One day I was listening to an episode of The Net Live, which I generally found a really good listen each week. This show, though, there was something which bothered me a bit. It reflected a quite narrow view of women’s volleyball. Mark from At Home on the Court and I talked about how we both like the program. At times, though, there’s a seriously myopic view about certain things. This was one of those instances.

During a discussion about some of the differences between men’s and women’s volleyball, the substitution subject came up. Men’s collegiate volleyball in the US plays basically by FIVB rules. The women, however, do not. One of the biggest differences is that in the women’s game 15 subs are allowed. This is along with having the libero. You can make the argument either way in terms of what that means for specialization and participation and all that. During the show, co-host for the day Jay Hosack (then Penn State men’s assistant) suggested that you can always tell men’s coaches from women’s coaches. He said the different substitution rules is reflected in their coaching. That bothered me.

Different rules?

Granted, the different substitution rules mean different sets of challenges and opportunities between men’s and women’s collegiate coaches in the States. There’s no getting around that. Coaches of each gender have to do the best they can within the rules they play under. From that perspective, I have no issue with Jay’s comment.

What I think really rubbed me the wrong way was the sort of implicit assumption in Jay’s statement. It was that all women’s coaches everywhere coach under different rules than do their men’s counterparts. That simply isn’t the case. Just in the States alone this applies in the Juniors and high school ranks. It certainly applies outside the US where FIVB rules dominate for everyone.

Learning can only be one way?

There was also a view expressed that women’s volleyball can gain a lot from men’s volleyball. That was without any indication that it could actually work the other way around as well. This reflects, I feel, of a certain arrogance among boys’/men’s volleyball coaches and their players.

Yes, there are advantages to women’s players watching the men in action, and in playing with/against them from time to time as well. It helps them understand better the physicality and certain aspects of what can be done tactically. At the same time, though, an awful lot of male players could do with paying attention to what their female counterparts do. This is particularly true at the lower levels where – let’s be honest – most coaches operate. Looking back at my 2013-14 Exeter teams, even though they finished 7th overall in BUCS, the Exeter University men I coached would have done well to take a number of lessons from their peers on the women’s team.

Yes, it is great that women’s coaches like Russ Rose keep up with developments in the men’s game. I’d love to hear more about men’s coaches doing the same with the women’s national team. I personally watch both men’s and women’s top level (and lower level) volleyball. Especially, I watch coaching methods. I want to see what I can bring back to my teams, both male and female. I learn from whoever I can in whatever situation. This is something I encourage other coaches (and players) to do whenever the opportunity arises.

OK. Rant complete.

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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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