Tag Archive for volleyball book review

Book Review: Dream Like a Champion – Wins, Losses, and Leadership the Nebraska Volleyball Way

There are loads of volleyball books, but there aren’t a lot of books with a biographical and/or historical perspective in the volleyball literature. That’s one of the motivations for the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project. Dream Like a Champion – Wins, Losses, and Leadership the Nebraska Volleyball Way by Brandon Vogel and John Cook adds to that list. It joins Mike Hebert’s books there, adding much-needed depth.

Try not to be jealous

The first thing you may have to get over while reading this book is jealousy. Nebraska volleyball has access to resources most of us could never dream of having. In some ways, the book is a constant reminder of just how well off that program – and others on their level – really is. I’m sure you can get past that, though. 🙂

Fourteen chapters, fourteen topics

The book begins with what is essentially a personal biography from Cook. After that, though, each of the chapters has a different theme. They include things like going deeper on player physical development, understanding how to coach the current generation of college athletes, looking at who you work and surround yourself with, and continuing education and development as a coach.

Cook uses stories to make his case on the different subjects throughout the book. I might argue too many in some cases, but it’s not over the top. I’m sure some folks will enjoy them as they focus on elements of volleyball history at Nebraska. I’m not a part of the Husker universe, but I can appreciate Cook’s perspective on the program’s past.

Some real nuggets

A sure sign of a good book is the number of pages or sections you flag throughout the text. I pulled out several along the way myself. Here’s one of the deeper ones where Cook talks about how his coaching mentality changed over time.

“I coached for a long time like that before realizing that it did not have to be that way. I had a choice to make when I walked into the gym every day: I could coach with love or I could coach with anger. I could be in the moment every day and remember why I wanted to do this in the first place. I could marvel at all of the amazing athletes I was getting to work with and really be grateful for the opportunity we get each season to take a group of players, coaches, and staff and try to make our dreams come true.

He continues.

The other option? I could focus on every practice failure. I could take every loss personally. I could try to eliminate mistakes through fear. Every coach gets to make that choice. I write daily reminders to myself to make sure I am choosing to be the coach I want to be. I wish I had recognized sooner that the choice was up to me.”

This theme of personal growth is a common one throughout the book, and it is clearly part of the message Cook wishes to share. I flagged some other, more narrow, thoughts and ideas as well, though. For example, he shares different policies he’s had and ways he’s helped encourage improved team chemistry. And while the book certainly isn’t drill oriented, he even mentions one or two that he likes.

Get it, read it

I think the title, Dream Like a Champion – Wins, Losses, and Leadership the Nebraska Volleyball Way, probably overstates the whole “Nebraska way” concept in terms of the book’s content. Yes, Nebraska is central in terms of most of the anecdotes, but at the end of the day this is mainly a look into the mentality of one coach – John Cook. From that perspective, it’s well worth a read for coaches at any level.

One bit of advice. At the time of this writing the print book is listed as $19.99, while the Kindle version is $23.70. That’s pretty expensive for an e-book. If you can find someone who owns a copy of the Kindle version, though, they should be able to lend it to you. That’s how I read it.

Book Review: A Fresh Season by Terry Pettit

I previously reviewed Terry Pettit’s book Talent and the Secret Life of Teams. I also interviewed Terry for the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project. A Fresh Season is Terry’s second coaching-related book (he published a book of poetry). Like the first, this one is a collection of different essays and the like, including a poem or two.

This is not a coaching book, per se. You are unlikely to learn from it how to do X, Y, or Z.

Rather, it’s a variety of stories, observations, and commentary. Some of it is recent in origin, while other stuff seems to have been written years ago originally. The subject matter is all over the place.

For example, there is an essay by one of Terry’s daughters that is a kind of “letter to my freshman self”. In it she offers advice on how to get through that first college season, and the seasons to follow.

There’s a chapter called A Letter to the Parents of a Prospective recruit that is a coach’s appeal. If you coach college volleyball you will seriously think about using it in your own recruiting efforts!

