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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’.

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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.

To Serve Or Not To Serve? – That Is The Question

Firstly, my sincerest apologies to William Shakespeare. That was uncalled for. Let’s move on.

Everyone knows that when you win the toss in volleyball you should choose to receive. That is as clear as my Shakespeare allusion was idiotic. For those who don’t know the reasoning behind it, the serving team must win one break point more than the receiving team in order to win a set. Given that it is very difficult to win a break point the receiving team has an advantage in any / every given set. There is, however, some suggestion that as the serving team has an extra opportunity to win that break point, the effect is negated.

During the off season, I was involved in a research project with Ben Raymond (i.e. I gave him some raw data and he researched it) that suggested (somewhat controversially) that timeouts were not as effective as we might think (all the links are here). When we were finished with that we started looking at some other things. The ‘serve or receive first’ question seemed like a pretty good question to investigate. If you want to go through all the data, click on this link. If you just want the executive summary, read on.

In the first instance, we took the average sideout percentage  for the Polish Plus Liga and ran a computer simulation of 10,000 sets. The simulation showed that the team receiving first won 4.4% more sets than the team serving first, 52.2% v 47.8%. Clearly it should be an advantage to receive first between closely matched teams.  The same holds, to varying degrees for any sideout percentage above 50%. This result seems to suggest that the between closely matched teams the value of having an extra chance for a break point does not (completely) even out the disadvantage

Knowing what we expected to happen, we then looked at actual events from the Polish and Italian leagues. Those results were interesting. The team receiving first won:

Polish Plus Liga – 50.1%

Italian Superlega – 46.8%

That is, in the Italian League it seems to actually be a disadvantage to receive first.  Why are the results different.  We came up with two possibilities.  Firstly, the sample size in each league was about 500 sets, a lot less than the 10,000 in the simulation. Secondly, in real life the teams do not have equal sideout percentages, one team is better than the other.

We tried to dig down a little bit deeper to see if we could find other factors. For example, did it make a difference if the set was close (three points or less).  Yes and no.  In Poland, the team receiving first won 54.1% of the time (as expected). But in Italy, they won only 43% of the time (the opposite of expected). That Italian league is apparently very strange.

When we dug down even deeper, we found that in the Italian League among similarly matched teams (teams 1-4 and 5-8 playing against each other) in close sets there was a strong advantage in receiving first (56.9%, 54.3%).  But this relationship didn’t hold in the Polish league. It is all very confusing, and surprising in the context of our simulation results.

So what can we say in the end? The receiving team should have a clear advantage over time, if not always in the short term. We can expect that the advantage is even greater in close sets and between evenly matched teams. Life doesn’t always happen as we expect.

A couple of other indicators we picked out of the actual data that could be interesting.

  • The team winning the first point had a roughly 57% chance of winning the set
  • If the team serving first won the first point, their chance of winning the set was over 60%. (Plus Liga 60%, Superlega 66%)
  • The team reaching 8 points first, had a 70% chance of winning the set. This increased to 85% if the margin was 3 or more points.
  • The team reaching 16 points first, had an 83% chance of winning the set. This increased to 92% if the margin was 3 or more points.
  • The team reaching 20 points first, with a margin of 3 or more points, had a 95% chance of winning the set.
  • If the sets were close (three points or less), all of the above indicators were less likely.

The legendary Platonov, now on iTunes.


Timeout Study – The Collected Links

During the off season, I undertook a study of data from the Polish and Italian Leagues with the very great help of Ben Raymond.  In a series of posts we looked at various aspects of timeouts and whether the data supported the theory that timeouts are effective.

The five articles and the Polish translations are linked below.

English version

1.The Truth About Timeouts

2. The Truth About Timeouts – Part Two

3. The Truth About Timeouts – Part Three

4. Timeout Studies – Full Data

5. Timeout Studies – Loose Ends

Polish version







Hands v. Feet

I am fairly confident you already know where I stand on this issue.  If you don’t, you can catch up here, or here.  But this is it in a nutshell.

With your feet, you can save plays.

With your hands, you can make plays.

I’d like to say that this is my last word on the topic.  Somehow I doubt it😀😀

Blocking And Serving Effectiveness – The Answer?

Thanks for all comments and suggestions.  They were all thoughtful and helpful.

I did a poor job of explaining the situation so a few people misinterpreted the information and thought I was referring to sideout percentage.  The problem is that I never directly refer to serve quality, I only ever relate a serve to reception quality.  I understand that is a complicated way of thinking about it.

