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Tag Archive for university volleyball

Coaching Log – Jan 30, 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

Sometimes the hardest part of playing volleyball is staying focused against lesser opposition. That was certainly the case in our final two league matches last night. They were played against the same team because of some scheduling issues and after the first set it was pretty clear how things were going to turn out.

Our opposition on the night had a bit of a block and a couple of players who could hit a bit given the opportunity. They didn’t have much else. After a bit of a shaky period early on when there were some nerves, we settled down and effectively dismantled them. The second set of the first match ended 25-8 and things didn’t get a lot more competitive after that.

My main coaching focus after midway through the first set was keeping the focus and intensity up. Talking dropped off, especially in the second match. It cost us points in a couple of places, but not to the point of ever making things tight. In such a lopsided match those sorts of things aren’t punished, but obviously we can’t afford that in what’s to come. The team captain was saying as much after the match while talking with one of her teammates.

The two match wins sees us finish our BUCS league season 8-2 overall. That puts us atop the league table at present. Our two title rivals play each other on Saturday. One of them also plays the team we hosted last night. The likely scenario is that we end up in a 2-way tie for 1st (though there is a way for the other two to end up with 3 losses apiece). From there it comes down to the tiebreak as to who officially gets top spot.

I huddled the team together after we shook hands and told them how proud I was of them. I’ve been pushing them hard (and will continue to do so) and they’ve willingly accepted it. They ripped apart lesser competition this week, which is what top teams do. We need to get better in the blocking department and I want to see us hitting harder, but the foundation is there.

My biggest challenge over the next few weeks is nailing down our strongest line-up. We’ve got an OH who is pushing very hard to get into the starting 6 and some other considerations on positions and personnel that I’m going to have to evaluate. That’s why I get paid the big bucks, though, right? 🙂

We don’t have anything on the schedule now until February 23rd, which is our next regional league date. Then it will be our round of 16 play-off match the week following.

Sometimes the wheels just come off

I witnessed one of those seemingly inexplicable events last night which sometimes happen in volleyball. The university men I coach took on the defending league champions (and odds-on favorites this season) in a home match. The opposition was depleted by injuries and were a bit ragged to start the match. We were able to jump on them and take a relatively comfortable first set win (best of three).

Then the wheels absolutely came off.

The second set saw us make just about every error imaginable. Free balls were sent out of bounds. Hitters tipped the ball straight out of bounds. Lack of communication caused defensive errors. The setter dumped a ball wide. Hitters tried to power balls low through double blocks, with predictable results. At one point during a timeout I told the guys it was like there was a force field on the other side of the court the way the balls we were playing over were flying long or wide.

I’ve seen this sort of thing before. Once, when I was coaching a 16-and-under girls team in the Regional Championship Juniors tournament the pre-rally days we were 4-0 in pool play (played 2 sets against each other team) and were up against the other top team. We proceeded to lose the first set 15-0. Then, we turned around and won the second set fairly comfortably. Why did this happen? The girls were totally stressed out in the first set. They were thinking about winning the pool and it got them all tight. After that I focused almost 100% on keeping them loose and having fun. That team progressed to the semifinals, losing to the eventual champions.

In fact, even last year the guys had a similar scenario against this same competition. Neither team was at full strength and in an ugly match we went up 1-0, then had a horrible second set. That pretty much did them in, as they lost 1-2.

Now, before I get on to what happened in the third set I should talk a bit about the line-up. I actually goofed before the first set and put the line-up in 3 rotations off from what I’d intended. Simple mistake of writing the numbers in with the wrong net orientation. We’ve all made silly mistakes like that at one time or another. Going into the second set I corrected things to the originally intended line-up. The idea there was to put our bigger MB along the front when their best OH was at the net. Clearly, it didn’t accomplish anything, so for the deciding set I switched back.

We actually got off to a good start and were up 10-6 or 10-7. Then things got tough again. At one point we had consecutive tentative errors in a the form of a serve into the net and a ball hit long. They allowed the other team’s best server to get back on the line and rip off a string of hard jump servers that did us in. We battled and were at 14-14, but couldn’t finish it off.

So what happened?

The guys got scared. Simple as that. A clear indication of that is the change in our serving. In the first set we were putting them under pressure but in the latter parts of the match the serves became less aggressive. I’m not saying this was the only thing because I could give you a long list of things which needed to be done better, but that underlying psychology was the biggest factor.

The guys have a chance to rebound tomorrow with another couple of league matches. These are teams we haven’t seen yet, so I’m not sure what to expect. A couple of wins would go a long way to helping the team attitude and outlook. Last night was the 5th match of 10. We stand 2-3 (the other losses were to the same defending champs at their place and when I was away at the Volleyball England coaching course against a team we beat in the return fixture). We could still finish as high as 2nd.

By the way, we also had our second team play in a Division 2 match last night against the same school. It was an eerily similar pattern. They won the first set and fell apart in the second. This time, though, they were able to get the job done in the deciding set and win the match.

