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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.

Setter’s Rules – Match

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Over the years, I have had the pleasure to work with many world class players including a number of setters of the highest level.  But for the mental, personal and team aspects of setting the best I have ever worked with remains to this day one with whom I played: Mark Tutton (bottom row, far right #5).  Tutts wasn’t very big even by the standards of the day and he was no technician, but he always, always won.  Not only did he always win, but he was the best teammate you could ever have and everybody loved playing with him.  I’m not sure which one of those things came first.  At some point, I decided that learning his secret would help me understand setters and how to help them.  So I called him and asked him how he played a game as a setter.  He began by telling me that he had no clue what he did.  And then told me exactly what he did.  Doing this won’t guarantee that you’ll win the match, but it will go a pretty long to it.

SETTING: ORGANISING A MATCH

By Mark Tutton

 PRIOR KNOWLEDGE

  • Know the personalities of the spikers and how they respond to certain situations, i.e. do they like a lot of the ball or a little or only in certain situations
  • Know the preferences of the spikers, i.e. what is the spiker’s favourite hit
  • Know that each spiker is best and worst at hitting, e.g. what can’t the spiker hit

BEFORE EACH MATCH

  • Determine the type of offence that will be most successful for a particular opponent, e.g. spread or tight offence

DURING THE WARM UP

  • Notice which spikers are looking sharp and work on building up the others
  • Identify who is the ‘hot’ hitter, i.e. who is hitting best right now

DURING THE MATCH

  • Keep all spikers involved in the match, giving more or less even distribution, talking into account PRIOR KNOWLEDGE
  • Set the previously identified ‘hot’ hitter 2 or 3 balls to everyone else’s 1
  • If the situations requires, set the best hitter or the hottest hitter whatever defence is presented and no matter how obvious it is
  • Continually encourage all spikers

Playing To Win

Coaching volleyball, or indeed any sport, for a living is tough.  It is not only the work that is difficult but it can become all consuming to the extent that it affects your personal and family life, and even your personality.  It can change your perspective (a loss is a disaster and a win is merely the postponement of the next disaster).  It can change your sense of humour* (if you have sensitive players who take everything personally).  It can change your sense of reality (an officiating error against you is proof of cheating, while one your favour is proof of your quality).  And it can absolutely affect your sense of irony.  As you can imagine, with no perspective, humour or sense of reality, there can be no irony.

Which brings us to the above video.  Although I certainly have my lapses, I think that I have done a reasonable job of avoiding the pitfalls described above.  The point in the video is from the bronze medal match from the 2015 CEV Champions League.  It shows my team (Berlin Recycling Volleys) create a great opportunity to win the match, and then make a ‘simple’, ‘unforced’ error.  My reaction is a rueful smile and a silent expletive.  The reason for the smile is at that exact moment of time I remembered a moment at training about a week before in which I implored my team (again) to always force the high ball set close to the net and further emphasised my point by saying ‘I would rather make one direct error and nine perfect sets than then ‘okay’ sets’.  I never thought those words would come back to bite us at quite that moment**.   Luckily my sense of irony has not yet been destroyed by my lack of perspective.

During the recent World League Finals tournament it became something of a bugbear of the commentator when teams made similar errors in setting high balls.  His mantra was that in those situations the player should always set the ball on the 10 feet from the net to be safe.  Fair enough, although it could have been the players were trying to set 10 feet from the net but didn’t know where that was.  But I digress.  My problem was that he did comment that the dozens and dozens of great sets were still not the safe option, just ‘luckily’ not errors.  On those occasions he always praised the attacker who made the point and simply didn’t mention the set or setter who made it possible.

There are two important points here.

Firstly, you must be absolutely consistent in your demands of the players.  If you demand aggression, you cannot fault errors that result from what you demand.  Conversely if you demand conservatism, you should fault aggression, even if it results in a successful action.

Secondly, the key concept that led to the errors that so annoyed the commentator was that the current generation of players / teams / coaches is playing to win.  Previous generations’ first instinct was conservative, to play not to lose.  Playing to win means searching for solutions that lead directly to points which in turn means that errors can occur.  Playing not to lose means searching for solutions that give your opponent the chance to make errors.  This leads to what I saw in the 2012 Olympics which was teams who often seemed to be playing ‘with’ each other in a kind of choreographed dance.  It can certainly be annoying at times to see a service error at set point or spike aimed at the top joint of the middle blockers finger land untouched in a spectators lap but those errors arise from exactly the kind of thinking that also leads to the countless successful actions that make modern volleyball such an astonishingly spectacular sport.  You can’t have one without the other.