To rephrase my point, after a positive (+) serve, the team in question was much more likely to win a point if the serve was a jump serve than if it was a float serve.  For the record these are the actual figures.

opp rec pts total  ratio jump ratio float ratio
R- 187 396 0.4722 98 197 0.4975 88 197 0.4467

The ‘winning’ suggestion was the observation that the float servers are most often middle blockers who then must defend.  That is, the libero is not on court.  Breaking down the above situation by whether or not the middle blocker is defending, we get the following figures for the float serve.

Middle in defence 48 119 0.4034
Libero in defence 40 78 0.5128

The sample isn’t really big, but it seems to show that there is a fairly large ‘libero effect’, at least with this team.

Oddly, for the ‘2’ reception, the ‘libero effect’ is much smaller and doesn’t explain the differences so well, but for the moment I am satisfied.

Blocking And Serving Effectiveness

I have an observation that does not make sense to me, for which I can think of no explanation.  Perhaps you can help.

I have found over the years that reception from jump serves and reception from jump float serves is not the same.  I don’t mean that the quality of reception is different, I mean that given a particular quality of reception, the likelihood of winning a point is different.  In some cases vastly different.

For example, studying a team recently, I discovered that if the jump servers can force a negative reception, (i.e. only one possible attacker, basically a high ball attack) that team wins the point roughly 50% of the time.  However, if the jump float servers can the same negative reception, the team wins the point only 45% of the time.  The difference is even more stark with good reception without first tempo (i.e. both the outside can still attack a fast ball, a classic ‘2’ pass).  In that case the jump servers won 43% of the time, but the float servers only 26%.

In each case the definitions are the same, the scoutman/recorder is the same, the team is the same, the figures are based on a whole season’s worth of data.  The best I can come up with is that there is a difference somehow in blocking the two situations, but that is the best I can come up with.

To quote a popular figure from my childhood, “Why is it so?”



Training Goals

There is a lot of research that shows the best kind of practice the coach should do with his team.  The best kind of practice that a coach should do with his team is distributed practice.  Distributed practice provides the best conditions for learning and importantly the retention of the learning.  That is clear.  Everyone knows that*.  So it logically follows that distributed practice is always the best way to practice.  Or does it?

What if the goal of a particular practice session is NOT learning? What if the goal is team building? Or active recovery? Or providing feedback? Or developing a common language?  Or improving communication? If the goal of practice is not learning then is it necessary to use only distributed practice formats?

The practice below was originally recorded by Volleywood for a Facebook Live Event.  The goal of the practice activation.  The team had had two free days prior to this practice.  Contrary to popular belief, professional athletes are not better when they have had free time and tend to be fairly sluggish.  Sometimes practice can look like the players have never met each other, or a ball, before.  In such cases, to prevent practice being an essential dead loss, we can have a morning practice that activates the nervous system and muscles, in preparation for the days that follow.  In that case we want to have simple activities and movements that allow a player to get back in communication with his body and with the ball.

The video quality is not perfect, and it wasn’t recorded with the view of being a training aid, but you can get the idea.

*Sadly, not everyone knows that.  But they should.

Shooting Blind – A Life Without Feedback

This week my club president invited the team and staff for a casual get together / get to know you / team building activity at a local gun club.  If you think about it, it is a logical place to hold a team get together.  I mean what brings a group of men more enjoyment than shooting stuff?  Oh, you can think of a few things, eh? Well, anyway that is where we went.  After struggling for a few minutes with the personal morality of shooting a gun at all (particularly as I don’t want my son to have even a toy gun), I decided to join in.  It was an interesting experience.

The first problem I had was that I wasn’t wearing my glasses.  This wasn’t an issue about seeing the target, or not, but an issue of not being able to see what I hit.  I took careful aim at the target, carefully squeezed the trigger and off in the distance there was a cloud of dust.  I had no clue whether I had hit anything in between those events.  I was shooting blind.  I realised that without being able to see the target I had no feedback on what I was doing.  Between series I was able to see the target and eventually piece together some information.


In the picture on the right you can see the 8 and 6 below the bullseye were in my 3rd series.  The 10, 9 and 8 were in my 4th series.  With feedback, I could quickly improve.

Oddly, considering how many millions of times I have seen it, I am much better able to ‘see’ where a ball lands after having spent a season working with the video challenge system in the Polish League.  For the first time in my over 30 year involvement with volleyball I have had actual feedback on where a ball has landed.  It turns out that is important too.  Who would have thought.

The lesson is, as always, there is no learning without feedback.