A reminder of why I coach

Once upon a time it was term-end dinner for the Exeter University Volleyball Club. The year before I missed out because of a schedule conflict with a PhD event. I was also somewhat uncomfortable going out with my players in a social context with alcohol involved. You just don’t do that in the States. I attended the end-of-year dinner the prior Spring, and a couple other social functions between, though. That made me more comfortable and relaxed with it all. It’s good for team morale for the coach to go out with the players sometimes. You just have to ignore some things. 🙂

This particular dinner provided a couple of those events that really reinforce why I coach.

As is traditional, the club gave out awards for all the groups involved – Beginners, Intermediates, and BUCS. The latter are the competitive inter-university teams I coached. I selected an MVP and Most Improved for the season to-date for the BUCS men and women. There was some back and forth among us coaches about the men’s selections. For the women it was a pair of no-brainers, though.

To say the choices for women’s MVP and MIP were popular ones is an understatement. Both announcements received with loud cheering from the whole club. Both players were clearly quite happy to be recognized. The MIP in particular was really excited. She came over to me afterwards to thank me effusively. Of course I said I expected even more from her second term. 😉

On top of that, a couple of the exchange students we had that term came up to me near the end of the night to thanked. Both talked about how they kind of re-found their joy for the sport. They said they would look for opportunities to keep playing when they returned home (one to the States, on to Denmark). One also told me I was an awesome coach. What coach doesn’t like to hear that sort of thing? 🙂

New BUCS volleyball premier league play for 2014-15

BUCS volleyball will be getting a premier league in 2014. Actually, it will be getting two of them on both the men’s and women’s side of things.

It’s been announced that there will be new 6-team premier leagues formed for the North and the South to begin next season based on how teams finish this year’s campaign. The Northern Premier League will be selected out of a group of teams from the Northern and Scottish leagues, along with the more northerly of the Midlands league. The Southern Premier League will be drawn from a group of teams from the South East and Western leagues, plus the more southerly of the Midlands league.

Promotion to the new premier leagues will be based on the finish in this year’s Championships. That works out to between 6 and 9 teams being eligible for each premier league, depending on which Midlands teams finish in the top 3 in that league. If more than 6 teams from one of the new premier league regions makes it to Final 8s then which teams get into the league for next year will be based on final standings. If fewer than 6 teams from a region advance, then those who lost during in the round of 16 will be subject to a play-off to decide who make the the cut (unless of course only 6 teams in total are eligible – such as in the case of all the Midlands teams being eligible for the other region).

Here’s the full details.

The question I have is how Championships will be run moving forward, and what the promotion/relegation mechanism will look like.

Why are we still developing the BUCS volleyball schedule?

I have to let loose on a rant.

Sorry, but this is driving me crazy.

The Western League for BUCS is a complete shambles. Maybe other leagues are the same, but I can only speak for my specific experience.

Last year was pretty bad. Schedules were changing day to day for matches to be played that week or weekend. BUCS posted a schedule full of Wednesday matches, which many players then used for planning purposes (for those who don’t know, the traditional sports day in the UK is Wednesday). The problem was that most matches ended up being scheduled on weekends in a tournament type format, creating conflicts.

Now, I have no problem with schools favoring more of a tournament or tri-match style of approach as it tends to make things more efficient and cost effective. It would just be good to know in advance what’s happening. I’d have liked to do some travel on my free weekends, but I couldn’t do it because I never knew what was going on. Then, after primarily doing multi-match dates through the first term, come January it became a case of midweek matches to round out the schedule. And getting them played as a major undertaking.

That was bad enough. This year it’s worse.

The whole schedule is being negotiated between the respective AUs (rough equivalent of an athletic department). BUCS has again provided a Wednesday-based schedule. Some schools are forcing that to be used for their designated home matches while others are trying to arrange tournament style scheduling once more. On top of that, some schools are running best of 3 set matches and others best of 5. The BUCS rules state that in the case any matches are to be done tournament style then all matches have to be played best of 3 for the sake of consistency, which is required for handling tiebreakers.

So what you end up with in cases is teams traveling a long way to play hardly at all. For example, the trip from Exeter to Bournemouth is about 2.5 hours one way. A 3-set match is generally done in 1.5 hours or less. That means 5 hours of driving to get 90 minutes of playing, tops. Major waste.

Oh, and we’ve got a potential situation where instead of a double-round of matches against each team in Division 1 we could end up with just a single. Who then gets priority for being the home side in any given fixture arrangement when BUCS has proscribed a double round?

It’s a total mess. I can’t help but think that BUCS needs to enforce a policy and make the schools adhere. Or at least require that the schools get their scheduling done before school starts so people can make plans. This doing it on the fly stuff is rubbish.

Just how big is volleyball in the US?

The American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) put together a set of info graphics which shows how big women’s collegiate volleyball is in the States, both in terms of teams and scholarship funding. Here’s what the structure looks like (Note there was clearly some cut-paste issue with the NCAA Division numbers. The D1 number is correct. If you do the math you’ll find that leaves 724 between D2 and D3. The larger share will be D3):

US Womens Volleyball Team CountsThe NCAA and NAIA are both comprised of 4-year colleges and universities.

