A while back, Mark over At Home on the Court shared some tips from top level Italian coach Daniele Bagnoli. He picked them up at a coaching event in Spain. There are a few in particular I want to comment on.

“Keep clear what your level is and coach to it.”

This can be interpreted in a few ways. One is that you should be aware of your own strengths and weakness and try to coach toward the latter. Another is that you should know the level of play and competition your team is at. Then you want to make sure to coach appropriately for it, not to some other level. This is important because too often coaches, especially developing ones, will latch on to something they see at a clinic or hear that the national team coach is using and think they should do the same with their teams. They fail to consider the context. Not everything in coaching is appropriate for all levels and all situations.

“The coach must know what the players can and can’t do and organize his team structure appropriately.”

Most of us don’t have the luxury of picking players to fit a specific type of playing style or system we have in mind. We have to deal with the players available to us at the time. Even those of us who can pick our players must be adaptable. In order to have the most success we need to find the ways to get the most out of the talent, strengths, and skills they have, while trying to work around weaknesses. Sometimes this requires being a bit creative. That was the case with my three-middle line-up, or when I played a setter and MB opposite each other.

“What is important is not how you receive, it is how you sideout.”

Very true. The bottom line is winning the point. Though receiving well certainly helps. 🙂

“The reception of a strong serve doesn’t have to be perfect. What is important is that there are no errors and no risk.”

This is something very important to communicate to players when they are under pressure. If a team (or a player) is struggling with their passing, even if it’s not a particularly tough serve, get them focused on passing to Target 2. This is the middle of the court near the 3 meter line. That will take some of the pressure off and allow them to relax a bit. It also reduces the chances of an overpass.

“For K1, receivers and setters must be calm. For K2, they need maximum aggression in block and defense. Therefore, when you change phases, players have to change emotional state, especially libero and receivers.”

I’ve not seen the K1/K2 reference before, but I think I get the idea. In serve reception a calm, relaxed state of mind and body is preferred to allow for optimal ball control. In defense, however, quite the reverse is the case. This is where aggression is rewarded. When I coached at Brown we used the term “crazy defense”. It highlighted the idea that back court players should have an aggressive, attacking mentality when it comes to digging the ball. First priority is keeping the ball off the floor. Where you put it is secondary – though obviously not unimportant.

“Pay attention to the big things, not the small things. The players should control the small things, for example block cover. That doesn’t mean to ignore them, just that they are not the priority.”

The coach’s role is to have the big picture in mind, particularly so if one is a head coach with one or more assistants working under them. That means understanding the priorities and making sure to give the correct amount of focus to what needs it. The tendency among coaches is to want to fix what we see is “broken”, but we have to be able to pick our battles and avoid wasting time and effort in areas of relatively low impact.

These particular points aside, it is interesting to observe some of the differences between coaches of men and coaches of women. I ranted a bit about this before, but there are aspects to each gender’s play which force coaches to take different views on things. One of those is overhead passing. It is much more common in the men’s game than the women’s. As Paul Sunderland – former US national team member, now broadcaster – once commented during a USA-Brazil women’s match, the height of the net has implications for how balls can be passed. The lower women’s net allows for a flatter trajectory. That makes it harder to take the ball with the hands. A flat ball coming in tends to be a flat ball going out. That, and the generally lower jump serve velocities, encourages much more float serves on the women’s side.

I bring this up because one or two of Bagnoli’s comments, which you can read in Mark’s post, have a bit of a men’s coach slant to them. Someone who only coaches men might not pick up on them.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently Technical Director for Charleston Academy. His previous experience includes the college and university level in the US and UK, professional coaching in Sweden, and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. Learn more on his bio page.

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