How much volleyball do you watch?

Do you only watch the matches your team plays? What about those of your competition? And how about those of prospective players for your team or club? How about matches in which you have no personal stake?

Now imagine you’re a coach for an NCAA Division I team (the top collegiate level in the U.S.).

Your team plays roughly 30 matches during the main competitive season (Spring for men, Autumn for women). Maybe it gets in a half-dozen more during the off-season. You watch video of your team’s matches to identify problem points. You watch video of your competition to scout them for upcoming matches. Of course you watch loads of video sent to you by prospective recruits to your program. That’s along with spending long hours in convention centers and gyms watching Juniors competition (and sometimes high school matches). And if you’re a junkie (like me), you watch matches on TV or online as well – time permitting. Sometimes you do things like going to World Championships or the CEV Champions League Final 4.

Now let’s compare that to your average club coach in England, as an example.*

Your team plays say 20 matches a year in whatever league you’re in. You aren’t recording your matches and you certainly aren’t exchanging video with upcoming competitors for scouting purposes, so watching lots of match video is out. Recruitment isn’t a major thing, so you’re not out observing loads of youth matches or highlight videos as a part of your duties.

Which coach do you think is more rapidly growing their understanding of the game and getting the broader perspective on things?

I don’t make this comparison to denigrate volleyball coaching in England, or anywhere else, especially since there are plenty of US coaches operating at a similar level. Instead, I’m trying to demonstrate a developmental opportunity.

We learn from both experience and observation (though we do have to be aware of the limits). Watching lots of volleyball is part of the process of learning about coaching volleyball.

It’s no good, though, to just watch as a supporter or fan of a team, however. You need to do so with a critical eye. What’s going on in the match and why? What makes this player good or that player poor? What strategies are being employed by the coaches involved? It’s not watching to enjoy the experience of watching, in other words. It’s watching to understand and critique – basically, watching with a coach’s eye rather than a spectator’s.

In fact, it would be a good exercise to watch matches with a paper and pen (perhaps more likely a tablet these days) to take notes and make observations. Think of it like being a reporter. Rather than writing about who won and lost and which players were the stars, though, you’re writing about the strategies, offensive and defensive systems, player mechanics, etc.

Watching lots of volleyball with that critical eye, especially across different levels of play, will definitely accelerate your development as a coach.

* I originally wrote this when I was coaching in England, though it can also apply to coaches in a lot of the rest of the world, and also to those in the US who only coach say high school volleyball.

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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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