Last year, as part of my Volleyball England Level 3 certification process, I kept a coaching log. The requirement was at least 10 entries, but I decided I would make it a season-long exercise where I wrote about my plans and thinking after each meaningful contact I had with my team (generally trainings and matches). You can read all of the entries in reverse chronological order in the volleyball coaching log category of posts, with the initial entry here.

As I suggested last month when I talked about starting the new annual coaching cycle, I am going to resume posting log entries. I found them to be very useful in mentally working things through for my own coaching, and hopefully readers found them at least somewhat interesting.

This year’s team focus
While I coach both the men and women at the university, last year I chose to focus the journal on the women’s team. I think I’m going to do the same this year for a couple of reasons. One is because the women’s squad is settled at this point, barring some unfortunate development, whereas the men’s team is still a little muddled in terms of numbers and composition. Second, the dynamics of the situation with the women’s team, which I will get into in a minute, I think will entail a few more coaching challenges, which should make for some interesting log entries. Third, keeping with the women provides a bit of continuity from last season’s log.

The team
You can read what I’ve written about the try-out process this year in the blog posts here, here, and here. We started out with what must have been close to 50 players at the first trial last Friday and after Tuesday’s session ended up with a final squad of 14. There is a fairly clear talent split in the group such that identifying A and B team players is quite easy, though, there are questions as to player positions in a few instances. Not surprisingly, the three returning players are in the A-team group, while the B-team is largely comprised of students in their first or second year at school. Because there is a notable talent drop from A to B, a major challenge for at least the first part of the year will be structuring trainings such that the A players are being sufficiently pushed at the same time as the B players are being brought along.

Competitions – BUCS
The primary competitive focus for the team will be BUCS inter-university competition. For those in the US, this is roughly equivalent to the NCAA, but with schools able to field multiple teams across 4 different divisions. The A team will compete in the new Premier League South, having earned promotion up from Western Division 1A last season. That’s a 6-team league featuring a double round of home and away matches, for 10 all together.

All Premier League teams – North and South – qualify for Championships starting in February, culminating in Final 8s in mid-March. The first objective of the team will be to retain their place in the PL by finishing no worse than 5th, and second to reach Final 8s again (we finished 3rd last year).

The B team will compete in Western Division 2A. That league features 5 teams, but will probably only have a single round of fixtures (but we’re not sure on that yet). Last year we took second, which wasn’t quite enough to earn promotion. A first place finish this year would earn promotion for next season.

In parallel with league play, the B team will also compete in the Western Conference Cup, which is open to teams from Western Divisions 2A and 2B – 11 teams total. It’s a knock-out competition which begins in last November and carries through until March. We have been given a first round bye, so don’t play until the Quarterfinal round in February. Unfortunately, that’s as far as we got last year because we had a severe player shortage.

Along with league and cup positioning, there is an overall ranking in BUCS based on points accrued for all of a university’s teams. Those points come from league finish, with higher divisions worth more points. They also come from the cup competitions, with Championships/Final 8s considered a cup tournament just as the Western Conference Cup. Last year we finished 3rd in total BUCS volleyball points.

Competitions – SWVA
The second major competition we will play in this season is the South West Volleyball Association (SWVA) women’s club league. The team played in this league for the first time last year and finished 3rd overall. It would have been 2nd were it not for a facilities snafu on the last fixture date of the season. During the middle and latter part of the campaign the team went 10 matches undefeated without dropping a set.

The focus of SWVA is not winning, though. It’s developmental. I believe we will play 18 matches between October and March (usually as triangulars), which provides lots of playing time opportunities. I’m not sure if we ever had the exact same group of players from match date to match date last year, which means lots of integrated teams – not just the A/B split of BUCS competition. It was great for development, and even though we dominated many matches, I was able to use them to have the team focus on specific aspects of their play. I will look to do the same this year.

Competitions – Student Cup
Each year Volleyball England runs a Student Cup competition. It comprises a round of qualifying tournaments (mainly in November) and then a Finals tournament in February. Last year the team competed in one of the qualifiers, but ended up in a pool with a couple of very strong teams. As a result, we didn’t not advance to the Finals. This year it is undecided whether the Student Cup will be part of the schedule, though I expect that to be decided shortly.

One major plus is that we have last year’s team captain returning. She and I have an excellent captain/coach relationship and her leadership skills really blossomed in the second half of last season. We need to do some things to shift administrative duties on to another player (or players) because of the demands of her academic and work schedule, but she is clearly already the player in charge. One of the other returning players has also matured in that regard, being quite a bit more vocal in training, which is good to see. We’ll have to see which of the new players start to bubble up in that regard, and who can be nurtured in the right direction – especially among the younger players.

Coaching help
My primary assistant from last season has moved on, so I will have to find coaching help where I can get it. There another coach who’s been involved with the club for several years who generally helped out on Monday’s last year. He’s still around, but he’s just had a new addition to the family, so his availability is a bit up in the air at the moment. I can probably count on regular help from one or more of the men’s players, which will come in handy.

Looking ahead
Tonight will be the first proper team training session now that the squad has been finalized. We may have another session on Thursday night as well. Most of the team will then take part in a beach volleyball weekend, training with the England Juniors beach coach as a kind of team building/bonding event (I won’t be there). Between that and a couple of short meeting discussions, I hope to lay the groundwork for a good season in terms of competitive, training, and behavioral expectations.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

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