I Am Right About Timeouts

Over the last year or so I have studied and written quite a bit on the topic of timeouts.  You can read all of the posts I have written (in English and in Polish) by following this link.

The upshot of all of the research I have done with Ben Raymond is that timeouts do not seem to work in the way that we (coaches, fans, administrators) like to think that they do, that is they have no impact on the game.

An American researcher, studying USA college matches and looking at over 5,000 timeouts found eerily similar results.  They are summarised in the infogram below.



Hugh McCutcheon on Perfectionism

Travelling by car is when I listen to podcasts.  And with all of the travel I have done lately, I have been able to get to the bottom of my podcast backlog which goes back several years now.  The following is from a roundtable talk at the AVCA Conference from 2013 (I think).  It was entitled ‘Training and Teaching With a Growth Mindset’.  Those sitting around the table included Hugh McCutcheon and Marv Dunphy.  A question was presented about dealing with perfectionists to which Marv quipped, “I can handle those, the ones I can’t handle are the moody, mopey ones.”  Hugh went into a little more detail with his thoughts.  I will transcribe without comment.

Hugh McCutcheon on perfectionism…

It’s a pretty self indulgent habit.  And I think ultimately it is very selfish. ‘My performance has to be perfect for me to be happy on this team right now.’  So what you’ve got to talk to them about is that nobody’s played the perfect game of volleyball yet and it’s sure as hell not going to happen today.  So let’s just take that off the table.  What we need to talk about is process.  How about you cover every ball.  How about you call every time.  How about you go and support your teammates every time.  How about you get your approach footwork right, your double arm lift, and get loaded and work on the things you are supposed to work on to get better at this game.  So you can have perfect process.  You can demand that.  You should demand that.  But perfectionism is a selfish and kind of pretentious thing that players use to kind of protect themselves, preventing themselves from actually engaging in the process.

The Wisdom Of Al Scates

The American Volleyball Coaches Association represents thousands of professional coaches in the United States.  One of the major ways that it supports its members is in education and educational resources.  A click on the Education/Resources page on the AVCA website will give you enough to do just reading through the different programs they have.  If you become a member, you receive three to four emails per week with information and reminders on the various programs.

Responding to one of those emails recently I checked out the webinar section.  The webinar that grabbed my attention was one presented by Al Scates, the recently retired coach of the UCLA men’s college team who has won a record 19 national titles.  To test out the series and see if I could learn something from Karch Kiraly’s first coach, I bought it.  Some things I learnt…

On mistakes that young coaches make – they say ‘you can’t’ do this technique or use this tactic.  You have to start from day one to train your people.

On his greatest strength – to get the best six players on the floor and to retrain them and teach them new skills.  For example, Sinjin Smith was an outside hitter when he came to UCLA and became a setter.  Others have begun as middle blockers and ended as setters.

On technique – people have different styles and if it works you leave it alone.

On player’s who don’t improve at the rate expected – If, after using a lot of videotape a player still doesn’t improve, then get another coach to work with them, because that coach will use different terminology that can be more effective.

On rotational matchups – in rally point scoring I nearly always started in the rotation with the best +/- results.

On dealing with difficult players – Sinjin caused some problems in his freshman year, but I put him behind the blue curtain for two weeks and after that I never had a problem**.  (**Scates famously ran two courts at UCLA with a blue curtain between them.  On one court were the top 14 guys, the other side were the rest.  Players were banished ‘behind the blue curtain’ for a variety of offences including behaviour, effort, losing drills.   The story goes that Karch was the only player who never spent a day ‘on the other side’.)

Overall it was well worth the $9.99 that I paid for it as a member.  I can also highly recommend the Karch Kiraly webinar on ‘Teaching Your Players To Read’.  I saw this presentation at the AVCA Spring Conference this year and it is really good.


