Tag Archives: Bernardinho

2016 Olympic Preview

Going back over previous posts to prepare for writing this one, I learnt something very interesting.  I actually predicted before the tournament that Russia would win.  I didn’t remember being so prescient.  Perhaps I actually know more than I think.  Or got as lucky as the proverbial blind squirrel.  Let’s see how I go this time…

When I look at the pools for this tournament, I am stunned by how uneven they are.  Normally they are uneven because the host is automatically seeded first and that pool is worse.  This time it is the opposite.  Brazil’s pool is ridiculously difficult.  Canada will more than likely not make the quarter finals from that Pool A but would have been quietly confident of finishing third in Pool B.  Such is life, so they say.


There are a few questions that are immediately raised.  Will France be able to maintain their form of the last two years on the biggest stage?  Will USA be able to regain the form they showed at World Cup?  Will Brazil be able to withstand the biggest pressure a host nation has ever had to face?  Will Italy be able to play half as well as they think they should? Will Canada be able to snag a victory and sneak into the quarter finals? Mexico?

For the record, my answers are yes, maybe, yes, no, maybe, ?.  Finishing positions Brazil, France, USA, Canada, Italy, Mexico.  I’m going for a bit of a surprise.  Canada could win one match against the top teams, and Italy is the most likely.The


There are a few questions that are immediately raised. Will Poland be able to regain their world championship form? Will Russia be able to put the recent scandals behind them and regain their Olympic form? Will Argentina be able to reach their countries ultimate goal?  Will Iran make the most of a never to be repeated opportunity to make the quarter finals?  Will Egypt get an Olympic victory?  Will Cuba be able to field a team?

For the record, my answers are no, no, no (win in Brazil), yes, yes, I guess so.  Finishing positions Poland, Russia, Argentina, Iran, Egypt, Cuba.  No surprises here.  Although Argentina v Iran will be interesting.


This is where things will start to get really, really interesting.  Any best of one tournaments are thrilling.  This teams this time around are really well matched. If either Brazil, France, or Poland won the gold medal I wouldn’t be surprised.  And Russia, Italy, and the USA wouldn’t surprise anyone by winning a medal.  I am really excited about a lot of things in this tournament; France, Schmitt, Kubiak, Wallace, De Cecco, Zaytsev’s Olympic tat, Cuba’s youth team, Alekno, Bernardinho, press conferences ignoring the qualification process and Brazilian crowds when Brazil is playing.  I am mostly excited about watching a France v Brazil gold medal match, Brazilian fans crying for joy and the Polish team joining them on the podium.


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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Effort Justification

In the recent past there has been a lot of research done into the way people think.  Most famously it has been compiled into the book ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman, which I can only highly recommend.  At the heart of all of this research is that human beings do NOT think in the way the we think they think.  There are a lot of tricks that our mind plays on us to interpret situations in certain ways.  Among these tricks are cognitive biases.  The most common referenced of these cognitive biases (at least by me) is ‘confirmation bias’.  Confirmation bias is the particular trick our mind plays in which it preferentially processes information that confirms beliefs we already have.  The most famous example of this in volleyball (at least to me) is the myth that there are more service errors after timeouts, which I have brought into question here, and will shortly attempt to completely debunk.  Some coach in 1965 (maybe) thought that he saw more service errors after timeouts and every coach since then has had that bias confirmed by every single service error after a timeout while at the same time ignoring the good serves after timeouts. In general, every time you saw game statistics that surprised you, it was likely to have been a case of confirmation bias as someone played better or worse than you thought they had (or rather thought they would have).**

The recent book ‘This Is Your Brain On Sports’ looks at various sports related situations and attempts to explain them through these kinds of biases.  One of the chapters talks of ‘effort justification’. This principle is that the more effort someone invests in a task, the more likely they are to stick it.  The reason being that due to the effort put in, they value the goal more highly.  For example an athlete who trained very hard is more likely to keep fighting for victory in difficult circumstances.  This idea reminded me of the something of Bernardinho’s, that I think may well be the same thing; the idea of ‘deserving to win’.  In Bernardinho’s version, a player or team invests a lot of energy into a task and will fight until the end thinking that he deserves it more than his opponent.  In essence, the player having invested so much thinks ‘I deserve this, therefore I will make the extra effort to win’.  Effort justification suggests that the same player or team actually thinks ‘I’ve invested all this effort, this goal must be something very special, therefore I will make the extra effort to win!’

I can’t help but think this is a distinction without a difference but it does emphasise that the benefit of hard work and commitment has deeper effects than the purely physically.  And that coaches understand a lot about how people work.

