one’s teammates to do their job and to make plays goes a long way toward being ready.

Show respect by dominating, but not too much

The picture at left comes from the 2014 beach season. To say that the Swedish pair dominated the duo from Ireland in this set is an understatement. You don’t see many 21-0 score lines at international level events. You also don’t see a set of abs like #2 has either, but that’s a totally different conversation. 🙂

I present this photo as a lead in a subject that I’ve had conversations about over the years. That is the idea to respect your opposition enough to give full effort, and probably thrash them as a result.

Simon Loftus discussed it during his Volleyball Coaching Wizards interview. His view was that you should respect the other team enough to beat them 25-0 if you can. The Swedish ladies seemingly did just that. Listen to Simon’s thoughts on the subject of respect and how you approach lower caliber opposition in the following excerpt.

I agree with Simon in basically all he says in that snippet. From the perspective of lopsided scores, volleyball is different from other major sports. There is a point objective to finish a set. That contrasts with a proscribed time limit as in football, basketball, and soccer – or being open-ended like baseball. A 25-0 score line in soccer is definitely running up the score. University of North Carolina women’s soccer coach Anson Dorrance famously told his teams not to win by double digits. In volleyball, though, that is just being as efficient as possible.

During a conversation I had once, however, I had a thought on the subject. He said it may be true that for some players/teams being beaten 25-0 would see them concede they were soundly beaten by a superior team. He also said, though, it’s perhaps just as likely to be completely demoralizing. I coached on the wrong side of a couple of 0-15 score lines in NCAA Division I volleyball back in the pre-rally days. I can tell you the players weren’t thinking about how much the other team respected them.

Which way the response goes, though, depends. I think it has to do with how the losing team perceives the quality of their own performance.

In our 0-15 case, we definitely played strong opposition, but we also did not play well at all. When I coached the Exeter women against Northumbria in the 2014 BUCS semifinals we were WAY over-matched. Aside from the initial shock of just how strong the other team was, though, I think the team largely handled getting pounded pretty well. Our focus wasn’t on winning, but on enjoying smaller victories. It was similar for the Exeter men playing Northumbria in the 2013 version of Final 8s. The competitive gap was fractionally narrower in that case, but it was still a big one. We went into the match knowing the reality and enjoyed the experience of going up against a far superior opponent.

That all speaks to the psychology of being on the weaker side of the court and the sorts of things we as coaches need to think about to prepare our teams for those types of matches. The thought I had during the conversation I mentioned, though, related to being the dominating team. Basically, I said as a coach if your team won 25-0, or by a similar type of score, then you made a mistake.

I know that might sound counter-intuitive, but stay with me.

In the interview excerpt above, Simon talks about having non-score related objectives for matches where you face a lower level team. The idea in cases like that is basically to use the opportunity to help the team and players to continue their development. I tie that in with the idea expressed by Karch Kiraly at the HP Coaches clinic that if you’re not making some amount of errors you’re not pushing the envelope enough. As such, you are losing a chance to learn and grow.

If a team wins a set 25-0 it basically means they didn’t make any errors – at least no significant ones. No doubt there will have been less than perfect execution at points along the way. That’s it, though. If we use Karch’s benchmark of about 2 good against 1 bad, then in 25 rallies you should be thinking to drop about 8 points due to failed execution (missed serve, hitting error, etc.). That is not precisely what he means, but I think you get the point.

Of course I’m not suggesting we tell our player that we expect to lose 1 point out of each 3. Rather, what we should do is create a scenario where that is the outcome because the things we have the players focus on push them. They are working on new or more precise serves. They are trying new offensive plays. You are using non-starters. That sort of thing. The players are still trying to win each rally. It’s just that you’ve introduced factors which are likely to result in more mistakes.

Obviously, you can take it too far. If the players are taking too many risks things will get ugly fast and the score might get uncomfortably tight. And if the players get silly about it, that’s just disrespectful. Best to keep the focus on 1-2 objectives, though each player could have something of their own to work on.

Coaching Log – Jun 26, 2015

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

The off-season work continues along three major focal areas I talked about in the last log entry.

Understanding the situation
On Wednesday, as part of the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project, I had the opportunity to interview a highly experienced and successful coach from Sweden (Ismo Peltoarvo). While the focus was on coaching and not Swedish volleyball per se, as background and coaching context information I was able to ask a number of questions. The answers provided me with quite a bit of useful information and insights into volleyball in that country from several different perspectives. It’s stuff I will definitely be able to use moving forward.

