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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.

Clutch Time

scoreboardEverybody knows what clutch time is.  At least, they know it when they see it.  Or they know it when they think they see it. Or…

…anyway…

The NBA in it’s official statistics as the last five minutes of a match when one team ahead by five points of less.  When you look at the clutch statistics you can see that there are familiar names at the top of the list.

A top professional tennis coach has told me that they only scout what players do on big points.  For them, big points begin at 15-30 or 30-30.  At other times, outcomes are more or less random and they don’t want to waste time even looking at them.  He went on to tell me that the best players are the most predictable at those clutch moments. But that is a story about frontrunning and for another day.

We can all agree that the scoreboard above shows clutch time in volleyball.  But the question is, when does clutch time begin?  My first reaction is after 20 with a score difference of 2 or less. But I’m not sure. What do you think? Please take the time to do the poll and feel free to make a comment.

Greatest Volleyball Match Of All Time – Part Two

What does it take to be the ‘greatest match of all time’? I guess simply speaking the match needs to have high quality, great drama and a big stage.  In a previous post I suggested a couple of candidates but those are not the only ones.

When the Olympic Champion USA met World Champion Soviet Union on day two of the 1985 World Cup in Osaka it wasn’t technically a final. The peculiar format of the World Cup (single round robin without playoffs) and shortsightedness of the organisers (seriously, how could they not play this match on the last day?) saw to that.  But it was the decisive match of the tournament and hugely significant in many ways.  The Soviet team was at the tail end of the greatest golden era the sport has seen, had just dominated the European Championships (again) and was almost certainly feeling robbed of an Olympic gold medal due to the LA boycott.  The USA team, at the beginning of their own golden era, was almost certainly feeling that they deserved their gold medal and wanted to justify it by beating their main rivals.  Add in a few tired old Cold War cliches and we know that the resulting match must have been a battle.  The video that is now on You Tube (and below) shows that it was.

Some random thoughts…

  • The level of volleyball seems to have made a huge jump from just three years before (although in fairness the quality of the videos is very different) perhaps due to the structure and specialisation that the USA had introduced to world volleyball.
  • Tactically there are some obvious differences to today’s game.  The lack of service pressure and therefore greater quality of the reception (coupled with the rarity of service errors) meant that the middle players hit (relatively to the other spikers) a lot more balls than would now be common.
  • Tactically both teams were using a lot of overload situations with the reception often close to position 2 and a first and second tempo player in a small area.  That forced the opposition to either expose himself to a two against one situation in that area in order to get a double block against position 4, or to leave position 4 with a single block.  The Soviets had a lot of problem blocking in that small space.
  • The Americans had an obvious defensive plan to try to stop Savin, to make up for the very great difficulty in stopping him at the net.  They dug him a couple of times but the one Timmons got in the face probably wasn’t worth the effort.  We’ll call that a win for the Soviets.
  • History seems to remember Kiraly and Timmons as the prominent players from this USA team, but the most important guy in this match is Pat Powers.  And it isn’t close.  He is the guy who let the Americans compete.
  • The Americans were relentless.  They never stopped or let up or blinked, even when they **spoiler alert**  were down 5-11 in the fifth (in sideout scoring).

Anyway, three sets from this iconic match are on You Tube below.  You can make your own observations.  Present are the first, second and fifth sets.  There is a little break during the second set due to video tape degradation but hang in there, the picture comes back.

A lot of the information quoted here is the from excellent Volleyball Results website, here.

The Data Volley Match Report of the video is here.

More statistical detail of the USA team is here.

More statistical detail of the Soviet team is here.

If anyone has the other two sets, I would love to see them.

If anyone would like the raw Data Volley file for their own purposes, let me know in the comments.

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Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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Praise For Tetyukhin

photo from cev.lu

photo from cev.lu

On the 24th March episode of the volleyball podcast The Net Live sometime host Reid Priddy contributed a review of the Champions League Final Four (which I wrote about here and here).  He focused review on tournament MVP Sergey Tetyukhin. It occurred to me that if volleyball were a proper media sport, and a comparable event had occurred (ie an aging star dominating a tournament), Tetyukhin would have been widely feted with Priddy’s comments being just a few of many.  Given that volleyball is not a proper media sport, and a podcast is somehow a transient media form, I decided to report those comments for posterity.

