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Volleyball Coaching Wizards

Apart from giving me an outlet to write about things in volleyball that interest and intrigue me, the main themes of this blog (and Facebook page and Twitter feed) are to share ideas from backgrounds to which not all coaches necessarily have access, and to maintain volleyball history.  Volleyball as a sport has a very poor sense of its own history and what little literature there is fractured into smaller language groups.  For example, English speakers have no real access to the collected wisdom of incredible coaching talents like Platonov or Velasco whose main work has been carried out in other languages.

In another attempt to address this issue John Forman (blogger at ‘Coaching Volleyball’) and I have begun a new project entitled ‘Volleyball Coaching Wizards’.  The goal of the project is to identify and interview as many of the great volleyball coaches in the world (wizards, if you will) and disseminate their accumulated wisdom in as many forms as we can.  In our minds, coaching wizards do not only coach professionals, and are not necessarily famous.  They can just as equally coach high school teams or national teams but their knowledge and experience will be helpful to all.  Initially, the interviews will be available as downloadable audio files and ultimately we would like to put them into a book form.

Until now we have had about 200 coaches nominated (you can nominate a wizard here), 30 confirmations and seven completed interviews.  This will be a long term project.  Details of subscriptions are currently being finalised and will be released soon.  In the meantime, sign up for our mailing list here, and receive a link to one of the first interviews.  And support us on Facebook and Twitter and You Tube.  On those platforms you can also link to clips from some of the completed interviews to give you a taste of what we have in mind right now, but the finished project will be moulded by the input of many.

One of the first interviews was with well known Canadian coach Stelio DeRocco.  Completely unprompted (I promise!) he explained how he saw the value of the ‘Volleyball Coaching Wizards’.

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The Secrets of Platonov

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Vyacheslav Platonov features prominently in any conversation about the great volleyball coaches in history.  His Soviet teams won every competition they entered between 1977 and 1983, including two World Championships, two World Cups, four European Championships and an Olympic Gold Medal.  This period of sustained success is unrivalled in the men’s game. Neither Matsudaira, nor Beal, nor Velasco, nor even Bernardinho have matched that seven year stretch.

During his lifetime, 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, regardless of the sport.

Coaching Tip Of Week #1

“Never make any judgements on individual players or the team after the first day or week of training”

They say that first impressions are important but they also say don’t jump to conclusions.  At the beginning of every pre season, there is always some player who has worked hard in the break and arrives in mid season form.  And there is always some player who arrives out of shape who looks like he has never touched a volleyball before.  Most players of course fall somewhere in between.

It is an easy trap to start to make judgements based on those first impressions, but experience tells you not to make snap judgements.  An experienced coach knows that the first week has exactly zero predictive power for the performance of either the team or individuals.  So sit back, and observe how different players react to training (and each other).  After a couple of weeks you will start to notice that many of those initial observations were not accurate, or very useful.  Then you are starting to make useful judgements.


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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Setting Tactics

When we talk about setters and setting we often talk about setters’ creativity and their ‘hands’.  I have written before that I don’t even know what ‘creative’ means in the context of setting.  And I have seen plenty of middle blockers with better ‘hands’ than top level setters.  So what do great setters actually do?

According to Julio Velasco setters must “Play volleyball, not with the volleyball”.  To me, that means to use tactics to achieve the desired outcome (a spike point).  Simple tactics that setters can use include:

  • Set to the best spiker
  • Set against the worst blocker
  • Use time differential attacks.  This is, two or more spikers attack the same part of the net at slightly different times, the setter then sets one of those spikers, often incorporating individual technical tricks.
  • Use isolation. That is the first tempo runs in one part of the net so the opposing middle moves, the setters then sets in the opposite direction.
  • Individual technical tricks (including hand and body fakes)
  • Dozens of variations on the above
  • Any kind of combination of the above

Many setters sort of fake their way through do some of these things unconsciously, or sometimes consciously or falling back to number 1.  Sometimes you can see setters who have complete mastery of a match by their use of tactics.  One match that sticks out for me and that I have often shared with other coaches as an example of the highest level of tactical setter play was the final of CEV Champions League in 2011-12.  The match was played between Zenit Kazan and SKRA Belchatow.  The setter in question was Valerio Vermiglio playing in blue.  One of the coaches with whom I shared this video made an edit in which he added explanations along the way.  Thanks, Hugh.  I think it is worth sharing.


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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Teaching Resilience

Resilience is one of those mythical qualities that is highly sought after for high performance athletes in all sports.  You can often hear coaches talk about the resilience, or lack therefore, of their teams, and about steps they are taking to develop in their teams.

I certainly agree that resilience is highly desirable. There are innumerable situations during the course of a practice / week / match / season which create disappointments both small and large for individual players and teams.  How resilient those players and teams are to those disappointments is an important factor in quality of the team.

