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Platonov Book On Sale Now

Book Scans Cover Front Cover v2

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.

You Gotta Do The Reps! – Postscript

A comment on my most recent blog post appeared (briefly) on the Volleyball Coaches and Trainers Facebook page, that I thought we worthy of a detailed reply.

My post was about the value of repetitions and used the example of Kyle Korver and Steve Kerr doing less total repetitions but more effective repetitions.

The commenter made the point that those particular players have previously done a high volume of repetitions and that what they are doing now is not a good example of how to practice.

I have a couple of thoughts.  Firstly, the point of the post is provoke discussion and consider about what an actual ‘repetition’ is.  We do a lot of things in practice, all of which we count as ‘repetitions’.  But not all of these repetitions can possibly have equal value in the learning process.  I would propose that many drills that we consider repetition drills, play only a small part in the learning process, and then at the beginner level.  They have only an aesthetic relationship to the skill that we are trying to learn or improve and as coaches we can be lured into thinking that the aesthetics IS the skill.

Secondly, by focussing on the individual examples, we can too easily lose sight of the bigger picture.  The point of the examples is not about the drills themselves, or the people involved.  It is about performers looking critically at what they are really trying to achieve and searching for ways they can gain more value from their training.

I will add that none of these ideas are originally own, but they are supported by my experience and by research.  You can see the same things at John Kessel’s blog, for example this post about ball control.

The point is always about finding better ways to do things.

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Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

Cover v2

You Gotta Do The Reps!

I thought I go with the self evident statement right out of the blocks.  If you want to get good at something you gotta do the reps!  Just like Ivan Zaytsev in this short clip. https://youtu.be/U0cFQfclAdk I am sure most people reading this would agree that what Ivan is doing is indeed reps.  But I would like to ask the question: What is a repetition?  This is a topic that I have pondered before on this blog (here and here).  The reason I have pondered and continue to ponder the topic is that is increasingly clear to me that what we most often consider a repetition (see video above) is not a repetition in the sense of a meaningful activity with the goal of improving performance.  It can be a confidence building activity.  It can be a ‘grooving’ activity.  It can be a mechanical activity.  It can be a concentration activity.  It can be a time consuming activity.  All these activities are important and valuable when used appropriately.  What most repetitions are not, is a meaningful activity with the goal of improving performance. Several articles that I have seen recently explore the idea of practice and repetitions.  The first on Daniel Coyle’s blog, talks about NFL player Odell Beckham Jnr and ex NBA player Steve Kerr.  In it, he describes ‘High Leverage Practice’.  The title of the article proves the truism that to be a successful author you need to give things catchy names, if possible to things that already exist**.  I would call what he describes analysing the requirements of the activity and devising specific practice for it.  Very briefly, Beckham practices catching with one hand, as he would if he were being closely guarded and Kerr practiced coming of the bench and being effective by coming of the bench and shooting single shots, instead of shooting hundreds in a row. The Kerr drill is particularly interesting as the session described had him doing a very low number of repetitions.  It is not the least bit surprising to me that he has taken this mentality (of thinking about things and not just doing what he was taught) into his coaching career.  The second article is about NBA player Kyle Korver, one of the best current shooters, who also advocates shorter sessions and more specific repetitions over volume. In a team sport, full of open skills that require reading the play and responding to opponents, it is self evident to me that we do not need a high volume of repetitions.  Instead we need an appropriate number of highly leveraged, ugly and specific repetitions.  For example, we don’t need to practice service reception with one player, we need to practice with multiple players on the whole court.  And yes, not every player will receive the same number of balls.  And yes, some player might not get a repetition for two or more minutes.  But that is the way the game is, and practicing as if there game were different, doesn’t help anyone.


