Category Archives: Volleyball History

Volleyball Coaching Wizards

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 wizard here), 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’.


“How Volleyball Was Intended”

As one wanders through life as, one often comes across those among us who find that what one does now is not authentic.  Things used to be better.  They are no longer done as they were ‘intended’.

I am reasonably comfortable in the belief that upon reading those last two sentences you will immediately be able to come up with some volleyball specific examples.  But if not, I am talking about those who complain about the net touch rules, or the ball handling rules, or the scoring system, or the size of the court (in beach volleyball).

The argument goes something like, ‘in the old days, we could only underarm pass like volleyball was supposed to be’ or ‘the 9m x 9m court is the way beach volleyball was intended to be played’.  I don’t really like those arguments for two reasons.  Firstly, they are completely wrong.  Okay, only one reason.

On February 9, 1895, in Holyoke, Massachusetts (USA), William G. Morgan, a YMCA physical education director, created a new game called Mintonette as a pastime to be played (preferably) indoors and by any number of players. … Mintonette was designed to be an indoor sport, less rough than basketball, for older members of the YMCA, while still requiring a bit of athletic effort. from Wikipedia

Basketball, a sport that was beginning to develop, seemed to suit young people, but it was necessary to find a less violent and less intense alternative for the older members. from

So there you have it.  Volleyball was ‘intended’ to be a low level physical activity for middle aged businessmen.  I will make the assumption that volleyball actually ceased to be ‘as it was intended’ about a month after it was invented or, at the latest, the first time two teams decided to keep the score.  Anyone who makes a statement about how volleyball in ‘intended’ to be is just taking an arbitrary moment in history and choosing to apply a value judgement to that moment.  Any historical moment chosen (including 2014 but not including 1895) is equally (in)valid.

My message for everyone who wants to see volleyball as it was intended … wait until you are about 45 and can’t get up and down a basketball court anymore.  Then call any number of your friends (see above) and head on down to the Y.  You’ll have fun the net is only 1.98m.

If you want to see all of the original volleyball rules, and how they changed over time (at least the USA versions of them) click here.


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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First Asian Volleyball Championships

 I have long held the belief that volleyball is a sport that does a very bad job of curating its history.  I could cite dozens of examples, but I won’t. 

I have also long held the belief that one should not complain if one is not prepared to do something about it.

By posting this I hope to give myself the right to complain for a little while.

I will let it speak for itself.


First Asian Volleyball Championships, Melbourne, August, 1975

by Walter Lebedew, OAM


Not so long ago, the 17th Asian Volleyball Championships were played in Dubai, UAE. Much to the disappointment of Australian volleyball fans Australia came fifth, not a very honourable place, considering that our men were Asian Champions only six years ago. Some reasons for the drop are glaringly obvious, others, no doubt, will be investigated and perhaps steps taken to improve the situation. None of this detracts from the fact that in the history of Asian Championships, Australia occupies a very special place. Thirty-eight years ago in 1975, the Australian Volleyball Federation, only twelve years after its foundation, organised the First Asian Volleyball Championships. It is and will forever remain a unique place of honour for the, then fledgling Australian volleyball among the greats of that era, Japan, Korea and China. Continue reading

Serving Speed

Andrea Zorzi wrote an (very brief) analysis of modern volleyball that appeared today on FIVB website.  Among other things that I may or may not agree with, he stated that serving speeds are “…about 10km/h faster than they used to be…”.  This is true.  When the FIVB changed to the current ball, the serving speed was around 110 km/h.  It is now in the low 120s.

However… my recollection is that at the Olympic Games in 2000, with the old Mikasa leather ball, the fastest serves were around 127/128 km/h, from Iakovlev.  Also at around the same time in Italy, using the old Molten leather balls, the fastest serves were in the 138 km/h range, from Dineikine and Iakovlev.  When they first changed to synthetic balls in 2001, the speeds dropped and again in 2008.

Does anyone have some documentation or old articles or videos on this topic?

