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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.

Blocking Statistics – Part Three

I have been thinking about the for a while, and thinking out loud here and here.  But for now, I have a conceptual question.

My object is to measure the value of middle blockers. Traditionally, blocking prowess is measured by number of blocks and block touches, while attacking prowess is measured by attack percentage.  Simple.

But my feeling is that does not necessarily tell the whole story.  I feel that the overall effect of the middle can be better measured by using some version of sideout and break point percentages.  My reasoning is that as well as the raw points that player wins, the team percentages can also at least implicitly measure how opposing teams adjust their tactics to reflect the players they are faced with. Of course, this number includes a lot of noise (surrounding players, defence, transition attack etc etc etc).  So this is my question.

What are the pros and cons of using a team number to measure the effectiveness of an individual player?


Vision, Control And Steve Kerr

Over the course of my coaching life, I have learnt many valuable lessons that apply not only to coaching.  Two of these lessons stand out.

The most important thing that a coach (or businessman, or leader of any kind) must possess is a vision.  The coach must know exactly the type of volleyball he wants to play.  Exactly how to play that volleyball is a secondary concern.  There are many ways to get to the right point and it is impossible to predict exactly which way will be best.  Indeed sometimes you will make huge detours as events take a life of their own, but if you have the vision, you will always be able to get back on track.

The most important thing a coach must understand is that it is impossible to control people.  You can, and must, influence them positively in order to achieve your, and their, goals.  But you most you can do is guide them in the right direction.  Remind them constantly of your vision, of why it is important and show them how they can get there.  And remember that sometimes, if you pay attention you can actually get somewhere even better than where you imagined.

But don’t take my word for it.  Listen to what Steve Kerr has to say.


Timeouts And Service Errors

While at the Olympic Qualification Tournament in Berlin, I was chatting with a colleague who at one point made a comment about the large number of service errors after timeouts, and that coaches should take more timeouts in order to ‘force’ such errors.  I have made this point before, here.**  However, as new information has come to hand, I have modified my position, for example here.  When I related this new information, my colleague was adamant that while it may be that sideout percentage remains the same, service errors are definitely higher after timeouts. Sadly, it didn’t occur to me until later that given that the object of a timeout is presumably to win a sideout, how you win the sideout (service error or otherwise) is actually irrelevant.  But even as I maintained my (current) position that the value of timeouts is overrated and explained the effect of confirmation bias, my colleague refused to be budged from his contention.

However, I had no proof at hand.  So I decided to do a short study.  I looked at my team’s matches from the current season.  We have played 13 matches.  Those 13 matches have produced 2,290 serves and 237 timeouts (including team timeouts and technical timeouts).  While it is not a study of the whole league, I think the sample sizes are large enough to make a reality based observation (i.e. independent of confirmation bias) if not an actual fact.


So according my preliminary study, the probability of a service error after a timeout in the Polish Plusliga, is actually LESS after a timeout than in general play.

“But wait!!!”, I can hear you say. “These are professional players and their coaches tell them in every timeout not to make an error.”  I can only speak for myself, but in the entire season I have never once mentioned service errors and timeouts in the same sentence.  I have on three or four occasions asked a jump server to float serve, but never talked about errors.  Maybe other coaches do talk incessantly about it.

I was able to also calculate the effect of timeouts on aces on the same sample.


As the number of aces after a timeout is almost exactly the same as in general play, one could infer that the players are not making easier serves to avoid errors.  It seems likely that the quality of the serve remains the same regardless of the timeout.

Of course, maybe you are right.  Maybe it is different in your league.  But you don’t actually know and you won’t know until you do the study.  I look forward to hearing your results.

** I understand that the existence of this post could be construed as evidence as to why you should ignore this one, but let’s move one.

French Reception Technique

At the USA Volleyball High Performance Coach’s Clinic in 2015, French National Team coach Laurent Tillie caused quite some consternation amongst participants by explaining a reception technique that emphasised bent arms and cross over footwork.  It occurs to me that many who were so concerned have not seen his team using this technique.  Last week I had the very great pleasure to watch the French team attempt to qualify for the Olympics, and to see how they used these ideas in practice.

I don’t want to editorialise in this forum so have simply transcribed (as best as possible) Tillie’s exact words, and then included a video of the French team in action.

“The arms are relaxed.  From this position, go to the ball and think only of the orientation of the platform.  And finish the movement (shows cross step movement)….

(For float serve reception) Usually we ask to have straight arms and move the shoulders. If the ball comes fast and you stay (with straight arms) the ball goes away.  So we try to work bending the arms. Bending the arms it is easier to control the platform, gain time and be ready to bring the ball to the setter.”