** I may be doing someone a disservice here, but when I hear about ‘train ugly’, I think of exactly that.

Quotes – Part 5

Over the last couple of years on the facebook page I have posted quotes that jumped out at me from various sources.  Here is the third collection of some of them. In no particular order.  Part 1 is here.  Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here.  Part 4 is here.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle

“It’s about players making the plays for the team to win, I just try not to screw it up.” Bill Belichick

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Leonardo da Vinci

“On good teams coaches hold players accountable, on great teams players hold players accountable.” Joe Dumars

“No plan survives contact with the enemy.” Helmuth von Moltke the Elder

“Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better.” Pat Riley

“In the realm of ideas everything depends on enthusiasm… in the real world all rests on perseverance.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“Take the time to cultivate leaders on your team. Recognize that yours is not the only voice that your team wants or needs to hear.” Coach K

“Keep it simple, when you get too complex you forget the obvious.” Al Maguire

“It’s not the will to win that matters—everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.” Paul “Bear” Bryant

“I will study and prepare, and someday my opportunity will come.” Abraham Lincoln

“The secret of success is to be ready when your opportunity comes.” Benjamin Disraeli

“A decision can’t be judged solely on its success or failure. There are as many successful bad decisions as failed good ones.” Mark Lebedew

“Skills can be taught. Character you either have or you don’t have.” Anthony Bourdain

“If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything.” John Wooden

“The important thing is not to stop questioning.” Albert Einstein

“You can do more. You can always do more.” Dan Marino

“EVERYTHING we do must be better than what our opponents do.” Jim McLaughlin

“The most important thing in coaching is communication. It’s not what you say as much as what they absorb.” Red Auerbach

“By throwing problem-solving and randomised situations at them, we found we were getting better long-term learning” Wayne Smith (All Blacks Coach)

“If anyone could do it, why haven’t they?” Mark Titus

“Coaching is about effect. If you have to yell at them from the sidelines, you have not coached them.” Anson Dorrance

“No coach has ever won a game by what he knows; it’s what his players know that counts.” Bear Bryant

“A good coach is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary.” Marius Stucke

There are far more ways a coach can screw things up than there are ways for him to make things better.” Mark Lebedew

“Gentlemen, we are going to relentlessly chase perfection, knowing full well we will not catch it, because nothing is perfect. But we are going to relentlessly chase it, because in the process we will catch excellence.” Vince Lombardi

“Sometimes you look in a field and you see a cow and you think it’s a better cow than the one you’ve got in your own field. It’s a fact. Right? And it never really works out that way.” Sir Alex Ferguson  

“A jockey does not have to have been a racehorse.” Arrigo Sacchi

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Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

Cover v2

Spot The Mistake

Volleyball is, on balance, a fairly easy sport to officiate.  The teams are separated, the actions are fairly predictable and the view of the referees is relatively unimpeded.  Still, every so often something happens in a game that is unexpected that a referee misses.  And if the ‘offending’ team is smart (obviously depending on your point of view on sportsmanship and gamesmanship) about it, you can get away with stuff.

Here is a clip from the 2014 Men’s World Championship.

See if you can spot the error.

And why the referee (and everyone else) missed it.

Learning From Stars

”Do not be afraid to learn from players.  Especially new techniques.  “Stars” become “stars” because they do many things non standard, not by the text book.”

Readers of this blog will instantly recognise the above quote from Vyacheslav Platonov, which I have used before.  I was reminded of it recently reading one of the many articles produced to mark the retirement of Steve Nash from the NBA.  The article talks among other things, about how Nash’s style of play affected the way basketball was taught.  For example:

Before he started winning MVPs, old axioms like having two hands on the ball while passing still ruled the basketball landscape. Nash not only made one-handed passing cool, but necessary. Trainers and coaches watching him play noticed that he passed with one hand not for flair or attention, but because it offered more efficient, less restrictive angles for getting the ball to his teammates.

In other words, the star player became a star by doing non standard things.  And eventually (because I am guessing it really did take until he won MVPs for it to happen) coaches recognised that using another technique actually created advantages and actually began to teach it.

So when we see players like Earvin N’Gapeth (as in this post with video) we should always keep an open mind.