*Doing anything in the absence of humour is, not surprisingly, an incredible painful experience.

**To keep perspective, we might have made five such errors over the course of the season and I am almost certain the player in question made only that one, including nine months worth of training and dozens of more difficult ones.

World League 2015 – Five Questions Answered

On Wednesday afternoon, before the first match of the World League Finals in Brazil, official FIVB commentator Paul Sunderland revealed that he was really looking forward to this event as best World League finals for years.  The reason? Teams took World League more seriously this year and played a lot more with their top players.  I agreed completely.  Sadly, it was one of the few moments over the ensuing five days that Paul and I agreed on something.  But that isn’t important.  What is important are the questions that were raised over those five days.  I will attempt to answer them.

Does this mean France the best team in the world? No. It does not. Most of the top teams played this tournament at their maximum and twelve months on from last year’s World Championships, all three medallists were different.  Every team in Brazil won at least one match.  Serbia lost to Italy who were in a massive state of upheaval, but went on to make the final.  France were one point away against the USA from not qualifying for the semifinals, but won the event.  Both semifinals went to five sets, with one team coming back from 0-2. What it means is that there are maybe nine (these six plus Russia, Germany, Iran, even Bulgaria) really good teams who can win against any of the other teams on a given day.  But the level is so close that none of those teams will win on every given day.  Basically in world volleyball we have the dream scenario for the NBA.

Does this mean France plays the best volleyball? This is obviously a personal preference but, yes. They do.  As a purist, I would prefer them to be a little better in block but their defence more than makes up for it.  They are fast, skilled and can improvise better than anyone when the moment requires it.  Brazil is not a long way behind and the opening night match between the two of them was about as good an advertisement for volleyball as we can get.  For quality the France – USA match was not far behind.  Overall the game is going through some changes. After the 2012 Olympics there was a huge generational change in world volleyball and the current generation of players (or the current generation of coaches?) are more flexible, more aggressive and less risk averse.  Players like Earvin N’Gapeth, Uros Kovacevic, Michal Kubiak, and even Lucas Saatkamp are looking for solutions to game situations in places that noone has looked before.  Over the last week we saw outside hitters hitting first tempo in transition, players attacking from the backrow on the second contact and middle blockers running slides in transition.  Non setters were prepared to be aggressive when playing the second ball.  Teams were playing to win.  Which, as we all know is completely different to playing not to lose.

Why are the teams so close to each other?

That is really a great question! I can come up with few possible reasons. I think one reason is due to the changing economics of volleyball at club level, which is too complicated to go into any further right now.  Other possibilities include the better players not all being born in the same place (i.e. an accident of history), the age profile of the teams leading to greater inconsistency (i.e. generational change), or more aggressive style of play leading to greater unpredictability in performance (i.e. evolution of the game).  Or it could be due to the absence of Cuba.  Although they would have a relative weakness at setter, their best group would be the most talented and might be dominant in this era.  Or it could just be that it is still a year out from the Olympics and teams still aren’t ready.  A lot can happen in the next twelve months.  Which segues neatly into question 4…

Who is the favourite for the Olympics? No clue.  Actually that is not true. Brazil is the favourite.  For one thing they are the only team who can count on qualifying.  For another the statistics from the World Championships review series that I posted last week, revealed something very interesting.  While every other team had clear strengths and weaknesses, Brazil was near the top in every single skill area. There are demonstrably the best team.  Over time.  Sadly / thankfully the winner of the Olympics is not the best team, it is the team that wins the final.  That makes a difference.  All of the top teams are capable of playing the level of volleyball required to an Olympic gold medal.  All of the top teams feature important players who are young.  They will all improve a lot of the next twelve months.  Everything after that is timing.

How excited are you for 2020?

With the exception of Murilo, all of the top players will not only still be playing in five years, but will be closer to their peaks.  So imagine the current evolution of the game, played by the players who ‘invented’ it, with the greater consistency that experience brings…

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Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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2014 World Championships Technical Review – Part 4

The following article originally appeared in the German ‘Volleyball Magazin‘ in December 2014, written by Michael Mattes, with help from Jan Kahlenbach. It was the originally the second part of the analysis

A note on the translation.  I speak German well, but nowhere near translator level.  Any stilted expression is solely the result of my poor translation and should not be accredited to the author.

Part 1 is here.  Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here.


