Techniques v Aesthetics

Every coach has a picture/s in his or her head about how volleyball should be played and how the techniques required to play the game should look.  The clarity of the picture/s depends of course on the level and quality of the coach but every coach has them.  I remember beginning coaching at North Adelaide Bears and finding that the players I had didn’t fit into any of the pictures I had rattling around in my head.  One player I particularly remember was a pretty good receiver but with a poor ‘technique’.  Obviously I did whatever I could to ‘fix’ him and make him an actually ‘good’ receiver.  You can imagine the frustration from both him and me during this process when the player in question became demonstrably worse at receiving.  I was a little comforted by the fact that when changing anything there is a short term performance decrement before the new techniques take hold, but only a little.  Eventually we abandoned our attempts to be technically correct and went back to passing the ball well.  That was my first lesson in the differences between technique and aesthetics.

In my inexperience / ignorance, I had overlooked the simple fact that technique serves the goals of volleyball and not vice versa.  In every phase of volleyball there is an objective.  And for each objective there is a technique that (theoretically) optimises the chances to achieve that objective.  Techniques are functional.  Techniques are not the end.  Techniques are not meant to be aesthetic.  As a coach, I need to always separate techniques and aesthetics.  I need to look at what is actually happening and I need to ask how that relates to what I think I’m seeing.  In the story above, I only looked at his aesthetics and in doing so I made him a worse player.  Luckily he has since forgiven me but it might have cost us a Division 2 title.

Actually it didn’t.  We had no chance.  But I still learnt a valuable lesson.

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6 thoughts on “Techniques v Aesthetics

  1. Andrew

    Hi Mark,

    I have been reading your blog for the past few months and I have to say I find your writing and insights very interesting.

    Technique is something that I believe my club struggles with teaching. At the lower levels there is certainly a balance between teaching technique as a method to get a result or just teaching that players need to find their own way to achieve that result.

    Do you teach ‘proper’ technique and then assume that results will flow from that, or take an outcomes based approach. I think there is a balance somewhere between the two, and it is different for each player.

    On the subject of aesthetics, there are certain players that I like to watch because of how they hit the ball. They may not be the best players, or win the most points, but I just enjoy the way they move. I remember playing against a WA team where I thought the technique one of their hitters was… I don’t want to say ‘bad’. I guess I didn’t think it ‘looked good’. He then proceeded to wipe the floor with us and I think outscored most of our attackers.

    thanks again,
    Andrew

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  2. markleb Post author

    Thanks very much.
    The one about spiking is an interesting one. There are many spikers I’ve studied over the years who are good exactly because of the ‘flaws’ in their technique. Small differences in contact point and timing and jump position all make it more difficult for blockers.
    My all time favourite though is the guy I played with who received every single ball, even though he was our best receiver. He just looked odd. We used to laugh.

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  3. simon phillips

    I love the story about the passing. in our level middles are often picked on because they look awkward, even if they pass money all day. I was wondering how much of it translates to setters at your level?? are the hands really as important as many make out or is it more about precision and how they make decisions?

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  4. markleb Post author

    If you watch Grbic you will see that he doesn’t have the greatest hands. I have seen plenty of setters with what I would consider poor technique who play at a pretty high level.
    I always look at precision first, regardless of what it looks like, but I have rarely, if ever, seen a setter with ‘bad’ technique and great control. Decision making is something else.

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  5. tristo

    Unfortunately I learnt this lesson as a player forced to change a perfectly good arm swing to a more “european” style. Catastrophic for my playng career, but I am sure the experience has made me a better coach. 😉

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  6. Alexis Lebedew

    I think there is a difference between technique and ‘fundamentals’. Technique is the whole package that a player uses, where ‘fundamentals’ are the essentials (building blocks) you need to be able to repeat a desired outcome. Sometimes as coaches we try to ‘build’ technical aspects with a player, ignoring the fact that the underlying method the player uses to play the ball is not sound enough to repeat whatever the desired outcome is.

    And sometimes when players are successful using a particular technique and we assume it is because of the technique, not despite it.

    Lastly, as a coach of developing players, I find more and more that limits to technique are actually the direct result of limits to physical development (flexibility and/or strength) in particular areas.

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