A theme of a couple of different chapters is the idea of being uncomfortable. Terry advises recruiting players who have willingly made themselves uncomfortable. He talks about how players need to be put in uncomfortable situations to develop. He also admonishes coaches to put themselves in uncomfortable situations. We cannot, he says, demand less of ourselves than we do of our athletes.

There is a chapter outlining the factors which predict future head coaching success. Prior head coaching experience is top of the list. Not surprisingly, passion and integrity also rate quite highly.

Terry focuses directly on juniors coaches in one section. It’s perhaps the one part of the book where he gets pretty explicit about what he thinks they need to focus on. People probably won’t agree with everything he says, but at least is provides plenty of food for thought.

Another repeated theme in the book is recruiting, requiring, and relating. Terry introduces them as the Three Rs of Coaching in one chapter. They then pop up again from time to time in other chapters.

Those are some of the highlights. There are nearly 40 chapters, but the book is only about 180 pages, so each is quite short. The only lengthy one is the last (nearly 20 pages), which relates the history of Nebraska Coliseum, where Nebraska Volleyball played for so many years – including all of Terry’s time coaching there.

Overall, I think A Fresh Season is a good book. It’s length and structure make for a pretty quick read. At times it’s funny. In many places it’s thought-provoking.

Book Review: A Program with Purpose by Johan Dulfur

A Program with Purpose, by Johan Dulfur is a volleyball turn around story, sort of. The Clarkson University volleyball team is an NCAA Division III program in upstate New York. The author is, at this writing, head coach at Ithaca College (also Div. III), but when he wrote the book he was in the middle of his 10 years at the helm of Clarkson. The text, published in 2013, speaks to how he took that program from nothing to become a team that eventually made seven straight trips to the NCAA tournament and reached the Elite 8 four straight times.

This sort of thing appeals to me. After all, it’s the intention to do just this sort of thing that saw me join Midwestern State.

At only a bit over 130 pages, A Program with a Purpose is a quick read. It’s made even quicker by a number of large visuals. You can read it in a couple of hours. It’s definitely worth that small time investment.

I mentioned at the outset that this book is a turnaround story, sort of. I say that because it’s not a narrative text. The author doesn’t start at the beginning and walk you through a sequence of events. Think of it more as a manual for program development with some historical examples interspersed.

There are seven primary chapters to the book.

  1. Program Vision
  2. Communication
  3. Confidence Building and Goal Setting
  4. Building a Support Structure
  5. Tactical Choices within the Game
  6. Recruiting and Team Composition

Their titles pretty much tell you what they’re about. Each shares the author’s thoughts, experience, and views on that subject, and it’s good material. You may or may not agree with everything he says, but at least it will get you thinking about things. Even if you have experience running your own program, it’s worth going through this book. It can be a good reminder of things to focus on, and we all need that from time to time. The book could have used some editing in places, but not so much that it was overly distracting.

It is noteworthy that the author spent some time working under legendary coach Mike Hebert, who wrote Thinking Volleyball. You can see a bit of his influence in Dulfur’s philosophy, though you also get a big dose of his Dutch heritage as well.

I’ve previously reviewed Sally Kus’ book Coaching Volleyball Successfully. Sally also gained her reputation coaching in Upstate New York, which is interesting. Her book focuses more on high school volleyball, while this one is obviously from a college perspective. Still, they share much in common.

Quick note. This book is not available in Kindle format. You can only get it in print.

Book Review: Spike! by Doug Beal

During a visit with him in Berlin, I took advantage of Mark Lebedew’s library to read Spike!. That’s Doug Beal’s account of the 1984 Olympic gold medal winning USA men’s volleyball team. It was published in 1985, so pretty soon after the events. I got through it in only a few hours of reading as it’s not much more than 100 pages.

The book actually covers a fair bit of ground. Beal was a member of the national team before taking over as coach. As a result, there’s a little of the history of how the program evolved. Of course the main focus is on how the 1984 team came together in the years immediately prior to the Olympics. And of course what happened during the Games themselves.

For those who’ve been around the game for a while, a lot of interest and focus may be on Beal’s side of the story of different players and their involvement in the national team. Most notable are the likes of Karch Kiraly, Sinjin Smith, and Tim Hovland. Karch and Sinjin wrote books with their sides of the story, and I’m sure other accounts are out there as well. In Spike! we get Beal’s side of handling the different personalities and antics.

