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Tag Archive for university volleyball

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.

Big rewards from seeing fellow volleyball coaches in action

Over the course of just over three weeks in 2013 I spent a total of eight days watching various teams go through their training and two other days taking in matches. It was a fantastic experience. I made some positive new connections. It reinforced some old relationships. And it was great for reconnecting me with US collegiate volleyball after several years away.

As you might expect, sitting in on 13 different training sessions from 5 different collegiate teams (URI, USC, Long Beach State, CSU San Marcos, and UCLA in that order) saw me observe get some ideas for drills and training methods. I posted severa in the Drills and Games categories.

Drills and game ideas can be found in many different sources, though. For me it was more interesting to see a couple of different things. One of them was how certain aspects of the game had changed in the prior few years. In particular, it was clear to me that there had been an evolution in jump float serve mechanics. The changes in the use of the libero was interesting to observe as well, among other things.

The other was seeing the ways the various programs operate and the different types of managerial styles. Teams have different levels of resources allocated to them, and that can play a part. For example, USC has a fantastic training facility and loads of staff on the one end. CSU San Marcos, on the other hand, had to play its home matches at a local high school. They also only has a part-time assistant coach. Some head coaches are more supervisors and big picture overseers. Others are very hands-on in training either through requirement or personal coaching focus. I also saw variations in the way warm-ups were handled, practice uniforms, and generally the vibe of the teams in training (though that was largely subtle).

Needless to say, I jotted down quite a few notes. I also recorded several bits of video to help me recall things and to provide visual and auditory support to my players of the things I’m trying to teach them.

Actually, some of the most rewarding time was getting to talk with the coaches. Some of the coaches were folks I already knew, and we had all sorts of good conversations. Even those I was meeting for the first time, however, were generally quite willing to chat about what they were doing and answer questions. Some even shared things with me on related subjects with no prompting whatsoever.

I definitely recommend this sort of experience from a lot of perspectives, including a mentorship type of angle along the line of I wrote about in Making Mentorship Part of the Process. In fact, it may be something which can lead to finding yourself a good coaching mentor. Even if that’s not the case, seeing other coaches in action – particularly well-experienced ones – can get you seeing things from different perspectives. That’s never a bad thing.

So get out there and do it! You don’t need to make a 3-week trip like I did to learn some new things. Just find a good coach in your area and see if they’d be willing to have you come along and observe. Chances are they’ll say yes.

Required volleyball reading?

I did the last of my planned collegiate program training visits on Wednesday, this time at UCLA. Interestingly, when I got to the gym ahead of their training session I found them doing a review/discussion of the book Crucial Conversations. Assistant coach Stein Metzger told me it was something they were looking to use to improve on the communication front as that was seen to be a problem with the team last year. I haven’t read the book before myself, but it’s a best seller so clearly quite a few others have done. Might just give it a look to see what’s what.

I’ve got just about a week left in the States. While I don’t have any plans on visiting any more schools and their practices, I may yet get a bit more volleyball in before I head back for England. The University of Wisconsin will be playing at Pepperdine on Saturday evening. Pepperdine is supposed to be a beautiful campus (located in Malibu), so I’d like to go just to have a look. I happen to also know the Wisconsin coach from my days at Brown when he was coaching at Albany and they came to one of our tournaments. He’s definitely moved up in the world since!

I may also make a trip to the famous Manhattan Beach. I’ve been told there’s a fantastic little Mexican food joint there. Oh, and it’s known for some pretty good beach volleyball action too. 🙂

I think once I have some time to let everything settle and can reflect I’ll write a post looking back on my 5 campus visits and the different things I observed. Look for that when I get back.

Left the land of volleyball giants for a spell

Two days in near San Diego were a breath of fresh air, so to speak. It was four days at USC where the players made me feel like a shrimp, and Long Beach State, which isn’t too far behind. That made a nice change of pace visiting with my coaching friend Andrea Leonard at Cal State San Marcos. The team was ranked #20 in the NAIA preseason poll (the NAIA is an alternative US collegiate system to NCAA). Even still, those are players of mere mortal stature. No 6’4″ and above (there’s a bunch of 6-footers on the roster, but that’s more a function of typical volleyball height inflation than reality). In other words, I got to spend two days watching volleyball played much closer to what I saw day in and day out in England.

What that means is I saw a team where developmental needs are paramount. Andrea had a team with 11 new players out of 19. There were certainly some useful players on the San Marcos team. At that level the play, though, is dominated by scramble plays more than high powered attacks and massive blocks. It’s fun to watch the elite teams at work. The reality of coaching for most coaches, however, is that we do our work with non-elite teams. Of course that’s not to say we can’t learn things from how the coaches of elite level teams operate. That is exactly why I went on my little volleyball tour.

