Tag Archives: Julio Velasco

Setting Tactics

When we talk about setters and setting we often talk about setters’ creativity and their ‘hands’.  I have written before that I don’t even know what ‘creative’ means in the context of setting.  And I have seen plenty of middle blockers with better ‘hands’ than top level setters.  So what do great setters actually do?

According to Julio Velasco setters must “Play volleyball, not with the volleyball”.  To me, that means to use tactics to achieve the desired outcome (a spike point).  Simple tactics that setters can use include:

  • Set to the best spiker
  • Set against the worst blocker
  • Use time differential attacks.  This is, two or more spikers attack the same part of the net at slightly different times, the setter then sets one of those spikers, often incorporating individual technical tricks.
  • Use isolation. That is the first tempo runs in one part of the net so the opposing middle moves, the setters then sets in the opposite direction.
  • Individual technical tricks (including hand and body fakes)
  • Dozens of variations on the above
  • Any kind of combination of the above

Many setters sort of fake their way through do some of these things unconsciously, or sometimes consciously or falling back to number 1.  Sometimes you can see setters who have complete mastery of a match by their use of tactics.  One match that sticks out for me and that I have often shared with other coaches as an example of the highest level of tactical setter play was the final of CEV Champions League in 2011-12.  The match was played between Zenit Kazan and SKRA Belchatow.  The setter in question was Valerio Vermiglio playing in blue.  One of the coaches with whom I shared this video made an edit in which he added explanations along the way.  Thanks, Hugh.  I think it is worth sharing.


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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Do Not Judge It, Solve It

One of the key inspirations behind the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project is Julio Velasco.  By any measure, Julio Velasco is one of the best, most innovative, most important volleyball coaches in history. Every time you watch volleyball, the game that you see is (partly) his product.  His influence on the game is profound.

But the reason he is such an inspiration for the project, is that while most volleyball people know his name and know that he is one of the most famous coaches in the world, outside the Italian / Spanish speaking world they have no idea about his actual teachings or philosophies or methodologies; the things that made his influence so profound.  The same applies to many other great, unknown volleyball coaches.

The goal of the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project is to make that knowledge more widely known and understood.

As an example, below are two clips from presentations Velasco made that have been subtitled into English.  Just as a taste.  They are great.

Yeah, But…

Every coach recognises those words as the moment a player begins making an excuse for not doing whatever he or she was supposed to do.  A book with the collected excuses of players with that title would doubtless be a best seller as coaches would snap them up at a pretty decent rate, either for their own enjoyment or as amusing gifts for coaching colleagues.  However, despite what coaches would have you believe, it is not only players who come up with imaginative excuses.  I Taught My Dog To WhistleAs the cartoon above shows, coaches are just as prone as athletes to make excuses for their failings.  In fact you can open the sports pages on nearly any day and get a Coaching 101 lesson in excuses from the coaches who lost yesterday.   For example, every time a coach talks about the officiating.  Julio Velasco often talks about more serious excuses that coaches make.  One of his favourites is blaming the psychological failings of a player / team for coach’s lack of success, as I quoted about here, rather than seriously analysing their own work.  In the video clip, he talks (apparently, it is in Spanish) on a similar theme, of coaches blaming a player’s lack of talent for the lack of success.

 

The most popular current excuse for coaches is athlete ‘entitlement’.  You can read the complaint often on internet coaching pages and one well known basketball coach quoted ‘entitlement’ as part of the reason for her retirement.  The reason I use the inverted commas there is to emphasise that those are not my own thoughts.  Obviously, society has changed (as it always does) and with it so have athlete’s expectations of the coach / athlete relationship (as it always does)*.  But when reading those posts, it is impossible not to see that many of the posters are looking for excuses instead of honestly reviewing their own contributions.

How many times have you heard a coach or player say something along the lines of ‘The guys were fully committed today and that is all I can ask of them.’  As famous football coach Guus Hiddink says**.

“…commitment (is) also a little bit of an excuse.  When you have 100%, whatever happens in the game, we are happy.  I said ‘No, that’s not enough for me.  Let’s go and try to make the commitment more balanced to technical behaviour, strategy.”

Excuses are everywhere.  Ultimately there are two possibilities in any endeavour: you either succeeded or you didn’t succeed.  And if you didn’t succeed there is a very high probability that the reason was something that YOU did.  Those who search for that reason, and not for excuses, and seek constant improvement, are invariably the ones who eventually do succeed.