I found the account pretty well presented. Beal doesn’t toot his own horn. In fact, he seems pretty forthright about sharing his own short-comings and missteps along the way. He goes so far as to share the experience of having the Soviet Union coach in the latter 1970s, Yuri Chesnokov, teach him what he should be doing.

While this is certainly a book of history rather than a coaching text, it includes discussions of the sort of thinking and decision-making that was behind a variety of coaching decisions. Many of them are the same sort of thing we volleyball coaches deal with today. As such, I found it to be a book that is both interesting from a historical perspective and quite relevant. If you can get hold of a copy, I think it’s well worth a read.


Book Review: My Profession – The Game

My Profession – The Game is the English translation of the last of several books written by legendary Russian volleyball coach Vyacheslav Platonov. He led the dominant USSR teams during the late 1970s and first half of the 1980s. He left the team after the 1985 World Championships, but returned in 1990 to lead them to another World Championship in 1991. Mark Lebedew of At Home on the Court was part of the book project (his father did the translation). Along with the Kindle version, it’s also available in both ePub and print versions. I read it via the former on my iPad.

This book is a blend of theory and practice. You won’t find any drills or anything like that. This is Platonov sharing is views on things like handling teams and players, training, game strategy, and the like. The one place where he gets into a quite technical discussion is in the area of blocking. That is a chapter unto itself.

As with any coach sharing their personal opinions, there are things you will probably disagree with. And of course Platonov wrote the book before recent developments in the game (though Platonov predicted some of them in the book). That means certain aspects are out of date. Still, it’s always worth hearing the thoughts of someone who had as much success as he did.

The book is quite easy to read. It’s relatively short and broken down into bite sized chunks. That makes it ideal for the coach on the go. Definitely worth getting hold of a copy. You’ll probably find it something you read multiple times.

Book Review: Little Black Book of Volleyball Coaching

Little Black Book of Volleyball Coaching by John L. Betcher is not a book I would have bought for myself. I added it to my Kindle collection before a trip to Germany as something I could read during down times for review purposes. Hopefully, my small investment of time and money saves you some of your own. This isn’t a book I recommend.

There are a couple of interesting and worthwhile bits in the book. They are particularly in the area of developing a coaching philosophy. I don’t agree with some of it personally, but that isn’t why I’m not a fan of this book. It’s the fact that so much of the book is just weak. And we’re talking about a book of only a bit over 100 pages.

A major part of the text defines and describes the phases of transition play. The author claims he included it because he didn’t see it specifically done in other books. I say there’s a reason for that. There’s no need. If there was an in-depth exploration of transition attack – play calling, training methods, etc. – then we might have something interesting, but that’s not the case here. Instead, we get a long-winded explanation of what I think most coaches already grasp pretty well.

The one thing this book does offer is a number of coaching anecdotes. I think these might actually be the most interesting and potentially valuable parts for the reader. Beyond that, there’s about enough meat for a couple of interesting articles, not a full book. A much better option is Coaching Volleyball Successfully by Sally Kus.

Book Review: Winning Volleyball by Al Scates

Let’s face it, a volleyball coaching book published in 1993 is going to have a lot of dated information. It predates rally scoring, the let serve, the libero, and a number of other rules changes which have come into the game in the last 15 years. Winning Volleyball by Al Scates certainly reflects its time in that regard. No question. This doesn’t make it a worthless read, however.

If you can read the writings of someone with over 1200 career coaching victories, it’s probably worth doing so. That’s what you get from Al Scates. He won 19 NCAA volleyball titles with his UCLA during a career which ran from 1963 to 2012. Granted, quite a bit in the book doesn’t reflect the modern game. Still, there is a fair bit one can latch onto as worthwhile. For example, Scates talks at one point about serving strategy. He does so in a way that will be familiar to modern coaches. At least it should be! It’s all presented in a pretty blunt, straightforward style.

And if you’ve any interest in volleyball history at all, you’ll love this book! It has loads of old pictures of some of the legends of the game. Mainly it’s from a US perspective, but that’s hardly surprisingly. Scates also talks a fair bit about the history of the sport in different respects. He does so both in discrete parts and threaded through other sections as well.

