Tag Archive for volleyball coaching book review

Book Review: Karpol: Lunatics – That’s What I Need

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 set up kind of like 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 the way players were selected for and progressed 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 realize this book was published in 2009, 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.

Book Review: Dream Like a Champion – Wins, Losses, and Leadership the Nebraska Volleyball Way

There are loads of volleyball books, but there aren’t a lot of books with a biographical and/or historical perspective in the volleyball literature. That’s one of the motivations for the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project. Dream Like a Champion – Wins, Losses, and Leadership the Nebraska Volleyball Way by Brandon Vogel and John Cook adds to that list. It joins Mike Hebert’s books there, adding much-needed depth.

Try not to be jealous

The first thing you may have to get over while reading this book is jealousy. Nebraska volleyball has access to resources most of us could never dream of having. In some ways, the book is a constant reminder of just how well off that program – and others on their level – really is. I’m sure you can get past that, though. 🙂

Fourteen chapters, fourteen topics

The book begins with what is essentially a personal biography from Cook. After that, though, each of the chapters has a different theme. They include things like going deeper on player physical development, understanding how to coach the current generation of college athletes, looking at who you work and surround yourself with, and continuing education and development as a coach.

Cook uses stories to make his case on the different subjects throughout the book. I might argue too many in some cases, but it’s not over the top. I’m sure some folks will enjoy them as they focus on elements of volleyball history at Nebraska. I’m not a part of the Husker universe, but I can appreciate Cook’s perspective on the program’s past.

Some real nuggets

A sure sign of a good book is the number of pages or sections you flag throughout the text. I pulled out several along the way myself. Here’s one of the deeper ones where Cook talks about how his coaching mentality changed over time.

“I coached for a long time like that before realizing that it did not have to be that way. I had a choice to make when I walked into the gym every day: I could coach with love or I could coach with anger. I could be in the moment every day and remember why I wanted to do this in the first place. I could marvel at all of the amazing athletes I was getting to work with and really be grateful for the opportunity we get each season to take a group of players, coaches, and staff and try to make our dreams come true.

He continues.

The other option? I could focus on every practice failure. I could take every loss personally. I could try to eliminate mistakes through fear. Every coach gets to make that choice. I write daily reminders to myself to make sure I am choosing to be the coach I want to be. I wish I had recognized sooner that the choice was up to me.”

This theme of personal growth is a common one throughout the book, and it is clearly part of the message Cook wishes to share. I flagged some other, more narrow, thoughts and ideas as well, though. For example, he shares different policies he’s had and ways he’s helped encourage improved team chemistry. And while the book certainly isn’t drill oriented, he even mentions one or two that he likes.

Get it, read it

I think the title, Dream Like a Champion – Wins, Losses, and Leadership the Nebraska Volleyball Way, probably overstates the whole “Nebraska way” concept in terms of the book’s content. Yes, Nebraska is central in terms of most of the anecdotes, but at the end of the day this is mainly a look into the mentality of one coach – John Cook. From that perspective, it’s well worth a read for coaches at any level.

One bit of advice. At the time of this writing the print book is listed as $19.99, while the Kindle version is $23.70. That’s pretty expensive for an e-book. If you can find someone who owns a copy of the Kindle version, though, they should be able to lend it to you. That’s how I read it.

Book Review: A Fresh Season by Terry Pettit

I previously reviewed Terry Pettit’s book Talent and the Secret Life of Teams. I also interviewed Terry for the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project. A Fresh Season is Terry’s second coaching-related book (he published a book of poetry). Like the first, this one is a collection of different essays and the like, including a poem or two.

This is not a coaching book, per se. You are unlikely to learn from it how to do X, Y, or Z.

Rather, it’s a variety of stories, observations, and commentary. Some of it is recent in origin, while other stuff seems to have been written years ago originally. The subject matter is all over the place.

For example, there is an essay by one of Terry’s daughters that is a kind of “letter to my freshman self”. In it she offers advice on how to get through that first college season, and the seasons to follow.