At the age of 39, his record is unparalleled.  He has won ten domestic championships (for comparison co-Player of the 20th Century, Lorenzo Bernardi won nine), four Champions League titles (Bernardi won three), four Olympic medals (from five participations) and among many other individual awards, was chosen in 2012 as the Russian Sportsman of the Year.  That is, in an Olympic year, he was chosen as the best from all sports.

But in a sense, those things are incidental.  Priddy went on to describe him in quite some wonderment as “…one of those players who, win or lose, it doesn’t change his life.  That’s what fascinates me about him.  As an athlete he doesn’t have his identity or pride or ego wrapped up in the results.”  He went on that in addition to being ‘fun to watch’, “… he’s a team player.  That’s what I loved most about playing with him.  He’s going to go hard and he’s going to try his best and he’s ubercompetitive, crazy athletic but a loss doesn’t change his life.  He doesn’t sulk.  He doesn’t feel less about himself.  I think that’s what separates him.”

Priddy is not alone, his gold medal winning teammate Lloy Ball has also publicly referred to Tetyukhin as one of two greatest players he ever played with and a real clutch performer.  Lloy puts it in his own words at the beginning of this clip.

On the occasion of his Russian Sportsman of the Year award, Russian television produced a documentary.  I am sure it is a must for all Russian speakers :)

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Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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The Wooden Companion

John Wooden is by any measure a coaching icon. In the first instance, there is his record as a coach: ten NCAA championships in twelve seasons while coaching some of the greatest college basketball players ever.  Then there are the teachings that survived his career, highlighted by his Pyramid of Success and his definition of success.  His teaching methods were studied to determine how other coaches should coach (here and here).  He was famously revered by his players.  His position in the coaching world is unassailed.  And yet what really hit home to me how wide his reputation has spread was while travelling with an Italian coach in the US.  After going our separate ways in a shopping centre (when in Rome… as they say), we met up again and he breathlessly explained in his extremely broken English how he had found a whole shelf of books on and by John Wooden.  “You know about John Wooden?”, I asked.  “Of course!”, he replied with a look of confusion.

It was then with great anticipation that I read the first comprehensive biography of him (Wooden: A Coach’s Life) almost as soon as it came out.  I had three goals in reading the book. Obviously to read the story of his life, hopefully to pick up some new insights and also to get some balance about his life and coaching under the ‘companion books theory‘.  I succeeded in each of those three goals and learnt four important things about John Wooden and maybe great coaches in general.

Competitiveness – Wooden was really competitive.  He didn’t show it always to his team in the sense that he never spoke of winning, but he really wanted to win.  He was a inveterate trash talker with referees and opposing players and loved to beat his players at shooting contests and pool.  This was a same lesson as when reading the Phil Jackson biography (incidentally the only interesting thing in an otherwise non inspiring rehash of a dozen other books).  It should go without saying that successful coaches are more competitive than even every day coaches but it is not something that is often written about.  The coaches themselves never write about it in their own books because in the end, competitiveness is unpleasant and uncomfortable and often borders on the antisocial.  And nobody wants to write about that in their own books.

Compromise – Another thing you will never read in a coach’s book is how he compromised his principles.  Most coach’s books are idealised versions of that coach.  He writes a book to tell a version of himself that he wants others to think about, or to sell a product.  The coach’s own story is always about how success is the result of his strong (and at least by implication, unique and unbending) principles.  Wooden was no different in that regard.  All of his writings speak of his principles and tell stories such as the time he forced his star player to cut his hair and shave his beard.  But as in all real life coaching stories, success requires strong principles and many compromises.

Relationships – As I mentioned he was famously revered by his ex players.  But it turns out that almost without exception, while they were playing for him they respected him personally and his skills as a coach, but did not like him and had virtually no relationship with him outside of the training and playing environment.  The close relationships he had with his players all began long after he had finished coaching them.  That was certainly something of a revelation.

