Tag Archives: My Profession: The Game

Doug Beal, The Man Who Reinvented Volleyball

The following interview was conducted by Sidronio Henrique, a Brazilian journalist who covers volleyball in Brazilian and Canadian publications. I had the pleasure of meeting him at the recent World Championships and he was gracious enough to allow me to reproduce this interview with Doug Beal. The original article appeared on the Brazilian website www.falandodevolei.com.br

Doug Beal is a reference when it comes to volleyball. His interventions in the American team in the second half of the Olympic cycle towards Los Angeles 1984 resulted in a new passing system, something that also brought changes for attacking and blocking. Team USA grabbed the gold at those Olympic Games and also won every major for the next four years. Since those days, volleyball has never been the same.

He is currently the president of the American Volleyball Federation (USAV) and tries to popularize the sport in a market that loves baseball, American football and basketball. He has not advanced that much, but still believes it is possible to get a generous slice of the attention of the American public. “We need a very strong sponsor”, says Beal.

The man who created the modern volleyball is 67 years-old. He complains that volleyball is very physical now, that every team plays almost the same, and says the sport needs some changes. He talked about the 1984 squad, the development of the sport and about his plans to make it big in the USA.

 

Reporter – How could a team that had been placed 13th at the 1982 World Championship become Olympic champion in 1984? What happened in a span of just two years?

Doug Beal – Sometimes the outcome of a tournament does not reflect reality. The worlds in 1982 had 24 teams divided into six groups of four, only two moved on to play for the first to the 12th place, while others vied for the consolation tournament, from the 13th to the 24th place. Our team had played together for the first time in the previous year, we were just beginning to make some adjustments and our pool at that tournament in Argentina was very strong. (Editor’s note: In pool play Team USA finished third in a pool where they beat Chile 3-0, losing 2-3 to a strong Bulgaria, with 14-16 in the fifth set, and 0-3 for then the best team in the world, Soviet Union, but with very tight scores in every set)

However, our squad was already a good team, we had practically the same players that would eventually participate at the Los Angeles Olympics, so the 13th place in the 1982 worlds definitely did not reflect our status back then. The USSR was certainly the best team that year. Who was the runner up at that World Championship? Continue reading

Equation With Six Knowns

The following article originally appeared in “Sport in the USSR” in 1984.  In it, Vyacheslav Platonov tells the story behind winning the 1982 World Championships. His book, “My Profession: The Game” is available in hardcover and eBook here.

Never before in the six years I have been working with the national team had I been so concerned as before the tenth world volleyball tournament in Argentina. What was in store for us in South America? Would we be able to defend our title, won four years ago?

Our team was going through tough times. After our win at the 1978 world championship we gradually brought up youngsters to the team, though still counting mainly on the seasoned players. The latter had begun to tire, and many of them were plagued by injuries.  We were especially concerned by the health of our captain, Vyacheslav Zaitsev, the big play-maker. Last season he had a right leg injury, but nevertheless played in the European championship and the World Cup playoff. Later, after he was well again, Vyacheslav took part in the national championship. At the height of the preparations for the Argentine tourney, he had a relapse. Our captain was forced to spend several weeks in hospital. The break in his training could not but have an effect on his playing. Zaitsev’s hallmark stability of the second pass, with which he used to set up attack, went awry. The team’s momentum was immediately thrown off…. It must be said that on the eve of the world championship he was not the only one way out of shape. Olympic champions Viljar Loor, Vladimir Dorokhov and Pavel Selivanov had problems getting into form.

We needed game practice to regain our former spark. So about two months before the competitions in Argentina we took part in the Savvin Memorial Tournament in Leningrad. We played well, losing only one set. However, we were unable to execute fully our plan of checking the rookies – Alexander Sorokolet, Valery Losev, Oleg Smugilev and Sergei Gribov – in action.  All we had to do was take out two or three Olympic champions for the squad to start dragging and falling apart. The youngsters had to be put back on the bench since even though the team possessed limited potential we didn’t have the right to lose at home such a prestigious competition.

After the Savvin memorial we left for Brazil for a tournament which directly preceded the competitions in Argentina.  I remember having warned Soviet journalists at a press conference in Leningrad that it is not out of the realm of possibility that we might not put our best foot forward in Brazil. 

“The main thing for us,” I said, “is the Argentine championship. In Brazil we’ll be experimenting with the team. After all, we coaches are obliged to know exactly who is who on the team. Let the newcomers test their strength against the best….”

At that time I named Brazil, China and Poland as our main opponents. And it so happened at the tournament in Rio de Janeiro, which gathered the cream of the crop in world volleyball, we bowed to the Chinese and Brazilian teams.

It was a shame to lose, of course, but there was really no cause for mourning.  For one thing, we tested all the players inside out; for another, our players, who had not been set the task of winning at any cost, were able to preserve their freshness.

