Tag Archives: Mark Lebedew

It’s All About The Journey

Every player or coach who has been involved with international volleyball has some kind of travel story / nightmare.  There are many, many things that go wrong while attempting to move groups of human beings large distances.  And sometimes several of those things can go wrong at the same time.  Those occasions are the ones that make the best stories.  The best story was probably the one that involved negotiating a bribe to be allowed to leave Uzbekistan.

The second best story involved travelling from Slovakia to Argentina.  Due to the lack of appropriate international competition, it was decided that we had to accept an invitation to participate in a tournament in Argentina right after a tour of Europe.  The only small problem was that the first game in Argentina was less than three days after the last game in Europe.  What happens next is an epic travel story.

Leaving in the middle of the night from the Olympic training centre in somewhere I no longer remember in Slovakia, our first leg was a trip to Vienna where we caught a flight to Heathrow.  From Heathrow, we had the relative comfort of a longish haul flight to New York, JFK (or was it Newark).  There we went through customs and baggage control and climbed into mini buses for the ride to Newark (or was it JFK) for the next leg to Buenos Aires.  Sadly Buenos Aires was not final destination.  But we did get to wander into the city to a sport school for lunch (breakfast? / dinner?) and sit around for a few hours waiting for a domestic flight to a small place with the same name as the training centre in Slovakia. Once we got off that plane and collected our luggage we were nearly there. Just a one hour bus ride to Tucumán left.

So if you are counting at home, that is four flights (three international, one domestic) and three bus trips (not counting airport – Buenos Aires – airport) and a total travelling time of 48 hours.  Luckily we had nearly 24 hours to recover from the travel before playing pre defection Cuba.  Remarkably, we hung with them for a set and even had a set point in the first.  Strangely, we ran out of steam after that and lost in three sets.  You can watch the match below.

We played two other matches in that tournament before travelling on to other, ever more remote, parts of Argentina to play against the hosts.  Before that relatively easy travel we had one more training session booked in the same gym as the tournament.  As you can see the gym looked okay on TV but it was pretty dumpy (eg the toilets in the changerooms didn’t function).  But as bad as it was we weren’t quite prepared for what awaited us in the gym we had played in twelve hours earlier and which the organisers had assured us was prepared for our practice.

We didn’t practice.  Click on the picture to enlarge, and yes, that is a bird next the lone net post.


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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My Philosophy Of Volleyball

I recently did an interview with the Plus Liga TV channel.  It covers a lot of areas of my philosophy and ideas of volleyball in a different (perhaps more easily digestable) format than writing. One of my players saw it and commented that it was exactly like working with me. That is just about the biggest compliment that I can get.  Above all things I try to be consistent in my philosophy and in my messaging.  Wish I’d shaved though.

Thanks to Kamil Skladowski from the Plus Liga for then interview.


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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Training Goals

There is a lot of research that shows the best kind of practice the coach should do with his team.  The best kind of practice that a coach should do with his team is distributed practice.  Distributed practice provides the best conditions for learning and importantly the retention of the learning.  That is clear.  Everyone knows that*.  So it logically follows that distributed practice is always the best way to practice.  Or does it?

What if the goal of a particular practice session is NOT learning? What if the goal is team building? Or active recovery? Or providing feedback? Or developing a common language?  Or improving communication? If the goal of practice is not learning then is it necessary to use only distributed practice formats?

The practice below was originally recorded by Volleywood for a Facebook Live Event.  The goal of the practice activation.  The team had had two free days prior to this practice.  Contrary to popular belief, professional athletes are not better when they have had free time and tend to be fairly sluggish.  Sometimes practice can look like the players have never met each other, or a ball, before.  In such cases, to prevent practice being an essential dead loss, we can have a morning practice that activates the nervous system and muscles, in preparation for the days that follow.  In that case we want to have simple activities and movements that allow a player to get back in communication with his body and with the ball.

The video quality is not perfect, and it wasn’t recorded with the view of being a training aid, but you can get the idea.


*Sadly, not everyone knows that.  But they should.

Honour And Respect

One of the most common everyday challenges for a coach is his / her team playing at the level of the opponent. Against a better opponent it is rarely a problem, except that the coach often wistfully wishes the team always played like that. Against weaker teams it is a huge frustration, as ‘unnecessary’ sets or even matches are lost. To complicate matters further, in some places (mostly the United States) ethical pressures are placed on the coach to restrict the team’s performance so as not to risk ‘running up the score’ and therefore ‘disrespecting’ an opponent. In extreme cases coaches can be censured, suspended or even fired for winning by too much.

This is not a mindset that I can easily comprehend. As a competitor the most disrespected I have ever felt was when an opponent did not take my team seriously and therefore gave less than their best effort. Big losses never discouraged me, rather they inspired me to work harder, to work smarter, to get better. As a coach I have felt the disappointment from our opponents when they realised we would not be playing our strongest lineup in that match, and I understood their point of view. We were not taking them as seriously as they felt they deserved to be. These matches always make me much more nervous than any championship playoff.

Recently the topic has come up twice in a volleyball context. During a Volleyball Coaching Wizards interview, top Scottish coach Simon Loftus stated that “the best thing you can do to a team is beat them 25-0”. In other words, you don’t mess about, or ‘take the mickey, but play with as much concentration and focus as you would for a championship match (see below for the clip). At the currently being held FIVB Women’s World Cup in Japan, USA defeated Algeria by the set scores of 25-7, 25-2, 25-5. While such a score would lead to many of his colleagues fearing for his job, USA coach Karch Kiraly, as a player one of the greatest competitors of all time in any sport, put it in into perspective in the post match press conference.

