Tag Archives: Bill Simmons

The Hockey Error

A lot, or at least a few, sports count assists among their statistics.  That is, the pass that leads to a score.  In volleyball, at least in America, a set that leads to a spike point is an assist. In basketball, a pass that leads to a basket is an assist.  But in hockey, not only the pass that leads to a goal counts as an assist, but also the pass that leads to the pass that leads to a goal counts as an assist.  In some circles (i.e. Bill Simmons), that kind of assist is referred to a ‘hockey assist’.

In volleyball there are a lot of structural / organisational / communication errors where the fault seems to be obvious.

  • A tip falls in front of a defender.  The fault is obviously that the defender to not commit to defending the ball.  The obvious solution is to berate them for lack of effort and possibly some drill to encourage the player to change their habit.
  • A middle blocker has a chance to set a high ball but commits a ball handling error.  The obvious solution is to berate them for their lack of technical skill and possibly some drill to improve that technical ability.

You get the idea.  The wrong player receives the ball.  The wrong player sets the ball.  A player touches the net.  All simple errors with obvious solutions.

But what if things aren’t so simple.  What if there is such a thing as a ‘hockey error’.  I have written before that what looks like a lack of effort is most often actually a lack of readiness. In that example, the lack of effort is the error and the lack of readiness is the hockey error.  In the middle blocker setting example, the hockey error is probably not turning fast enough after landing from the block.  Many errors that are attributed to lack of calling, have as their hockey error a player moving towards the ball and then stopping.  Being in the wrong position is the hockey error in many different situations.

As a coach, focussing on the error can have some improvement on performance.  But focussing on the hockey error can have a profound effect on understanding of the game.

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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The Greatest Pressure (Part Two) – Superbowl Edition

I wrote a while ago about the greatest pressure that coaches face.  Contrary to conventional wisdom, the greatest pressure that coaches face is NOT to win, it is to follow conventional wisdom.  Coaches are expected to do the things they are expected to do.  If they don’t, the consequences can be extremely negative. Continue reading

NBA Volleyball All-Stars

A recent question appeared on the Volleyball Coaches and Trainers Facebook page asking:

You were assigned the task of recruiting 7 NBA players who never played vball…past or present…to train for 2 years and put up against team USA. Who would you take? What position would they play? Add an 8th man as the spark off the bench.

As it happens, I have thought about this question quite a bit, with the caveat that I don’t actually know that much about the NBA except what I learnt from Bill Simmons.

Like in every other activity, you need some guiding principles before you begin.  The first principle is to recognise the unique psychological requirements for each position and fit players to the those requirements.  The second principle is, to build a team the players must be complementary.  A team isn’t about choosing the best six of anything, but rather the six that fit best together. Continue reading

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

Pro Doping Ridiculousness

Before we begin, for the record, I am anti doping.  I am also against spurious arguments that are accepted at face value without critical analysis.

To the first point, I can’t really say why I am anti doping, other than if you allow doping, it would no longer be sport.  Unfortunately, that may be the best argument against doping.  Which leads me to the second point.

I accept that there are very strong pro doping arguments.  Unfortunately, I hardly ever see them.  Mostly, I have to (ok, I don’t have to) read ridiculous ones.  Where to begin…

“We obviously can’t stop it, we might as well allow it.”  This argument could literally be used for every single law and rule that human beings have ever created.  Of course, you can’t stop it. That is exactly the reason there are rules and laws.

“Prohibition doesn’t work, we should regulate it.”  A variation on the first argument, and equally ridiculous although for different reasons.  It misses two very important points.  Prohibition IS regulation, with the allowed limit set at zero.  If you put the limit at any other (arbitrary) point than zero, you change exactly nothing in terms of policing.  Actually, I take that back.  You would make policing even more difficult.  It is difficult enough to make a case if the presence of a substance is prohibited completely.  Imagine for a moment the chaos of somehow trying to prove a positive test at a point other than zero.  Secondly, there will always be people prepared to cheat.  Again, that is why there are rules in the first place.

“Everyone else was doing it.”  Ok, not technically an argument in favour of doping per se.  Officially the only argument that your parents will not accept as an excuse for misbehaviour when you are six years old, but works on everyone else when you are an adult found guilty of doping.

As with more or less everything, the debate / discussion on doping is hopelessly superficial.  Reality is infinitely more nuanced and many of the lines drawn between allowed and non allowed are completely arbitrary.  One rational discussion on the topic is here, in the form of a podcast featuring Bill Simmons and Malcolm Gladwell.  And even if you’re not interested in the topic, it’s Simmons and Gladwell; there are dozens of worse ways to spend an hour.

‘Life After The Secret’

I have referenced and quoted the works of Bill Simmons many times now over the last couple of years.  specifically I have referenced his opus, ‘The Book of Basketball‘ numerous times, most recently in a post outlining the secret of success in basketball, as revealed to Simmons by Isiah Thomas.  As we recall, ‘the secret of basketball is that it’s not about basketball’.

I wrote in my original post that two chapters (Chapter One – ‘The Secret’ and Epilogue – ‘Life After The Secret’) should be published together and sold as a coaching resource.  The second of those chapters is a visit and discussion with Bill Walton, another alltime great basketball player and another whose reputation included comments like ‘made his teammates better’ and ‘understood the game in a different way from others’.  When Simmons told him Isiah Thomas’ theory, his response was another elegant and perfect description.

“It’s not a secret as much as a choice.  Look at the forces fighting against that choice.  Look at the forces pushing you to make the other choice, the wrong choice.  It’s all about you.  It’s all about material acquisitions, physical gratification, stats and highlights.  Everywhere you go, you’re bombarded with the opposite message of what really matters.  And you wouldn’t even know otherwise unless you played with the right player or the right coach: the Woodens, the Auerbachs, the Ramseys, the Russells, the Birds.  How many people get that lucky?  Kobe was blessed to have Phil (Jackson) and eventually realised that.  With a truly great coach, it’s not about a diagram, it’s not about a play, it’s not about practice, it’s the course of time over history.  It’s the impact a coach has on the lives around him.  That’s what Phil done for Kobe.  This history of life is that most people figure it out.  Most of the time it’s too late.  That’s the real frustrating part – the squandered opportunities that you can’t get back.”

And there it is.  The secret is not a secret, it’s a choice, and most people ignore it until it’s too late. It’s always a choice…