NCAA Final Four

I first read about college volleyball over 30 (!?!?) years ago.  Since then, I’ve read and seen countless article, movies, documentaries about college sport (not only volleyball) and coached graduates from the system.  But until two weeks ago when I joined a tour run by BringItPromotions, I’d never actually experienced it myself.  Now that I have, I can make the following observations about this quite bizarre (from the outside) world.

–  Atmosphere..  The Galen Centre at University of Southern California is a wonderful tribute to USC sport.  The history of sport at the school is recognised everywhere.  From the Hall of Fame and current players highlighted in the lobby to the display of NCAA tournament trophies to the retired jerseys hanging from the roof.  Inside it is a beautiful arena, purpose built for sport, with a capacity of 10,500.  Around 9,700 spectators rocked the stadium for the final between the home team, USC, and University of California, Irvine (UCI). I can’t say that the atmosphere was as good as a Berlin Recycling Volleys home game at the Max Schmeling Halle, but that is partly due to contractual obligation.

– Quality of play.  I really didn’t know what to expect in terms of quality of play.  I knew that players often go directly to top leagues and many of the best players in history played college volleyball but what is the level between college teams?  The answer is high and at times very high.  The players are big, strong, athletic, technically sound and competitive.  The teams are well organised, well prepared and well coached.  I have heard it said that it is essentially a junior competition.  It is true that the players are young, there is a drop off in depth and some of the errors in evidence were caused by inexperience.  It is also true that against a quality, experienced opponent the teams I saw would have difficulties but the same can be said about bad, experienced teams.  In my opionion, USC and UCI could easily compete in the German Bundesliga and by extension do very well in many European leagues.  Individuals to watch out for are Kevin Tillie (who played his first World League matches on the weekend) and Tony Ciarelli.

– Tactics.  As I mentioned, the teams are very well prepared. In block I saw a variety of different commits with one or multiple blockers although I think they might have been better off reading in some of the situations.  I also saw some clear serving tactics.  Indeed, in my opinion the serving tactics of UCI, and their ability to carry them out diligently for a long period of time, was a major factor in their victory (together with an opposite who hit at 60%).  Overall I see a lot of teams who play completely without tactics or any semblance of a plan, so it was refreshing to watch teams so clearly tactically aware.

– Rules. There are some very different rules, or at least protocols.  For example, the coaches sit on the side of the first referee rather than the second referee, which means they have an extra second (third?) ref whose job it is to liase between the coaches and first ref and the scorers table.  The bench is at the end of the court, almost in the warmup area and the head coach sits anywhere along the bench.  All coaches are allowed to get up and talk to players during the game.  There are no technical timeouts, and coach’s timeouts are 90 seconds instead of 30, which gives extra time for the cameras to show spectators on the big screen.  Literally without exception, every person shown on the big screen, from ages 6 to 80 celebrated their 15 seconds of fame by dancing and acting crazy.  Which brings us to…

– Stereotypes.  I am pleased to report that every stereotype about college sport and college life propogated by Hollywood movies is 100% true.  The haircuts, the tans, the teeth, the clothes, the cheerleaders, the sorority girls, the jocks, I could go on and on.  It was both hilarious and comforting and I didn’t need to take any photos as reminders.

And that was that.  If BringIt do the trip again, I can highly recommend it.  Particularly as it corresponds with the AVCA Spring Conference.  For more information about the actual games and stuff like who won and why check out Off The Block and Volleywood.

Eye Work 2

I wrote about vision a while ago.  The latest edition of the AVCA magazine ‘Coaching Volleyball’ has an article about it in the latest edition.  Apart from using the word ‘new’ to describe research that is over four years old, it is a very interesting overview.  Some points from the article:

– focal vision (what we focus on) is only a very small range and therefore what we look at is important

– focal vision (unlike peripheral vision) is trainable

–  before ball contact excellent receivers watch the area in which the ball will be contacted, rather than the ball itself

– excellent receivers watch the ball for longer than less good receivers

– excellent receivers don’t watch the ball on the way to the setter

The article itself is here, beginning on page 10.

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