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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.

End Of An Era

© Picture-Alliance

© Picture-Alliance

In every field of human endeavour there are those who stand out among their peers.  In my profession an exceptional body of work is normally related to winning.  Among volleyball coaches one of the most exceptional bodies of work belongs to Rumanian born German coach Stelian Moculescu.  Over a 40 year coaching career in the German Bundesliga he won 18 championships, 19 cups and the CEV Champions League.  For a large part of his career he was also coach of the German National Team, who he led to Olympic Qualification for the first time in history in 2008.

He was a controversial figure for his entire career, up to and including his last match.  Every story of the Bundesliga in his time was about him in some way.  He was a ferocious competitor, putting him at odds with many along the way.  He was a great coach.  The teams he had in Friedrichshafen in 2009 and 2010 were a perfect blend of control and aggression.  I have tried to adapt that philosophy in every team I have had since then.  I stood on the other side of the net from him nearly 40 times in my career.  I came out of it a bit worse than even.  I did better than most.

On sunday in Berlin was his last match on the sidelines.  His team lost, but Berlin (club and fans) represented volleyball.  For these three minutes, volleyball celebrated one of its greatest figures.

http://sportdeutschland.tv/play/3655c890f2a30133c9f57054d2ab776f

 

A New Poll About Timeouts

I have a new Twitter poll on the perceived effectiveness of timeouts. I would love to hear your thoughts.

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Champions League / Laola.tv Drinking Game – Official Rules

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They say that “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”.  By following the same logic, when laola.tv gives me a commentator who has never seen a volleyball match, and doesn’t even know the names of the players the only intelligent thing to do is to invent a drinking game.  Sadly I was unable to participate myself but for posterity here are the rules.

1 Drink

The commentator mispronounces a player or team name or .  For example, Juantanorana, Kureć, Ignastaczek, Yesky, Yeshov, Ashichev etc.  The list is shockingly long but somehow does not include Grebennikov or Podrascinin.

Optional – The first person to sing ‘Juantanorana’ to the tune of ‘Guantanamera‘ does not have to drink, and everyone else must drink twice.

Note – Participants must agree on acceptable pronunciations of difficult names. For example, ‘Dryzga’ could be an acceptable pronunciation of ‘Drzyzga’.

The commentator uses non volleyball terminology to describe a volleyball action.  For example, ‘takedown’, ‘reverse set’, ‘breaker’, ‘turnover on 2 etc.  I will never understand the logic that led to someone describe service reception as ‘takedown’.

The commentator does not recognise / notice a referee’s signal.  For example, talks about a spike being touched while the referee is clearly signalling in.

2 Drinks

The commentator does not recognise a referee’s signal AND therefore doesn’t understand what the video challenge has been called for and spends two minutes discussing what is not happening.  For example, the referee calls in but he is talking about the challenge for a block touch.

3 Drinks

The commentator completely fabricates a story about which he has no, or almost no, knowledge.  For example, “I do not know, who is Djuric, but Tsourits is wearing his shirt.” or “Born in Bosnia with Greek parents. So he can choose his surname.” I have heard that the most difficult thing for a human being to do is to admit to not knowing something.  Given that noone actually asked anything, silence would have been a viable alternative in this instance.

If there is anything I have missed, I will glad to add it.  And I look forward to hearing back all the outrageous stories of playing Champions League / Laola.tv Drinking Game

There Is No One Answer!!

I have written several times over the years about the 10,000 Hour Rule.  While I understand that this is not in fact a ‘rule’, it has always been an intriguing idea for one reason.  Explicit in the ‘rule’ is the importance of practice.  And not just any practice, deliberate practice which has the specific goal of improving performance.  This is the most powerful, and more or less only, takeaway.

Since it was first popularised by Malcolm Gladwell, the ‘rule’ has been often used to prove that talent does not exist. For example by Daniel Coyle and Matthew Syed.  The suggestion that talent does not exist is an intoxicating one, particularly for coaches who can tell their athletes that hard work is the sole determinant of success and everyone has an equal chance, and thereby increasing their own importance in the process.  They continue to maintain this stance despite the fact that it is patently ridiculous.

With that background, I read a blog post that quoted studies digging deeper into the importance and effectiveness of training.  The researchers quoted a figure of 18%.  That is practice accounted for 18% of variance in sports performance.  For the non maths experts, 18% is less 100%.

“Our conclusion is that, of course, deliberate practice is an important factor, but it’s not the only factor or even the largest factor,”

Shockingly, the author of the study on which all of this is based, K. Anders Ericsson, disagrees with that conclusion*, pointing out all sorts of flaws in interpretation and method.

To rub salt into the wounds,

“…it’s time to get beyond the idea that talent is either “born” (genetic) or “made” (all about practice). Instead they propose what they call a “multifactorial” model. It features arrows going all over the place in an effort to capture how factors like basic ability, personality, and deliberate practice affect each other and the overall development of talent.”

It is incredibly attractive to think that for every situation there is only one answer.  It allows us to simplify the world into patterns we can more easily understand.  Coaches love to think that there is a best technique or method and applying it will inevitably lead to success.  Attractive as it is, this kind of thinking is that it doesn’t take into account reality.  There are so many factors involved that trying to identify a single answer can only ever lead to superficial thinking.

There is NEVER only one answer.


*Presumably Gladwell, Coyle and Syed also disagree.


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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Blocked Practice Is Priming

None of the following is based strictly speaking on any actual research.  On that basis, it is purely speculation on my behalf.  I will defend myself however by writing that I am taking research results from different areas and putting them together, so I am not just making stuff up.  But it is just a collection of thoughts that might not in reality fit together.