There’s a chapter called A Letter to the Parents of a Prospective recruit that is a coach’s appeal. If you coach college volleyball you will seriously think about using it in your own recruiting efforts!

A theme of a couple of different chapters is the idea of being uncomfortable. Terry advises recruiting players who have willingly made themselves uncomfortable. He talks about how players need to be put in uncomfortable situations to develop. He also admonishes coaches to put themselves in uncomfortable situations. We cannot, he says, demand less of ourselves than we do of our athletes.

There is a chapter outlining the factors which predict future head coaching success. Prior head coaching experience is top of the list. Not surprisingly, passion and integrity also rate quite highly.

Terry focuses directly on juniors coaches in one section. It’s perhaps the one part of the book where he gets pretty explicit about what he thinks they need to focus on. People probably won’t agree with everything he says, but at least is provides plenty of food for thought.

Another repeated theme in the book is recruiting, requiring, and relating. Terry introduces them as the Three Rs of Coaching in one chapter. They then pop up again from time to time in other chapters.

Those are some of the highlights. There are nearly 40 chapters, but the book is only about 180 pages, so each is quite short. The only lengthy one is the last (nearly 20 pages), which relates the history of Nebraska Coliseum, where Nebraska Volleyball played for so many years – including all of Terry’s time coaching there.

Overall, I think A Fresh Season is a good book. It’s length and structure make for a pretty quick read. At times it’s funny. In many places it’s thought-provoking.

Book Review: A Program with Purpose by Johan Dulfur

A Program with Purpose, by Johan Dulfur is a volleyball turn around story, sort of. The Clarkson University volleyball team is an NCAA Division III program in upstate New York. The author is, at this writing, head coach at Ithaca College (also Div. III), but when he wrote the book he was in the middle of his 10 years at the helm of Clarkson. The text, published in 2013, speaks to how he took that program from nothing to become a team that eventually made seven straight trips to the NCAA tournament and reached the Elite 8 four straight times.

This sort of thing appeals to me. After all, it’s the intention to do just this sort of thing that saw me join Midwestern State.

At only a bit over 130 pages, A Program with a Purpose is a quick read. It’s made even quicker by a number of large visuals. You can read it in a couple of hours. It’s definitely worth that small time investment.

I mentioned at the outset that this book is a turnaround story, sort of. I say that because it’s not a narrative text. The author doesn’t start at the beginning and walk you through a sequence of events. Think of it more as a manual for program development with some historical examples interspersed.

There are seven primary chapters to the book.

  1. Program Vision
  2. Communication
  3. Confidence Building and Goal Setting
  4. Building a Support Structure
  5. Tactical Choices within the Game
  6. Recruiting and Team Composition

Their titles pretty much tell you what they’re about. Each shares the author’s thoughts, experience, and views on that subject, and it’s good material. You may or may not agree with everything he says, but at least it will get you thinking about things. Even if you have experience running your own program, it’s worth going through this book. It can be a good reminder of things to focus on, and we all need that from time to time. The book could have used some editing in places, but not so much that it was overly distracting.

It is noteworthy that the author spent some time working under legendary coach Mike Hebert, who wrote Thinking Volleyball. You can see a bit of his influence in Dulfur’s philosophy, though you also get a big dose of his Dutch heritage as well.

I’ve previously reviewed Sally Kus’ book Coaching Volleyball Successfully. Sally also gained her reputation coaching in Upstate New York, which is interesting. Her book focuses more on high school volleyball, while this one is obviously from a college perspective. Still, they share much in common.

Quick note. This book is not available in Kindle format. You can only get it in print.

Book Review: Gender and Competition by Kathy DeBoer

I’ve had Gender and Competition  by Kathy DeBoer on my list of coaching books to read for a while now. As a male volleyball coach who has mainly worked with female athletes (though having coached a few male teams along the way), I have long been interested in the differences in how you need to approach coaching the two genders. Kathy’s book has come up many times in the discussions I’ve had with other coaches on the subject. That includes multiple Volleyball Coaching Wizards interviews I’ve conducted.