**This reminds me of the story of the coach who accused an assistant of doctoring statistics because a player’s reception statistics seemed to show the player in question was actually a good receiver.  This did not confirm the coach’s previously held belief, so the only obvious conclusion was that the assistant was a conspiracy.

Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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Quotes – Part 4

Everyone loves a good quote.  A good quote from a perceived expert can confirm a previously held prejudice… er, idea, or provide an important new insight.  Sadly, though, quotes taken out of their original context can intentionally or otherwise mislead the reader.

For example, as reported here, the purported Velasco quote “I am a coach, not a psychologist”, is actually:

“Some things do not work because we do not train them. For instance, we hit, the ball is overdug, it comes directly to us, it falls. Many coaches would say: my players are not focused, they have psychological problem. I coach perfectly, but I am not a psychologist, so I cannot do anything, it is not my fault. Psychology is the great excuse nowadays.”

The lesson is – Beware the pithy quote.

That having been said, I also love a good quote and have collected a few of them here.  Most have already appeared on either the facebook page and or Twitter page too (as well as probably dozens of other internet sources).  This is the fourth collection.  Part 1 is here.  Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here.

“I need to go where I know it’s going, not where I hope it’s going.” Karch Kiraly on service reception

“The longest metre in volleyball is a high ball set 2m from the net or 1m. The difference is your advantage or theirs. The difference is to be aggressive or passive.” Mark Lebedew

“It’s not the will to win that matters – everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.” Bear Bryant

“The more you lose, the more positive you have to become.  When you’re winning, you can ride players harder because their self esteem is high.  If you are losing and you try to be tough, you’re asking for dissension.”  Rick Pitino

“It is not enough to do things well. Things must be done better than the others.” Julio Velasco

“‘It was a difficult decision to fire the coach’, actually means ‘The easiest thing to be seen to be doing something is to fire the coach.'”  Mark Lebedew

“The older I get the more I think sport is random… You have to put yourself in a good position, then you need a lot of luck.” Bill Simmons

“Excellence is like a bubble. You can look for it as much as you like but it only appears from time to time.” Pep Guardiola

“By striving for order and predictability in practice, coaches create a practice that appears to be good to observers and leads to immediate practice improvements, but fails to prepare players for the unpredictability of the game.” Brian McCormick

“We all have emotion and reason. We should not let either of them take care of everything.” Bernardinho

“Everybody likes the guy who works hard. Nobody likes the guy who tells you how hard he works.” Lloy Ball

“Sometimes being quiet and letting the player play is much more important than trying to be Mr. Coach and teach him this or teach him that.” Gregg Popovich

“You see it when you understand it.” Johan Cruyff

“Don’t dream it. Be it.” Frank N’ Furter

“When we lost, we did not say anything. We prepared from that day on in order to win again”. Julio Velasco

“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” -Sun Tzu

“You have to be willing to fail, to improve.” Al Scates

“Excellence has neither any beginning nor any end. It is not a destination; rather it is a continuous passage….a perpetual voyage……towards infinity.” From ‘Friday Reflections’

“The authority of those who teach is often an obstacle to those who wish to learn.” Cicero 75BC

“If you train badly, you play badly. If you work like a beast in training, you play the same way.” Pep Guardiola

“In the realm of ideas everything depends on enthusiasm… In the real world all rests on perseverance.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

On good teams coaches hold players accountable, on great teams players hold players accountable. Joe Dumars


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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Coaches I Thought About In 2012

Just for the hell of it, I thought I’d write about some of the things I thought about in 2012.  Lots of stuff actually happened in the volleyball world in 2012 but I know nothing about nearly all of it because it happened in beach volleyball or women’s volleyball.  That’s not to say I never thought about beach volleyball or women’s volleyball, I just didn’t follow them.  So everything that follows will be male and indoor centric.  I think I’ll split them up into two or three posts.  I’ve already written about TEAMS and PLAYERS.  This one is about COACHES

I don’t the discussion about the best coach in 2012 should be a very long one.  In 2011, Vladimir Alekno won the Russian League with his club Dynamo Kazan and World League and World Cup with Russia.  In 2012, he won the Russian League again while adding the European Champions League title and topped it all of by winning the Olympics.  I doubt if any coach in men’s volleyball has had such an impressive 24 month period and I am not the least bit surprised that he retired from the National Team at the end of it.  Lots has been written and discussed about the Olympic final in particular but I think I’ll share one anecdote to perhaps put it into perspective.  A very experienced player went to play in Alekno’s club team.  He had won everything there was to win in volleyball and didn’t think he had anything left to learn in volleyball.  While the practice part of Alekno’s work was not revolutionary, the player commented to friends that his work in games was amazing and he ended up learning an enormous amount.