On Wednesday I visited UCLA, (ranked 12th in the preseason poll). That was my last practice viewing. I also talked some sand volleyball with Stein Metzger. I took in a match over the weekend as the NCAA Division I season kicked off (Wisconsin at Pepperdine), but no more training sessions after that.

Technical Coaching at the Top Level

This update comes just after I completed phase three of my summer volleyball adventure. It featured two days worth of observing Long Beach State going through the last of their 2-a-days for the 2013 season. Coach Gimmillaro is well known as a very technical coach. He spent many years producing coaching videos and doing clinics all over. His training sessions those two days were no exception.

In particular, ball control technique is a major focus of his in the gym. It all starts with the unique warm-up Long Beach uses – both in training and pre-match. Here’s a sample of it:

It definitely doesn’t stop there. Coach Gimmillaro is very active and hands-on in working with his players. He gets them playing both serve receive passes and dug balls in a very specific fashion which focuses on footwork and platform.

I chatted with Coach about the Long Beach sand program implementation (they won the 2013 National Team Championship). We also talked jump float serve mechanics, some volleyball business stuff, and a few other things. He even expressed a willingness to travel to England to run a clinic if there’s an interest in doing so.

Naturally, I got some drill and game ideas from watching training, which I have shared since. It is worth noting, though, that there was very little actual variety in the training sessions. The clear dominant focus was on really working serving and passing – building the foundation for everything else.

BUCS Volleyball showing 13%+ growth y/y

A little while back I posted about the growth in the number of Western League volleyball teams competing in BUCS for the 2013-14 campaign. As I noted then, we’re seeing net growth on both the men’s and women’s side such that in both cases there will A and B sub-divisions within Division 2 whereas in 2012-13 there was only Division 2A for both genders.

Being the curious sort, I decided to take a look to see if there’s growth in other parts of BUCS system. As it turns out, there is.

On the men’s side, excluding the Western League, there’s a net gain of 12 teams for the new campaign. The Midlands and Southeastern Leagues are both growing by 5 teams, leading to the addition of a Division 3 in both places where none existing last season. The Northern League added a pair of teams, while the Scottish League held steady.

On the women’s side the gain was six teams. The Midlands League gained 5 teams, resulting in a split in Division 2 in to A and B groups. The Northern League actually lost 4 teams, seeing Division 3 dropped. The Scottish League gained 2 teams, causing Division 2 to be split to create Division 3. The South Eastern League gained 3 teams on net, adding a Division 3B.

So here are the total 2013-14 net team gains by League:

Midlands +10
Northern -2
Scottish +2
Southeastern +8
Western +8

That gives us a total net gain of 26 teams in a single year, which is just over 13%. That puts BUCS volleyball up through the 200 team mark. Not bad for a place that supposedly doesn’t care about volleyball.

BUCS 2014 Volleyball Final 8s to be in Edinburgh

BUCS announced on Thursday that the 2014 edition of the volleyball Final 8s will be held at the University of Edinburgh. I’m not familiar with the gym and can’t find a photo of it online, but the press release says it’s been “…used several times for BUCS Home Nations events and again, an Olympic training venue.” That at least makes it sound better than the gym at Leeds Met where the 2013 Finals 8s were held. That place was widely reviled by the participants for having insufficient service area or overhead space, lacking in air circulation, having a dance studio as a warm-up area, and generally being a tight squeeze for the 16 teams playing on the two available courts.

That said, Edinburgh is by no means centrally located. That likely will mean added travel costs for everyone involved. Last year, for example, the Western league sent 4 teams to Finals 8s – Bournemouth men & women, Bristol women, Exeter men. Leeds was already a lengthy trip from down in the South West. Edinburgh would require just about all day travel via ground transport.

It will be interesting to see the scheduling on this. At Leeds the last time around they did alternating men’s and women’s waves of play on the two available courts. Literally, the Pool A men would play two matches, then the net would be lowered and the Pool A women would play two matches. Each team plays 4 matches – 3 pool + 1 cross-over. If Edinburgh has 4 courts then at least the pool play can be done on Saturday. That would leave just the cross-over matches to be played on Sunday, allowing teams an early departure time.

My August Volleyball Coaching Developmental Traveling Plans

Back in Summer 2013 I planned a trip back to the States for August. In part it was my plan to get in some academic meetings in support of my PhD work. Mainly, though, I was looking at it as an opportunity to reconnect with the US collegiate volleyball game. I was away from it since the end of 2006. I watched a number of matches on television in the interim. Aside from attending a UCLA vs. Standford match in September 2011 and a Harvard vs. Princeton match later that season, however, I was out of the gym entirely for nearly 6 years.