* I used to be a player.  The way I remember the ‘good old days’ is of what we had to put up with from our coaches.  Some in particular coached in a way that would now, rightly, be considered child abuse.  Instead of complaining about how players are now, we should be ashamed that we didn’t speak up about the things we were forced to do.

** in the excellent book ‘That Night’ about his work with the Australian football team in qualifying for the 2006 World Cup.

Coach’s Books And Great Coaches

One of my favourite things I am doing now is the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project, in which my partner John Forman and I interview great volleyball coaches with the view to share their insights with other coaches.  So far the project has been enormously fun and rewarding.  One of the highlights was a recently recorded (and soon to be released) interview with Swedish coaching legend, Anders Kristiansson.  At some point in the interview I suggested that he should write a book. He laughed and quoted his friend Julio Velasco, who apparently said…

“If a coach has written a book he is not a good coach.  A good coach is thinking only about his next practice.”

I of course laughed at appropriate moment, noted the irony out loud, and silently put my own book plans on hold.  I have written before the coach’s books should be taken with a pinch of salt anyway, but this got me thinking a little bit more.

As so often happens in these cases, shortly after the conversation I came across documentaries about two of the great current American coaches.  As it happens those two coaches, Gregg Popovich and Bill Belichick, are virtually unanimously considered to be the best coach in the NBA and NFL respectively.  Neither has written a book.  Neither has an identifiable slogan or method that they have trademarked and marketed.  For that reason, I think both documentaries are especially valuable, not least because they contain first person interviews.  I embed them here without further comment.

Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs

Note: The title says 1/6, but it automatically plays all six.

Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots

Note: The embedded video may not play, but the original on YouTube will.

“A Window To The National Team”

Sidrônio sent me a link to an article on the website of the Argentinian Volleyball Federation outlining the selection criteria Julio Velasco is using for the Argentinian National Team.  According to Google Translate it is very interesting.  I thought it was worth sharing even if it is not 100% accurate.  Please feel free to provide corrections in the comments.

A WINDOW TO THE NATIONAL TEAM + SELECTION CRITERIA FOR PLAYERS

BY JULIO VELASCO

Every coach uses a strategy to teach and train his team.  There are big differences between doing this for a national team and for a club team. There is no single or best strategy: there are many and team sport history proves it.  What is very important is that this strategy is clear and especially that it is consistent, and targets the team result while maintaining standards of justice that players can recognise.  It is not that all agree with the coach’s decisions, but that those decisions are understood and, therefore, are respected.

As coach of the national volleyball team, I would like to explain some of the criteria of the strategy used by myself and my staff.

1. Players are chosen on their technical level, the ability to understand the game, for their health and physical characteristics, personal characteristics for the game, by age and with respect to the roles in the team.

2. All of these capabilities are assessed by all the staff, although the last word, as is logical lies with the head coach.

3. These assessments have to respect some assumptions: the main factor to consider is how they play, taking into account matches with the national team and also with the club team. It is for this reason that players who do not play at the club level, are not invited to the national team.

4. As coach of the national I cannot interfere with decisions made by players, but I cannot favour the decision (of a player) to prioritise the economic factor above technical growth.  A player can choose a team that pays more but where he will be a reserve over another where he will earn less but will play.  In each case the National Team can also make a choice.

I also believe that if a player is unable to be a starter for his club team, he will not prevail against the best players in the world.  It is also a respect for the activity of clubs and the coaches who work in them.

Like any rule there may be some individual cases that are not specifically covered (for example a player did not know what awaited him at the club), but this does not change the fact that it is not possible to evaluate the player, because he has not played.

Obviously, these criteria on decisions on the players is debatable.  The important thing for me is that, at least, the reasons for certain decisions are known. Other factors, non sporting, for example, cannot be made public.  This is also the logic of things.

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

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Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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More Julio Velasco

Sadly when I was a younger coach, I heard a couple of quotes from Julio Velasco that were misrepresented to me or either deliberately or ‘accidently’ presented to me out of context.  From this lack of information I was not able to develop a true understanding of the breadth of his vision or his real impact on the game.  I regret that.

For example, I was presented with the quote ‘I am a coach, not a psychologist’.  I recently heard the full context from Alessandro Lodi, who has a native’s access to the original Italian.  The full quote is a lot more like…

“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.” Continue reading