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Statistics

That Markus Böhme was honoured as Best Blocker of the World Championships and Lukas Kampa as Best Setter was a great thing for the German team, but the awards should have been called “Best Individual Player of the Final Round”, because the FIVB took all other results out of the lists. Wir wanted to find out who were the best of the whole tournament. We should note two things: As we mentioned originally we have restricted the statistics to the top 16 teams.

In addition, specialists with only short game insertions have been removed from the statistics. When a player is brought in for only one action to strengthen the block for a setter and is successful, this blocker was credited in the block statistics with one block point without error from one attempt, which means 100%. Such statistical outliers have been removed, although the line to draw is not always obvious.

Individual Statistics

SERVE

(More than 2 serves per set, more than one ace per match, aces-errors/attempts)

1.      Pavlov – RUS -0.7%
2.      Conte – ARG -3.9%
3.      Ghaemi – IRI -7.4%
  1. Kaliberda – GER, 5. Lucarelli – BRA, 6. Muserskiy – RUS, 7. Grozer – GER

RECEPTION

(More than 2 per set, % positive receptions)

1.      Zatorski – POL 70.6%
2.      Mario – BRA 69.3%
3.      Tille – GER 64.6%
  1. N‘Gapeth – FRA, 5. Ghaemi – IRI, 6. Edadipour – IRI, 7. Kerminen – FIN 8. Kaliberda – GER

MIDDLE BLOCKERS ATTACK

(More than 2 per set, efficiency)

1.      Lisinac – SRB 66.1%
2.      Muserskiy – RUS 59.4%
3.      Ramos – ARG 57.6%
  1. Podrascinin – SRB, 5. Holt – USA, 6. Böhme – GER, 7. Lucas – BRA

OUTSIDE HITTERS ATTACK

(More than 2 per set, efficiency)

1.      Penchev – BUL 43.8%
2.      N. Kovacevic – SRB 43.4%
3.      Lucarelli – BRA 40.0%
  1. Hoag – CAN, 5. Sander – USA, 6. Skrimov – BUL, 7. Kaliberda – GER

OPPOSITES ATTACK

(More than 2 per set, efficiency)

1.      Schmitt – CAN 39.9%
2.      Wlazly – POL 36.4%
3.      Grozer – GER 35.5%

4. Pavlov – RUS, 5. Wallace – BRA, 6. Rouzier – FRA, 7. Ghafour – IRI

BLOCK

(More than 1 block action per set, blocks/set)

1.      Mousavi – IRI 1.06
2.      Zingel – Australia 0.80
3.      Muserskiy – RUS 0.78
  1. Holt – USA, 5. Buti – ITA, 6. Lucas – BRA, 7. Böhme – GER

Interesting Team Statistics

POINT DIFFERENCE IN SIDEOUT PER MATCH

1. BRA 4.7
2. CAN 3.0
3. POL, RUS 2.6
5. GER 1.6
6. FRA 1.5
7. SRB 0.9
10. ITA -0.3
16. CHN -8.1

POINT DIFFERENCE IN TRANSITION PER MATCH

1. USA 6.4
2. RUS 5.0
3. BRA 2.5
4. POL 1.5
5. FRA 1.4
7. GER 1.2
10. BUL -1.4
12. ITA -3.1

SERVICE ACES

1. RUS 8.3%
2. GER 7.5%
3. BRA 7.0%
4. ARG 6.6%
8. POL 5.2%
10. IRI 4.4%
11. ITA 3.9%
12. SRB 3.7%

SERVICE EFFICIENCY

1. RUS -8.7%
2. GER -9.1%
3. IRI -9.3%
4. BRA -10.2%
9. POL -11.4%
14. ITA -14.4%
16. BUL -14.4%

RECEPTION EFFICIENCY

1. FRA 58.9%
2. BRA 57.5%
3. IRI 56.7%
5. GER 54.1%
6. POL 53.1%
13. ITA 44.8%
14. RUS 44.1%

ATTACK EFFICIENCY

1. BRA 39.5%
2. RUS 38.2%
3. CAN 36.8%
7. GER 34.1%
8. POL 33.9%
10. FRA 33.8%
15. ITA 25.5%

BLOCK POINTS PER SET

1. GER 2.58
2. BRA 2.53
3. ITA 2.5
4. POL 2.47
7. USA 2.45
8. RUS 2.31
12. BUL 1.81
14. FRA 1.72

UNFORCED ERRORS PER SET

1. IRI 5.5
2. CAN 5.8
3. FIN 6.0
4. CHN 6.1
6. FRA 6.2
10. GER 6.5
13. ITA, USA 6.9
16. SRB 6.9

2014 World Championships Technical Review – Part 3

The following article originally appeared in the German ‘Volleyball Magazin‘ in November 2014, written by Michael Mattes, with help from Jan Kahlenbach. 

