Tag Archive for US collegiate volleyball

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.

Big rewards from seeing fellow volleyball coaches in action

I’m back in England at last!

Over the course of just over three weeks in the States 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, made me some positive new connections, saw me reinforce old relationships, and 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 pick up some new ideas for drills and training methods. I’ve already posted a few of those in the Drills and Games categories in the last couple weeks and have several more coming in future posts.

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 have changed in the last few years. In particular, it was clear to me that there’s been an evolution in jump float serve mechanics and the use of the libero, 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, while CSU San Marcos has to play its home matches at a local high school and only has a part-time assistant coach on the other. Some head coaches are more supervisors and big picture overseers, while others are very hands-on in training either through requirement or personal coaching focus. I also saw variation 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 actually getting to talk with the coaches. Some of the coaches were folks I already know, 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.

I’ve already had some thoughts about what I might do next summer. 🙂

In the meantime, look for the drills, games, and other observations I made during my trip in posts to come over the next few weeks.

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.

Getting a US collegiate volleyball coaching job

A U.K. coach asked me for advice on getting a collegiate volleyball coaching job in the States. It is no surprise that someone with professional coaching aspirations wants to explore the U.S. job market. There are, after all, something north of 1000 college volleyball programs. They provide a great many opportunities for one to get paid to ply their trade. Not that all coaches are overly well-paid, mind.

Different structure, different rules

Landing one of those jobs isn’t an easy thing to do, though. It’s a big challenge for someone with little exposure to the U.S. system, players, etc. The structure is quite different, for one. The U.K. the system is a club model, but in the U.S. school teams are run by the universities and colleges. That means coaches are school employees rather than engaged by a club. This has implications for coach behavior. The expectations of institutions of higher learning regarding employee interaction with students are very strict (especially since most are government funded). Relationships must be professional. Just the hint of impropriety is enough to get a coach sacked. Moreover, it makes it hard for them to get another job.

For example, it is generally unacceptable for a coach to drink with their players. In most cases, said players are under-aged to begin with. In any case, most schools have rules against alcohol being included in any school-related activities. And forget about going out with players socially outside of the school environment. As I’ve experienced first-hand in my coaching experience in England, the expectation is quite different.

Anyone looking to hire a foreign coach to a U.S. volleyball program – be it an Athletic Director for a head coach job or a head coach for an assistant position – will want to know that the candidate both understands the system and will comply with the expected behaviors. Their own jobs are on the line should some kind of scandal develop. As a result, they won’t take the risk, even for a strong candidate.

And of course on top of that. any coaching candidate must demonstrate that they can work with and develop American players. There are definitely cultural differences, both in terms of society in general and in volleyball specifically.

So how does one get there?

I chatted with USC Women’s Volleyball coach Mick Haley on this subject. He said there are two ways to go for a foreign coach to demonstrate their worth to prospective collegiate volleyball employers. One is to coach Juniors volleyball. Collegiate coaches pay a lot of attention to what’s happening in the Juniors ranks. That’s where they get most of their recruits. As a result, they know which coaches are doing well developing players and having competitive success. Make a name for yourself as a Juniors coach and it will open collegiate coaching doors.

The other way to go (which potentially could be done in parallel with coaching Juniors) is to work as a volunteer assistant coach for a college team. This would provide the chance to demonstrate your knowledge and abilities in the that environment directly, and to get the understanding of the US system you’ll need. Do well and it could lead to paid employment down the line.

Beyond that, I recommend looking at the job listings you can find linked to from the volleyball coaching jobs page. They will give you an idea of the specific criteria schools are looking for in coach candidates (you’ll notice knowledge of NCAA rules, etc. tends to be high on the list).

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.