So how to develop that resilience?  It was suggested to me recently that coach’s anger (yelling, screaming etc) during practice specifically creates the conditions that allow resilience to develop.

So this is the question… are coaches who resist displays of anger during their work actually doing their players a disservice?

I’m interested in your thoughts.

Team Culture One Percenters

Everyone* knows that the key to victory in any sporting event is taking care of the 1%ers.  It is one of those pieces of conventional wisdom that we take for granted these days.  When those people* talk about 1%ers they are most often referring to very small technical or tactical areas or even the 1% extra effort required to be successful.  Some coaches have gone as far as to identify what those 1%ers are and measure them.

For those keeping track at home, I think a lot about how the team functions, about ‘The Secret’, about the interactions within the team.  While everyone* knows that the functioning of the team is really, really important, many (most?) coaches do not actually spend time on those elements.  And they would certainly never give up actual training time to work on them.  Indeed coaches are notoriously loathe to voluntarily cut practice time for any reason at all.  And when building a team, they will always take the player who is the slightly better player over the player who is nearly as good but is a better fit in the team.

For those reasons it was interesting and refreshing to hear a recent interview with Anna Collier on The Net Live.  Anna is coach of the USC women’s beach volleyball team which has won the last two NCAA championships.  In the interview she talks of the evolution of her coaching from being a coach interested only in technical development to one being primarily interested in establishing an effective team culture.

“I learned that to me if we have a problem on the team… (fixing that problem) is more valuable than hitting that high line a hundred more times.”

If I can interpret her philosophy, she considers the team culture to be a 1%er and subsequently devotes part of her time with the team to developing them.

Maybe coaching isn’t just about techniques and tactics.


You can listen to the whole interview here from about the 37 minute mark.

//percolate.blogtalkradio.com/offsiteplayer?hostId=51367&episodeId=10013507


*When you read ‘everyone’ or ‘people say’ do you ever ask ‘which people?’ or do you just accept the statement as given?


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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Foot Defence Is Alright

I am sure that there are some people who have read this blog, or heard me talk, or been in my gym who think that I hate all defensive actions with the feet. Those people are misguided.  I have no issues at all with players using their feet to play the ball. I do however have issues with players not being ready to play the ball and using their feet to mask their laziness.  I have an issue with coaches who don’t recognise those actions for what they are and let their players get away with it.  And I have issues with people who highlight that laziness as something all players should aspire to.

Sometimes, just sometimes, using the feet to play the ball is the required action. And sometimes those players are rewarded.


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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The Secret About The Secret

‘The Secret’ is the central theme of Bill Simmons’ epic book about the NBA.  As revealed to him by Hall of Fame player Isaiah Thomas, “The secret of basketball is that it’s not about basketball”.  That is, while the collective skills of a basketball team are important, what is most important is the collective, the interactions between those skills and the personalities of the players.  If you ask virtually anyone close to basketball, or any other team sport, his opinion on the topic, I am extremely confident that virtually all would agree with Thomas’ sentiment.

‘The Secret about the Secret’ is that while virtually all agree that it’s not about (name your)ball in the abstract, almost no one actually takes it into account in practice.  In the vast majority of cases, clubs do not build teams, but collect players or, even worse, ‘assets’ or ‘pieces’*.  While clubs talk about the importance of the team, they will always, always take the slightly better player or slightly bigger name regardless of how they fit into the current team and without considering the mix of personalities**.

I have had the extreme good fortune to spend a large portion of my career working with Scott Touzinsky.  Scott was a pretty good player, especially in reception and defence, but by no means a top level player.  However, every group that Scott was involved in became a team, and most likely won or came very close to winning. His list of (team) achievements includes championships in five different countries, and an Olympic gold medal in 2008.  Yet I personally experienced two different clubs not re-signing him after the team had a great season, because he was not good enough. The drop off in performance on both occasions was catastrophic, but at least in the second case the club was smart enough to correct their mistake.  One of the highlights of my career was being able to bring him to Poland, and listen as real volleyball experts instantly recognised his contribution.

The reason that clubs don’t take into account The Secret is really simple.  Their goal is not to win.  Logically if someone acknowledges the importance of an element and yet systematically ignores it in practice, then they cannot have the goal of winning.  Their actual, hidden, motivation’ is not to look stupid or be criticised for their decisions. If a club takes a ‘worse’ player over a ‘better’ player, they will instantly be criticised and if they also lose, they will likely be sacked.  Karch Kiraly, picking the roster for the 2016 Olympics acknowledged The Secret and took a third setter instead of a fourth receiver.  This was questioned at the time, and continues to be questioned after his highly favoured team faltered in the semi-final.  But the reality is his team led that semi-final 11-7 in the fifth set.  The presence or otherwise of a fourth receiver would not have made a difference in that match.  If you look at the playing time of the fourth receivers in the men’s tournament, you will find they were essentially meaningless (in terms of points scored).  And yet he is still criticised for making that decision.

