Category Archives: Volleyball

Coaching Tip Of Week #1

“Never make any judgements on individual players or the team after the first day or week of training”

They say that first impressions are important but they also say don’t jump to conclusions.  At the beginning of every pre season, there is always some player who has worked hard in the break and arrives in mid season form.  And there is always some player who arrives out of shape who looks like he has never touched a volleyball before.  Most players of course fall somewhere in between.

It is an easy trap to start to make judgements based on those first impressions, but experience tells you not to make snap judgements.  An experienced coach knows that the first week has exactly zero predictive power for the performance of either the team or individuals.  So sit back, and observe how different players react to training (and each other).  After a couple of weeks you will start to notice that many of those initial observations were not accurate, or very useful.  Then you are starting to make useful judgements.

Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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Setting Tactics

When we talk about setters and setting we often talk about setters’ creativity and their ‘hands’.  I have written before that I don’t even know what ‘creative’ means in the context of setting.  And I have seen plenty of middle blockers with better ‘hands’ than top level setters.  So what do great setters actually do?

According to Julio Velasco setters must “Play volleyball, not with the volleyball”.  To me, that means to use tactics to achieve the desired outcome (a spike point).  Simple tactics that setters can use include:

  • Set to the best spiker
  • Set against the worst blocker
  • Use time differential attacks.  This is, two or more spikers attack the same part of the net at slightly different times, the setter then sets one of those spikers, often incorporating individual technical tricks.
  • Use isolation. That is the first tempo runs in one part of the net so the opposing middle moves, the setters then sets in the opposite direction.
  • Individual technical tricks (including hand and body fakes)
  • Dozens of variations on the above
  • Any kind of combination of the above

Many setters sort of fake their way through do some of these things unconsciously, or sometimes consciously or falling back to number 1.  Sometimes you can see setters who have complete mastery of a match by their use of tactics.  One match that sticks out for me and that I have often shared with other coaches as an example of the highest level of tactical setter play was the final of CEV Champions League in 2011-12.  The match was played between Zenit Kazan and SKRA Belchatow.  The setter in question was Valerio Vermiglio playing in blue.  One of the coaches with whom I shared this video made an edit in which he added explanations along the way.  Thanks, Hugh.  I think it is worth sharing.

Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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Team Culture One Percenters

Everyone* knows that the key to victory in any sporting event is taking care of the 1%ers.  It is one of those pieces of conventional wisdom that we take for granted these days.  When those people* talk about 1%ers they are most often referring to very small technical or tactical areas or even the 1% extra effort required to be successful.  Some coaches have gone as far as to identify what those 1%ers are and measure them.

For those keeping track at home, I think a lot about how the team functions, about ‘The Secret’, about the interactions within the team.  While everyone* knows that the functioning of the team is really, really important, many (most?) coaches do not actually spend time on those elements.  And they would certainly never give up actual training time to work on them.  Indeed coaches are notoriously loathe to voluntarily cut practice time for any reason at all.  And when building a team, they will always take the player who is the slightly better player over the player who is nearly as good but is a better fit in the team.

For those reasons it was interesting and refreshing to hear a recent interview with Anna Collier on The Net Live.  Anna is coach of the USC women’s beach volleyball team which has won the last two NCAA championships.  In the interview she talks of the evolution of her coaching from being a coach interested only in technical development to one being primarily interested in establishing an effective team culture.

“I learned that to me if we have a problem on the team… (fixing that problem) is more valuable than hitting that high line a hundred more times.”

If I can interpret her philosophy, she considers the team culture to be a 1%er and subsequently devotes part of her time with the team to developing them.

Maybe coaching isn’t just about techniques and tactics.

You can listen to the whole interview here from about the 37 minute mark.


*When you read ‘everyone’ or ‘people say’ do you ever ask ‘which people?’ or do you just accept the statement as given?

Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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Foot Defence Is Alright

I am sure that there are some people who have read this blog, or heard me talk, or been in my gym who think that I hate all defensive actions with the feet. Those people are misguided.  I have no issues at all with players using their feet to play the ball. I do however have issues with players not being ready to play the ball and using their feet to mask their laziness.  I have an issue with coaches who don’t recognise those actions for what they are and let their players get away with it.  And I have issues with people who highlight that laziness as something all players should aspire to.

Sometimes, just sometimes, using the feet to play the ball is the required action. And sometimes those players are rewarded.

Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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The Secret About The Secret

‘The Secret’ is the central theme of Bill Simmons’ epic book about the NBA.  As revealed to him by Hall of Fame player Isaiah Thomas, “The secret of basketball is that it’s not about basketball”.  That is, while the collective skills of a basketball team are important, what is most important is the collective, the interactions between those skills and the personalities of the players.  If you ask virtually anyone close to basketball, or any other team sport, his opinion on the topic, I am extremely confident that virtually all would agree with Thomas’ sentiment.

‘The Secret about the Secret’ is that while virtually all agree that it’s not about (name your)ball in the abstract, almost no one actually takes it into account in practice.  In the vast majority of cases, clubs do not build teams, but collect players or, even worse, ‘assets’ or ‘pieces’*.  While clubs talk about the importance of the team, they will always, always take the slightly better player or slightly bigger name regardless of how they fit into the current team and without considering the mix of personalities**.

I have had the extreme good fortune to spend a large portion of my career working with Scott Touzinsky.  Scott was a pretty good player, especially in reception and defence, but by no means a top level player.  However, every group that Scott was involved in became a team, and most likely won or came very close to winning. His list of (team) achievements includes championships in five different countries, and an Olympic gold medal in 2008.  Yet I personally experienced two different clubs not re-signing him after the team had a great season, because he was not good enough. The drop off in performance on both occasions was catastrophic, but at least in the second case the club was smart enough to correct their mistake.  One of the highlights of my career was being able to bring him to Poland, and listen as real volleyball experts instantly recognised his contribution.

The reason that clubs don’t take into account The Secret is really simple.  Their goal is not to win.  Logically if someone acknowledges the importance of an element and yet systematically ignores it in practice, then they cannot have the goal of winning.  Their actual, hidden, motivation’ is not to look stupid or be criticised for their decisions. If a club takes a ‘worse’ player over a ‘better’ player, they will instantly be criticised and if they also lose, they will likely be sacked.  Karch Kiraly, picking the roster for the 2016 Olympics acknowledged The Secret and took a third setter instead of a fourth receiver.  This was questioned at the time, and continues to be questioned after his highly favoured team faltered in the semi-final.  But the reality is his team led that semi-final 11-7 in the fifth set.  The presence or otherwise of a fourth receiver would not have made a difference in that match.  If you look at the playing time of the fourth receivers in the men’s tournament, you will find they were essentially meaningless (in terms of points scored).  And yet he is still criticised for making that decision.

As he had the first word, so should Isaiah Thomas have the last word.  He knows The Secret, but as the General Manager of the New York Knicks he aggressively ignored it in building historically bad teams, including signing multiple stars who played the same position.  He himself could have predicted the outcome***.

*In the case of the AFL, they don’t even call them ‘teams’ anymore. What the f*** is a ‘playing group’?

**It goes without saying that it becomes the responsibility of the coach to mould these disparate, ill considered pieces into a team.

***He was criticised at the team for his team building. It is still not clear what his hidden motivation was.  One writer judged him as the second worse General Manager of all time.

Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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Ayak Bileği Yaralanmalarını Önleme

My recent post on preventing ankle injuries has been translated into Turkish by Serdar Mengi from the volleyball portal  The translation appears here.

Ayak bileği burkulması, her düzeyde voleybolda en sık görülen akut yaralanmalardır. Yayınlanan bu makaleye göre, yaralanma nedeniyle kaybedilen süre, toplam sürenin % 30’unu oluşturuyor. Bu nedenle, teknik direktör mantıksal olarak, ekibindeki ayak bileği burkulmalarının sayısını ve şiddetini azaltması gerektiğinin farkında olmalıdır. Burkulmayı önlemek için, mantıksal olarak oyuncuların ayak bileklerini bantladığını ve / veya birkaç farklı ayak bileği koruyucusu kullandığı görülüyor. Ancak belki de bu tür bir yaralanmayı önlemek için daha fazla şey yapmamız gerekiyor. Sorunu biraz inceleyecek olursak.

