A while back, while I coached in England, volleyball blogger Luke took on the subject of why UK volleyball lags behind in his first post. He expressed the view that coaches over-complicating things. Granted, my view on things is by no means comprehensive. That said, I wouldn’t put this on top of the list of reasons why English volleyball lags. I can think of several other concerns first. Here is a few of them.

Participation vs. Competition

One of the issues I saw with the operations of English clubs was that participation often times trumped competition. By that I mean the club clearly favored getting more people into the sport over training for matches. I’m not saying priority shouldn’t be given to participation. At that time a big part of Volleyball England’s funding from on high was linked to national health and activity goals.

The problem comes when a team that is supposed to be competitive has a participation element too. The latter tends to end up as top priority. It results in situations I saw where players unlikely to play in matches were nevertheless in training sessions. Sometimes it was to make up numbers for training (commitment/attendance issue?). Other times their purpose was to bring in added revenue. Either way, it was a less than optimal situation.

Patchwork coaching

I saw a lot of teams without coaches. This was true of many of the BUCS teams and quite a few of the NVL and regional league teams as well. In other cases, teams didn’t have one consistent coach. I almost think the latter is worse than the former – depending on the situation. Once, I witnessed a coach run a practice for a highly competitive NVL team that involved a lot of frankly useless stuff irrelevant to the team, the training reality, and the competitive situation. I heard of something similar with the Exeter University team from before my time. At best, in such “guest coach” situations you get no consistency and no true coaching direction. At worst it’s a waste of the players’ time.

On top of this, some players are part of multiple teams in a year. They get all different levels of coaching which lack any cohesive individual attention.

Low quality coaching

This isn’t a criticism of all English coaching, as a number of highly experienced and quality coaches do work there. Rather, it is a comment on the general state of things across the full spectrum. Volleyball coaches generally don’t get enough education and development, as indicated in this survey. This is something I also addressed before in terms of the mentorship side of things. Volleyball England is trying to address all this, but I think the system lacks a critical mass of upper level former players to form the basis of a strong coaching community at this point. It’s a bit of a Catch-22, though. The current generation of players isn’t getting consistently good coaching, which will tend to stunt their own development as future coaches.

Weak competition

Challenge is critical in order for players to develop. There is definitely volleyball talent in England, but it is probably a bit too disparate – especially at the youth level. I saw too many examples of really dominant youth teams breezing to championships because there just weren’t enough good players on the other teams. Granted, many of these youth players are getting the opportunity to play with and against experienced adult players. I think, though, there’s a limiting factor in not being able to play really competitive volleyball at their age group. The only real way to fix that is to continue to develop the game among young people, which was a primary focus from what I saw.

This is some of what I observed. I could probably name other things, as I’m sure others could too. Please note, this isn’t about picking on the folks involved in English volleyball. It’s more about looking at the reality of the current situation given the priorities and resources available.

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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.

    2 replies to "Why English volleyball lags"

    • lothomas85

      Excellent observations John and I agree with them all. They are all major problems that must be addressed if volleyball is to move forward. However, with the exception of your 3rd point, they relate to the management of volleyball rather than the coaching of volleyball.

      I’m not sure where you stand on this matter but my view lately has been leaning towards the idea that management (in terms of sports development) and coaching should be separate where possible. I have seen many cases whereby the management and coaching structures collide and become confused leading to very poor outcomes for clubs. The best programme I was ever involved with was where we had an Athletic Director who was completely removed from the technical management/development of the team. He asked me at the beginning of the year what I needed in terms of training time, competition and resources and then he set about making it happen. Then it was down to me make it work on the court. Being slightly removed emotionally from the team made the AD extremely effective in achieving those goals and giving me, and the team, what we needed to suceed.

      I think the real solution to many of our problems, and certainly those you have mentioned lies in coaches knowing what they want and finding a management team who can get it for them.

      And the main thing we need of course is money; more money means that coaches can coach as their main job and this will reduce the amount of “patchwork coaching” situations we have as coaches will not be struggling to fit volleyball around their 9-5. More money will mean that clubs won’t need to bring people into performance environments who don’t need to be there and will be able to fund appropriate sessions for all groups. Both of these things will raise the level of competition which in turn will raise the level of competition…

      As for coach education, well, we need more people reading, writing and commenting on blogs. That would be a great way to start to get coaches to think about their practice and share ideas. If we can challenge each other more online and be open about what we do then maybe we can challenge each other more on court too with far better outcomes for our players and the sport as a whole.

    • John Forman

      It’s a fair point that much of what I mentioned relates to the management of the sport at various levels. There’s no getting around the fact that how the sport is structured at different levels directly contributes to the way the sport develops and grows. From the perspective of an “Athletic Director” (which is actually a position that oversees volleyball and other sports at US universities), there is definitely value in keeping administrative functions apart from coaching ones. That said, however, there will always been the need to have a clear set of priorities established – being from the admin side down, or from the coaching side up. Doesn’t really matter which way, just so long as the priorities are laid out and followed.

      And you’re absolutely right that money is a major factor in all this. I think a big part of the lack of motivation among coaches to pursue additional education, certification, etc. is the lack of a financial return on what can be a considerable investment of time and money.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.