Tag Archive for US collegiate volleyball

2014 NCAA volleyball rules changes minimal

Rules changes are seemingly a constant thing in volleyball. I wrote in the past about the rules changes the FIVB is looking into for the future. Some are potentially radical – at least relatively speaking.

One of the grumbles many coaches have back in the States is how often there have been adjustments – particularly in the NCAA women’s game (intercollegiate volleyball). The latest meeting seems to have settled on just a few minor ones, as noted in this article. Net touch outside the antennae is the main focal point, in terms of getting it inline with the FIVB rules, though the pursuit rule was discussed as well. Naturally, there’s been discussion on the chat boards.

The interesting thing is that NCAA women’s volleyball has traditionally been quite resistant to following along with how the FIVB does things. Most notably, the NCAA rules allow for 15 substitutions per set with unlimited entries (the NCAA men abide by FIVB rules). One the one hand, this allows for broader participation. On the other, it furthers specialization (back row setters, defensive specialists). I’ll leave you to decide which you think is better for the sport and at what level.


Revisiting the past, happiness in the present

As I mentioned in this post, one of the things I did during my AVCA convention trip to Seattle in 2013 was meet up with one of my former players. She played for me as a setter back when I was at Brown. Unfortunately, her experience was not a great one for a variety of reasons. I found out earlier in 2013 she was playing for Team Northumbria in NVL Super 8s. That’s England’s top league. She played professionally for a few years in Belgium and Holland. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that.

We met for a short while at the NCAA Division I semifinals as she was there with her mother. Then she and I had dinner together the following night. It was an amazing four-hour conversation. Naturally, we talked a lot about the old days. It was really interesting to share our perspectives on those times with each other. There were some surprises. I won’t go into the specifics, but it had to do with team dynamics and player/coach interactions.

At least as rewarding for me was hearing what she’s done with her life. And how happy she is knowing where’s she’s had to come from. It’s one of the rewards of the being in the coaching game. We get to see how players mature and grow in the years after we work with them. We even get to become friends with them. It’s this sort of thing that made me think about going back into collegiate coaching full-time again and reinforces my own coaching philosophies.

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

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.