A lot of people in volleyball know Hugh McCutcheon as the now former head coach of the University of Minnesota volleyball team. A bunch (hopefully) will know him as the head coach of the gold medal winning 2008 USA Men’s National Team and the 2012 silver medal USA Women. You can add author of Championship Behaviours: A Model for Competitive Excellence in Sports as well.

Hugh coves a lot of ground in this book. By far the largest is his chapter “The Championship Model for Skill Acquisition and Application”. At about 100 pages it takes up a little over 40% of the book. That’s actually my one meaningful grumble. It could definitely have been broken down into several smaller chapters. For someone like me who tends to read in short bursts, that would have made it easier to consume. It’s daunting when Kindle tells you at the start of a chapter it’s going to take 2 hours to read!

Other chapters from the book address goal setting, motivation and mindset, leadership, trust, culture, and other considerations. The chapter immediate before the Championship Model one mentioned above focuses on Research in Learning and Skill Development. That covers things like specificity, feedback, and deliberate practice.

To give you a flavor of the book, let me share a few quotes.

“Traditional training methods tend to address the components of improvement and achievement separately. We practice to improve technically, train to improve physically, meet with a sports psychologist to improve our mental game, and then work on our team chemistry by doing some “trust falls” (or something similar). While there is nothing inherently wrong with this methodology, I have found that it is not the most effective and efficient path to achievement. I believe that a more holistic approach to competitive excellence creates significant synergies that yield more consistent results and better outcomes.”

“To start, let’s clarify what the primary responsibilities are for each stakeholder in this pursuit of significant achievement. For the athlete, for anything significant to occur, they have to work, learn, and compete. For the coach, to facilitate that significant outcome, they have to teach, coach, and mentor their athletes.”

“Teaching an athlete to perform a skill is a more clearly defined process than the idea of helping the athlete interpret the competitive environment and select the appropriate response. However, when they learn this skill, the randomness of a competitive situation becomes less random, because the athlete now has an enhanced ability to evaluate a situation and distill the number of possibilities for “what happens next” from an extremely large number of potential outcomes to only one or two.”

“Remember, it’s not about right or wrong: the question is about effective and efficient methods. Do these practice activities transfer highly to what happens in the moment of competition? If they don’t, we must ask ourselves, why are we doing them? Often, the answer is because we’ve always done them this way—it’s tradition, and you know how I feel about that. It’s important, and we absolutely should respect it, but it should never be the right reason for doing anything, unless it’s the right reason.”

A big feature of the book throughout is player interviews. In most, if not all chapters Hugh finishes with an interview with someone he coached in the past. They provide interesting additional perspective.

For me, the best measure of a book of this nature is how much it stimulates the reader to think. I pulled nearly 30 quotes from the text. That should give you and idea of where I’d rate this one. That doesn’t mean I agree with everything. Nor does it mean I think everything Hugh says is some great insight. There’s certainly plenty to think through, though.

Hugh shares a pretty comprehensive philosophy of coaching and athlete development in Championship Behaviours. That makes it structurally different than a book like Thinking Volleyball by Mike Hebert. In terms of giving the reader lots to ponder, though, I see them in a similar category. To that end, I would definitely recommend it.

Look for future blogs posts based around some of those quotes I mentioned above!

Hugh also did a similarly titled TED Talk about a year before the book came out.

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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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