So if you can get your hands on an old copy of Winning Volleyball somewhere, it’s worth thumbing through.

Book Review: Volleyball Skills & Drills

Volleyball Skills is a compilation from the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA). It features 10 chapters with contributions from several coaches. Some names you probably know, but others may be new. The first six chapters cover the main volleyball skills – serving, passing, setting, hitting, blocking, and defense. They are followed by a chapter on team offense. Then there is another on team defense. The last two chapters focus on transition and practice. In many ways this is a newer version of Volleyball Drills for Champions in structure and general approach.

All the skill chapters include a discussion of the mechanics. They also share a group of drills at the end. Worthwhile in each case is a collection of specific coaching tips related to the various skill elements discussed. They appear in separate boxes for easy reference. You will recognize many of the drills, no doubt.

We can debate the validity of certain techniques. That is true for any technical book. Nothing here struck me as dubious, though.

I found two aspects of the book quite useful. One is a section in the Setting chapter (Chapter 3). It shares a setter development progression plan. This isn’t meant to be something coaches use as is. It definitely provides a nice conceptual framework, though. The other is Chapter 10, which focuses on practice. It includes a good discussion of practice planning. It goes beyond that, however, into the areas of training philosophy, managing players, feedback, and the like. Definitely a valuable read for a developing coach.

Overall, I put Volleyball Skills on par with one like Coaching Volleyball Technical and Tactical Skills. The latter gets more detailed in certain ways. This is partly because it’s few years newer. It lacks a bit in terms of the broader coverage, though.

Book Review: Coaching Volleyball Technical and Tactical Skills

It’s always interesting to review a book written by someone you met. Coaching Volleyball Technical and Tactical Skills fits in that category. I spent some time with its author, Cecile Reynaud at the 2013 American Volleyball Coaches Association annual convention when I sat in on a committee meeting she chaired. We also spent time together at the 2015 HP Coaches Clinic. Cecile is now retired from coaching. She spent over 25 years in NCAA Division I volleyball and accumulated more than 600 wins.

A major feature of the book is a section about teaching volleyball technical skills. Obviously, this sort of thing is found in many books. Here, though, we have a couple of elements to set this one apart.

The first is the breadth of coverage. We don’t just have a look at the basic skills of serving, passing, setting, hitting, blocking, and digging. This is more specific. It goes into the various types of serves, the different types of hitting, and different ways of playing the ball defensively, among other things.

The other differentiating element is a section included with each skill. It details common errors and ways to correct them. No doubt many readers will find this quite useful. It can help diagnose and address players’ struggles.

The novelty of the book doesn’t stop there, either. The next section looks at the tactical elements of volleyball and discusses them individually. It has a sort of “…for Dummies” feel. It comes in two separate chapters. One is for the offensive side of the game, while the other is for defense. This section includes things like serving strategy, how to use a libero, varying the attacking, and defending the slide. It also features a number of other tactical decisions. Each tactical element has several key common component elements. They included reading the situation, what to watch out for, key knowledge, decision-making guidelines, self knowledge, and strengths & weaknesses of the opposition. Collectively, they offer the reader lots of things to think about in terms of tactics and implementation.

Backing up a bit, the first section of the book focuses on evaluation and teaching and includes key things to consider. There are also tools to help in evaluations. The fact that it is the shortest section (only 9 pages) gives you a good indication that the book’s main focus lies elsewhere. Still, the teaching and evaluation precursor, followed by the technical and tactical sections which follow, does set up the fourth section. That gets into the planning side of coaching. Here, key elements of developing season and individual practice plans are introduced. There are several sample practice plans provided. There is one for a season as well.

Part V of the book is the last one. It covers in-match coaching. A rather short section, it isn’t a lengthy discussion. You’ll find much more in-depth coverage of that subject and other “off the court” aspects of coaching elsewhere.

Overall, if you want a book focused on the technical and tactical elements of the game – as the title suggests – then I think Coaching Volleyball Technical and Tactical Skills is a quite good choice.