Along a similar line, by chance the other day I came across a blog by an American player who was in the Svedala squad during the 2013-14 season. It basically documents her experience over the course of the campaign, though does cut off before season’s end. It provides an interesting perspective on things. Lots of talk about food! 🙂

Actually, one of the things I learned from that blog is about the annual Gran Prix event. I’d heard of it, but wasn’t sure what it was. In many countries there is a cup competition running alongside the primary league campaign. This cup is a knockout tournament into which teams are randomly drawn. If you are familiar with something like the FA Cup in English soccer, it’s the same sort of idea. In Sweden they don’t have a full Cup competition like that. Instead, they have Gran Prix. I don’t know the details for the full thing, which involves multiple divisions in one big weekend event in January. Part of that is a 4-team bracket tournament for the four highest placed teams in the top division (the Elitserie) as of some specific cut-off date. Svedala actually won the Gran Prix in 2013, but failed to qualify for the 2014 edition.

Funnily enough, as I was composing this entry one of the WordPress plug-ins I have working actually pointed me to what looks to be some interesting general information about Sweden that I’m going to have a look at to aid in my broader cultural understanding. I’m also going to start using Duolingo to learn at least a bit of Swedish. The club doesn’t provide language lessons, probably because there are so many English speakers in the country and the short-term stay of most of us foreigners limits the value of that kind of investment.

Getting to know the team
I mentioned last week giving the returning players a little exercise in which I had them think about what they like and dislike about playing volleyball. I started collecting those thoughts and feelings this week, which helps me to both get to know each of them a bit and to start forming a picture of the team overall. Obviously, the roster is a long way from being set (see below), so there remains much to be done still on that front.

I also have have conversations with some of the players, with more to come in the near future. It’s interesting to compare the difference in the interactions with young players vs. older ones. Perhaps not surprisingly, the more experienced ones have more questions about things like how I coach.

The Svedala player blog I mentioned above is also a potential source of insights. That’s from two seasons back, but a few of the players in the current squad were on that team. If nothing else, there may be some interesting stories. 🙂

Filling the foreign player slots
Between my own contacts and the club’s agent interactions, several more players got on my radar this week. My Sports Director and I had a bit of a disagreement on the issue of player height in one respect, but nothing of any real consequence. We continue to generally agree on player assessments

It’s really interesting to get to understand the dynamics of things and how the various considerations come into play. I’ve previously talked about how the signing process has similarities to college recruiting, without the NCAA rules and admissions restrictions. While it’s true there aren’t grades and test scores to worry about, there are financial and other considerations.

For example, one of the things I learned this week was that in Sweden the tax rate for those who are 25 years old and above is twice that of younger people. That obviously has budget implications.

How the agents fit into the process is also interesting. One agency seems to be responsible for most of the Americans on our list. This creates a funky dynamic where we have to think about how the agent might be looking to play things across multiple clients – for example if we’re considering offers for multiple of that agent’s players in one position.

Related to that, we had a situation come up where a player package deal was indicated to us as a potential worth considering. An agent informed us of a pair of former US college players who want to play together professionally. Each of them has offers separately, but we were told that we might be able to get them at something of a discount (from what they would command if signed individually) if we signed both together. One of them is someone for whom we’d already put in an offer. The other is someone we’ve only just been told about. Individually, the second player is one we might have put behind a couple of others in her position, but being part of a package deal – especially in that combination of positions – shifts things a bit.

Coaching Log – Jun 19, 2015

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

The season remains a long way off, but it’s been a busy week or so since my initial update. My efforts and attention have been focused in a couple of areas.

Understanding the situation
It’s important for me as I set my coaching priorities to understand the priorities of the club and the environment I’ll be working in. I had exchanges with the Sports Director on what the club’s purpose and what it is looking to achieve, which is basically a combination of development and competitive success. Obviously, this is important from the perspective of knowing how my performance as coach will be graded by the club. It’s also important, though, in terms of making decisions on team composition from the perspective of signings. I had a lengthy exchange about that at one point.