Bottom line? Read this book!

You’ll find it a pretty quick read. It comprises just four chapters that add up to a little over 150 pages. Kathy’s writing style strongly favors story telling. The book is full of anecdotes from her coaching and athletics administration career. Basically, it’s teaching by way of example.

There’s one key phrase that I’ve heard attributed to Kathy on the basis of this book. It goes something along the lines of, “Men battle to bond and women bond to battle.” While I don’t recall seeing that exact phrase in the book, certainly it is what is expressed when looking at the differences in how the genders approach competition. It’s something that comes out very early in the text.

The first three chapters look to describe the difference in communication style and general approach to life, competition, and cooperation between men and women. It also looks at the challenges they pose. This isn’t true just for cross-gender interactions, but even for same gender ones, as Kathy demonstrates in some examples of her interactions with her own female athletes. The forth chapter focuses on advice for how to deal with the differences from both perspectives.

I can tell you that a lot of what Kathy talks about in terms of how men and women approach competition and the differences in how the two genders view leadership ring very true to me. I’ve seen them in my own coaching and have heard similar views from fellow coaches.

I can’t recommend Gender and Competition more strongly. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a male or female coach. It doesn’t matter whether you coach male or female players. You will gain insights that will help you do a better job working with your athletes – as well as colleagues, supervisors, and everyone else in your life.

 

Best volleyball coaches – nominations wanted

As some readers are aware, roughly in parallel with my volleyball coaching I’ve had a career in the financial markets. My coaching in England the last three years has been on the back of working on a PhD in Behavioral Finance, which can be thought of as combining financial markets with psychology. I actually authored a book on trading that was published back in 2006.

In that arena there is a series of books by a gentleman named Jack Schwager, the first of which is titled Market Wizards. They comprise a collection of interviews with some of the world’s elite traders. These books are widely considered among the best, most educational and inspiration ever published in financial market circles. (As and aside, I actually interviewed Schwager not long after the first book came out.)

I’m not entirely sure what triggered it, but some combination of thoughts and ideas sparked a fusion in my head a couple weeks ago. It occurred to me that a similar sort of book would be really awesome from a volleyball coaching perspective.

Thus was Volleyball Coaching Wizards born.

Only, my partner Mark Lebedew and I will be taking things to a higher level. The conceptual framework of interviewing the best of the best remains. We’re just going to build on the original in a couple of ways.

First, we’re not just going the book route. These days the internet and audio/video delivery offer much greater opportunity for distribution than Schwager had when he published his first Wizards book. The specific plan is still a work in progress, but for us a book (probably multiple books) is only one of the ways we plan on sharing content from the interviews we do. We also want to use audio and video, and every other available platform, to be able to reach volleyball coaches everywhere.

Second, we’re going deeper. There are great volleyball coaches at all level of the sport and all over the world. Certainly, we’ll be looking to interview the big names in coaching – international and elite collegiate coaches everyone knows. We also, though, want to interview coaches much less well-known but who are still great coaches in their own right.

I’ve already been in touch with a number of my contacts around the world about the project and the response has uniformly been extremely positive. I think this is something that has the potential to be really special.

All of this means Volleyball Coaching Wizards is likely to be a major undertaking, though. I can easily see us doing more than 100 interviews just in the initial phase. I would expect to add additional interviews over time as new coaches distinguish themselves.

We’d appreciate your help

At this early stage you can help us out big time by bringing great coaches you know of to our attention. In particular, we want to hear about lower profile coaches. It’s easy enough to pick out the the likes of great international coaches based on medals won, top US collegiate coaches based on wins and being in the AVCA Hall of Fame, etc. To an extent, the same is true for US high school coaches. What about Juniors coaches, though? Or university, high school, and club coaches outside the US? Those are the folks we most need the help identifying.

The best way to submit a great coach for potential inclusion is by filling out the nomination form.

