Are you looking for a book to make you think about your coaching rather than just something that presents you with a bunch of drills and systems? If so, then look no further than Thinking Volleyball by the late Mike Hebert. A 50-year volleyball veteran, Hebert offers his final book as something he saw as at least attempting to fill the gap he perceived in the coaching literature when it comes to learning how to think about volleyball and coaching. I read both of his earlier books, The Fire Still Burns and Insights & Strategies for Winning Volleyball. Each had a big impact on me as a developing coach. I therefore eagerly snatched up a copy when the book came out. I’m glad I did!
The broad theme of the book is being ready, willing, and able to think beyond the conventional. That’s not as simple as being OK with taking risks in how you do things. Obviously, though, that’s a requirement (Hebert considered himself something of a coaching maverick). It first and foremost requires actually understanding what that conventional wisdom is. Why is it conventional, and what are its strengths and weaknesses?
The book has 10 chapters. One focuses on offensive philosophy, while another looks at defense. These are the only two which can be classified as technical/tactical in nature. Even then it’s not the main point. The other eight, in various ways, look at different aspects of coaching. These are things like running a program, developing a style of play, gym culture, team trust, and match coaching.
Personal anecdotes are a common feature of Hebert’s writing. He had loads of material from which to work! They came from his own playing days and all the major programs he coached. My one little criticism is the stories are strongly biased toward the positive. Maybe a few failures could have been mixed in for balance. Let’s face it. Not everything works as intended. We coaches often find ourselves trying to figure out how to recover when that’s the case.
One of the more interesting elements of the book is the author’s views toward the modern focus on statistics. This is both in terms of common stats and things like the competitive cauldron (I attended a seminar on that at the 2013 and 2019 AVCA Conventions). Hebert was self-described early-career stats evangelist. He came to question their value relative to the amount of time spent gathering them, though. Not that he discounted stats completely. He definitely asked the trade-off question, though, and suggested a potentially more useful way of looking at things.
Chances are, at least one chapter in Thinking Volleyball will make you think critically about what you’re doing as a volleyball coach. Hebert applied his considerable experience and insight into a discussion of just about every aspect of coaching volleyball you could think of. And he did so from all kinds of angles most of us will never have the opportunity to explore personally. From that perspective, I recommend it for coaches at all levels and career stages.