As he had the first word, so should Isaiah Thomas have the last word.  He knows The Secret, but as the General Manager of the New York Knicks he aggressively ignored it in building historically bad teams, including signing multiple stars who played the same position.  He himself could have predicted the outcome***.


*In the case of the AFL, they don’t even call them ‘teams’ anymore. What the f*** is a ‘playing group’?

**It goes without saying that it becomes the responsibility of the coach to mould these disparate, ill considered pieces into a team.

***He was criticised at the team for his team building. It is still not clear what his hidden motivation was.  One writer judged him as the second worse General Manager of all time.


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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Ayak Bileği Yaralanmalarını Önleme

My recent post on preventing ankle injuries has been translated into Turkish by Serdar Mengi from the volleyball portal voleybolaktuel.com.  The translation appears here.

Ayak bileği burkulması, her düzeyde voleybolda en sık görülen akut yaralanmalardır. Yayınlanan bu makaleye göre, yaralanma nedeniyle kaybedilen süre, toplam sürenin % 30’unu oluşturuyor. Bu nedenle, teknik direktör mantıksal olarak, ekibindeki ayak bileği burkulmalarının sayısını ve şiddetini azaltması gerektiğinin farkında olmalıdır. Burkulmayı önlemek için, mantıksal olarak oyuncuların ayak bileklerini bantladığını ve / veya birkaç farklı ayak bileği koruyucusu kullandığı görülüyor. Ancak belki de bu tür bir yaralanmayı önlemek için daha fazla şey yapmamız gerekiyor. Sorunu biraz inceleyecek olursak.

Göz önüne alınması gereken ilk şey, ayak bileğindeki burkulmaların yaygın olması. Biz en yaygın voleybol yaralanmalarının bu olduğunu biliyoruz, fakat aslında bu gerçek mi?  2014 Dünya Şampiyona’sında, her 420 maçtan birinde, tek bir voleybalcu için bir ayak bileği burkulma ihtimalinin çok yüksek olduğu hesaplandı. Farklı bir bakış açısıyla baktığımızda, son iki sezonda bir ayak bileği burkulması yaşadım. Her oyuncunun sezon başına 50 net eylemi geçekleştirdiği var sayılırsa (hücum + blok gibi), bu 17.500 potansiyel yaralanmaya denk gelir. Pasörleri  ve liberoları çıkartacak olursanız, takımda on oyuncu kalır ve  iki sezon boyunca 175,000 potansiyel yaralanma, 1 gerçek sakatlık gerçekleşti. Bilinen ayak bileği burkulmaları yaygın bir voleybol yaralanması olduğudur, aslında bu kadar yaygın değildir. Aslında, bu miktar şaşırtıcı derecede nadirdirler.

Şimdi bir ayak bileği burkulmasının gerçekleşmesini düşünelim. En basit haliyle, iki (veya daha fazla) kişi aynı zemini kullanmaya çalıştığında bir ayak bileği burkulması oluşur. Ayak bileği burkulmalarını önlemenin en belirgin yolu, iki oyuncunun aynı zemini kullanmaya çalışmamasını sağlamaktır. Bunların daha az bir kısmı ise, koçun uygun sistem ve yapıları yerine getirmediğinden kaynaklanmaktadır. Her durumda sistem ve yapılar net olmalıdır.  Bu aynı zamanda taktiksel olarak mantıklıdır, çünkü aynı bölgede yer alan iki oyuncu karışıklığa neden olur ve diğer alanları açık bırakır. Oyuncu yerleşiminde ve aynı yerde yer almalarının önemli bir nedeni de olan vesilelerin çoğunluğu konsantrasyon eksikliğinden kaynaklanmaktadır. Son on yılda, konsantrasyon eksikliğinden kaynaklanmayan, içinde bulunduğum herhangi bir uygulamada tek bir ayak bileği burkulması hatırlamıyorum. Bu, genel olarak odaklanma eksikliği veya yorulmadan kaynaklanabilir. Tecrübelerime dayanarak söyleyebilirim ki, oyuncuların sıklıkla yorgun düştükleri ve en az odaklandıkları sezonun son ayında ayak bileği burkulmalarının% 80’i ortaya çıkıyor.

Özetlemek gerekirse, ayak bileği burkulması inanılmaz derecede nadirdir. Ve bu nadir sakatlığı önlemenin en iyi yolları ; iyi bir yerleşim sistemi, Eğitim ve antremanları iyi yönetmek, tamamen odaklanmaya yönelik bir ortam oluşturmaktır.


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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