Also on the list in Jose Guimares, the coach of the Brazilian women’s team.  I have to say I know almost nothing about him, except that he is pretty good at winning things.  His three Olympic Gold Medals (two with the women and one with the men) is a feat matched by exactly zero other coaches, as is the feat of having won both the men’s and women’s competitions.

After those two, I think the honorable mentions go to the silver medal winning coaches.  Bernardinho and Hugh McCutcheon are not unknown in these parts and I’ve written plenty about them before.  Bernardinho left London with his fifth medal (two bronze with the women and a gold and two silver with the men).  I honestly don’t even know how to process that and I don’t think any more really needs to be said.  I was fortunate to catch McCutcheon’s US women’s team in training before the games so they ended up being a team I followed closely throughout the tournament.  I think they played the best volleyball of any team, men or women, over those two weeks and their record over the last two years is phenomenal.  Unfortunately for them the gold medal is not awarded for excellence over a period of time, but for winning a single game.

So those were the teams, players and coaches I thought mostly about in 2012.  Obviously I thought of plenty of other things.  I also thought about practice and how to improve it.  I also thought about statistics and how to use them better.  And I thought a lot about how to utilise the lessons from other sports and teams and coaches into my own work.  I’m pretty sure I’ll continue to think about those things and to write about them here.

Teams I Thought About In 2012

Just for the hell of it, I thought I’d write about some of the things I thought about in 2012.  Lots of stuff actually happened in the volleyball world in 2012 but I know nothing about nearly all of it because it happened in beach volleyball or women’s volleyball.  That’s not to say I never thought about beach volleyball or women’s volleyball, I just didn’t follow them.  So everything that follows will be male and indoor centric.  I think I’ll split them up into two or three posts.  This one is about TEAMS

Number in any discussion of the teams of 2012 must be Russia.  Everyone knows that after years and years (20, actually) of tears and disappointments, Russia finally won another major tournament final and managed to do it in the most dramatic way possible.  For a long time Russia has been recognised as having the most talented team, but one that never gets the job done.  That changed in those couple of hours in London in August.  With players like Muserskiy, Mikhaylov and Volkov not even having reached their (theoretical) peaks, and Alekno having proved himself a master coach (although he just resigned), the question now is how long can they dominate world volleyball.

On a related note Zenit Kazan showed their quality by winning the Russian league and Champions League in 2012.  At this point the Russian league might be the most difficult league to win and Champions League is the best club competition in the world.  In the Final Four in Lodz, they beat holders Trento and then hosts Belchatow, after being down match point in a performance so good that Olympic gold medallist Reid Priddy spent most of the time watching it from the bench.  With Mikhaylov, Volkov, Berezhko and Apalikov and Priddy already there, Italian setter Valerio Vermiglio was always going to be icing on the cake.  And it turns out the icing was delicious and decisive.  They also have an interesting youtube channel.

Speaking of Trento, since Radostin Stoychev became coach in 2007, Trento have been the best club team in the world.  In those five seasons they have won two leagues (and been runners up three times, once in five matches, twice in one off V-Day), two cups, three Champions Leagues and four World Club Championships.  During that time have changed virtually all of the team at least once, except for Matey Kaziyski, and yet their level of excellence over that time has been incredible.  They can be beaten, although not often, in a single match (see two V-Day losses and Champions League semi final) but only by another great team having their best day.  On every other day, they win.  To watch Trento play is to watch clockwork.  I don’t recall ever having seen a team so well drilled and well prepared.  As I write this, they are top of the league and getting ready to play (win) in another Cup final.

Although I just wrote that I know nothing about beach or women’s volleyball, I know enough to know what three Olympic Gold Medals in a row is an incredible achievement and therefore Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh deserve every recognition they get.  For the first two golds they were clearly the most dominant team in the world, at one stage winning over 100 matches in a row.  The third though, they had to do the hard way.  After a variety of injuries, (half hearted-)retirements and childbirth they were not favourites in London.  They even lost a set (their first in Olympic competition) during the tournament, but at the end dominated the final and won that third gold.  I doubt we will see anything like it again.

