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.
We have all watched the world of volleyball changing as young players break down some of the barriers of conventional wisdom. The most prominent is of course Earvin N’Gapeth whose highlights (for example here) now take up a pretty large part of the internet. Apart from being a great player, he has become known for attacking from all kinds of strange situations and not just on the third contact. Imagine a whole team of players like him.
Well, you don’t have to. Until 1976 the block counted as the first contact. So once the ball touched the block, a team had to use the next (for us in 2017, first) contact to set up a spiker. The best to do this was the Polish team who won a World Championships and Olympic Gold Medal in the 1970s. Below is a clip of what it looks like when there are six N’Gapeths on the court at once, when Poland played Japan at the 1976 Olympics.
If you want to watch the whole match from which this clip is culled, here it is.
US Olympic Gold Medallist Reid Priddy recently gave an extended interview of the podcast The Net Live. In a really interesting conversation he touched on a number of areas, including the things that he has learnt over the years and how is applying those things to the challenge of playing in the 2020 Olympics in beach volleyball. I encourage you to listen to the whole thing (the link is below).
On communication… “If we can communicate without talking, that will be an advantage.”
On probabilities… He wants to know the probability success of certain actions as both a reference point for learning and as a guide to action.
On coaches… He briefly compared Alekno, McCutcheon and Speraw, all of whom he had worked with particularly relating to errors. He said that Alekno and McCutcheon were philosophically very similar in the way they wanted to manage risk. They had set rules in place for when a player was allowed to risk and when they were had to minimise errors. The main difference was that when it came to a fifth set Alekno took away all restrictions. The fifth set was about being aggressive. On the other hand, Speraw never talked about mistakes. He never wanted his players to think about them.
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?
The most common misconception about coaching is that the work of the coach is in the stuff he ‘does’ and most specifically the stuff he ‘does’ that other people see. So coaches are judged on the number of timeouts they take in a game because that is what people recognise as ‘coaching’. They are judged on the things they shout at the players in practice or games, because that is what people recognise as coaching. They are judged on the amount of feedback they give in practice because that is what people recognise as coaching.
I have written before about coaching and these interventions. Simply, coaching is not in the interventions. This short YouTube addresses the difference between what happens when the coach relies on interventions in practice and when the coach relies on other methods. It is a great way to spend two and a half minutes if you are a coach. Or a parent for that matter.
Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.
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.