Champions League Review… Of Sorts

photo CEV.lu

I am on the record as saying that the European Champions League Final Four is the best event on the volleyball calendar.  I am also on record as saying that my career goal is to participant in the Champions League Final Four.  Having achieved my goal, I can confirm to you that my belief is correct.  And having achieved my goal, and confirmed my belief, there is no conceivable way that I can write about the event with any kind of objectivity.  Plus I hardly saw any of it.  However, I do have two observations that might be worth sharing.

The best organised and structured team I have ever seen was the Trentino Volley team from about 2010 to 2012 with Raphael, Kaziyski and Juantorena.  They were so perfectly structured that you could predict what they would do at any time and their block / defence structure seemed suffocate their opponents.  I once made that comment to a colleague who worked in Italy and saw them play a lot.  He replied, “You’re observations are correct, but if you watch them a lot you will be surprised to find that as good as they are, they actually win a lot of their matches because Juantorena gets a service series at a key moment.”  In other words, as good as they were as a team, their team play was not enough. And Juantorena was so good that even in a champion team he stood out and was decisive.  Which brings me to Wilfredo Leon.  The Zenit Kazan team has arguably the world’s best setter, the world’s best opposite and one of the world’s best outside hitters, plus the starting outside hitters from the last European Champion team sitting on the bench**.  But Leon is another level completely.  At the biggest event in Europe, among probably ten of the best twenty players in the world he was the dominant player and difference maker.  Choosing him as MVP was probably the most obvious award in volleyball history.

The second observation is about volleyball itself.  In a setting like the one in the photo, volleyball is the most spectacular sport in the world.  And frankly, it is not even close.


** Respectively… Marouf, Mikhaylov, Anderson, Sivozhelez, Spiridonov. I said arguably.

“A Window To The National Team”

Sidrônio sent me a link to an article on the website of the Argentinian Volleyball Federation outlining the selection criteria Julio Velasco is using for the Argentinian National Team.  According to Google Translate it is very interesting.  I thought it was worth sharing even if it is not 100% accurate.  Please feel free to provide corrections in the comments.

A WINDOW TO THE NATIONAL TEAM + SELECTION CRITERIA FOR PLAYERS

BY JULIO VELASCO

Every coach uses a strategy to teach and train his team.  There are big differences between doing this for a national team and for a club team. There is no single or best strategy: there are many and team sport history proves it.  What is very important is that this strategy is clear and especially that it is consistent, and targets the team result while maintaining standards of justice that players can recognise.  It is not that all agree with the coach’s decisions, but that those decisions are understood and, therefore, are respected.

As coach of the national volleyball team, I would like to explain some of the criteria of the strategy used by myself and my staff.

1. Players are chosen on their technical level, the ability to understand the game, for their health and physical characteristics, personal characteristics for the game, by age and with respect to the roles in the team.

2. All of these capabilities are assessed by all the staff, although the last word, as is logical lies with the head coach.

3. These assessments have to respect some assumptions: the main factor to consider is how they play, taking into account matches with the national team and also with the club team. It is for this reason that players who do not play at the club level, are not invited to the national team.

4. As coach of the national I cannot interfere with decisions made by players, but I cannot favour the decision (of a player) to prioritise the economic factor above technical growth.  A player can choose a team that pays more but where he will be a reserve over another where he will earn less but will play.  In each case the National Team can also make a choice.

I also believe that if a player is unable to be a starter for his club team, he will not prevail against the best players in the world.  It is also a respect for the activity of clubs and the coaches who work in them.

Like any rule there may be some individual cases that are not specifically covered (for example a player did not know what awaited him at the club), but this does not change the fact that it is not possible to evaluate the player, because he has not played.

Obviously, these criteria on decisions on the players is debatable.  The important thing for me is that, at least, the reasons for certain decisions are known. Other factors, non sporting, for example, cannot be made public.  This is also the logic of things.