From 2002 to 2010 Brazil were the dominant men’s team in the world.  Except for a hiccup in Beijing (where they only won silver), they won everything they could possibly win.  Bernardinho created such a strong ‘family’ that he went through two generations of players in those eight years without losing a beat.  But for the last two years, it was clear that the era was coming to a close.  Their performances have been less than convincing.  Where once noone could beat them in a big match, they lost in World League and then World Cup and then in World League again.  And not just lost, fought amongst themselves while doing it. And yet they brought it all back together for one last hurrah and were one point away from winning an Olympic Gold Medal and becoming indisputably the greatest team of all time.  As it is they lost that point and are just probably the greatest team of all time.  Those are the margins, but you can’t deny what they have achieved over time.

Two other teams jump into my mind, for losing.  Skra Belchatow and VfB Friedrichshafen lost their respective championships in Poland and Germany after having won of (seven!!!) championships in a row.  Sadly it is probably the case that only by losing do people really reflect on that amazing achievement.  To win one or a couple of titles can be due to a bit of luck or a few key components coming together at the right time.  But to win seven titles in a row requires a commitment to excellence throughout a whole club that is extremely rare.  Chapeau!

But my Team Of The Year can only be one… Berlin Recycling Volleys.  And yes, I am contractually obligated to write that 🙂

Brazil Looks Into The Future – Olympics 1992

For some reason last season, I started playing old volleyball videos before our scouting meetings as the players were coming in.  There are lots and lots of classic (and non classic) games being uploaded to YouTube, with more games going up almost daily (and often being highlighted on volleyball-movies.net).  The old matches are fascinating as you can often see elements of the game that have evolved through rule changes or innovation and in some cases you can see a coach going back in time to win.  A week or so ago, a match from the 1992 Olympics came up on the ‘rotation’ featuring Brazil and USA.  Watching Brazil play had me with one foot in the past and one in the present.  The style of play they had seemingly perfected (under now women’s coach Jose Guimares) was almost identical (allowing for a few rule changes) to the way they have played for the last ten years under Bernardinho.  It was effectively a preview of what would happen ten years later.

I remember the time quite clearly.  Beginning with that Olympic title, the Brazilian team, led by Mauricio, Carlao and Tande, dominated the world for the next twelve months winning the 1993 World League title.  By a quirk of fate, 1993 was the one year that World League was shown regularly on Australian TV so we were watching a lot of the matches.  I remembered being astonished by their level of play and people assuming that, due to the relative youth of the team, they would continue to dominate world volleyball for the foreseeable future.  Australian coaches who saw them play a tournament that year came back raving.  I remember a specific comment that on TV or video you don’t get a true impression of how fast they really play.

History shows that Italy were far from finished, the Netherlands turned their surprise silver in 1992 into a period where they joined, and sometimes overtook, Italy at the top and Brazilian volleyball for some reason didn’t kick on.  It took nearly ten years of subsequent disappointment and underachievement (if you’ve won a gold medal everything else is underachievement) and the appointment of Bernardinho as coach for the Brazilians to ‘return to the past’ and take the baton of that 1992 team.

Incredibly this 1992 team played volleyball in a way that even today most teams with all their improved resources and methods still can’t, or don’t try, to replicate.  It is a lot of fun to watch.

Unless you’re a Dutch fan.  But they got their revenge.

World Cup 2011 – London Olympic Preview

Whatever the absence of a post might imply, the recent World Cup did not escape my attention.  I followed it just as intently as every other volleyball event and was able to catch bits of a lot of matches, via various unknown friends who (illegally) share video streams.  For the record, I thank those unnamed heroes.  But I digress…

The record shows that Russia won, with Poland taking silver and Brazil bronze.  More importantly, those three teams took the first qualfication places for next year’s Olympic Games and have the advantage of being able to plan in peace while the other countries still have at least one more step in the qualfication process.  As a tournament, there were many discussion points.  The first was the tournament itself.  There is no tournament in the volleyball world (or perhaps the entire sporting world) that asks as much of its participants.  11 matches in 15 days, with travel on the off days, is very tough.  Many people spoke about it including Miljkovic and Giba returned to his club suffering from injury.  That is added to the fact that those players came directly from the clubs and returned to them straight afterwards.  I doubt that it will change in 2015, but voices are getting louder and more persistent about the load on the top players.

There were of course a couple of minor scandals, or at least whiffs of impropriety, oddly both involving Brazil.  Argentina’s best chance of qualifying for the Olympics was for Brazil to qualify at World Cup, giving Argentina an easier chance of getting through the South American qualifier.  When the teams played each, Argentina rested a couple of starters and Brazil won 3-0.  On the second last day Poland played against Brazil, with both teams still fighting for an Olympic spot with Italy.  Mathematicians predicted a 3-2 victory for would clinch qualification for Poland and ensure that a 3-0 victory over Japan on the last day would also clinch qualification for Brazil by one set against Italy.  Incredibly, after Poland rushed out to a 2-0 lead, Brazil was able to fight back to win in five sets.  The next day Brazil won 3-0 against Japan and with it the bronze medal in the World Cup and Olympic Qualification.  The lessson, as always, it doesn’t matter what the format of the tournament, and how organisers legislate them, each coach has a different goal and there are many ways of achieving those goals.

