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Platonov Book On Sale Now

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During his lifetime, Vyacheslav Platonov wrote several books, mostly of the autobiographical / memoir type.  His last book, however, was intended to be a handbook for aspiring coaches and as such it contains much of the collected, practical coaching wisdom he accumulated during his many years at the highest level of international volleyball.  He specifically discusses developing your own style, building a team, the qualities of a successful coach, training and preparation, and coaching the game.

For the first time ever, this book is now available in English.  It is available in ePub format here, and as a hardcover book here.  There is also a facebook page. I believe this book is unique in volleyball and a vital addition to the professional library of every serious coach.

If you are living in or around Berlin, or somewhere Berlin Recycling Volleys is playing in the near future, you can buy the hardcover version directly from me. Just contact me via the facebook page.

Serving Speed

Andrea Zorzi wrote an (very brief) analysis of modern volleyball that appeared today on FIVB website.  Among other things that I may or may not agree with, he stated that serving speeds are “…about 10km/h faster than they used to be…”.  This is true.  When the FIVB changed to the current ball, the serving speed was around 110 km/h.  It is now in the low 120s.

However… my recollection is that at the Olympic Games in 2000, with the old Mikasa leather ball, the fastest serves were around 127/128 km/h, from Iakovlev.  Also at around the same time in Italy, using the old Molten leather balls, the fastest serves were in the 138 km/h range, from Dineikine and Iakovlev.  When they first changed to synthetic balls in 2001, the speeds dropped and again in 2008.

Does anyone have some documentation or old articles or videos on this topic?

Ettore Messina

Ettore Messina is considered one of the best basketball coaches in the world.  I posted once about him here.  I recently came across a short video interview with him.  I can honestly say that I have on my bookshelf at least twenty books on or by world famous coaches which combined don’t contain as much wisdom as this fifteen minute interview.  This should be compulsory viewing for anyone thinking about being a professional coach.

I strongly encourage you to spend the time, but in the meantime here are some highlights…

“Sometimes to help them to integrate as personalities is much more difficult than to help them to integrate as basketball players.”

“You cannot be a dictator because people think and people have their own opinions.  At the same time we cannot take a vote every time we have to take a decision in two seconds on the floor. So sometimes someone has to take a decision.”

“You can have two kinds of discipline. The kind you force through strength and power or the discipline that people accept to put on themselves because they are responsible.”

“At some time you are faced with the question, ‘Are more important the (principles) or the people?’ … Great organisations choose principles over people.  When you give up on the principles, sooner or later you will break down.”

“I am afraid of people who never say ‘I am sorry, I have made a mistake.’ … I don’t see any problem is telling the players ‘I am sorry, I made a mistake’.  To me it’s more a matter of respecting myself first, and then everybody else.”

“I think mutual trust comes from behaviours. If you have a constant behaviour of loyalty, of respect for the rules, people will respect you. … The problem is if people take away this trust not because of behaviour but because of the outcome of this behaviour.”  He gives an example of the player no longer trusting the coach not because he stopped being a good coach, but because the player is now on the bench. “I completely disagree if the player takes away the trust because he does not like your decision.”

“You cannot be a good coach if you don’t have a strong organisation behind you.”

“I think it’s not fair if you evaluate the decisions of a player only if the ball goes in or out. … Sometimes the player can be lucky and the balls goes. Sometimes he can be unlucky and the ball goes out. But that is not what makes the good play.”

“If you have a lot of stubborn people who don’t want to be flexible, it’s very difficult to create a team.”

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Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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Internal Standards

I recently had a conversation with a colleague about a range of issues in coaching.  During the course of our conversation he asked how his team could stop being the victim of ‘upsets’ and instead create ‘upsets’ of their own.  He went on to say that he had never been involved in a team that had created an ‘upset’ but had suffered from many.  To me the point is the difference between matches you ‘could’ win, and matches you ‘should’ win.  His teams didn’t win matches they ‘could’ win but often lost matches they ‘should’ win.

I thought that was a great question.  It is one of the most common experiences of coaches that the team plays to the level of the opponent.  Against very good teams, it is easy to play well, but the chances of winning are small.  Against teams around your level, a little below or a little above, it is much more difficult to maintain your level of play and hence upsets occur.  To my mind the solution lies in creating internal standards.  These are standards of performance, teamwork, commitment, emotion, discipline and so on that become internalised as the basic level of play of a team.  Internal standards are created during training and competition.  The coach (and team) demands these standards consistently and relentlessly.  Ultimately a situation is created in which teams and players measure themselves not against their opponent but against themselves.

When sufficiently high internal standards are established, upsets become a thing of the past.  As long as you have a little luck…

The Passion Of The Grizzled

I have long thought that football (soccer) coaches do not earn nearly enough money. They must endure pressure way beyond what is appropriate for participating in a sport. They must ignore the most ridiculous criticisms, often from people with neither expertise nor background knowledge, with a smile (or more likely smirk) and never say what they actually think. And all the while attempting to organise their teams in such a way as to control what is essentially uncontrollable. Working in this environment seems to me to develop coaches with an impenetrable, emotionless façade. This is best exemplified by coaches such as Real Madrid’s Carlo Ancelotti, whose face managed to betray emotion only after his team scored their fourth goal with less than two minutes remaining in the Champions League final. I always think of these coaches as ‘grizzled’.Carlo+Ancelotti_1141_18622359_0_0_14491_300

