Category Archives: Polish Volleyball

A Team Of N’Gapeths

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.

The Evolution Of Offence In Men’s Volleyball

The following article was written by then USA Men’s assistant coach, Rod Wilde, and appeared in the August 1999 edition of the sadly departed FIVB coach’s magazine ‘The Coach’.  It provides a useful understanding of how volleyball has developed since the 1960’s, providing essentially a roadmap of how we got to where we are now.  My original intention was to update this in another post, but I am not sure there has been much development since Rod wrote this.  If you would like to read this in its original form, you can click here.

Throughout the history of volleyball there have been teams that have paved the way for many of the offensive systems today. If we look at the many types of offensive systems that have been successful, it is interesting to find that they vary greatly in styles. The key to the success was the level that the teams were able to execute their systems.

One of the most challenging offensive systems was introduced by Japan during their run for the Gold Medal in 1972. In this offense their setter was the primary key to the system. The incomparable, Nekoda, ran the system. He had a very deceptive release of the ball with his back to the net and his hands in varying positions. This technique was used in order to keep blockers from reading his release.

In the Japanese system it was not uncommon for the setter to reverse the order of the hitters in a play from one rotation to the next. The player that was the quick hitter the first time through the rotation, might hit the combination or left side the next. Often there were two quick hitters and these players might vary from rotation to rotation.

In this offensive system with their exceptional setter, the Japanese team was able to mount a successful bid for the 1972 Olympic Gold Medal.

One of the sport’s most successful teams was the Soviet Union. A primary set in their offensive system was the 3-1 or wide quick. By running very talented and athletic middle hitters, like Alexander Savin, into this wide zone the Soviet team was able to put pressure on the opponent’s middle blockers. The opponent was required to make several decisions. Would they try and stop the 3-1 and give the Soviet’s right side hitter a one on one block situation or try and stop the middle hitter with the right front blocker? To further complicate the decision process the Soviet team also ran a series of combination plays around the 3-1 hitter. By bringing the outside hitter in the left front to a position behind the 3-1 hitter, that player could hit combination plays around the middle hitter. This offense kept the blockers from being able to make a single adjustment to counter attack the 3-1 set.

Often smaller setters were blocking on the right side. This offense often forced the Soviet Union’s opponents to switch their setter to a different blocking position. This resulted in some disruption in the transition game for the opponent.

This system was unique in that it focused on the right side blocker as the position to focus the offensive attack. The team’s level of execution with a variety of players over the years had the team ranked number one in the sport for a period that may never be matched in the history of the game. In 1976 the Polish team stopped the Soviet s dominance with a significant win at the Olympic Games using a completely different offensive system.

This system utilized the right side combination as a primary focus in the 6-2 rotations and the use of a hitter out of the back row in position one in the 4-2 rotations.

The combination series Included as many as 5 or more different sets. The playset option could be called verbally by the combination hitter after the ball was in play. The very talented, Stan Gosciniak keyed the offense. He was required to make the correct read on the block while listening for the option called by the combination hitter. While extremely effective, it was a very difficult system to learn and execute.

The Most Valuable Player of the 1976 Olympics was Thomas Wojtowicz. While a very good hitter and blocker at the net, much of Poland’s success was based on his ability to hit out of the back row Other teams had used the back row option before but this was the first time that back row hitting had made such a tremendous impact on the game in a major event.

The next major innovation in offense came when USA Coach Doug Beal introduced a revolutionary new concept called the swing hitter. In this offensive system the two o outside hitters received all serves. Previously teams had received with 3 or 4 passers. By placing these two o hitters deeper into the court they were now in a position to move laterally to attack anywhere along the net.

This system allowed the two o best passers on the team to handle almost every serve. The only exception being when the opponent was jump serving. On the jump serve, a designated third passer would step in to cover a very small area and the two primary passers handled the remainder of the court.

The rules up to 1984 allowed for blocking of the serve. When the opponent had an effective jump server the USA would put at least one and sometimes two blockers to force the jump serve into a specific area of the court. This would allow for the passers to have a much smaller area to cover. By using this tactic in the Gold Medal match at the 1984 Olympics, the USA was able to defeat a very strong Brazilian team that had previously beaten the Americans in a match earlier in the tournament.