Blocked practice has been shown, as reported here for example, to produce some positive short term learning effect but overall less retention of the learned activity than random / distributed practice.  For learning it is therefore clear that random practice is essential.  But at different moments during the course of the season, the goal of the coach may not necessarily be learning.  Sometimes the goal of the coach is a short term improvement in some particular area for a specific match.  In this situation blocked practice might be a perfect solution.

As I wrote previously the content of practice is in itself a form of communication with the team.  By choosing to practice a particular area in any way at all, even in a way that does not directly lead to long term learning, informs the team of its importance and draws their attention to it.  In this case blocked practice can lead to on court success by priming the team for certain skills and situations.

If I take the train of thought further and add a few more speculations on top…

Although blocked practice does not lead to long term learning, coaches persist with using it.  Obviously no coach wants his team to be worse, so one can only conclude that the coach ‘sees’ improvement in his team after blocked practice, particularly intra session improvement.  In seems likely / possible that what he is actually seeing is just the priming effect of the drill and not actual learning.  Hence the confusion.

It’s just a thought.

Priming And Coaching

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Most people (rightly) contend that communication is one of the key skills in coaching and for coaches.  However, the biggest focus in those discussions is on verbal communication.  Yet there are studies that show only 7% of actual communication is through words, and those studies focus only on the face.  Body language is another important method of communication for a coach, but only one of many.

One method of communication that I pay great attention to is the content of practice and the drills.  The game areas you choose to work on, the drills you choose to work on them, the feedback you give, and the rules of the games you play all convey information to the team about their current level and possible areas of improvement.  If you work on a particular skill  every day, the team very quickly understands that it is important.  And vice versa.

There are other more subtle communication effects also at work.  One, I am sure, is related to to psychological concept of priming.  This is basically the idea that giving some stimulus to someone, makes a particular response more likely.  The first time I heard of this concept, I instantly thought of the scouting information that we always used to receive about a setter who always tipped straight after the opponent tipped*.  This seems to be a fairly classic case of priming.  Although I could be wrong.

I have had many experiences that I am sure are related to priming.  In one team, I spent a large amount of time practicing playing first tempo from poor reception.  When we got to the competition, we never played first tempo from poor reception.  But we did play it often, and effectively, from good reception.  I am sure that we played it a lot more than if I had just told the setter to set it.  This year I have had two interesting experiences with it.

Watching international matches during the summer, I noticed the frequency and effectiveness of one handed defensive actions.  I wondered how I could practice that.  I rather half heartedly did a couple of pairs drills using one handed defence, but I only did it twice for about three minutes each time and forgot about it.  Strangely, in the sessions that followed our defence and especially our one handed defence was noticeably better.  Later in the season, we played a warmup game in which I completely arbitrarily decided that only two handed contacts were allowed.  The next few days in training I noticed players diving for balls with two hands where they had previously been pancaking.  Mmm… priming?

Now whether or not this is actually priming (or confirmation bias from my perspective**) doesn’t really matter.  The point is that the content of your practice is at least as important as anything you say.  Everything you do communicates something to your team, your fans, your management.

The lesson is, as always, coaching is hard.


* I actually think this is possibly a very fertile area for scouting.  How does a setter / spiker / blocker respond to what the other team just did?

** If it is just confirmation bias, then the coach is getting feedback that his practice is effective and feels better about himself.  Which is important too.


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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Effort Justification

In the recent past there has been a lot of research done into the way people think.  Most famously it has been compiled into the book ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman, which I can only highly recommend.  At the heart of all of this research is that human beings do NOT think in the way the we think they think.  There are a lot of tricks that our mind plays on us to interpret situations in certain ways.  Among these tricks are cognitive biases.  The most common referenced of these cognitive biases (at least by me) is ‘confirmation bias’.  Confirmation bias is the particular trick our mind plays in which it preferentially processes information that confirms beliefs we already have.  The most famous example of this in volleyball (at least to me) is the myth that there are more service errors after timeouts, which I have brought into question here, and will shortly attempt to completely debunk.  Some coach in 1965 (maybe) thought that he saw more service errors after timeouts and every coach since then has had that bias confirmed by every single service error after a timeout while at the same time ignoring the good serves after timeouts. In general, every time you saw game statistics that surprised you, it was likely to have been a case of confirmation bias as someone played better or worse than you thought they had (or rather thought they would have).**

The recent book ‘This Is Your Brain On Sports’ looks at various sports related situations and attempts to explain them through these kinds of biases.  One of the chapters talks of ‘effort justification’. This principle is that the more effort someone invests in a task, the more likely they are to stick it.  The reason being that due to the effort put in, they value the goal more highly.  For example an athlete who trained very hard is more likely to keep fighting for victory in difficult circumstances.  This idea reminded me of the something of Bernardinho’s, that I think may well be the same thing; the idea of ‘deserving to win’.  In Bernardinho’s version, a player or team invests a lot of energy into a task and will fight until the end thinking that he deserves it more than his opponent.  In essence, the player having invested so much thinks ‘I deserve this, therefore I will make the extra effort to win’.  Effort justification suggests that the same player or team actually thinks ‘I’ve invested all this effort, this goal must be something very special, therefore I will make the extra effort to win!’

I can’t help but think this is a distinction without a difference but it does emphasise that the benefit of hard work and commitment has deeper effects than the purely physically.  And that coaches understand a lot about how people work.

**This reminds me of the story of the coach who accused an assistant of doctoring statistics because a player’s reception statistics seemed to show the player in question was actually a good receiver.  This did not confirm the coach’s previously held belief, so the only obvious conclusion was that the assistant was a conspiracy.


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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