In my mind the ‘Ancelotti’ of grizzled volleyball coaches has always been Daniele Bagnoli. Bagnoli managed to win nine! Italian championships through the golden age of the Italian League and was long considered the best Italian coach. Apart from the odd display of anger, his entire range of emotion seemed to be a slightly unturned corner of the mouth after winning another championship. For all of those reasons I was excited last month to have a chance to travel to Spain to hear him speak at a clinic. At first contact he was exactly as expected, a little reserved, very serious and actually a little frail. But all of that changed as soon as he stepped onto the court. Even though his most successful days are behind him, he is currently working with a club in Iran, and the team for the coaches to work with was a team of Spanish junior players, his passion for volleyball and for coaching was immediately evident. He immediately began to correct areas even outside the topic of his talks, with a team he will never see again. Everything had to be done just ‘so’, that was the point of the work.dani

It was at that moment that I realised that the reason guys like Ancelotti and Bagnoli (any many others) continue work despite being woefully ‘underpaid’ is the intrinsic passion they have for the game and coaching. In hindsight it is obvious. The only reason you can put yourself through the pressures and stresses and idiocy that they are exposed to is that passion: The ‘passion of the grizzled’.

On a more specific note, some volleyball lessons from Bagnoli, translated and paraphrased.

  • Keep clear what your level is and coach to it.
  • Transfer is the most interesting thing in every sport. If the coach doesn’t know about this, he is wasting a lot of time doing shit.
  • In reception, the depth of the receiver should be such that if the ball flies over his elbows in the ready position it is out.
  • The reception of a strong serve doesn’t have to be perfect. What is important is that there are no errors and no risk.
  • The coach must know what the players can and can’t do and organise his team structure appropriately.
  • Reception technique starts with the HANDS, then the elbows
  • “The bagger is the technique of lazy”.  The point is that because you can bagger (underarm pass) from outside your midline, you do that even if you have time to move. Overhead pass, must be from midline, so you have no choice but to move.
  • What is important is not how you receive, it is how you sideout.
  • For K1, receivers and setters must be calm.   For K2, they need maximum aggression in block and defence. Therefore, when you change phases, players have to change emotional state, especially libero and receivers.
  • Pay attention to the big things, not the small things. The players should control the small things, for example block cover. That doesn’t mean to ignore them just that they are not the priority.

Know The Rules

The coach should know the rules. That is a given. Why the coach should know the rules is perhaps open to interpretation. From one perspective the coach should be able to educate the players so that they know the rules and can play volleyball correctly. If all participants know the rules then the game flows with fewer interruptions and fewer controversies. The second perspective is that if you know the rules better you can also use them to your advantage. We will focus on the first interpretation.
Today I saw a presentation from an FIVB Referee Instructor and member of the Rules of the Game Commission. In the course of his presentation I learnt that if the ball travels over the antenna into the opponent’s court it is a fault. So far so good. I knew that.
I also learnt that if the ball travels over the antenna into the opponent’s free zone, it is still in play. And the same if the defending team returns the ball to its side of the net. I never knew that. Today I am smarter than I was yesterday. And maybe volleyball is a tiny little bit better for it.

Honesty In Feedback

Feedback is a necessary condition for learning.

Indeed feedback drives learning.

And yet, there is pressure (sometimes even at a professional level) for all feedback to be positive.

Here are two great blog posts from Huy on exactly that topic, especially in terms of working with players in the learning phase.

The first one is “Speed and perfection is the enemy of difficult learning“.

The second one is “Giving feedback on failure“.

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Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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What Does John Wooden Have In Common With Casanova?

 Casanova was on his deathbed when someone knocked on his door, repeatedly asking to speak with him.  Casanova’s doctor replied that it would be impossible, given his patient’s critical state.  Only his closest relatives could see him.  When he heard the noise outside, Casanova learned about what was going on and gave orders to let such an insistent character in.  He would have something important to tell him, for sure.  When he finally came in, the young man said: “Mr Casanova, you have made love to over twelve hundred of the most beautiful Italian women…” Casanova interrupted him.  “Fifteen hundred.” “Okay, okay.  Fifteen hundred of the most beautiful women of our country. But how did you do it? You must tell me your secret.”  Casanova signalled at him to come closer, winked conspiratorially, and whispered in his ear: “I asked them.”

I have no reason to believe that John Wooden ever sought out the writings of Casanova.  This was a man who married his first girlfriend and continued to write regular letters to her long after her passing.   However, if he had ever read the above story, I feel confident that he would have nodded approval at its lesson, if not necessarily its direct context.  For encapsulated in the above story is not only the secret of Casanova’s success in his field, but also of Wooden’s in his.

At the end of each season, he would do a complete review including all of his training plans.  He would then decide which area he wanted / needed to improve for the coming season and set about learning everything he could about the topic.  The greatest resource in this quest for knowledge was other coaches.  He would find the coaches who were experts in that area and… ask them.  Sometimes he would write letters.  Sometimes he would visit them.  But always he would learn.

The lesson is, the Terry Pettit Principle holds: You learn about coaching from everywhere.  And to that I will add the newly invented Casanova/Wooden Principle: Ask!

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The Casanova story is reported in Jose Mourinho: Special Leadership: Creating and Managing Successful Teams by Luis Lorenco.

The John Wooden story is reported in many places, among others in his biography, reviewed here.

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Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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