Preparation – One thing that I had heard before but definitely bears repeating is his study and preparation.  Each off season he made it a point to review all of his old practice plans and to study one specific area of the game.  To study the game he called and visited other coaches who were known to be experts in that area.  In one particular instance related in the book he filled over 30 notebooks during one off season.  He won the championship that season.  Apparently how you stay at the top is continually study and prepare.  Who knew.

If you are interested in coaches and coaching I would recommend Wooden: A Coach’s Life.  I would not recommend Phil Jackson: Lord of the Rings.

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Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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The Anatomy Of A Brain Fart

Or How To Cheat The Video Challenge System

A few days ago I wrote about the CEV Champions League Final Four and commented on a specific decision made using the Video Challenge System.  To summarise, Tetyukhin spiked a ball down the line that was called out.  He immediately challenged the call which was sustained. There were two strange things that happened in relation to the situation.  Firstly, after all other challenges they showed a photo of the ball landing as evidence of the call.  In this single case they did not.  Secondly, the TV replays showed that the ball was very far inside both the sideline and the baseline.

cl point 1vlcsnap-2014-03-26-14h42m27s142 I described the decision as a brain fart. But there must be some reasonable explanation.

I was having a conversation with someone about how it could be possible when I suddenly remembered the Cyclops system that was used for many years in tennis.  This system used infrared beams to cover the area just outside the service line. When the beams were broken, the serve must have landed out. The system had a weakness though. If the ball was 50cm out, the beams were not broken and occasionally, if noone noticed, a serve that was clearly out was called in.

I have a suspicion that might be what happened in Ankara last weekend. The camera is so close to the line that the operator did not have the ball in his picture.  As the linesman had called out, they assumed the ball was not in picture because it was so far out.  And they didn’t show the photo on the broadcast because the ball wasn’t in the frame, ie there was nothing to see.

So the lesson is, if you are a line judge and want to cheat the video challenge system, don’t try it on close calls, but on ridiculous ones.  If the referee doesn’t directly overrule, you are home free.

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Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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2014 Champions League Final Four – Part Two

It turned out that I had more observations from Champions League Final Four than I think were reasonably digestible in a single sitting, so I decided to break it up into two posts.  Part one is here.

The story of the match is told in P1 In top level men’s volleyball the most vulnerable rotation is normally with the setter in position 1.  That is because it is the one rotation where the opposite must hit in position 4 and one of the receivers must hit in position 2, the relative weaker position for each of those players.  It happens very often that it is exactly in P1 (the Italian designation, P = paleggiatore/setter) that the biggest and most decisive series occur.  I submit the fourth set of the final as Exhibit A.  Belgorod had the perfect match up with its smartest server serving against Halbank’s P1.  When Tetyukhin came up to serve at 18-22 in the fourth, the set was over and preparations for the fifth had begun.  His own coach had even subbed out the setter and opposite.  When he finished serving, it was 23-22 and everything was live again.  One rotation later Halbank subbed on a float server to serve to Belgorod’s P1, therefore reducing the likelihood of a direct error and forcing Belgorod to play their way out of it.  They did and that was more or less that.

Team of the Tournament

Just for the fun of it, here is my best 7 for the final weekend. I have tried to make it based just on those performances, but I have my little biases that I can’t easily let go.

Setter I don’t think it was a great weekend for the setters.  All of them had problems with their accuracy at times, especially to position 4.  On paper, Raphael from Halbank should be the best setter of this group, but I think Travica played a little better in the final and was able to give his best weapons enough opportunity to win the match.

Opposite All of the opposites had good matches over the two days.  For Lasko, his better match was unfortunately in the bronze medal match and Mikhaylov played half of the time as a receiver.  Which leaves Djuric and Grozer.  Djuric had a good final, but I give my casting (only) vote to Grozer.  Released from the pressure of being ‘the guy’ he was able to simply play great. And scoring the last two points counts for something.

