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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.

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.

Can You Believe Your Eyes?



The simple answer to this question is, of course not.  There are dozens of cognitive biases that get in between what we see and what we understand, neatly categorised in this article.  But for once that is not what I am getting at.

I am sure everyone agrees that the Video Challenge System has been a wonderful addition to volleyball at the highest level.  Certainly everyone who believes in fairness agrees.  In another forum I might also argue that it adds to the drama of the game, but not this forum.

One thing that the Video Challenge System really shows is how bad humans are at seeing things that happen in a volleyball game.  This article written at the end of the last Polish season reviewing the figures for challenges showed that the best coach in the league was wrong in his challenges 61% of the time*.  This article released by FIVB this week showed that over the men’s and women’s tournaments coaches were wrong, on average, 60% of the time.

When interpreting those numbers it is important to consider a couple of issues.  One, is that most of the time the coach is not making the challenge.  The players inform the coach of an issue and he/she then ‘decides’ whether to utilise one of the finite number of challenges.  So it is not entirely fair to attribute success and failure purely to the coach**.  Two, not all challenges are made with the expectation of having a point overturned.  Some are quasi timeouts and some are speculative ‘nothing to lose’ challenges when a team is way ahead or behind.

That having been said, it is always remarkable to me to see how bad human beings at seeing those lines and various touches of things.  It turns the mind back to occasions in the past in which I, and other coaches, have jumped up and down like a lunatic on the sideline, absolutely convinced something happened differently to the views of the officials***.  Conversely, with the backup provided by the video it is quietly astonishing how good referees and linesmen are at picking those things up.  The number of challenges at the Olympics of tiny block touches that were shown to have been correctly seen by the officials was frankly astonishing.

So chapeau to the inventors of the technologies, and the governing bodies for implementing them.

The only step left is to have a permanent video official who makes those calls in real time without the need for challenges at all.  Tokyo?

*And I was wrong 71% of the time.  Good enough for 6th best (or 8th worst) coach in the league.

**I guess like everything to do with sport😀

***And hilariously, there are still coaches who are convinced despite all conceivable evidence that they, and only they, see things correctly.

Competitor Or Deflector?

If we have spent any time at all around volleyball gyms we feel pretty confident that we can pick out the great competitors among any group.  The great competitors are often the centre of attention.  They play aggressively on every play.  They are always pushing their teammates.  They question every call, even in a non important drill on a Tuesday afternoon, because winning is an every day thing.  They are great competitors.

I see a lot of things differently than most people see them.  Or maybe more accurately, I link things differently together than others. For example, where many coaches see lack of effort, I see lack of readiness.  And so it was when I was involved with coaching one of those great competitors.  Others saw an obvious and enormous will to win.  But I noticed that our ‘competitor’ only pushed his teammates to track down his errant plays (and berated them if they didn’t succeed).  He only questioned (and argued) the calls that would have prevented his mistakes.  Sure he was always aggressive, but most of what he did that stood out from the crowd had the effect (intended or otherwise) of deflecting our attention away from his mistakes.  He was not a competitor.  He was a deflector.

How is it in your gym?

The legendary Platonov, now on iTunes.


Calling For The Ball – What If?

John at the ‘Coaching Volleyball’ blog recently published a post on ‘getting young players to communicate and move‘.  In it he addresses methods of getting players to call the ball and move aggressively to play it.  This is a topic that one hears very, very often at all levels.  If a ball lands between two players then the solution is for someone to call for it.  This is the obvious solution.  Surely.

But what if the reason that the players stay rooted mutely to the spot is because they don’t know who should play the ball?  They already know how to move because you have (presumably) already taught them that and they obviously already know how to call.  The area missing is the knowledge and understanding of who should play the ball.

If that were the case, then telling the players to call more does nothing to solve the problem.  If that were the case, then doing more footwork drills does nothing to solve the problem. Both of those solutions are more likely to inspire a player who is neither afraid to call nor to move, to do both of those things and play the ball that he / she should not*.

Furthermore the idea of asking young players to make collective decisions unguided is by itself fraught with difficulties.  As a colleague recently told me,

“Any time I ask a group of 14 year old girls to make a collective decision it takes at least 5 minutes. The chances of them being able to do it in 1/20th of a second seems to be extremely slim.”

So, what if the coach gave specific information to the players on exactly who should play each ball and when and why?

As soon as you have more than one player in any volleyball related activity then you move outside the technical realm.  There is no technical solution.  When multiple players are involved the problem is actually organisation and understanding, in some order.  To solve that problem you need to increase understanding and clarify.  And that is what the coach must do.

*A team should be structured in such a way that all areas and phases of the game are covered and that players have specific roles in each situation that provide the BEST outcome for the team.  A high level of structure and organisation is interested not in keeping the ball off the ground and getting the ball over the net, but in how to carry out those activities as a group to the best advantage of the team.

