Category Archives: Coaching

More On Coaching Interventions

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.

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The Coaching Is Not In The Interventions

There is a common quote applying to music that I first heard in a Phil Jackson book but have heard in varying forms many times since,

“Music is the space between the notes.”

The quote has been attributed among others to Claude Debussy, and it always makes me think about things like the interactions and relationships in the playing of whatever game is being talked about at the time.  A few days ago I read something that made me think of this idea directly in relation to coaching.

Most people think of coaching as being what the coach does during the game, the timeouts, the substitutions or if we want to go into real ‘depth’, the starting rotation.  Some smarter people understand that what happens in practice is equally important, the drills done, the feedback given, the time taken, the conduct of practice.

The moment I had was when it occurred to me that all of those things are interventions.  The notes, if you will.  But just as music is not in the notes, the coaching is not in the interventions.  The coaching is in the timing of the interventions.  It is choosing the moment when the feedback will have the greatest impact.  It is not giving any verbal feedback at all but allowing the player or team to learn the lesson by themselves.  It is allowing the errors that lead to learning.  It is not jumping up and down on the sideline berating players or the referee but trusting the team to carry out the vision of the game you have taught them in practice.

In short, the coaching is not in the interventions. The coaching is in the space between the interventions.

Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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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.

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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Win Forever™, Quietly


The central thesis of the Carlo Ancelotti‘s book ‘Quiet Leadership’ is that effective leadership does not necessarily require stereotypical ‘loud’ skills.  In Ancelotti’s words,

“The kind of quiet I am talking about is a strength. There is power and authority in being calm and measured, in building trust and making decisions coolly, in using influence and persuasion and being professional in your approach.”

The book is a good read with many testimonials from the great players he has coached (Ronaldo, Ibrahimovic, Beckham, Maldini).  Interestingly, all the testimonials include some version of the statement ‘Of course his tactics and training were good, but what was most important was to his success was his personality.’  A major recurring theme of his book is that a coach must work within the range of his own personality.  A coach must be genuine.  If he is not, then the players will not follow him.pete carroll

The central thesis of Pete Carroll‘s book ‘Win Forever’ is win forever.  The introduction to the book is one of the most inspiring chapters of any coach’s book I have ever read.  He describes the moment of reaching a crossroad in his career.  Using the time to reflect on his personal philosophy and values, he realised that his coaching until that point had not been true to those philosophies and values.  By deliberately taking the time to develop a training system that was true to those values and philosophies he was then able to do a much better job in his next two coaching jobs and became the Pete Carroll we know today.

After reading the introduction, I was excited to read the rest of the book.  Jose Mourinho also talked of taking the time to create his personal ‘manifesto’ (although at the beginning of his career, perhaps explaining why he has had no crossroads), so I expected that the book would go through that process as he did it and provide some valuable new insights.  As is the way of the world, hopes prematurely raised they are inevitably crushed.  The rest of the book was an explanation of his coaching methods, with numerous mentions of how I too could tap into these methods through his company and website, not coincidently entitled ‘Win Forever™’.  If I followed the ‘Win Forever™’ formula, I too could win forever.  The methods themselves are interesting, moreso if you haven’t read any of the great coaches from previous generations (Lombardi, Walsh, Landry).  If you have read those coaches, all you need from this book you can read the introduction on’s ‘Look Inside’.

So what is really the central thesis of ‘Win Forever’?  Carroll explains that his coaching career didn’t not reach its potential until he took the time to understand himself and create a process that was uniquely his.  Therein lies the fundamental disconnect in the book.  The main portion of the book then tells the reader (over and over again) that the way to success is to buy his methods.  The methods that work because they are uniquely fit in with his philosophies and values.

So Pete, should I develop a coaching process that is uniquely mine and fits with my personality?  Or should I buy the process that fits with your personality?  Carlo knows the answer.

Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.Cover v2

What Actually Drives Performance Improvement?

Statement 1 – In the last thirty years the understanding of techniques and tactics and training methods has improved enormously, leading to the increased performance we see today.

Statement 2 – In the last thirty years equipment and technology have improved enormously, leading to the increased performance we see today.

If asked I am reasonably certain that everybody involved in sport would agree with both of those statements with the proportion attributed to each variable due to the particular sport that person is most involved in.

A Canadian science show recently did a piece investigating and trying to isolate the effect of technology on performance in a few individual events.  The show can be seen here.  The basic premise of the show was to give current performers the conditions of their predecessors and see how they perform.  The most interesting one was the world championship 100m sprint bronze medallist who was given similar conditions as Jesse Owens.  Running on a cinder track, with leather shoes and no starting blocks, he ran 0.7 seconds slower than Owens.  There are of course other contributing factors (including habituation to the conditions and absence of competition) but it is a stunning point.  The athletes in other disciplines showed similar, if less stark results.  These results suggest a ‘what if?’.  With all of the increases in training knowledge, technical knowledge and pharmaceutical assistance, what if the majority of improvement in performance can be attributed to improved equipment?

Yesterday, I posted about the psychology of improved performance.  Athletes perform relative to their expectations of performance.  Perhaps they model their performance somehow on previous performance, their own and others.  As an experienced coach, this makes some intuitive sense.  I could also name specific examples from my own personal experience and from history when the performance of a team has improved simply because a new coach brought with him higher expectations.

Putting those two threads together if you consider training, equipment and psychology, could it possibly be that training, training methodology, technique, tactics, scouting, (drugs) are actually the least important component of our programs?  At the very least, the above evidence seems to suggest that we may be overvaluing their importance.