Imagine our surprise when we learned from the local papers that strife was rampant on our once powerful team, that players were quarrelling with one another and with the coaches, and that the domination of the Soviet squad had come to an end – proof would be forthcoming in two weeks….

To tell the truth, over the past few years we’d been accustomed to a different tone from the press. No one had ever questioned whether we knew how to play volleyball.  And here were torrents of caustic remarks. I figured that their getting us all worked up would be beneficial to us in the long run. I asked our interpreter to read out before breakfast one day these vicious passages about our players, and queried; ” Well, how do you like that ? Maybe the authors of these articles are right?”

This read-aloud session played its role, I could tell from the players’ faces that they were more than ready for action; they were completely psyched up to defend their honour and dignity, to demonstrate how tough they were in uncompromising, fierce competition.

On October 14, 1982 the semi-final between the home team and Soviet squad began at the Luna Park sports facility in Buenos Aires. 

I had never seen anything like it. Drums, horns, castanets, wild screaming – all this merged into an avalanche of noise. I couldn’t hear my own voice, so I communicated with the players more with gestures than words. 

Ice – cream cones, rolls of paper, fire crackers, coins, etc. were flying onto the volleyball court. International Volleyball Federation President Paul Libaud and the captain of the Argentine team appealed to the spectators to behave themselves decently, but their exhortations were in vain.

Five years ago we played in the final of the world championships in Rome against the Italian team, and there I got some idea of how a home crowd can help a team. I remember that at a press conference before the final (our opponent was still unknown) local journalists asked us whom we’d prefer playing for the gold. “Your countrymen, of course,” I answered. “Because you consider them not much competition?” “No, it’s just that another game against Italy will make us rich men – I can image how the fans will rain lire down at us in the final if they were so generous even in the USSR – Italy preliminary.”

The Italian journalists appreciated my joke, writing before the final that Sr. Platonov was afraid of only one thing – growing rich in Rome.  

Money was indeed showered upon the court; gold medals could have well been bought for the Italian team, if world championship gold medals were for sale…

It seemed to us then that a team could not have been supported more ardently than the Italian squad was.  Now, after we encountered the Argentine fans, the Italians look like well behaved gentlemen with refined manners.

I am convinced that the Argentine team, a middle level squad, would have made a much weaker appearance on a neutral field. But not in Buenos Aires.

It appeared that the din would work on our players, but this did not happen. The Soviet boys were “protected” by invisible armour from all psychological attacks.  They did not depart from their style one iota, winning the game by a score of 3-0. Ahead was the final, against the Brazilian squad.

Today volleyball as well as football is popular in South America. You have heard, of course, of the Copacabana, the famous sandy beaches of Rio de Janeiro.  How many books, newspaper articles and films deal with the habitués of these beaches – Brazilian youngsters – who amaze you with their ability to play ball! Football, of course.  Some might find it hard to imagine, but today more people along the Copacabana are playing volleyball.  I saw it with my own eyes – dozens, hundreds of teams playing for their own amusement, for the “beach title”.

The deafening volleyball boom has led to the Brazilian national team elbowing its way ahead of many recognised favourites in the standings. At the Montreal Olympics the Brazilians placed seventh; they were fifth at the Moscow Games, third a year and a half later at the World Cup in Japan, and they were facing us here in the world championship finals in Argentina.

Talking about this last, decisive game, I must repeat that I had never seen anything like it. Only now I’m referring not to the fans but to the game itself. The game which our team played that night.

Ordinarily I shouldn’t overly admire my team, as a trainer isn’t supposed to rest on his laurels. And to tell the truth, I usually do not lavish praise. For this reason our champions more often than not hear not compliments from their head coach, but severe criticism. But that I day I indeed experienced moments of ecstasy…

It took our players 72 minutes to prove that they’re the world’s best today.

Such a fast final is unprecedented in tournament history. I find it difficult to describe how our team played.  I admired them from start to finish, and, as I was told later, cheered for them along with the crowd at Luna Park.  With their inspired, artistic and bold play our squad won over the fans, who were initially clearly against them.  

In a bid to save the situation, the Brazilian coach feverishly made substitutions and called timeouts.  As soon as he took his first timeout, our players came over to me for advice. “I can’t help you,” I said. ” It’s the Brazilians who need a coach, not you . Everything is working well for you, you will be the champs.  So I can take it easy.” And I wasn’t mistaken. The Soviet team won 3-0. The world championship which I had been so apprehensive about was over….

Incidentally, I can’t say that even after this, second, victory in a row, I was able to sleep at night. The fact is that a few years ago there were 11 equally good players on the team. This gave me freedom to manoeuvre, enabled me to even out playing loads, and stiffened competition for a starting berth. But in Argentina there were only eight top flight players on the Soviet squad.  And among this galaxy two stars – Dorokhov and Selivanov – were not in peak form for that matter. Furthermore, in each game, with the exception of the final, there were lapses on the court. So my apprehensions about the Argentine tournament were not groundless.