Olympic great Vyacheslav Platonov reveals his coaching secrets here.

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2016 Olympic Power Rankings – Final (Part 2)

During the London Olympics, I did a daily ‘Power Rankings’ after each round of matches.  In the absence of any better ideas, I thought I would do the same again.

For the last rankings I will count down from bottom to top, and in two parts.  If you make it to the end, you will see why.  Part 1 is here.  And here is Part 2…


5 RUSSIA – After underwhelming for the last three years, it was a small surprise to see Russia as the only team from Pool B in the semi finals.  Surprising that is, unless you take into account that it was their sixth semi final appearance in a row, that they were coached by Vladimir Alekno and led by the ageless legend Tetyukhin who played in all five previous semi finals.  Mikhaylov returned for a while to his very best form but that deserted him on the last weekend.  They really hammered the Americans weakness on float serve reception but couldn’t counter the fresh legs of Priddy.  With Alekno staying in his post, and having blooded some younger guys, including Kliuka, they will be a team to watch out for in the next four year cycle.

4 USA – For some period of the tournament, USA were clearly the second best team.  They got onto a roll with their serve that kept great ball control teams like France and Brazil completely off their game.  At the same time they passed very well, and managed their high ball situations in attack at the highest level.  They showed some glimpses of weakness against float serves, but noone was able to take advantage of it.  Until the semi final.  It seemed that most of the significant service series that Italy had were with their float servers.  For example, the series of Birarelli at the end of the first set.  (But obviously not the series from Zaytsev at the end of the fourth.)  Russia too built a lead on that basis until the introduction of America’s Tetyukhin, Reid Priddy, stabilised their reception and turned the game around.  They have a very young team that will nearly all be around in four years time.  They should be excited about the future.

3 ITALY – There was something deeply satisfying as a fan to watch Italy rediscover their volleyball identity.  While I often think that they play too conservatively, it is their way and noone else can do it like them (note to Italians coaching abroad). Of course, it was not as simple as just refocussing on a particular style.  The emergence of Giannelli as a star and the naturalisation of Juantorena played huge roles in Italy’s resurgence.  Juantorena in particular was fantastic in the semi final.  His high ball hitting, particularly in P1, helped to blunt the effectiveness of the American serve and keep Italy in the game long enough for others to star.  In the final they were very close, but from early in the match you could sense that it was Brazil’s time.  It is certainly no shame to lose to Brazil at the Maracanazinho.

2 BRAZIL – I can’t imagine the pressure on the Brazilian team as they faced up to France in the last match of pool play just for a chance to qualify for the quarter finals they were expected by every single Brazilian to win.  Until then, they had not played well.  But luckily, in Bernardinho they had a coach who has been there and done that over and over again.  And they were playing at home.  From that moment, with Lipe in the starting lineup, they got better and better.  To win an Olympic title having won the semi and final both 3-0 is a rare achievement and speaks to their best level.  For me, Wallace was clearly the tournament MVP, although I could not have mounted a strong argument against Bruno.  But sometimes the sentimental choice is okay, and Sergio has been a great servant for many years.  This feels like it will be the end of the Bernardinho era.  There were rumours that he wanted to finish after 2012 but was talked into staying for his home Olympics.  He must be so tired.  But satisfied.

1 CUBA (full team) – In 2010, Cuba reached the final of the World Championships with a very, very young team.  As has been the way with Cuban volleyball in the last fifteen years, one by one, the players left Cuba to have a chance to earn what they were worth.  The key players of that team, Leon, Leal and Simon, have subsequently become the dominant figures in the leagues of, respectively, Russia, Brazil and anywhere he chooses to play.  The weakest of the starters in that team, opposite Hernandez, has developed into the second top scorer in Italy last season playing with setter Hierrezuelo.  If you consider other expatriates like setter Gonzalez, receivers Juantorena, Marshall, Leyva and opposite Sanchez it is easy to come to the conclusion that with all players available Cuba would have had by far the strongest roster in the Olympics.  However, aging dictators don’t become aging dictators by going soft in their old age or by admitting they were wrong.  For volleyball fans that meant that we were denied the opportunity of seeing these amazing players, and for Cuba it meant giving up a ‘certain’ gold medal.  Or at least certain in our Power Rankings.  Everyone was a loser.  Except Brazil, of course😉

See you in four years time.

For the Power Rankings.  I’ll be back with other ramblings later in the week.

Day 1 rankings here.  Day 2 rankings here.  Day 3 rankings here.  Day 4 rankings here.  Day 5 rankings here. Day 6 rankings here.  Day 7 rankings here. Final rankings Part 1 here.

Olympic great Vyacheslav Platonov reveals his coaching secrets here.

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