By 1988 the USA had furthered the system under head coach Marv Dunphy to include double quick options that utilized the swing hitter running combinations around the two o quick hitters. An additional back row option was available from both the right and left back row positions. With this system, the block was consistently dealing with four hitters. They could not simply focus on trying to keep track of the swing hitter. If block followed the swing hitter there would be a back row option attacking from the area that the swing hitter had just vacated.

By creating movement and four hitter patterns the USA was able win every major event from the 1984 to the 1988 Olympics including the World Championships, the World Cup and the Super Four.

Since the development of the swing system there have been different variations that have been developed into many of the offensive systems that we see today. Successful teams like Brazil, Netherlands, and Italy have adapted this system to fit their teams with much success.

Because the jump serve has developed into such a powerful weapon, the offenses today are designed to counter attack off of the jump serve. The emphasis is in trying to attack from antennae to antennae as quickly as possible. The quick hitter must be able to adapt since there are a high number of 2 point passes because of the jump serving. Middle hitters must have the ability to change their patterns after the ball has been passed in order to make themselves an available option for the setters. This is usually through the use of verbal options as the play develops.

The back row attack is now being hit extensively from position six at front row combination tempo. This set forces the defence to keep the blockers from releasing to the outsides even on poor passes. The back row attack from any position is being hit at speeds and tempos equivalent to that of the front row attack.

While today’s offenses may be less complicated than others in the past, the speed and dynamic ability of today’s hitters allows for the offense to continue to dominate the defence statistically.

With the addition of the libero rule, the options for the offense become even more complicated. Do teams give up a potential hitter to try and increase the passing efficiency? Or is it better to keep all the players on the court available to hit? These questions and many more will need to be answered before we see the next innovation in offensive systems.

As we can see in this brief analysis, there have been many different styles and offensive systems used successfully by teams in the past. In most cases, they were unique and innovative in their approach to the game. By developing a “new” style and executing their system to a high level these teams were able to distinguish themselves.

The development of the next innovative offensive system is yet to be determined. Which team will be creative and evolve a new system with today’s rules and set the offensive standards for the future?


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

Cover v2

Volleyball Video Challenge System Scandal

I have written here and here about the volleyball Video Challenge System as it was used in the European Champions League Final Four.  That system was based on the system used in the Polish League.  In the Polish League teams can also challenge balls touched by the block.  The system is intended to make things clearer and reduce disputes.  Apparently it doesn’t always work.

***  The ‘scandal’ referred to in the title is not my opinion, but the title of the youtube clip.

Season Review

With Sunday’s V-Day spectacular in Rome, the 2010-11 European season officially ended, leaving volleyball fans scratching their heads wondering what they will do in the 12 days they have to wait for the international season to start.  But that is another story.

The end of anything is a time to look back, thinking about what just happened and perhaps to try to put it into some context.  There were some events that were so standard they could  be used to provide comfort in an ever changing world.  For example, Bełchatów and Friedrichshafen winning their respective leagues for the 6th and 7th consecutive times and the Greek league having financial troubles and not paying all their players.  There were some events that were so earth shattering they could be used to prove the Mayan end of the world.  For example, Lennik reaching the Belgian league final after Roeselare and Maaseik played against each other for 14 consecutive years.  That was so earth shattering that Lennik itself forgot to sign their own coach for next season.  Mostly though it was more of the same, about half the teams won, about half the teams lost. and ultimately hardly anyone was satisfied.

I’ve noticed that many writers in actual publications and real website use the ‘Best of’ device for writing reviews, so I thought I might give it a try.  Here goes…

Hightlight of the Season – Without question my season’s highlight was walking into the tunnel at the Max Schmeling Halle before the game against Haching and seeing the cast of ‘We Will Rock You’ bounding all over the court doing their thing.  That was the exact moment I knew that there is something special happening in Berlin.  A close second highlight was three months later in the same arena beating Haching to clinch the semi final series and earn a place in the finals.  It was a wonderful moment knowing the work from the last eight months had been worth it and in the most important match of the season we played the best volleyball we could possibly play.  We won’t talk about the finals.

Player of the Season – There is no question that the European player of the year for season 2010-11 is Osmany Juantorena.  Over the last two years he has developed from a very good player into the best player in the world and the leader of the best club team in the world.  If there is an argument that club volleyball is better than international volleyball, he would be held up as Exhibit A.  The Olympics will be enormously poorer due to his absence.  (Exhbits B and C are Wout Wijsmans and Igor Omrcen.  Exhibits D and E are whoever are the 11th and 12th qualifiers).