Motivation In Drills

When I was still a player, I worked with a sport psychologist who liked to talk about errors that only experts can make. If I remember correctly, he pointing out the type of errors that result from the kind of tunnel vision that experts often tend to have.  Hopefully in most cases coaches qualify as experts in the field of volleyball, and volleyball training in particular.  As experts, these coaches are always trying to create the perfect drill.  And nothing says ‘perfect drill’ more eloquently than ‘complex scoring system’.  Scoring systems based on statistical analysis, and desired outcomes are of course highly desirable.  But the more complicated the scoring system, the more likely a coach can make an ‘expert’ mistake.

Players have (hopefully) two characteristics.  Firstly, they are competitive. They want to win. (This is actually much less self evident than you would think, but that is a story for another day.)  Secondly, they are lazy.  This should not be a surprise as human beings are mostly lazy.  And it is not necessarily a completely negative thing, especially when it is coupled with competitiveness.  Competitiveness and laziness combined lead people to find the easiest and quickest solution to a problem.  This often leads to many great innovations and other positive outcomes.  But for an expert coach it can lead to difficulties.

The more complicated a scoring system in a drill, the more likely a coach can have overlooked some small detail, exactly the kind of small detail that competitive, lazy players love to take advantage of.  And by taking advantage of that oversight, the players can negate the purpose of the drill and unnecessarily anger the coach**.  If the players find a flaw, the course of action is simple.  Praise the players for their competitiveness and intelligence, be happy you have smart players and not unthinking automatons, change the scoring system immediately and resolve to do better next time knowing full well it is only a matter of time before you make the next mistake. You are, after all, an expert. ;)

** In this case the coach’s anger should be directed at himself for making a mistake, although it will mostly by expressed at the player/s who exposed it.  See ‘What Are You Really Angry About?’

What Are You Really Angry About?


Coaches are stereotypically prone to outbursts of anger. The image of the red faced coach is so pervasive in our (sporting) culture that every comeback victory is invariably accompanied by some form of the narrative ‘The coach must have really laid into you guys at half time.’ Indeed my most embarrassing moment as a coach involves shouting at my team during a timeout and realising that the spectators behind the bench were applauding me.

I am aware of no research that recommends the use of anger, and that kind of behaviour would not be tolerated, let alone encouraged, in any other workplace.  Despite that, every coach knows that shown judiciously, emphasis on judiciously, it can have a positive effect on a team or individual.

Like everything else, the onus is on the coach to understand it and himself to ensure that it becomes a positive exception rather than a negative rule.  Too often however, the coach is not fully aware of either himself or the actual object of his anger.  The most obvious example is of the coach who shouts at the younger players on the team.  In almost cases he is not really angry at that player.  It is much more likely that he is angry at the older player to whom he ‘can’t’ say anything. So he takes out his frustration on someone else.

With me, I find that my anger is rarely directed at what I am actually angry about (if I am honest this is not only about coaching, but everywhere else in my life too).  Mostly I am aware of my mood before interactions with the team and am able to temper any outbursts.  Sometimes I am not aware of some bottled up frustration until it finds an outlet at practice.  Then I have to go away and search myself to learn what is really bothering me.  Sometimes it takes a while.  Sometimes I am surprised at what I find.

In the end there is almost nothing that happens on a volleyball court that should provoke anger.  After all, it is only a game, and it is played by human beings, in all their fallibility.  If you are angry, maybe the player or referee is not the one you are really angry about.  And in that case he / she certainly doesn’t deserve it.  Like every coaching problem, search yourself for a solution first.


Hugh McCutcheon on Perfectionism

Travelling by car is when I listen to podcasts.  And with all of the travel I have done lately, I have been able to get to the bottom of my podcast backlog which goes back several years now.  The following is from a roundtable talk at the AVCA Conference from 2013 (I think).  It was entitled ‘Training and Teaching With a Growth Mindset’.  Those sitting around the table included Hugh McCutcheon and Marv Dunphy.  A question was presented about dealing with perfectionists to which Marv quipped, “I can handle those, the ones I can’t handle are the moody, mopey ones.”  Hugh went into a little more detail with his thoughts.  I will transcribe without comment.

Hugh McCutcheon on perfectionism…

It’s a pretty self indulgent habit.  And I think ultimately it is very selfish. ‘My performance has to be perfect for me to be happy on this team right now.’  So what you’ve got to talk to them about is that nobody’s played the perfect game of volleyball yet and it’s sure as hell not going to happen today.  So let’s just take that off the table.  What we need to talk about is process.  How about you cover every ball.  How about you call every time.  How about you go and support your teammates every time.  How about you get your approach footwork right, your double arm lift, and get loaded and work on the things you are supposed to work on to get better at this game.  So you can have perfect process.  You can demand that.  You should demand that.  But perfectionism is a selfish and kind of pretentious thing that players use to kind of protect themselves, preventing themselves from actually engaging in the process.