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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.

Empower Or Direct?

95 afl

At some point in late 1994, Carlton coach David Parkin sat down to do his customary end of season review.  After being Grand Finalists in 1993, the club had only reached fifth place in the just completed season, a very disappointing result.  Rumours were swirling that the club president wanted to change coach but had been rebuffed by his top three candidates.  Blame for the result couldn’t be placed on the players, as by any measure it was a high quality team.  Indeed history shows that it was literally the best team money could buy.  The mood in the room cannot have been good.

Perhaps emboldened by the fact that he was for all intents and purposes already sacked, and encouraged by a young sports psychologist named Andrew Stewart, Parkin recognised that the greatest resource at his disposal was his players and set upon a revolutionary (at that time) course of player empowerment.  The players were made accountable for all aspects of the preparation and review, including tactics and team selection.  As a result season 1995 turned into a historic achievement.  Carlton set numerous records along the way and on that last Saturday in September they easily won the premiership.

The moral of the story is clear.  Empower players, give them ownership of the process and success will inevitably follow.  In the following twenty years, this model has become the standard in Australian sport, particularly the football codes.

The postscript tells a slightly more nuanced story.  Carlton didn’t repeat their success and finished sixth in 1996.  At coaches conferences, Parkin relates that eventually the players came to him and asked to be relieved of their responsibilities.  It turns out being empowered was really hard work and not a lot of fun when they weren’t winning.  They wanted to be told what to do again.

So which is it? Empower players or direct them?  In the article linked above, Parkin himself has an  answer, “your leadership style should be specific to the situation you find yourself in with the individual and the group”.  He goes on … “(being an) autocrat works for a younger group that needs direction and wants to know what, how, when and why, but as they mature there is that changing relationship with the leader, to the point where they will take control of their own situation.”

The Carlton story shows that it is not even that simple.  Experienced players want to be directed at times and inexperienced ones can be successfully empowered.  In a stressful moment, direction can provide security in the same way that empowerment can provide freedom.  Sometimes the correct answer can vary even during the course of a single match.  As we all know, 2-2 and 21-21 are not the same.

Perhaps Malcolm Blight got the balance best with his ‘Rule Of Three’.  Every player was allowed to read the play and make his own decision on the correct response.  Up to a point.  If he was unsuccessful twice, he had to follow the team rules.  Every player was empowered, but with the security of a built in fall back position.

The Greatest Pressure

“Players learn when they are ready to learn.” Phil Jackson

Every coach who has been a coach for more than about a month intuitively understands this statement to be correct and can instantly recount examples from his experience. It doesn’t matter how much you explain, show, practice, scream, cajole or plead with your players, they learn when they are ready. For different groups, ‘ready’ can mean different things. For some, it can mean going through the pain of losing before being able to accept a new idea. For others, as this wonderful article explains, it can mean understanding the concept behind the motion. The required movement / motion / skill only becomes apparent after the learner has understood the concept.

While every coach understands this statement to be true hardly any heed the lessons it implies. Somehow every coach subconsciously expects that he will be the exception to this rule, and so constantly provides feedback, information and correction about every tiny thing. When faced with the subsequent lack of learning, if he is a ‘good’ coach he will double down and provide more feedback and information. If he is a ‘bad’ coach he will bemoan the fact that his players can’t learn or that he doesn’t have enough training time. But either way he will have done everything he can. Continue reading

Blocking Statistics – Part Two

Thanks for all the thoughtful and helpful comments on my previous post on blocking statistics.  After continued thought and consideration, I have come up with a few points that must be considered when developing a useful blocking statistic (for middle blockers).

  • I won’t say it is the most pointless statistic ever, but I will say blocks per set is NOT a useful blocking statistic.  Firstly, it is too dependent on other skill areas (for example service aces and errors reduce the number of blocking opportunities).  Secondly, a fifth set is only 60% of a set and yet it counts as a whole set.  Thirdly, in a single match individual blocker can have vastly different numbers of attempts.
  • Any useful blocking statistic must be measured against attempts to block, or number of opponent’s attacks.
  • Any useful blocking statistic must be be weighted for different game situations, for example perfect reception, bad reception, transition etc.

Having determined those ‘principles’, I have reached something of an impasse as I have neither the total access to data nor the mathematical skills to really even begin to consider how I might put that into a single number.  But I am able to measure some of those things individually and have been working with some of those numbers. Continue reading

Team Points v Individual Points

In men’s volleyball serving is important, specifically serving to win direct points.  Servers who can score direct points are still highly sought after and for those servers, errors are ‘allowable’.  But what if those servers actually produced less overall points for a team than another server, who made less direct points and, presumably, less direct errors.

