Tag Archives: Hugh McCutcheon

Reid Priddy Speaks…

US Olympic Gold Medallist Reid Priddy recently gave an extended interview of the podcast The Net Live.  In a really interesting conversation he touched on a number of areas, including the things that he has learnt over the years and how is applying those things to the challenge of playing in the 2020 Olympics in beach volleyball.  I encourage you to listen to the whole thing (the link is below).

Some highlights…

On communication… “If we can communicate without talking, that will be an advantage.”

On probabilities… He wants to know the probability success of certain actions as both a reference point for learning and as a guide to action.

On coaches… He briefly compared Alekno, McCutcheon and Speraw, all of whom he had worked with particularly relating to errors.  He said that Alekno and McCutcheon were philosophically very similar in the way they wanted to manage risk.  They had set rules in place for when a player was allowed to risk and when they were had to minimise errors.  The main difference was that when it came to a fifth set Alekno took away all restrictions. The fifth set was about being aggressive.  On the other hand, Speraw never talked about mistakes. He never wanted his players to think about them.

On his book… for more information go to his website http://reidpriddy.com/



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.

Quotes – Part 3

Over the last couple of years on the facebook page I have posted quotes that jumped out at me from various sources.  Here is the third collection of some of them. In no particular order.  Part 1 is here.  Part 2 is here.

“Every player should take 5 minutes to themselves before practice and mentally lock into what needs to be done. Jeff Boals

“Training doesn’t have to be certain length of time to be effective.” Mark Lebedew

If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. Ken Robinson

“The interesting thing about coaching is troubling the comfortable and comforting the troubled.” Ric Charlesworth

“Practice is the battle you must win.” Hugh McCutcheon

“The bagger is the technique of lazy.” Daniele Bagnoli

“After the game is before the game.” Sepp Herberger

“There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas. Susan Cain

“Victories come when their time comes. Often later than you wish. Patience is an essential quality of a coach’s profession.” Vyacheslav Platonov

“It’s not all rainbows and ponies.” Hugh McCutcheon

“You cannot buy experience. You have to fight for it.” Marc Wilmots

“The idea that I [should] trust my eyes more than the stats, I don’t buy that because I’ve seen magicians pull rabbits out of hats and I know that the rabbit’s not in there.” Billy Beane

“If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.” Pat Riley

“Volleyball is not like a formula so we must give players some freedom.” Karch Kiraly

“Great organisations choose principles over people. When you give up on the principles, sooner or later you will break down.” Ettore Messina

“What you see is more important than what you know.” Giovanni Guidetti on scouting Continue reading

Quotes – Part 1

Over the last couple of years on the facebook page I have posted quotes that jumped out at me from various sources.  Here is a collection of some of them. In no particular order.

“From failure you learn ten times more. Victory gives you ten minutes of peace, but then it makes you stupid.” Pep Guardiola

“Being a coach is fascinating. That is why it is so difficult for some to give up. It’s sweet, a constant feeling of excitement, your head is going at 100mph all the time.” Pep Guardiola

“In a club’s normal practice sessions, the idea is for the coaches to push the players so that they work just one notch harder than they want to work.” Phil Jackson

“The key is not the “will to win” – everybody has that. It is the will to prepare to win that is important.” Bobby Knight

“Football is not art. But there is an art to playing good football. … It is also very difficult to play simple football. It is the same with artists. The best work is not difficult, it is simple.” Ruud Krol

“I hope that I may always desire more than I can accomplish.” Michaelangelo

“Football, as anything else, is always a series of problems. Your success will depend on how well you are prepared and how well you handle those problems as they come along.” Bill Walsh

“Success is about having. Excellence is about being.” Mike Ditka

“There’s a different between knowing the path and walking the path.” Morpheus

“If you make every game a life and death proposition you’re going to have problems. For one thing, you’ll be dead a lot.” Dean Smith

“Real competitiveness is what you do when the opponent is yourself.” Mark Lebedew
Continue reading

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.


In his recent interview on The Net Live (episode 17th September 2012), new USA women’s coach Karch Kiraly talked again on the topic of co-opetition.  This is the concept popularised in the volleyball context (although not invented**) by Hugh McCutcheon.  The basic idea is that players are required to compete against their friends and push them in order not just to improve themselves but the whole team.