You can also help by spreading the world. The more folks we have providing Wizard nominations, the better the pool of candidates will be. So like the Facebook page, follow the Twitter feed, send your friends and coaching colleagues to VolleyballCoachingWizards.com, and whatever else you can think of to get people connected to the project. Any help you can provide will be greatly appreciated.

And definitely feel free to share your thoughts, suggestions, ideas, etc. about the project in general with us.

Book Review: My Profession – The Game

My Profession – The Game is the English translation of the last of several books written by legendary Russian volleyball coach Vyacheslav Platonov. He led the dominant USSR teams during the late 1970s and first half of the 1980s. He left the team after the 1985 World Championships, but returned in 1990 to lead them to another World Championship in 1991. Mark Lebedew of At Home on the Court was part of the book project (his father did the translation). Along with the Kindle version, it’s also available in both ePub and print versions. I read it via the former on my iPad.

This book is a blend of theory and practice. You won’t find any drills or anything like that. This is Platonov sharing is views on things like handling teams and players, training, game strategy, and the like. The one place where he gets into a quite technical discussion is in the area of blocking. That is a chapter unto itself.

As with any coach sharing their personal opinions, there are things you will probably disagree with. And of course Platonov wrote the book before recent developments in the game (though Platonov predicted some of them in the book). That means certain aspects are out of date. Still, it’s always worth hearing the thoughts of someone who had as much success as he did.

The book is quite easy to read. It’s relatively short and broken down into bite sized chunks. That makes it ideal for the coach on the go. Definitely worth getting hold of a copy. You’ll probably find it something you read multiple times.

Book Review: Little Black Book of Volleyball Coaching

Little Black Book of Volleyball Coaching by John L. Betcher is not a book I would have bought for myself. I added it to my Kindle collection before a trip to Germany as something I could read during down times for review purposes. Hopefully, my small investment of time and money saves you some of your own. This isn’t a book I recommend.

There are a couple of interesting and worthwhile bits in the book. They are particularly in the area of developing a coaching philosophy. I don’t agree with some of it personally, but that isn’t why I’m not a fan of this book. It’s the fact that so much of the book is just weak. And we’re talking about a book of only a bit over 100 pages.

A major part of the text defines and describes the phases of transition play. The author claims he included it because he didn’t see it specifically done in other books. I say there’s a reason for that. There’s no need. If there was an in-depth exploration of transition attack – play calling, training methods, etc. – then we might have something interesting, but that’s not the case here. Instead, we get a long-winded explanation of what I think most coaches already grasp pretty well.

The one thing this book does offer is a number of coaching anecdotes. I think these might actually be the most interesting and potentially valuable parts for the reader. Beyond that, there’s about enough meat for a couple of interesting articles, not a full book. A much better option is Coaching Volleyball Successfully by Sally Kus.

Book Review: Winning Volleyball by Al Scates

Let’s face it, a volleyball coaching book published in 1993 is going to have a lot of dated information. It predates rally scoring, the let serve, the libero, and a number of other rules changes which have come into the game in the last 15 years. Winning Volleyball by Al Scates certainly reflects its time in that regard. No question. This doesn’t make it a worthless read, however.

If you can read the writings of someone with over 1200 career coaching victories, it’s probably worth doing so. That’s what you get from Al Scates. He won 19 NCAA volleyball titles with his UCLA during a career which ran from 1963 to 2012. Granted, quite a bit in the book doesn’t reflect the modern game. Still, there is a fair bit one can latch onto as worthwhile. For example, Scates talks at one point about serving strategy. He does so in a way that will be familiar to modern coaches. At least it should be! It’s all presented in a pretty blunt, straightforward style.

And if you’ve any interest in volleyball history at all, you’ll love this book! It has loads of old pictures of some of the legends of the game. Mainly it’s from a US perspective, but that’s hardly surprisingly. Scates also talks a fair bit about the history of the sport in different respects. He does so both in discrete parts and threaded through other sections as well.

So if you can get your hands on an old copy of Winning Volleyball somewhere, it’s worth thumbing through.

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