A note on the translation.  I speak German well, but nowhere near translator level.  Any stilted expression is solely the result of my poor translation and should not be accredited to the author.

Part 1 is here.  Part 2 is here.


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FRANCE – Berlin’s coach Mark Lebedew once said: “Modern volleyball is a game of transitions, nobody transitions like the French.” A combination of good ball control, great anticipation, experienced positioning and effective speed brings this team more and more into a position from which to score from transition. Admittedly youthful exuberance and impetuosity has them sometimes searching for the most spectacular point.  This immaturity cost them the matches against Italy and Germany. Otherwise they only lost against Brazil in the semifinals and then only just.  The foundation of the French is their unbelievably secure reception, which a world class player such as Friedrichshafen’s Jenia Grebinnikov with 57.1% had the worst efficiency.  However, the team was only in 6th place in sideout. That figure alone shows how much potential there is in this team. Continue reading

2014 World Championships Technical Review – Part 2

The following article originally appeared in the German ‘Volleyball Magazin‘ in November 2014, written by Michael Mattes, with help from Jan Kahlenbach. 

A note on the translation.  I speak German well, but nowhere near translator level.  Any stilted expression is solely the result of my poor translation and should not be accredited to the author.

Part 1 is here.


wc pictureCUBA – With a development squad (half of the players were still juniors) to reach 11th place at the World Championships is more than respectable. However, one already knows this problem in Cuba from bitter experience. How many volleyball fans wouldn’t love to see a Best Of Cuba team? The reaility is on the court. Statistically it was also clear that this team wasn’t ready. It was not outstanding in any area.

ARGENTINA – Coach Julio Velasco wants to get his team to play with a new tactical concept. Like all rebuilding projects there are many obstacles, that should run until Rio 2016. The individual statistics show that there are good individual players, who play with few errors. In serve they score the most points (3.6 per match). At the net (in attack and serve) however, nothing fits. The attack efficiency of 29.4% was almost 10% less than the top teams, as was the 1.6 blocks per set too few. For all that, Argentina was second in the total number of rallies, which suggests a good block / defence coordination. However, from the resulting transition situations far too few points were created (13th place).

SERBIA – Expectations and reality were far apart with the Serbians. Already in the opening match against Poland it was clear that a lot of things were not right. The main brunt in attack was borne by opposite Atanasejevic, who had to pay for a long season. Through good transition the Serbians won the bronze medal at the 2013 European Championships (+6.1 points per match over their opponents). This time with +0.3 points per match they fell to 8th in this ranking. Their traditional high attack percentage (2013 1st with 52.1%, this time 2nd with 53%) was not enough, as a poor block / defence gave them no chances for counter attack.

FINLAND – Ninth place is a success for Finland and confirms their improvement over the last few years. If they want to improve further, they need to work on their weaknesses in serve (13th), block and transition. Like the Argentinians the Finns often keep the ball alive through their defence (3rd most attempts) but were unable to successfully finish the rally. Therefore they lost on average 3.9 points over their opponents in this area and more than 10 points per match against the top teams. Continue reading

2014 World Championships Technical Review – Part 1

The following article originally appeared in the German ‘Volleyball Magazin‘ in November 2014, written by Michael Mattes, with help from Jan Kahlenbach. 

A note on the translation.  I speak German well, but nowhere near translator level.  Any stilted expression is solely the result of my poor translation and should not be accredited to the author.


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POLAND TOP, RUSSLAND FLOP, DEUTSCHLAND UNBELIEVABLE

We can’t say it often enough: The German men have won a World Championships bronze medal. Hand on heart: Would you have believed it? That makes it an even greater pleasure to write this tournament analysis. The title of the last European Championships analysis (‘Russland top, Polen Flop’) was deliberately reversed and the mention of our team added. Through the title alone, one can see how close the teams the top teams are to each other.

Overall on the World Championships

The ‘Monster Format’ of the FIVB was popular for the majority, even if some experts thought the load was too great. For the German team it was no disadvantage, partly because they never had to change location. The task of the analysts was to go through the data of 103 matches. Because that is not possible is such a short time, the first round matches including teams that did not progress in the tournament were excluded. Our reflections extend to the top 16 teams. Therefore the analysis is of the remaining 67 matches. That is enough to filter our themes and to illuminate tendencies. Continue reading