Other things that we learnt…

– Russia has the best team in the world.  Day in, day out, Russia has the most talent and the most depth of any volleyball nation.  That doesn’t mean that they will win a single match on a single day when it counts for the most (see European Championships 2011… and 2009… and 2007… etc) but they have definitely have the talent to beat anyone.  This tournament is the perfect format for Russia, i.e. no knockout games, and they were able to win easily even without their starting setter, Grankin.

– Brazil is old.  And as I thought when I watched them at World League Finals, they are just barely hanging on for a last shot at the Olympics.  In fact the word I used at the time was ‘testy’.  This video (at around the 1:00 mark) would seem to confirm that observation.

The ‘last man standing’ format of the World Cup was the worst possible format for this team, which showed in losses to Italy (for the first time since June 2003) and Cuba.  On the other hand, in the one game (if you don’t count the Poland match) that they absolutely had to win, after a rest day, they crushed Russia 3-0.  At the Olympics there are many games they would absolutely have to win that fall after a rest day.  It seems that neither Marlon nor Bruno are able to establish themselves as first setter and Giba is still, at the age of 35 the most important player in the team.  As wonderful as Giba has been, and mostly still is, that can’t bode particularly well for a team which wants to win the gold medal.  On the other hand, the Olympics are a physically much easier tournament and, as we will see, noone else is really great shape either.

– Poland is pretty good.  Despite having a big hole at the opposite position (Bartman is a receiver who is not good enough to make the team at that position), Poland got better and better as the tournament went on.  The pairing of Winiarski and Kurek as outside hitters, might currently be the best combination in the world.  Zagumny is still one of the best setters in the world and Ignaczak is a libero of the highest level.  As it stands, they must think they have a chance to win a medal next year, and if they can get Wlazly to come back to the National Team, not an easy task, they would have to think about a gold.

– Italy are making some steps.  Despite starting three players whose famous fathers aren’t Italian (I don’t understand why this isn’t a bigger story), they seem to be gelling under new coach Berrutto. Christian Savani seems to finally be developing into the player his talent always suggested he should be.  Their middles are always strong and they will always have the best tactics.  If they can get through the qualification process, by no means a done deal, they should improve and have a chance in London.

As an aside, I don’t always think Berrutto is a paragon of sportsmanship, but in this instance he was perfectly within his rights, and for the record I would have done, and have done, exactly the same thing.

– USA has no chance of a medal.  Actually they have one chance.  Lloy Ball.  After three years of the post LB era, they still haven’t worked out who is his successor.  In this tournament they swapped setters around again, and they never seemed to find much rhythm, despite the emergence of passer hitter Matt Anderson as a potential world class player and a good tournament from Clay Stanley.  It’s really, really hard to see how they can improve enough to be a real threat in London.  Their saving grace may well be that none of the other ‘favourites’ are without their weaknesses, so getting hot at the right time could make a bigger than normal difference.  That’s not really what you want to have as a plan though.

– Cuba is young and impressive.  They certainly have some outrageous talent and they can challenge anyone on any day even if their most sophisticated tactic is ‘jump higher’.  But they are very young, have ongoing problems with defections / threats of defections / conspiracies to defect and who knows what kind of team they will have come Olympic time.  It is not beyond the realms of possibility (I imagine) that the ‘wall’ will finally come down and they will welcome back all the players who have previously defected.  That would be something…  As it is, no one will want to play against them, least of all USA in the NORCECA qualifier.

– Serbia had a nice trip to Japan.

– Iran can play and must be clear favourites for qualify from Asia.

My prediction for the Olympics?  As long as Bernardinho is breathing AND Giba is 100% fit, noone has proved they can beat Brazil.  That is not to say they won’t, but picking against Brazil this far out from the Olympics would be silly.  Russia is always favourite for bronze.  They are good enough to win most games easily and flighty enough to lose one they shouldn’t, most likely the semifinal.  That leaves Poland to take the silver.  The match I’m most looking forward to seeing is the Poland – Italy semfinal, especially the little side story of Anastasi, an Italian, ex- Italian National Team coach who was replaced in that job, not by choice, by current Italian National Team coach, Berrutto.  Nothing beats a bit of niggle in a big match.