We won nevertheless. It was a clean victory all around, and the experts admitted as much.

This is all well and good, but today when the moments of ecstasy have passed, I am obliged to think about tomorrow, about solving the problems which became so glaring during the world championship. After all, a coach who keeps his head in the clouds of joy too long risks hurtling down to the ground and winding up where he started.

However, a coach must, of course, see not only his team’s shortcomings but its merits as well. In what respects was it better than its opponents? After Buenos Aires I can easily answer this question.  Had there really existed the confidence crisis on our team that the South American press supposed there did, we would not have been able to stand up either to the Argentine squad or to the wildly cheered Brazilian team.  But there was not a crisis. There was mutual trust. The players believed in one another, the coaches in the player, and the player in the coaches.  This is what I see to be the main trump card of the Soviet team.

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Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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The Secrets of Platonov

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Vyacheslav Platonov features prominently in any conversation about the great volleyball coaches in history.  His Soviet teams won every competition they entered between 1977 and 1983, including two World Championships, two World Cups, four European Championships and an Olympic Gold Medal.  This period of sustained success is unrivalled in the men’s game. Neither Matsudaira, nor Beal, nor Velasco, nor even Bernardinho have matched that seven year stretch.

During his lifetime, Platonov wrote several books, mostly of the autobiographical / memoir type.  His last book, however, was intended to be a handbook for aspiring coaches and as such it contains much of the collected, practical coaching wisdom he accumulated during his many years at the highest level of international volleyball.  He specifically discusses developing your own style, building a team, the qualities of a successful coach, training and preparation, and coaching the game.

For the first time ever, this book is now available in English.  It is available in ePub format here, and as a hardcover book here.  There is also a facebook page. I believe this book is unique in volleyball and a vital addition to the professional library of every serious coach, regardless of the sport.

My Profession : The Game

Cover v2Vyacheslav Platonov is by any measure one the greatest coaches of all time.  In addition to his achievements on the court he also found the time to write several books.  These were mostly classical autobiographical works.  However, his final book was intended to be a coaching handbook. This book, entitled ‘My Profession: The Game’ has now been translated into English.  It is available at lulu.com in ebook format and also as a hardcover and on iTunes as an ebook.  These are my thoughts on the book…   

They say that children are frontrunners. So it was only natural that as soon as I started to take interest in volleyball I would be attracted to the best, and at that time the very best team was indisputably the national team of the Soviet Union. Given that my father is Russian, and had personal contact with the coach, it was hardly surprising that when my classmates were writing the names of their favourite footballers or rock bands on their schoolbags, I had written on my Asics (not coincidently the same brand as that worn by the team) sports bag the names of Savin and Zaitsev, with their playing numbers in the script that was used on their shirts. None of my school friends had any clue what those names meant and truth be known, neither did I. After all, I was merely a frontrunner.

For whatever reasons, the achievements of that group, under the leadership of their coach Platonov, no longer seem to resonate as strongly as the victories of their predecessors and successors. The fact is that between 1977 and 1985, the Soviet Union national team won every major international event in which they participated. In that period they won one Olympic gold medal, two World Championships, two World Cups and five European Championships. No other team or coach, in any era, has approached that level of success. Not the Japanese under Matsudaira, the Americans under Beal / Dunphy, the Italians under Velasco / Bebeto, nor the Brazilians under Bernardinho. All were indisputably great, but none sustained the highest level of excellence for as long as Platonov’s Soviets. Continue reading

The Wisdom Of Players

I recently posted on the facebook page the post of Platonov quotes.  The following quote was commented upon…

”Do not be afraid to learn from players.  Especially new techniques.  “Stars” become “stars” because they do many things non standard, not by the text book.”

Given that Platonov was the greatest volleyball of all time, I thought it might be worth discussing further.

In the Vince Lombardi biography, ‘When Pride Still Mattered’, the story is told of Lombardi (on the way to being the greatest football coach of all time) making the adjustment from college coach to professional coach.  After some difficult times, particularly in his relationships with the players, he sat down with them and asked them to help him coach them.

I think it is reasonable to say that even in the age of player empowerment neither story is typical.  But until I heard the following story, I didn’t realise the idea of learning from players was quite so foreign.

A former professional player, one of the best players in the world at his position, gave a lecture on his skill area to a group of development coaches.  To reiterate, he was one of the best in world at that position.  After he explained to them exactly what he did, where he looked, what he tried to recognise, how he made his decision, his technique; the entire process that he went through to be the best in the world, the assembled coaches told him he was wrong.  Particularly, they told him he was looking in the wrong place.  Apparently the scientific research shows something different.