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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.

Timing Is Everything – World League 2014

There are some people who say that every point is equal, or every match is equal or other similar things that are all equally wrong.  If you have ever watched any sporting event you know that every point is not equal.  Equal in numerical value perhaps, but the point at 24-24 is not the same as the point at 0-0.  Every match is not equal.  Friendly matches are not the same as league matches and league matches are not the same as playoffs.  And the league champion is not the champion of the whole season, but the champion of the playoffs. And so on…
In all these cases, it is not winning the point or match that is important but the timing of winning that point or match.  For example, France during the 2014 World League.  They lost only three matches during the entire season and were one of the most impressive teams overall.  But one of the matches they lost was in the final of Group 2 and so they missed playing in the Final tournament that their overall performances had deserved.  Conversely Australia won only seven matches, but one of those was the one that counted, against France, and off to Florence they went.
The same theme held for the final round itself.  Italy crushed USA in the group phase in a really dominating performance, but completely lost the plot in the semi final against Brazil and finished third.  Brazil were great against Russia and Italy, but lost the final.  And USA were far from impressive in the group but played wonderfully in the final and are World League Champions for the second time.  All three teams played at the world best level during that last weekend, but only one did it at the right time.  Timing is everything…
Overall, I’m not quite sure what to make of this year’s edition.  As I’ve mentioned in the past, World League can be a funny competition because not everyone takes it 100% seriously.  USA won, but were the only top team to play the whole competition at full speed.  Brazil, seemed to also play mostly their top lineup but were not impressive until the semi final.
However, while the results might not give us too many hints about the upcoming World Championships, the performances might.
The USA played an excellent World League season, from the first weekend to the last.  The appearance of Taylor Sander has been very significant.  The use of Matt Anderson as opposite was almost as significant in that it allows two great attackers to play at once.  Looking forward to World Championships though, I would recall that in 2012, the teams that focused on World League bombed at the Olympics.
Brazil were for the most part unimpressive and only qualified for the finals in the last weekend of the Intercontinental Round.  Once they got there though, they played the best match I have seen a team play for the last two or three years in completely decimating Italy in the semi final.  They played well for the most part in the final.  Murilo was back playing at a high level, but I have no clue what to expect in Poland.
Italy seemed to do everything right.  They won in Brazil.  They rested their main guys at appropriate times.  They were great against a very good American team in the final round.  And then Brazil made them look like they were playing in slow motion.  I have rarely seen a team so completely demoralised as the Italians in that first set.  Zaytsev’s celebration after scoring a single point in the second set showed just how demoralised.  Even after having done everything right, they still had no solution after Kovar was injured.  That doesn’t bode well.
Russia did enough to make the finals but never looked close to last year’s form although they changed a lot during the Intercontinental Round partly due to injuries to Mikhaylov and Sivozhelez who won’t play World Champs (as far as I know). They do still have Muserskiy, but as with Brazil, I have no clue what they will look like at World Champs.
Ultimately the lesson from World League is that there are a few teams capable of playing at a very high but none capable of sustaining that for a whole month. Which means the World Champion, as always, will be the team that plays its best matches at the right time(s).
Because as we know, timing is everything.

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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