Greatest Volleyball Match Of All Time – Part Two

What does it take to be the ‘greatest match of all time’? I guess simply speaking the match needs to have high quality, great drama and a big stage.  In a previous post I suggested a couple of candidates but those are not the only ones.

When the Olympic Champion USA met World Champion Soviet Union on day two of the 1985 World Cup in Osaka it wasn’t technically a final. The peculiar format of the World Cup (single round robin without playoffs) and shortsightedness of the organisers (seriously, how could they not play this match on the last day?) saw to that.  But it was the decisive match of the tournament and hugely significant in many ways.  The Soviet team was at the tail end of the greatest golden era the sport has seen, had just dominated the European Championships (again) and was almost certainly feeling robbed of an Olympic gold medal due to the LA boycott.  The USA team, at the beginning of their own golden era, was almost certainly feeling that they deserved their gold medal and wanted to justify it by beating their main rivals.  Add in a few tired old Cold War cliches and we know that the resulting match must have been a battle.  The video that is now on You Tube (and below) shows that it was.

Some random thoughts…

  • The level of volleyball seems to have made a huge jump from just three years before (although in fairness the quality of the videos is very different) perhaps due to the structure and specialisation that the USA had introduced to world volleyball.
  • Tactically there are some obvious differences to today’s game.  The lack of service pressure and therefore greater quality of the reception (coupled with the rarity of service errors) meant that the middle players hit (relatively to the other spikers) a lot more balls than would now be common.
  • Tactically both teams were using a lot of overload situations with the reception often close to position 2 and a first and second tempo player in a small area.  That forced the opposition to either expose himself to a two against one situation in that area in order to get a double block against position 4, or to leave position 4 with a single block.  The Soviets had a lot of problem blocking in that small space.
  • The Americans had an obvious defensive plan to try to stop Savin, to make up for the very great difficulty in stopping him at the net.  They dug him a couple of times but the one Timmons got in the face probably wasn’t worth the effort.  We’ll call that a win for the Soviets.
  • History seems to remember Kiraly and Timmons as the prominent players from this USA team, but the most important guy in this match is Pat Powers.  And it isn’t close.  He is the guy who let the Americans compete.
  • The Americans were relentless.  They never stopped or let up or blinked, even when they **spoiler alert**  were down 5-11 in the fifth (in sideout scoring).

Anyway, three sets from this iconic match are on You Tube below.  You can make your own observations.  Present are the first, second and fifth sets.  There is a little break during the second set due to video tape degradation but hang in there, the picture comes back.

A lot of the information quoted here is the from excellent Volleyball Results website, here.

The Data Volley Match Report of the video is here.

More statistical detail of the USA team is here.

More statistical detail of the Soviet team is here.

If anyone has the other two sets, I would love to see them.

If anyone would like the raw Data Volley file for their own purposes, let me know in the comments.


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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Spike! Interactive Guide


There is a famous American sports journalist named Bill Simmons.  He wrote a huge book about basketball named The Book of Basketball‘ (actually about the NBA) that became a best seller.  Because 90% of the book is about events and players that most readers have only ever heard of, an enterprising fan put up a webpage with youtube links to many of those events and players, an interactive guide, if you will.

There is a famous American volleyball coach (and administrator) named Doug Beal.  He wrote a book about volleyball named ‘Spike! (actually about the 1984 Olympic gold medal winning volleyball team) that hardly anyone bought and is now out of print.  Because I believe in preserving volleyball history and because more and more clips are starting to pop up on youtube (and because it took about 10 minutes to do) I have created an interactive guide for ‘Spike!’. 

Needless to say if you have any relevant clips that add to the narrative, I will be happy to add them. Continue reading

Equation With Six Knowns

The following article originally appeared in “Sport in the USSR” in 1984.  In it, Vyacheslav Platonov tells the story behind winning the 1982 World Championships. His book, “My Profession: The Game” is available in hardcover and eBook here.

Never before in the six years I have been working with the national team had I been so concerned as before the tenth world volleyball tournament in Argentina. What was in store for us in South America? Would we be able to defend our title, won four years ago?