A big reason for that was the feeling I needed to concentrate on my new corporate job for a while. My concern was I wouldn’t be able to resist the coaching urge if I didn’t stay away. Even doing so, there were times when I felt the pull to get back into it. Given how strongly everything came back when I started coaching the Exeter teams in 2012-13, I think I was correct in my assessment.

Now, with the coaching bug fully infecting me, I looked at this trip back to the States as an opportunity for some professional development and networking. The plan was to spend a couple of days with a few different teams as they go through their pre/early-season training.

Two significant programs on the plan
The two schools I knew from the start I’d go were the University of Southern California (USC) and Long Beach State (properly known as California State University at Long Beach – CSULB). You may know Long Beach State from one of it’s most prominent alumnae, Misty May-Treanor. She was a setter in her collegiate playing days.

The coaches of those two programs are among the legends in the game. Mick Haley at USC rose to prominence when is University of Texas team became the first non-West Coast squad to win a volleyball NCAA Division I championship. He won two titles at Texas, and then two more at USC. He had with four years as coach of the USA women’s national team (up to the 2000 Olympics) in between. Before Texas he was a very successful Junior College coach as well.

Brian Gimmillaro at Long Beach has 3 national championships to his credit as well, and has long been one of the leading lights in coaching education. He readily shared his methods through videos and seminars for many years. His 1998 team became the first ever to go undefeated for a whole season (36-0).

I also arranged to meet up with Stein Metzger. That year he coached the UCLA Sand Volleyball team and was an assistant for the women’s indoor team. Stein played on the pro beach tour and has coached a number of other pros (including Devon’s own Denise Austin).

Others to be determined
A few other schools got added to the list later, but that was all still in the works.I provided updates when things got finalized. I also did post updates from the road to share what i saw and heard.

Needless to say, I was really looking forward to this trip – and not just for the SoCal sunshine! 🙂

Book Review: The Volleyball Debate by Vinnie Lopes

Vinnie Lopes, who runs the Off the Block blog focusing on US men’s collegiate volleyball, recently authored and published a book titled The Volleyball Debate. The book is essentially a history of the Ball State men’s volleyball program. For those who don’t know, Ball State has long been a dominant program in the Midwest, one which has compiled over 1000 victories. Only one other men’s volleyball program has reached that mark – UCLA. Unlike UCLA, though, Ball State has yet to win a national championship (Penn State remains the only non-West Coast team to do so on the men’s side).

After a bit of back story history about the early years of both volleyball and Ball State, the book begins with the initial formation of the men’s volleyball club during Don Shondell’s time as a Ball State student (he graduated in 1952). Things really get going, though, with Shondell’s return to Ball State as a faculty member after his military service. This is when he re-formed the club, which had gone away in the interim. The story then focuses on the period from 1960, when it played its first matches, until 1964 when after a couple of years of battling the team was granted varsity status. It ends with a bit of a look at the history of Ball State men’s volleyball since then – kind of a where are they now view.

Don Shondell went on to coach the team until 1998 when he finally retired. During that time he compiled over 750 wins. He was also actively involved in volleyball management and development, having helped form the Midwest Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) and acting as its first president. He co-edited The Volleyball Coaching Bible, which I reviewed earlier.

Probably the most notable of Shondell’s former players is Mick Haley. Haley is currently the head women’s coach at USC, but has a long history of coaching success going back to his days as a junior college coach. He was the first coach to lead a non-West Coast team to a National Championship when he coached the University of Texas women to the title in 1988 (I remember watching that match). He also coached the US women’s national team in the 2000 Olympics.

In terms of my feelings about the book, I think if you like reading about the history of the sport, you may find The Volleyball Debate interesting. As a I noted, it has a bit about the general history of volleyball in the US as well as the specific history of Ball State men’s volleyball. For my peers in U.K. volleyball where the fight to develop the sport is ongoing, there is probably a fair bit to which one can relate. That could make it an interesting read in and of itself.

I must make one negative comment about the book, though. It is in massive need of an edit. I’m not talking about there being loads of typos and such, as there really isn’t. Rather it’s the frequent repetition of things already mentioned which bothered me. I came away with the impression that the chapters were written as separate essays, then put together. The author is also clearly biased toward showing Ball State volleyball in the best light, and his enthusiasm for the subject is pretty obvious, but that’s understandable given he’s an alumnus of the university (though not as a player).