Team of the Season – As Juantorena flies, so flies Trento.  45 wins for the season.  Three trophies from four competitions.  In the biggest games of the year, dominating performances against Kazan in the Champions League and Cuneo in V-Day.  They are the team of the year and perhaps the team of the last ten years.  I would love to watch a tournament between 2011 Trento, 2008 Kazan and 2005 Treviso.  But lets move on…

Performance of the Season (A1) – I can be accused of bias for this but my performance of the year was Paul Carroll in the German Cup final.  8 points in the fifth and only one error for the match were more than decisive in Haching’s victory.  Many people credited the setter with the victory and he should receive credit for his team’s high attack percentage.  But I believe some of that is diminished when all of the points are by the same spiker.

Performance of the Season (1A)  – I have to give two ‘awards’ for this.  Trento played a great season but sometimes an outstanding single performance can outdo even the best teams.  Angel Dennis gave one of those performances in game 2 of the semi final series.  He had 27 points in three sets, including this run of five consecutive aces (and seven in nine serves) in the third set.  It is pretty incredible to watch.

Disappointment of the Season (Match) – V-Day.  The biggest day of the Italian season and the last day of the entire season lasted just 72 minutes.  8000 plus spectators in the most spectacular stadium I’ve been in (PalaLottomattica n Rome) barely had time to find their seats before Trento won 25-13, 25-22, 25-9.  It was incredible to watch, and not in a really good way.  Last season V-Day was a massive success and a wonderfully realised experiment.  This year an enormous failure.  Aside from the game, there were fewer spectators and less sponsor interest.  Now I expect they’ll go back to best of five.  One commentator wrote that if this game is one of five, noone will remember it.  Who knows.

Disappointment of the Season (Overall) – The continuing prevalence of old school volleyball.  The central tenet of the old school is that clubs/coaches/players are natural adversaries.  In the ‘old school’ players don’t want to play and have to be forced and threatened.  In the ‘old school’ coaches only want to screw over players and therefore cannot be trusted.  In the ‘old school’ clubs are hindered in their activities by the presence of coaches and players and they are therefore interchangeable.  The ‘old school’ doesn’t allow for partnerships or long term development.  The ‘old school’ eschews modern (i.e. post 1980) training methods and uses training as a method of punishment.  The ‘old school’ pays scant regard to statistics and scouting (“volleyball is not chess”) despite 27 years of proof they are integral tools for success. But you can’t argue against what worked back then.

Luckiest Team of the Season – The old saying goes, ‘it’s better to be lucky than good’.  Being lucky and good is an unbeatable combination.  By any definition Dynamo Kazan (starring Lloy Ball and Reid Priddy) are good.  The final of Champions League shows that.  So does the Russian Championships victory but that didn’t come easily.  You can’t win without luck and Kazan had theirs in the quarter finals.  Despite finishing the regular season in second place and playing the seventh best team in the quarter finals, they found themselves in the fifth set of a fifth match, down 11-14.  One two of the next points Yaroslavl were very, very to close to winning.  That’s all I’ll say.  But you can see it for yourself  here.

And so the season 2010-11 is over.  But as the Germans say, after the season is before the season.  So we are already onto the next one.

World Championships Countdown – 3

According to Italian volleyball news website volleyball.it, there are 30 days until the World Championships begin.  They are normally pretty good with the news stuff, so I will take their word for it.  Most teams seem to be coming to the end of their major training period and are just starting to poke their toes into the ‘competitive’ waters.  I say ‘competitive’ because only actual competition is really competitive, but that’s a topic for another day.