Our team was going through tough times. After our win at the 1978 world championship we gradually brought up youngsters to the team, though still counting mainly on the seasoned players. The latter had begun to tire, and many of them were plagued by injuries.  We were especially concerned by the health of our captain, Vyacheslav Zaitsev, the big play-maker. Last season he had a right leg injury, but nevertheless played in the European championship and the World Cup playoff. Later, after he was well again, Vyacheslav took part in the national championship. At the height of the preparations for the Argentine tourney, he had a relapse. Our captain was forced to spend several weeks in hospital. The break in his training could not but have an effect on his playing. Zaitsev’s hallmark stability of the second pass, with which he used to set up attack, went awry. The team’s momentum was immediately thrown off…. It must be said that on the eve of the world championship he was not the only one way out of shape. Olympic champions Viljar Loor, Vladimir Dorokhov and Pavel Selivanov had problems getting into form.

We needed game practice to regain our former spark. So about two months before the competitions in Argentina we took part in the Savvin Memorial Tournament in Leningrad. We played well, losing only one set. However, we were unable to execute fully our plan of checking the rookies – Alexander Sorokolet, Valery Losev, Oleg Smugilev and Sergei Gribov – in action.  All we had to do was take out two or three Olympic champions for the squad to start dragging and falling apart. The youngsters had to be put back on the bench since even though the team possessed limited potential we didn’t have the right to lose at home such a prestigious competition.

After the Savvin memorial we left for Brazil for a tournament which directly preceded the competitions in Argentina.  I remember having warned Soviet journalists at a press conference in Leningrad that it is not out of the realm of possibility that we might not put our best foot forward in Brazil. 

“The main thing for us,” I said, “is the Argentine championship. In Brazil we’ll be experimenting with the team. After all, we coaches are obliged to know exactly who is who on the team. Let the newcomers test their strength against the best….”

At that time I named Brazil, China and Poland as our main opponents. And it so happened at the tournament in Rio de Janeiro, which gathered the cream of the crop in world volleyball, we bowed to the Chinese and Brazilian teams.

It was a shame to lose, of course, but there was really no cause for mourning.  For one thing, we tested all the players inside out; for another, our players, who had not been set the task of winning at any cost, were able to preserve their freshness.

Imagine our surprise when we learned from the local papers that strife was rampant on our once powerful team, that players were quarrelling with one another and with the coaches, and that the domination of the Soviet squad had come to an end – proof would be forthcoming in two weeks….

To tell the truth, over the past few years we’d been accustomed to a different tone from the press. No one had ever questioned whether we knew how to play volleyball.  And here were torrents of caustic remarks. I figured that their getting us all worked up would be beneficial to us in the long run. I asked our interpreter to read out before breakfast one day these vicious passages about our players, and queried; ” Well, how do you like that ? Maybe the authors of these articles are right?”

This read-aloud session played its role, I could tell from the players’ faces that they were more than ready for action; they were completely psyched up to defend their honour and dignity, to demonstrate how tough they were in uncompromising, fierce competition.

On October 14, 1982 the semi-final between the home team and Soviet squad began at the Luna Park sports facility in Buenos Aires. 

I had never seen anything like it. Drums, horns, castanets, wild screaming – all this merged into an avalanche of noise. I couldn’t hear my own voice, so I communicated with the players more with gestures than words. 

Ice – cream cones, rolls of paper, fire crackers, coins, etc. were flying onto the volleyball court. International Volleyball Federation President Paul Libaud and the captain of the Argentine team appealed to the spectators to behave themselves decently, but their exhortations were in vain.

Five years ago we played in the final of the world championships in Rome against the Italian team, and there I got some idea of how a home crowd can help a team. I remember that at a press conference before the final (our opponent was still unknown) local journalists asked us whom we’d prefer playing for the gold. “Your countrymen, of course,” I answered. “Because you consider them not much competition?” “No, it’s just that another game against Italy will make us rich men – I can image how the fans will rain lire down at us in the final if they were so generous even in the USSR – Italy preliminary.”

