Tag Archives: Mark Lebedew

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.

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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