The question is …

What is more important : Team Break Points or Individual Aces?

I’m interested in your thoughts.

The Law Of Unintended Consequences – The Playing Area

France's Jenia Grebennikov attempt to save a ballAlmost without exception, when the FIVB makes a rule change I understand the logic behind it.  Virtually every rule change in my time in the game, and before, has had at least one of two main goals.  The major goal of most rule changes is to make the game more attractive.  Most of the time more attractive means making rallies longer as conventional wisdom holds that spectators are most interested in seeing long rallies.  The rule changes generally make it more difficult to attack and/or easier to defend.  Rule changes that affect the length of the game, i.e. rally point scoring, are also intended to make the game more attractive, in this case mostly for television, by controlling its length.  The other main goal of rule changes is to reduce the influence of referees by removing judgement calls.  Unnecessary interruptions are therefore minimised, by extension also making the game more attractive.  Although not all rule changes work, or work the way they are intended to work, at least I follow and accept the logic behind them.  The much derided rule allowing certain net touches, although poorly officiated and poorly explained to spectators and participants, was logical.  Even such poorly conceived ideas as the (completely ridiculous) ‘Golden Formula‘ and the (not ridiculous but not good either) 21 Point Set fit into some (more or less) logical construct.

But every now and again they come up with something that defies logic and will indisputably make the game less attractive.  The press release proclaims ‘Fans will be closer to the action‘.  While an excellent idea in principle, in practice fans may be closer but will actually see less volleyball.  To allow fans to be closer to the action FIVB will reduce the size of the playing area (NOT the court) from a free zone of 8m to a free zone of 6.5m behind the court.  Superficially that does not seem significant.  Unless you have ever watched a high level match.  The actions that are most attractive to spectators present in the stadiums are the dynamic actions at the net, and the desperate actions at the periphery of the playing area, i.e. the last two metres of the free zone.

So with this new rule the spectators close to the court will get close up views of players swearing and kicking the advertising boards that didn’t use to the be there but will be deprived of volleyball action.  That doesn’t seem like the intention of the rule.

Photo Credit: fivb.org

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Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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Training Load

The above tweet is based on my experience.  It often happens that the players experience a level of fatigue that is not related to the intensity or load of practice, but related to the length of the practice.  For example, it is my experience that a two hour practice is more fatiguing than a one hour 45 minute practice regardless of the content of that practice.

I received one comment that interpreted my statement as being an argument against longer practices.  Whilst I personally tend to favour shorter practices, that was not the point I was trying to make.  My point was simply that in calculating the load in a particular training period, one should consider not just the number of jumps (for example) as a measure of load and the number of jumps per minute as a measure of intensity, but also include the time spent in the gym.  The time spent in the gym, just like the time spent in meetings, or travelling extracts a cost in and of itself.

I will argue for shorter practices, but another time…

The Best View?

“There’s no better angle, for sure, than the one from behind.”

Chris ‘Geeter’ McGee, The Net Live podcast.

The angle ‘Geeter’ is referring to here is the best angle for watching a volleyball match.  As all volleyball ‘experts’ know, the best position from which to view a volleyball match is from behind the court.  When I go to a match, I will always head to the back of the court.  During training, I will always wander in that direction.  That is the view I, and ‘Geeter’, feel gives us the best view of what is really happening and therefore provides us with the greatest understanding.

However, this view is not complete.  It provides the whole width of the court, but does not show the subtleties of depth, especially watching on video.  It is essentially a two dimensional view of a three dimensional game.  It is the best of all possible two dimensional views, but still not complete.  From time to time it is very valuable for a coach to check out a different view to improve his understanding of the game. Despite these weaknesses, we all agree that it is the best view.

But is it really the best?  The market says no.  When actually buying tickets for the biggest events, the tickets at floor level, behind the court are the cheapest and slowest selling.  The most expensive, fastest selling tickets are those along the sidelines, closest to the middle, in the first level.  So while volleyball ‘experts’ agree that the best place to understand the game is in one place, volleyball ‘fans’ understand that the best place to enjoy volleyball is a completely different place.  The view from the side definitely gives a much better impression of the dynamism and athleticism of the game.

So when hear that the TV coverage of volleyball is bad because of the camera angles, specifically the lack of a camera behind the court, I am not so sure.  I personally miss the level of understanding that I might normally have, but maybe I am in the minority, and maybe TV producers shouldn’t cater to my needs anyway.

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Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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