Men’s volleyball is unfortunately only a fraction of the size of the women’s game.

Another US collegiate volleyball viewing option

Following up on the post Watching US collegiate volleyball abroad, I found out about another viewing option. It’s the international version of the Big Ten Network. That covers all sports from the B1G Conference (new name since the conference is no longer just 10 teams). On the volleyball side of things, this conference features the likes of multiple-time national champions Penn State. It is generally considered to be alongside the Pac-12 (home of USC and UCLA, among others) as the strongest in US collegiate women’s volleyball.

Because the BTN is single conference in focus, it naturally has fewer matches than the ESPN Player site. It also has less diversity in terms of level of play and there is no men’s action. It does have a bit of a lower monthly price tag, though ($19.99 vs £17.99 which is north of $25). If you’re happy to just watch a few high quality matches each week or whatever, this is a lower cost option.

Watching US collegiate volleyball abroad

There is an ESPN online properly available to those outside the US called ESPN Player which features streaming live and on-demand sporting events. One of the parts of that service is the College Pass. This is where they have a collection of collegiate sports, one of which is volleyball.

I don’t know the specific geographic availability or pricing for the service (perhaps those who know can comment below), but in the UK it is £8.99 for a 24-hour pass, £17.99 if you go monthly, and $99.99 for a yearly subscription. I’ll get to what I think is the best way to go in a minute.

As I noted recently, watching more volleyball can help your development as a volleyball coach. Having players watch matches can also help them become better players. I have recently done this with the Exeter University men and women by bringing them together to watch an excellent match between USC and UCLA (at this writing it is still in the archives dated September 25). I spent time with both teams back in August, which helped me do my own additional commentary on the match. 🙂

I also suggested the ESPN Player service to an English juniors player I coach and her father for two reason. One was developmental so she could see what real quality high level volleyball looks like. The other was so she could watch matches between teams of different levels from all over the US as part of her research into where she might want to go if she targets a collegiate volleyball career there.

One thing to note, though, before you watch any of the matches. The rules for the US women’s game vary noticeably from FIVB in a couple of ways. The first is that the libero is permitted to serve in one rotation. Since in most cases she is going in on the MBs, that means she will serve for one of them, but the other will do her own serving. The second is there are 15 subs allowed per set. This allows teams to run a 6-2 offense in which the back row Setters and RS hitters are rotated in and out. It alternatively allows teams to liberally use defensive specialists along with the libero. I’ll leave the discussion as to whether this variation is a good thing or not for another time.

Getting back to the best subscription option, if you only want to watch a single match or spend a day watching several of them then clearly the 1-day pass makes the most sense. If, however, you’d like to watch matches regularly (as I do) then I’d suggest the monthly pass. I say this because the women’s season generally goes from early September until mid-December. This is when the most matches will be available by far. The men’s season runs about February to mid-May, but aside from the semifinals and finals at the end I’m not sure how many matches will even be put up on the service. As a result, you’ll only have a handful of volleyball watching months. Unless you’re also a basketball fan, the yearly pass probably is more than you need.

Book Review: A Guide to Physical Preparation to Play Collegiate Volleyball

A Guide to Physical Preparation to Play Collegiate Volleyball is co-authored by John Cook and Laura Pilakowski. They are the Head Volleyball Coach and Head Volleyball Strength & Conditioning Coach at the University of Nebraska respectively at the publishing date (2006). Basically, it is a pamphlet with five short chapters, and those chapters go as follows:

Chapter 1 – The physical demands of collegiate volleyball

This chapter starts with a talk of three evaluation elements used in the recruitment process. They include landings, symmetry of strength and movement, and arm-swing mechanics. This is all linked to core strength. The authors then go into the specific requirements of the sport and individual positions. There are some suggestions for ways to prepare for the jump from high school/juniors to collegiate volleyball’s higher demands.

Chapter 2 – Building a foundation

The three focal points of this chapter are Balance, Posture/Strength/Stability, and Jumping Skills. The respective sections have suggested exercises.

Chapter 3 – Expand on the foundation in the areas of jumping power and court quickness

As suggested, this chapter extends into working at improving vertical jump and quickness. It presents lots of exercises, and offers tips and thoughts.

Chapter 4 – The elements of a basic program

Here we get into the specifics of how to put together a strength & conditioning program for volleyball. This includes thoughts on how to do testing. The chapter also features an 8-week program, which includes both strength/power training and conditioning.

Chapter 5 – Information on how to develop a community of support personnel

The final section is contributed by an editor of the Performance Conditioning Volleyball Newsletter (under which banner the book was published). Conceptually, these few pages are worth reviewing. To suggest the list of support personnel suggested to help young volleyball players with their physical and mental development is ambitious may be an understatement, though.

Overall, I think this pamphlet can be quite useful for both volleyball coaches and players/parents.