Göz önüne alınması gereken ilk şey, ayak bileğindeki burkulmaların yaygın olması. Biz en yaygın voleybol yaralanmalarının bu olduğunu biliyoruz, fakat aslında bu gerçek mi?  2014 Dünya Şampiyona’sında, her 420 maçtan birinde, tek bir voleybalcu için bir ayak bileği burkulma ihtimalinin çok yüksek olduğu hesaplandı. Farklı bir bakış açısıyla baktığımızda, son iki sezonda bir ayak bileği burkulması yaşadım. Her oyuncunun sezon başına 50 net eylemi geçekleştirdiği var sayılırsa (hücum + blok gibi), bu 17.500 potansiyel yaralanmaya denk gelir. Pasörleri  ve liberoları çıkartacak olursanız, takımda on oyuncu kalır ve  iki sezon boyunca 175,000 potansiyel yaralanma, 1 gerçek sakatlık gerçekleşti. Bilinen ayak bileği burkulmaları yaygın bir voleybol yaralanması olduğudur, aslında bu kadar yaygın değildir. Aslında, bu miktar şaşırtıcı derecede nadirdirler.

Şimdi bir ayak bileği burkulmasının gerçekleşmesini düşünelim. En basit haliyle, iki (veya daha fazla) kişi aynı zemini kullanmaya çalıştığında bir ayak bileği burkulması oluşur. Ayak bileği burkulmalarını önlemenin en belirgin yolu, iki oyuncunun aynı zemini kullanmaya çalışmamasını sağlamaktır. Bunların daha az bir kısmı ise, koçun uygun sistem ve yapıları yerine getirmediğinden kaynaklanmaktadır. Her durumda sistem ve yapılar net olmalıdır.  Bu aynı zamanda taktiksel olarak mantıklıdır, çünkü aynı bölgede yer alan iki oyuncu karışıklığa neden olur ve diğer alanları açık bırakır. Oyuncu yerleşiminde ve aynı yerde yer almalarının önemli bir nedeni de olan vesilelerin çoğunluğu konsantrasyon eksikliğinden kaynaklanmaktadır. Son on yılda, konsantrasyon eksikliğinden kaynaklanmayan, içinde bulunduğum herhangi bir uygulamada tek bir ayak bileği burkulması hatırlamıyorum. Bu, genel olarak odaklanma eksikliği veya yorulmadan kaynaklanabilir. Tecrübelerime dayanarak söyleyebilirim ki, oyuncuların sıklıkla yorgun düştükleri ve en az odaklandıkları sezonun son ayında ayak bileği burkulmalarının% 80’i ortaya çıkıyor.

Özetlemek gerekirse, ayak bileği burkulması inanılmaz derecede nadirdir. Ve bu nadir sakatlığı önlemenin en iyi yolları ; iyi bir yerleşim sistemi, Eğitim ve antremanları iyi yönetmek, tamamen odaklanmaya yönelik bir ortam oluşturmaktır.

Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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The Length Of A Volleyball Match

About a year ago there was an report somewhere that FIVB was considering introducing time limit matches in order to finally, after decades of trying, get the holy grail that is a major TV contract. At the time I mentioned to a couple of friends that I was afraid that this was a diversionary tactic, and that the actual planned rule would be quietly introduced later while everyone shrugged and said, ‘At least it’s not time limit.’

Last week there was an announcement that FIVB will trial best of 7 matches, with sets to 15, at the upcoming World U23 Championships.  ‘At least it’s not time limit.’

We hear that volleyball matches are too long, and worse, of unpredictably long. We hear that TV stations want games that can fit into a two hour time slot. But who says these things? They just sort of float around on the wind every time new rules are proposed.  It may well be that they are true, but does anyone know where they come from?

Here is what I would like to see:

  1. The market research that fans of volleyball want shorter matches.
  2. First hand information from TV companies or executives that they WILL (not might) show more volleyball if it fits into that two hour slot.

If I can see those two things then I will happily concede that we must try to make volleyball matches shorter. In that scenario, my suggestions are:

  1. Shorten the length of time between rallies.
  2. Shorten the length of time between sets.
  3. Remove the unnecessary protocols around the game that add time (10 minutes? More?) to the game.
  4. Tighten the video review system so that it is faster and more efficient (e.g. review without challenge, time limits on the review process).

If there is actual proof that we need to shorten matches, AND no other way of doing THEN, and only THEN, then we can talk about the rules.


Re spectators – My personal suspicion is that spectators want to be part of an event, not just a volleyball match. See Berlin Recycling Volleys.

Re TV – the Polish league, ie the only league with a league that actually receives money for rights, just added a ten minute break between sets 2 and 3 in order to keep spectators in the gyms for longer and get TV viewers to watch more ads.

Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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