Featured post

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.

Volleyball Coaching Lessons From Waterloo


June 18th marked the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, one of the most famous battles in history.  Apart from its historical and strategic significance, its brutal nature (over 50,000 soldiers killed or injured in a single day) and destruction of Napoleon’s career, its victor, the Duke of Wellington, used its lessons to leave behind vital insight for volleyball coaches to come.  Paying it forward, if you will.

“The history of a (match) is not unlike the history of a (battle). Some individuals may recollect all the little events of which the great result is the (match) won or lost; but no individual can recollect the order in which, or the exact moment at which, they occurred, which makes all the difference as to their value or importance.”

The lesson is clear.  No matter how adamant someone is in their assessment of the match, or how trustworthy you find them, as Wellington knew only too well they do not know exactly what happened or why.  A volleyball match is not nearly as complex or as important as the battle that decided the next 50 years of European history, but to really understand what happened a coach cannot rely on the recollections of participants or observers.  They can provide some insight, but a full and rational analysis can only be made after assessing all of the resources at hand, including video and statistics.

Like all great volleyball coaches, Wellington’s wisdom is timeless.


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

Cover v2

How To Be A Great Coach

Dave Grohl is the most inspirational human being alive.

I don’t think that is in question.

It is not a matter of whether or not he makes good music and even less about having been a member of Nirvana.  His inspirational qualities lie in his completely unselfconscious love of music, which informs everything that he does.  And what it shows us is the importance of loving something.  When you love something as much as Dave Grohl loves music, everything is possible.

So when the question came up on the Volleyball Coaches and Trainers facebook page that made be think about what it takes to be a great coach, it was only natural to me that I look to Dave for inspiration.  The obvious answer is you have to love volleyball.  If you don’t love volleyball you can never be great coach.  For one thing, you will never be motivated enough to do the work that you have to do.  But there must be more so I settled on a quote from the Foo Fighters song ‘Congregation’**.

“You need blind faith, but no false hope.”

Somehow this idea resonated with me.  It implies that the secret of success is the exactly correct mix of persistence and realism.  So I adapted that concept for coaches, with two variations.

  • You need utter confidence in your coaching principles and methodology, but be unrelenting in your challenging of them.
  • You need complete confidence in your coaching ability, but continually and ruthlessly question yourself.

I think mastering those ideas will take you a long way towards being a great coach.  As long you love volleyball.

Personally, I also like the song.

** It is important to note the quote is not directly from Dave but from music producer Tony Brown during the HBO documentary series ‘Sonic Highways’. An ode, if you will, to Dave’s love of music.

If You Assume…

…you make an ass (arse) out of u (you) and me.

Everybody knows that.

In a cooperative world, within a team for example, that is undoubtedly true.  Otherwise the world would not have been blessed with that particular pithy cliche.  However, in a competitive world, the sports world for example, the reality is a little different.  I would suggest that in that world, when you assume, you lose.  In addition, assumption leads to doing things the way they have always been done.  Assumption stifles innovation. Assumption leads people to accept conventional wisdom.

Some things about volleyball that we should not assume…

Digs lead to points

Attacking leads to points.  Digs can lead to attacks, but not necessarily.  The quality of digs is a greater indicator of the number of points than the dig itself.

More blocks means better blocker

It might, but equally it might not.  I’ve written about blocking statistics here.  I have some evidence that seems to suggest that in at least one case, the middle blocker with the most blocks (points and touches) may actually create the least total break points for the team.

Practice is good but the players can’t perform in matches

By definition, if players do not perform at the expected level during a match something in the preparation was lacking.  And if technique ‘breaks down’, logically either the appropriate technique has not been trained or the technique has been trained poorly.

Free balls are automatic points

I have written about free balls here.  When I first learnt that my team was less successful at scoring from free balls than from service reception (even controlling for quality) I thought I had a weird team.  After the last World Championships, it was discovered to the shock of many (and the relief of one), that it was actually standard.

Everything else

Including this blog post.

But one thing is certain, if you assume anything, your opponent has an advantage.

My Coaching Influences

In this clip from my Volleyball Coaching Wizards interview (soon to be available in full) I talk about my initial coaching influences.  I name John Dunstan and Geoff Hart as my first two major influences.  Like so often happens, in the spur of the moment I didn’t mention why they had influenced me which is the most important part of it.  Luckily I have a forum in which I can redress that issue.

John Dunstan was one of my very first coaches as a junior.  From him I learnt about how a team functions, and in particular how it works together in training to improve.  Basically I learnt the concept of co-opetition, close enough to thirty years before I heard the term (and before it was applied to volleyball?).  This concept has informed literally every practice I have conducted as a coach, professional or otherwise.

Geoff Hart was an Australian who played collegiately at Pepperdine and with the National Team before becoming assistant coach during the time I had a coaching scholarship with the team.  From him I learnt that you need to have a concept of how all parts of the game should fit together.  And perhaps more importantly, I learnt that if you have a strong concept you never need to be afraid of being challenged or questioned on any part of it.

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’.

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.


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.