The Italian journalists appreciated my joke, writing before the final that Sr. Platonov was afraid of only one thing – growing rich in Rome.  

Money was indeed showered upon the court; gold medals could have well been bought for the Italian team, if world championship gold medals were for sale…

It seemed to us then that a team could not have been supported more ardently than the Italian squad was.  Now, after we encountered the Argentine fans, the Italians look like well behaved gentlemen with refined manners.

I am convinced that the Argentine team, a middle level squad, would have made a much weaker appearance on a neutral field. But not in Buenos Aires.

It appeared that the din would work on our players, but this did not happen. The Soviet boys were “protected” by invisible armour from all psychological attacks.  They did not depart from their style one iota, winning the game by a score of 3-0. Ahead was the final, against the Brazilian squad.

Today volleyball as well as football is popular in South America. You have heard, of course, of the Copacabana, the famous sandy beaches of Rio de Janeiro.  How many books, newspaper articles and films deal with the habitués of these beaches – Brazilian youngsters – who amaze you with their ability to play ball! Football, of course.  Some might find it hard to imagine, but today more people along the Copacabana are playing volleyball.  I saw it with my own eyes – dozens, hundreds of teams playing for their own amusement, for the “beach title”.

The deafening volleyball boom has led to the Brazilian national team elbowing its way ahead of many recognised favourites in the standings. At the Montreal Olympics the Brazilians placed seventh; they were fifth at the Moscow Games, third a year and a half later at the World Cup in Japan, and they were facing us here in the world championship finals in Argentina.

Talking about this last, decisive game, I must repeat that I had never seen anything like it. Only now I’m referring not to the fans but to the game itself. The game which our team played that night.

Ordinarily I shouldn’t overly admire my team, as a trainer isn’t supposed to rest on his laurels. And to tell the truth, I usually do not lavish praise. For this reason our champions more often than not hear not compliments from their head coach, but severe criticism. But that I day I indeed experienced moments of ecstasy…

It took our players 72 minutes to prove that they’re the world’s best today.

Such a fast final is unprecedented in tournament history. I find it difficult to describe how our team played.  I admired them from start to finish, and, as I was told later, cheered for them along with the crowd at Luna Park.  With their inspired, artistic and bold play our squad won over the fans, who were initially clearly against them.  

In a bid to save the situation, the Brazilian coach feverishly made substitutions and called timeouts.  As soon as he took his first timeout, our players came over to me for advice. “I can’t help you,” I said. ” It’s the Brazilians who need a coach, not you . Everything is working well for you, you will be the champs.  So I can take it easy.” And I wasn’t mistaken. The Soviet team won 3-0. The world championship which I had been so apprehensive about was over….

Incidentally, I can’t say that even after this, second, victory in a row, I was able to sleep at night. The fact is that a few years ago there were 11 equally good players on the team. This gave me freedom to manoeuvre, enabled me to even out playing loads, and stiffened competition for a starting berth. But in Argentina there were only eight top flight players on the Soviet squad.  And among this galaxy two stars – Dorokhov and Selivanov – were not in peak form for that matter. Furthermore, in each game, with the exception of the final, there were lapses on the court. So my apprehensions about the Argentine tournament were not groundless.

We won nevertheless. It was a clean victory all around, and the experts admitted as much.

This is all well and good, but today when the moments of ecstasy have passed, I am obliged to think about tomorrow, about solving the problems which became so glaring during the world championship. After all, a coach who keeps his head in the clouds of joy too long risks hurtling down to the ground and winding up where he started.

However, a coach must, of course, see not only his team’s shortcomings but its merits as well. In what respects was it better than its opponents? After Buenos Aires I can easily answer this question.  Had there really existed the confidence crisis on our team that the South American press supposed there did, we would not have been able to stand up either to the Argentine squad or to the wildly cheered Brazilian team.  But there was not a crisis. There was mutual trust. The players believed in one another, the coaches in the player, and the player in the coaches.  This is what I see to be the main trump card of the Soviet team.


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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