Use Your Head

“A point won with the head is worth three times its face value”

Many, many years ago legendary Russian coach Vyacheslav Platonov made that statement.  In the intervening years I have always interpreted it as an explanation of the psychological effect that comes from out thinking your opponent during the match.  Until yesterday…

That was the day that I came across a video of the Soviet team playing against the USA in 1984.  On set point in the first set, the Soviet star Alexander Savin used his head to play the ball, leading to a point and the set for his team.  Now I understand that he was referring to the physchological effect of winning a point by playing the ball with your head.


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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Coaching Tip Of The Week #5

“Everything Is Timing”

It is not how many points you make, it is when you make them.

It is not how many errors you make, it is when you make them.

It is not about how hard or high or fast you hit, it is about when you hit.

It is not about how fast you are, it is about when you arrive where you want to go.

It is not about how much feedback you can give, it is about giving feedback in the right moment.

It is not about how much weight training you do, it is about when you program the sessions.

Everything is timing.

Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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It’s Not All Small Stuff 

“Don’t sweat the small stuff and it’s all small stuff”

This is a common refrain from coaches of all sports.  Because maximum performance is so difficult, it must follow that it is determined by small margins.  Interpreted in this way coaches can then focus on, and attempt to control, ever smaller details of the team’s life both on and off the court.  Eventually controlling and eliminating these small, seemingly insignificant, details becomes the main work of the coach.  After all, there are no small things when it comes to maximum performance.

But what if those small things are actually insignificant and they only become important because the coach constantly harps on them.  On one hand coaches want their players to be resilient*.  On the other hand coaches tell their players that maximum performance is impossible unless you take care of all the small things.

‘The light must be perfect for practice.’

‘No talking during warm up’

‘The meal is must be at this time’

‘Pepper in that direction’

Maybe by increasing the list of the components of maximum performance the coach actually makes that performance less likely, rather than more likely.  Maybe the coach is actually providing a list of excuses for poor performance.

Maybe coaches can better teach their players resilience by ignoring the small things.

*I really don’t think not crying when you lose a game should be considered resilient but we’ll let it slide for now.


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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Training With The Starters

One of the key concepts of volleyball, or of any team sport, is that the more any combination of players play together, the better they play together.  It is a pretty obviously, logical statement and it stands up as true time and time again.  Knowing that, many (most) coaches in team sports will try to make as few changes as possible in their starting line up, firstly to create and secondly, to take advantage of this group understanding.  A smaller group of coaches take this concept to the extreme by focussing all, or most, or their training time on working with the starters.  It is logical that training the starters is the best way to develop a group of starters.  But is this really the best way to develop a team?

My answer would be emphatic, no!  The first point is that maximising the training opportunities for half of the team, will minimise the training opportunities of the other half of the team.  This has several negatives for the development of the team.

Firstly, there are many things that can happen over the course of a season, especially injuries.  If players from the second six never get the chance to play with the normal starters they cannot be expected to play at a high level if you ever need them.

Secondly, the motivation of players who never play with the starters in practice is always less.  It doesn’t matter how much the coach pushes, or how professional or intrinsically motivated the players are, at some point they will not bring the same the level of intensity to practice as the starters, which will negatively impact the level of practice.

Thirdly, if the coach deliberately creates two groups in practice, he cannot reasonably expect to see a unified team off the court or during matches.  If the coach preaches a team mentality but doesn’t act on it during practice he will never be able to create a team.

Everything a coach does is a tradeoff.  If I split my team into starters and non starters, then I can expect my starters to play better together, but I sacrifice a smooth transition in case of injury, and hinder the building of the team.   If I continually mix my team in practice, my ‘starters’ will take longer to develop an optimal group understanding and performance.  But others will be ready to peform at their best if needed, and the team unity and training level will stay high.

I have always been a coach that likes to build a team.

Coaching Tip Of The Week #4

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“Coaching is not a theoretical exercise”


A lot coaching manuals and books and biographies like to imply, or outright state, that if the coach acts in a certain way, then certain outcomes are likely.  Sadly, this is not the case.   In coaching, there are no recipes and there are certainly no predictable outcomes.  What worked in one team, in one situation, might not work in another.

Coaching is practical.  The coach must take in all the information that is available and make decisions to the best of his ability.  Through trial and error and never doubling down on a bad decision, the coach can make more good decisions than bad.  But remember, even the most experienced and successful coaches still make mistakes that you would never expect them to make.

Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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Suggested Rule Change 

In 2015 FIVB changed the rules of the game, specifically the size of the playing area.  The free space behind the court was reduced from 7m to 5m.  The stated reason was to allow more space for spectators. 

I wrote about it at the time as it is in every way a ridiculous idea.  Firstly, a smaller playing area reduces the space in which players have to chase down the ball and therefore decreases the length of rallies.  Increasing the length of rallies has been the major goal of FIVB for at least as long as I have been alive (hint: think if a number greater than 49).  Secondly, anyone who has ever been in a big stadium knows that space will never, ever be filled by spectators.  As you can see in the photo above, the space between the edge of the playing area and the start of spectators seating is flat. Any seating that is set up in the space will have a terrible view and no-one will want to sit there*.  In short the change is nonsensical and the reason illogical.

So this is my proposal.  If you want to make rallies longer, the obvious solution is to make the playing area BIGGER.  The more room the players have to run, the balls are playable and the longer the rallies will be.  And don’t legislate the maximum size if the playing area.  If you play in Krakow in the Tauron Arena (as a above) have 10 metres in all directions. If the stadium is smaller then you have less space, but still the maximum available.  Crowds love it when players run a long way.  Give them what they want.

*Thirdly (but don’t tell anyone), these huge stadiums are beautiful and impressive but hardly ever full for volleyball matches anyway.  

Coaching Tip Of The Week #3 (Bonus)

“Take time to smell the roses”

Hugh McCutcheon says “As head coaches, we are perpetually dissatisfied.”  This is absolutely correct.  Coaches must always be searching for improvements and you cannot do that if you are satisfied with what you have.

But on the other hand, the game gives us so many disappointments that we need to enjoy the big wins, the great performances, the excellent practices, the fantastic rallies, for their own sake.  When our team does something great, revel in it, enjoy it.  And make sure your players do too.  Volleyball is a game to be played.  Always remember the joy of playing.  The next disappointment will come fast enough to keep us dissatisfied.

Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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