Another consideration here is what I will have by way of resources at my disposal. I’ve been asking a lot of questions related to that. It’s not about saying I want this or that, but rather just trying to understand what’s on-hand and what could potentially be brought in. That lets me start thinking about how certain assets can be employed and what limitations I might need to work around.

Getting to know the team
After I was officially announced as the new head coach last week, I started to reach out to connect with the returning players in the Svedala Elit team over the weekend. That was first by introducing myself in the Facebook group the team manager set up, and then by asking the players to set up 1-on-1 conversations with me (which I will look to do next week). As part of the latter, I also gave them a short exercise of writing down their motives for playing, plus what they like and don’t like about playing. I did this with one of my players at Exeter last year and thought it would be a good way for me to start to develop a picture of the personalities and motivations in the team.

There are a couple of players from last year who have not yet decided one way or the other if they will be coming back this season. One of them was the team captain. Some of the potential reasons for her hesitation were suggested to me. I reached out to her individually to offer to have a conversation, which we did the other night. As much as it was suggested that I should try to convince her to stay on, my focus was on giving her a chance to get to know me to see if she felt I would be able to help her get what she would want to get out of her experience in the team. It was a good conversation and we’ll keep the lines of communication open. Through the talk I got to learn a little bit more about the team and the club.

Filling the foreign player slots
At this point I’ve watched video on 35-40 prospective signings for next season. These are players from all over the world, though the largest concentration is American. It’s a similar process to recruiting for college programs in the States.

  • Use information sources and contacts to identify potential recruits.
  • Assess a player’s qualities relative to your team needs.
  • Figure out whether a player is actually someone you can get (in this case, in your price range from a salary perspective).
  • Keep track of who’s committed elsewhere.

My Sports Director is told of players by agencies and other contacts, which he passes on to me. I similarly have feelers out to my own contacts and have had players recommended to me that I then also pass in the other direction so we are both doing evaluations of each player.

The other day I went through and ranked the players by position (In this post I talk about my approach to doing that). I shared those rankings with the Sports Director so we could be sure we were both on the same page, which we basically were. From this point it will be easier to evaluate new prospective signings in comparison to those we’ve already looked at. We already scratched a few players off the list because they’ve either already committed elsewhere or we can’t match their salary expectations.

As part of the process I’ve had email exchanges with a couple of the now-former NCAA players. One clearly is new to the idea of playing professionally, but the other two clearly have given it a fair bit of thought and so are more advanced in the process overall.

Making a cultural change

A couple of articles out of New Zealand a while back caught my attention. They have as their focus Hugh McCutcheon. He’s a Kiwi who coached the USA national team in two Olympics and now leads the University of Minnesota program. One article relates to Hugh helping out the NZ federation in a push to develop more female volleyball coaches.* Apparently, there is a growth surge in girls playing volleyball in the island nation, which is certainly good to hear. If nothing else, that will help develop more female coaches. It will likely take at least a generation to have a meaningful influence, though. Given the trials and tribulations of trying to encourage and sustain women in volleyball coaching in the US and elsewhere, it might be interesting to follow how things go.

Of perhaps more interest from a coaching perspective, however, is the other article which focuses on team culture. In it Hugh talks about making a series of changes to how things operated at Minnesota. Some were akin to ones we brought in during my time at Exeter. To be honest, I was surprised at a couple of them. Not that the change was made, but that they weren’t in place already.

As the article notes, making changes at that level is likely to cause some issues. In this case it saw several players decide they no longer wanted to be part of the team. From Hugh’s perspective that was fine because it essentially saw those who would likely not go along with what he was trying to do self-select themselves out. The challenge, however, can be dealing with external expectations while going through the likely rough patch while implementing changes.

The article actually got me thinking about the sort of things I might have to do in taking over a new program if I end up as a head coach – or working as an assistant with a new head coach – in the future.

Have you ever had to put through a cultural change? If so, what was it and how did you go about doing so?

* There’s some wild inflation with respect to a couple of stats in the article. The U.S. does not have 15,000 volleyball scholarship athletes. There are about 1700 women’s collegiate volleyball programs. That works out to about 19,000 roster spots. NCAA Division III accounts for nearly 5000 of them, and there are no scholarships at that level, so already we can see the 15k figure is wrong. Even at the Division I level not all programs have the full 12 scholarships, and some offer none at all. The idea that sand volleyball will get to 10,000 scholarship athletes is massively optimistic.