The most famous name in Polish volleyball is Hubert Wagner.  He was the coach of the Polish men’s team that won the World Championships in 1974 and the Olympics in 1976.  He built the reputation of Polish volleyball both inside and outside the country and for better or, more often, worse, is the coach by whom all other Polish coaches are measured.  To help ensure he is never forgotten, the Polish Federation play a tournament in his honour every year.  It is proably the most prestigious regular ‘friendly’ (it’s not really friendly either) tournament on the international men’s calendar.  This year’s version was held in Bydgoszcz, in front of thousands of screaming fans.  I didn’t actually see, but I’m certain that was the case.  I’m also prepared to go on record as saying there was a small festival in the parking lot on all three days of the tournament.  That turned out be a lucky thing for Polish fans as they had something to distract them from the results.  Playing against Brazil, Bulgaria and Czech Republic, the hosts won only against the latter.  Bulgaria surprised them in a 3-1 victory on the first day and Brazil were much too strong on the Sunday.  Brazil managed to win all matches comfortably and Murilo won another MVP trophy.  Interesting sidenotes included:

– the continuing absence from the starting lineup of Giba until the last match

– Marlon starting all matches as setter

– Poland playing without their 2nd and 3rd middle blockers due to injury

– Polish opposite Wlazly playing one match (against Bulgaria)

– Brazilian coach Bernardinho was going for his 300th win as coach of Brazil in the first match of the tournament, but injured his achilles tendon on Thursday and went straight back to Brazil.

On the other side of the world, Australia landed in Argentina and lost the first match of a mini tournament against the hosts.  Argentina were doubtless happy to win a match after suffering through an embarrassing World League finals at home after which the coach, Javier Weber, was moved to publicly apologise for the performance.  Tunisia is also playing in the tournament.

Aside from the tournament in Argentina, Bulgaria will be visiting Italy this week and the World League qualification is being held in Japan (Korea beat Japan in the first match) and Puerto Rico.

To follow the countdown more closely, i.e. down to the second, check out the home of the World Championships.

Polish Finals

I’ve seen a lot of shit.

But it seems I haven’t seen it all.  By a long stretch.

My feeling on the way to the gym for last nights game 4 of the Polish Championships Finals between Jastrzebski Wegiel and Skra Belchatow was that with both teams physically and mentally tired from a long season, Belchatow’s dominating victory in game 3 would give them enough momentum to win game 4 and clinch the title.  Jastrzebski with the help of their home court would gather their resources to win a set at home, but that would be about it.

The first set played out like I expected.  Belchatow were strong right out of the gate, Jastrzebie were tired and couldn’t get anything going.   Three serve errors and 7!! attack errors gifted Belchatow the set.

The second set played out like I expected.  Belchatow were on top for most of the set and and had a 21-19 lead.  But three or four inspirational plays from Marek Novotny suddenly levelled the scores at 24-24 and with 2500 spectators going crazy Jastrzebski won the set 30-28.

The third set played out like I expected.  For a while at least.  After that scare, Belchatow settled down again and at 15-10 seemed to be cruising to victory with little or no resistance left from the home team, except for a flurry of substitutions and timeouts from the coach.  What then followed was the most astonishing five minutes of volleyball I have every seen.  Rearranging the deckchairs as he was, I’m sure even the coach was surprised when one of them exploded!  Jastrzebski went on a run of points inspired by Brazilian opposite Pedro Azenha (on the court for Igor Yudin) who got five!! blocks in half a set.  All of them were different, all of them were BIG and each of them get the crowd more and more animated.  It was absolutely incredible.  Belchatow’s lead vanished amid another flurry of timeouts and substitutions and suddenly out of nowhere, they trailed 18-21.  Jastrzebski held on, with some nervous moments at the end, to win the set and to everyone’s surprise take a 2-1 lead.

The fourth set played out like I expected the third set.  The effort of coming back in the third took a lot of energy and despite the best efforts of the crowd, Belchatow were too strong.  Jastrzebski showed their spirit and gave the crowd hope by finishing the set strongly (Belchatow led 21-11 at one stage) and the stage was set for a final showdown.

And so it came to the fifth.  After many changes of personnel throughout the match both teams sent their starters back on the court and gathered what remained of their energy to play the set that would (potentially) decide the championships.    The set began with the best quality volleyball seen since the beginning of game 3 and when Igor Yudin ace gave Jastrzebski a 6-4 lead 2500 spectators dreamt of a fifth match on Friday.  But at that moment the champions, led by setter Falasca and outside hitter Winiarski settled one more time and for the first time in a month, covering the whole playoffs, Jastrzebski were ran out of time to fight back.  After four matches and 17 sets over six days and every ounce of energy and experience at their disposal, Belchatow won their six title in a row and Jastrzebski had to settle for silver.

It was a great finals series.  Both sides really gave everything.  And then it was over.

The stats for the final match are here.

Galleries for the match are here and here.