Receivers This is really a packed field. Two years ago, Juantorena was considered the best player in the world and had a pretty good weekend, at least in attack.  Five years ago, Kaziyski was considered the best player in the world, and played better than I have seen him play for a couple of years.  But both were overshadowed by a guy who played his first Olympics when they were still kids. Tetyukhin was the tournament MVP, and starts on my team.  For the second receiver, I pick Kubiak.  Maybe Anderson (not to mention Juantorena and Kaziyski) is a better player and had a good, if not great, tournament, but Kubiak is the most important player on his team and I just love the way he plays.  If you take your eyes off the game for a minute there is a chance you will miss something that you have never seen before (or at least since the 80′s).

Middle Blockers We don’t need to talk about Musersky.  Let’s just write that one straight in.  For the second, I can’t say that any of the other middle blockers really grabbed my attention.  Admittedly they are in direct comparison with Musersky and are bound to look bad in that context.  A little bit by default, I will go with Volkov for the last starting spot.  He didn’t always get a chance to show his greatest strengths, but it wasn’t his fault Kazan didn’t achieve what they wanted to.

Libero I am sad to say that I don’t always notice the impact liberos have on the match when I am just watching on TV, so I will have to go a little on reputation here and take Verbov.  I can say that the reception stats for the four matches back me up, so I feel mildly confident in making that choice.

So to summarise my team: Travica – Grozer; Tetyukhin – Kubiak; Musersky – Volkov; Verbov (lib).  Four players from Belgorod feels about right.  I think we would have a chance against most teams and I am certain we would be fun to watch.

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Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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2014 Champions League Final Four – Part One

I am on record over the years of saying the Champions League Final Four is the best weekend of the volleyball year.  The reasons are partly obvious, the best club teams in Europe gather to play the highest level volleyball, and partly behind the scenes, it is a gathering of all the movers and shakers of European volleyball.  And of course when people gather to celebrate volleyball, there is a little party atmosphere going on too.

Sadly (only a little bit because it means I am still playing in my own league) I couldn’t attend in person this year, so the following observations are only the sporting ones, courtesy of laola1.tv.  In no particular order…

Serving is really, really important.  The ability to serve aces is the cornerstone of Russian, and therefore world, volleyball right now and the number of errors that accompany that kind of service pressure often seems incidental, if not totally unimportant.  The Belgorod team of Travica, Ilinykh, Grozer, Musersky and Tetyukhin was akin to a murderers row of servers.  Even if the first four made errors, you still couldn’t relax when the fifth one came up to serve.

Volleyball is coming into the 21st Century A lot of the volleyball at the 2012 Olympics was boring and predictable, with reducing errors the primary concern. Since then there has been a massive generational change and younger, more athletic players are being allowed to be more aggressive by their coaches.  This ‘movement’ was exemplified at this tournament by Jastrzębski Węgiel, in particular by Michal Kubiak and setter Michal Masny. The play is getting faster and riskier and in the bronze medal playoff was rewarded. I especially liked seeing an outside hitter hitting first tempo in transition.

Tetyukhin was rightly awarded the MVP trophy, not just for his service series that turned the fourth set in the final and won the match.  He has been a great player for a long, long time now but it seems that he has only started to receive due recognition in the last couple of years. In this tournament he was a player in complete command of himself and the game and a master of the little plays and big moments.  I think it is completely fair at this point to put him in the conversation with Karch Kiraly and Lorenzo Bernardi as the greatest player in history.   The conversation is a short one because the answer is Karch, but it is a bit longer than it was.

Musersky We should enjoy the best player in history conversations as much as we can while it is still possible.  Musersky showed again, without even being at his best, that he is ‘on pace’ to take Karch’s title. No player in history has had such an effect on the game in every phase. He is the best server, best attacker and best blocker. He can play defence when required and sets fast balls in transition. He is a joy to watch, not least because there is joy in his play.

Video Challenge System is (thankfully) here to stay, although what it’s final form will be is still unclear. In this tournament they used the Italian version which only allows in and out reviews and some net touches. The Polish system allows for reviews of nearly everything and is therefore better, but also more cumbersome.  The number of successful challenges against the home team, particularly on the far sideline from the TV perspective, showed its value in improving the fairness of the games, which must be the ultimate judge.  The system is not (yet) infallible.  I don’t know what brain fart (human or technological) resulted in not overturning the line judge at 2-1 in the fourth, but overall it is very positive.

Part two here.

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Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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