“It doesn’t matter who’s across the net; we honour our opponents, we honour our sport, and we honour our programme and team. I like what we did today.”

I agree wholeheartedly.  Honour and respect means playing at the maximum of your ability.

Playing To Win

Coaching volleyball, or indeed any sport, for a living is tough.  It is not only the work that is difficult but it can become all consuming to the extent that it affects your personal and family life, and even your personality.  It can change your perspective (a loss is a disaster and a win is merely the postponement of the next disaster).  It can change your sense of humour* (if you have sensitive players who take everything personally).  It can change your sense of reality (an officiating error against you is proof of cheating, while one your favour is proof of your quality).  And it can absolutely affect your sense of irony.  As you can imagine, with no perspective, humour or sense of reality, there can be no irony.

Which brings us to the above video.  Although I certainly have my lapses, I think that I have done a reasonable job of avoiding the pitfalls described above.  The point in the video is from the bronze medal match from the 2015 CEV Champions League.  It shows my team (Berlin Recycling Volleys) create a great opportunity to win the match, and then make a ‘simple’, ‘unforced’ error.  My reaction is a rueful smile and a silent expletive.  The reason for the smile is at that exact moment of time I remembered a moment at training about a week before in which I implored my team (again) to always force the high ball set close to the net and further emphasised my point by saying ‘I would rather make one direct error and nine perfect sets than ten ‘okay’ sets’.  I never thought those words would come back to bite us at quite that moment**.   Luckily my sense of irony has not yet been destroyed by my lack of perspective.

During the recent World League Finals tournament it became something of a bugbear of the commentator when teams made similar errors in setting high balls.  His mantra was that in those situations the player should always set the ball on the 10 feet from the net to be safe.  Fair enough, although it could have been the players were trying to set 10 feet from the net but didn’t know where that was.  But I digress.  My problem was that he did comment that the dozens and dozens of great sets were still not the safe option, just ‘luckily’ not errors.  On those occasions he always praised the attacker who made the point and simply didn’t mention the set or setter who made it possible.

There are two important points here.

Firstly, you must be absolutely consistent in your demands of the players.  If you demand aggression, you cannot fault errors that result from what you demand.  Conversely if you demand conservatism, you should fault aggression, even if it results in a successful action.

Secondly, the key concept that led to the errors that so annoyed the commentator was that the current generation of players / teams / coaches is playing to win.  Previous generations’ first instinct was conservative, to play not to lose.  Playing to win means searching for solutions that lead directly to points which in turn means that errors can occur.  Playing not to lose means searching for solutions that give your opponent the chance to make errors.  This leads to what I saw in the 2012 Olympics which was teams who often seemed to be playing ‘with’ each other in a kind of choreographed dance.  It can certainly be annoying at times to see a service error at set point or spike aimed at the top joint of the middle blockers finger land untouched in a spectators lap but those errors arise from exactly the kind of thinking that also leads to the countless successful actions that make modern volleyball such an astonishingly spectacular sport.  You can’t have one without the other.


*Doing anything in the absence of humour is, not surprisingly, an incredible painful experience.

**To keep perspective, we might have made five such errors over the course of the season and I am almost certain the player in question made only that one, including nine months worth of training and dozens of more difficult ones.

2014 World Championships Technical Review – Part 3

The following article originally appeared in the German ‘Volleyball Magazin‘ in November 2014, written by Michael Mattes, with help from Jan Kahlenbach. 

A note on the translation.  I speak German well, but nowhere near translator level.  Any stilted expression is solely the result of my poor translation and should not be accredited to the author.

Part 1 is here.  Part 2 is here.


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FRANCE – Berlin’s coach Mark Lebedew once said: “Modern volleyball is a game of transitions, nobody transitions like the French.” A combination of good ball control, great anticipation, experienced positioning and effective speed brings this team more and more into a position from which to score from transition. Admittedly youthful exuberance and impetuosity has them sometimes searching for the most spectacular point.  This immaturity cost them the matches against Italy and Germany. Otherwise they only lost against Brazil in the semifinals and then only just.  The foundation of the French is their unbelievably secure reception, which a world class player such as Friedrichshafen’s Jenia Grebinnikov with 57.1% had the worst efficiency.  However, the team was only in 6th place in sideout. That figure alone shows how much potential there is in this team. Continue reading

My Coaching Influences

In this clip from my Volleyball Coaching Wizards interview (soon to be available in full) I talk about my initial coaching influences.  I name John Dunstan and Geoff Hart as my first two major influences.  Like so often happens, in the spur of the moment I didn’t mention why they had influenced me which is the most important part of it.  Luckily I have a forum in which I can redress that issue.

John Dunstan was one of my very first coaches as a junior.  From him I learnt about how a team functions, and in particular how it works together in training to improve.  Basically I learnt the concept of co-opetition, close enough to thirty years before I heard the term (and before it was applied to volleyball?).  This concept has informed literally every practice I have conducted as a coach, professional or otherwise.

Geoff Hart was an Australian who played collegiately at Pepperdine and with the National Team before becoming assistant coach during the time I had a coaching scholarship with the team.  From him I learnt that you need to have a concept of how all parts of the game should fit together.  And perhaps more importantly, I learnt that if you have a strong concept you never need to be afraid of being challenged or questioned on any part of it.