If you’re like me, you probably know Nikolai Karpol as the Soviet/Russian women’s coach notorious for screaming at his teams. If you’ve read any of my posts about yelling, like this one, you know I’m not a big fan. From that perspective it’s hard for me to have a lot of respect for Karpol. The fact of the matter, though, is he’s been extremely successful through his career – both internationally and at the club level. That’s why I decided to read Karpol: Lunatics – That’s What I Need. We tell our players to go outside their comfort zones. This is one way we can do it as coaches.

I should note, a Croatian journalist wrote this book. The version I read is obviously an English translation. As such, there are some places where phrasing and meaning could be a little unusual. Generally speaking, though, it’s not hard to comprehend.

Also, Karpol is a product of his environment – as we all are. As such, there are places where his comments seem to quite strongly reflect a different mentality than might be the case of someone from a different part of the world and/or a different era.

The first part of the book, not surprisingly, is a biographical look at Karpol’s career going back to the late 1950s. After that it’s basically a series of short essays. Each chapter – of which there are over 30 – has it’s own general theme, but there isn’t a real sense of a defined progression. At only a bit over 100 pages, it’s a short, quick read.

There’s an interesting chapter on player selection to and progression through the club Karpol coached. One of the things it talks about is how you can influence a players height through how they eat and where they go. Of course there’s no scientific evidence offered. I did find it interesting, though, how much cross-training he said they did. The players didn’t just train volleyball. They did a lot of different things.

Karpol is, as I mentioned, well known for his yelling. Interestingly, he does address yelling in a chapter about midway through the book. It’s brief, and probably doesn’t go too far in really explain something many in the world see as his biggest attribute. You might find it both interesting and surprising, though.

The feeling that you get throughout the book, however, is that Karpol truly loved his players. He always wanted the best for them – even after they stopped playing.

In the latter part of the book Karpol bemoans how the world – and to a degree volleyball – has changed. Honestly, it struck me as fairly typical of someone on in years talking about how things were better before. I’m not saying he’s wrong, necessarily, but it was a kind of predictable mindset.

Here are some interesting quotes I came across in the book.

“It is the coach’s job to get everyone to go one step further, to go beyond their limits.”

“The coach’s task is to motivate the sportsman. Some children simply love sport, and in others that love can be nurtured. Let us say that a child is brought to the training session by his father, but he resists, he does not want to exercise, he almost hates sport. However, the coach can make the child love sport so much that he never wants to give it up. The same is true for teachers in school.”

“Young girl players, and the same is true for men, need to get involved in training with older players as soon as possible, for they will then be able to put together the little stones of the understanding of the game into a mosaic. It reminds me of the many little pictures that make up a film. Even by just watching the best players, those they admire, young players can learn a great deal. Not to mention training with them.”

“There is no volleyball on television because there are no stars. As soon as a true star emerges, television will be interested. However the creation of a star is not for a national side, but for the clubs. These days there are a lot of international matches and when the national sides are in action, the clubs take a break. The championships are put on hold. That is why the clubs are not interested in creating players, rather they try to buy them. If there are no quality players, that is stars, television will never broadcast volleyball matches. However much we change the rules of the game and shorten the match time to make volleyball more suitable for television, whatever we do, televisions will not be switched on until we create stars.”

With respect to that last quote, Karpol was very critical in the book of the major international organizations for their marketing of volleyball. We must remember the 2009 publication date of the book, though. Some things have changed since then, hopefully for the better in that regard.

All in all, I think Karpol: Lunatics – That’s What I Need is a book worth reading. I wouldn’t put it at the top of my list, but it’s worth the time.

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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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