Jim Stone, who I interviewed for Volleyball Coaching Wizards, has an interesting post on his blog. In it he discusses the so called Moneyball perspective and how that has morphed into a “Betterball” concept. Essentially, it’s a change in focus from player selection to player development.

I think Jim makes some good points, but I also want to push back in a couple of places.

Quick correction/clarification

First, a kind of pedantic correction. Jim notes, “Most collegiate teams spend 15-20 hours per week training during the season.” As a former college coach, he knows that’s not actually true. Teams generally play at least twice a week. Each of those counts as 3 hours toward the NCAA weekly 20 hour limit. That means at most teams have maybe 14 hours of training each week during the season. And likely they use less than that – at least for full team practices. We have to keep in mind that video sessions, individual skill work, and stuff like that all count toward the 20 hours.

Moneyball in Volleyball

Getting to the meat of the issue, Jim comments, “…collegiate volleyball would fall into the Moneyball approach to how metrics are being used.” If you look at the Moneyball perspective in terms of talent identification and recruitment, I’ve argued that really isn’t the case. At least not at the college level. Jim’s focus is more on the other side of the Moneyball approach, however. That’s understanding where team success comes from. This I agree with. My post Correlations to league success works in that direction. So too does Adjusting serve receive pass ratings.

Coaches definitely use a lot more metrics to understand the basis for their teams’ success. The point Jim looks to make, though, is that coaches spend a lot more time at the team level than at the individual one. You can make that case, but there are things that need pointing out.

Coaches are judged on team performance, not player development

I can already hear some of you saying something to the effect of “Player development drives team performance.” Let me explain what I mean.

As I noted in The two biggest jobs of a coach, one of the most important things a coach does is determine training priorities. For a coach in an environment where winning is important (rightly or wrongly), that means prioritizing work on those things most likely to lead to team success. This often – but not always – means giving more time to team play than to individual development. Jim admits as much, and notes, “…most of the time in practice is spent working on system development and scrimmage activity.”

This is something Jim specifically ties in to the limited amount of time college coaches have with their players. The reality, though, is that professional coaches tend to take a similar approach. It shows up in what I talk about in this post related to time working on serve receive.

The point is that coaches seeking to maximize their team’s performance have to prioritize that which will drive the biggest gains in performance for a given amount of work. Oftentimes, that is something team related. Not always, but often.

Players developing independently

Something interesting Jim brings up in his post is how technology can come in to play to help players develop on their own. I wrote about something along these lines in Maximizing video feedback with respect to using delayed video. The idea is to give players tools they can use to evaluate their own performance that isn’t just about outcomes.

This definitely doesn’t rule out coach involvement. It does, however, accept the reality that a coach can’t watch every individual all the time. And, as in the college coach example, might not even have the time to regularly work with them 1-on-1.

So what can we provide players to let them keep working on their own stuff in team-oriented exercises (which can be done!) or when training on their own?

Drilling deeper

The other point with regards to the “Betterball” concept – and one I think Jim wants to drive – is that it encourages a deeper look. Yes, at the end of the day it’s the outcomes that determine results. As coaches (and players), however, we have to understand that outcomes are based on a lot of underlying elements. Some of those elements are individual contacts on the ball. Other elements are the team dynamics in which those contacts take place. The art of coaching is working out where best to focus our time and attention.

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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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