While the word is relatively new to me, the concept has been around for at least as long as I’ve been playing volleyball.  I remember learning about it very early in my career and it is one of those ideas that has become an integral part of my philosophy.  The performance of a team in matches is directly related to the level of practice.   At the micro level, a server must concentrate on serving not just for themselves, but for the receivers to practice and improve.  Blockers and defenders are not only practicing block and defence, but by doing that to their maximum they are challenging the setter and spikers on the other side of the net to work at their maximum.  And so the performance of each individual in practice, importantly not just the ones who appear in games, directly contributes to the performance of the team in competition.

Other interesting quotes from Karch’s interview…

“Co-operatively competing as hard as we possibly can.”

“It makes everyone better when we compete like crazy.”

“(The concept of co-opetition) has always been one of the bedrocks of (the USA system).”

“We don’t drill volleyball, we play volleyball.”

“It’s not just about the numbers, it’s about how people play and how they elevate people around them on the court.”

It turns out that ‘co-opetition‘ is actually a concept common in Game Theory, political science and economics.

NOTE: This is an updated version of a post originally entitled ‘Co-ompetition’ that first appeared on March 27th 2010.

Scouting: To Do Or Not To Do?

In the latest episode of The Net Live, a discussion developed about scouting, or more particularly opposition scouting.  During the discussion, host Kevin Barnett made the comment that a match is won on our side of the net[1], and that information that has been scouted accounts for two to three points per match, at most.  I was a little surprised to hear such a statement from such an experienced player (he played in two Olympics) but pleased that his co-host wasn’t in total agreement.  All three of us could agree, however, that there are limits to what a player can process (normally much lower than the coach expects[2]) and (rapidly) diminishing returns for the effort a coach puts into researching an opponent.

As the topic came up in response to a previous post of mine, I began thinking about why I disagree with the statement.  I have a few reasons.  The first reason is that the knowing what the opponent will do in certain situations (and being prepared to counter it) is directly behind all of the major successes I have been involved with in coaching.  Scouting works.  Scouting wins matches.  Scouting wins big matches.  I have seen it in my teams.  I have seen it in other teams[3].  Countless times.

Some players don’t like scouting because they don’t trust the coach who did the scouting, or they think they know better, or they just don’t like it.  Some coaches don’t like scouting because they don’t think (or don’t want to think) it works[4], or because they never did it when they were playing, or because they are lazy.  Sadly, I suspect the first two are justifications for the last.  Whatever the reasons put forward (or hidden), teams/coaches/players who don’t use scouting don’t want to win, not really.   Of that I am convinced.

At other levels, for example with juniors, scouting helps in a completely different way.  For young players, being in the right position to make a play or being able to respond a little earlier to a situation can lead to success that is an important motivation during the learning process.  Giving a team one or two or three extra points, allows weaker teams to compete better and play longer against better teams, therefore speeding the development process.  I have had players who were able to successfully compete two or three levels higher than they had previously (and sadly subsequently) played because of information they received from before the match.  And it teaches players that there are other parts of the game that they must be aware of.

Of course, scouting alone doesn’t win.  Tactics alone don’t win.  And ‘just playing’ alone doesn’t win.  The teams that win are the ones who find the correct balance between playing their game and countering the opposition’s game.  ‘Maximise my team’s strengths and exploit my opponent’s weaknesses’.  Those are the principles every coach learns in their first coaching course.

The principles of preparing a team are simple.  They’re just hard work.

[1] This statement is obviously correct and is also a central tenet of Hugh McCutcheon’s philosophy.  By itself it neither includes nor precludes scouting.

[2] Every professional player has a story about receiving an 8/10/14 page scouting report.  Even a player with the attention span to finish reading that report would have difficulty implementing every part of it.

[3] The one that stood out to me the most was Brazil-Cuba in the 2010 World Championships.  I could easily have said Poland – Argentina from the recent World League finals in Gdansk, or any match played by Sisley Treviso between 2005 – 2009.

[4] My favourite quote from a coach to a player who requested information about the opposing team – “Volleyball is not chess”.  My favourite quote about no scouting report overall – “I could give you a lot of information about (the next opponent) or I could give you none.  I choose to give you none.”