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 wizardhere), 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’.
Vyacheslav Platonov features prominently in any conversation about the great volleyball coaches in history. His Soviet teams won every competition they entered between 1977 and 1983, including two World Championships, two World Cups, four European Championships and an Olympic Gold Medal. This period of sustained success is unrivalled in the men’s game. Neither Matsudaira, nor Beal, nor Velasco, nor even Bernardinho have matched that seven year stretch.
During his lifetime, 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, regardless of the sport.
Volleyball is a game of protocols. Everywhere you look there are protocols. How and where the players, coaches and officials must stand. What they can wear and when. How to make substitutions, take timeouts, talk to your team. Protocols, protocols, protocols.
And where there are protocols there are anarchists who will do anything to subvert them. For example, volleyball rules state that players must play with their shirts tucked in. And referees, as the high priests of protocol, must control all players before the start of the match. Many players do not like to play with their shirts tucked in and most others are just anarchists.
The ‘Checking The Players’ Shirts’ protocol fits into the ‘Teams Lining Up’ protocol before the start of the match. The players line up on the sideline of their respective sides. The referees check that the captain and liberos are standing where they must (captain first, first libero second, second libero last; another protocol) and that the players’ shirts are tucked in.
Many / most players, even those who have played hundreds of professional matches know that the referee will check their shirt, yet they will not tuck it in until after the referee asks them too. And to confirm their anarchist credentials they will all untuck their shirts again the moment they move to the middle of the court. If you are bored before a match you can watch this predictable, yet highly entertaining dance.
And if you are especially lucky, you might catch the player whose superstition it is to be the last in the line. Watch the lengths he will go to to circumvent the protocols. It is hilarious.
It is conventional wisdom in volleyball, and indeed in most sports, that the team that makes the fewest errors should win. Many maintain that attack efficiency, and therefore implicitly attack errors, are the key determinant to success. Conversely many say that a minimum number of service errors is required in order to develop enough pressure to win.
However to the best of my knowledge noone has ever looked at other kinds of errors or how the total number of errors might influence the outcome. It sounds like something we should know about.
The first problem is how to measure errors. Total errors might be one way to go if we are looking at indivdual sets. But in general totals, or even per set averages, are not very good because they don’t take into account number of opportunities. Therefore the obvious measurement is a percentage of total contacts. But that ends up being a very small number. And how do you include block attempts.
The number I have started working is errors per 100 rallies. This ends up being a quite nice number. In my league the average is between 12 and 16. Conversely the number of points ‘won’ is between 30 and 36. I haven’t done any serious analysis but eyeballing it, it looks like there might be something there.
My question is: Is this a reasonable way to measure errors? Can you think of a better way?
Over the last year or so I have studied and written quite a bit on the topic of timeouts. You can read all of the posts I have written (in English and in Polish) by following this link.
The upshot of all of the research I have done with Ben Raymond is that timeouts do not seem to work in the way that we (coaches, fans, administrators) like to think that they do, that is they have no impact on the game.
An American researcher, studying USA college matches and looking at over 5,000 timeouts found eerily similar results. They are summarised in the infogram below.
I recently did an interview with the Plus Liga TV channel. It covers a lot of areas of my philosophy and ideas of volleyball in a different (perhaps more easily digestable) format than writing. One of my players saw it and commented that it was exactly like working with me. That is just about the biggest compliment that I can get. Above all things I try to be consistent in my philosophy and in my messaging. Wish I’d shaved though.
Thanks to Kamil Skladowski from the Plus Liga for then interview.
Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.
There was a story a week or so ago about a computer program beating the world’s best Go players. Apparently Go is an ancient Chinese game that has more or less an infinite number of possible moves and is therefore considered to be the ultimate test of artificial intelligence (AI)*. I know nothing about either Go or AI but apparently this is a big deal. The original article is hidden behind a pay wall, but I was able to pull out a couple of quotes that sparked a spot of thinking.
“The (computer program) made moves that seemed foolish but inevitably led to victory over the world’s best players.”
This quote seems to suggest that the computer understood the game and played it in a completely different way to humans have been playing it. On that theme the current world champion was quoted as saying,
“After humanity spent thousands of years improving tactics, computers tell us humans are completely wrong. I would go as far as to say that not a single human has touched the edge of the truth of Go.”
As I am avowed questioner of conventional wisdom these thoughts really piqued my interest and obviously I thought about applying them to volleyball. Like everything, there is a set of parameters about the game that are accepted as conventional wisdom. For example, according to the rules a team is allowed only three contacts. The conventional wisdom is that using all three contacts is the most effective way of playing. But is it? As I have written about earlier, Frenchman Earvin N’Gapeth has become famous for, among other things, not always using three contacts. Watching him live I was struck by how obvious those plays actually are. Once you accept that it is possible, his actions are the easiest and best solutions. I would say that nearly everything we do In practice, is in some way based on conventional wisdom. For some coaches more than others, but there is a lot of it there.
The computer who won in Go won by playing in a different way than people who were locked into a way of thinking going back thousands of years. What would happen if that computer decided to try to play volleyball? Would it use three contacts every time? I think, deep down, we already know the answer is no. Would spikers jump off two feet? Would there be such a thing as the underarm pass? Would we train in the same way? And if the answer to any of those questions is no, what would the alternative be? How would the computer solve the problem of the game?
I don’t think any of us has touched the edge of the truth of volleyball.
I wrote a while ago about The Key To Vollyball. In the post, I contended that the most important factor in volleyball is the interactions between different elements of the game. I specifically identified interactions between players, between contacts, between phases and the interactions between the interactions. My friend / colleague / co-conspirator in the various studies of timeouts and serving, Ben Raymond, thought that the way I described these could be represented by a network diagram. What he did was an interactive network diagram that shows the interactions between all the players in my team from last season.
The screenshot below shows the basic interactions. There are A LOT! Not surprisingly, the setter is the player with the most connections.
If you really want to explore it you can find the interactive version here.