Tag Archives: NCAA Volleyball

Team Culture One Percenters

Everyone* knows that the key to victory in any sporting event is taking care of the 1%ers.  It is one of those pieces of conventional wisdom that we take for granted these days.  When those people* talk about 1%ers they are most often referring to very small technical or tactical areas or even the 1% extra effort required to be successful.  Some coaches have gone as far as to identify what those 1%ers are and measure them.

For those keeping track at home, I think a lot about how the team functions, about ‘The Secret’, about the interactions within the team.  While everyone* knows that the functioning of the team is really, really important, many (most?) coaches do not actually spend time on those elements.  And they would certainly never give up actual training time to work on them.  Indeed coaches are notoriously loathe to voluntarily cut practice time for any reason at all.  And when building a team, they will always take the player who is the slightly better player over the player who is nearly as good but is a better fit in the team.

For those reasons it was interesting and refreshing to hear a recent interview with Anna Collier on The Net Live.  Anna is coach of the USC women’s beach volleyball team which has won the last two NCAA championships.  In the interview she talks of the evolution of her coaching from being a coach interested only in technical development to one being primarily interested in establishing an effective team culture.

“I learned that to me if we have a problem on the team… (fixing that problem) is more valuable than hitting that high line a hundred more times.”

If I can interpret her philosophy, she considers the team culture to be a 1%er and subsequently devotes part of her time with the team to developing them.

Maybe coaching isn’t just about techniques and tactics.

You can listen to the whole interview here from about the 37 minute mark.


*When you read ‘everyone’ or ‘people say’ do you ever ask ‘which people?’ or do you just accept the statement as given?

Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

Cover v2


Player Empowerment

Giving players power over elements of their daily team life is by no means a new concept.  Australian Football League coach David Parkin had enormous success following the practice as far back as 1995, and in Australian sport it is now more or less compulsory.  In many other sports and countries this would be a complete disaster, but I digress…

I recently came across a couple of good insights into the principle.  In the December 10th 2012 episode of The Net Live, there were interviews with all of the coaches of the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Final Four tournament.  The last of them with Oregon Ducks coach Jim Moore. During the interview he was asked about his player driven offensive system.

“I believe firmly that the game is won by the players…   I don’t put any balls on the floor so I’ve always given that centre of power to the players. They know themselves better than I know them and so what they feel comfortable running, they call and (the setter) makes that split second decision on where to go.  I’ve always felt that if you empower them, they make great decisions and generally they have done that and they’ve proven that they can do it.”

There must be something in it as Oregon made it all the way to the final, beating favourites Penn State in the semis before losing to Texas.

Pep Guardiola is also a believer in a form of player empowerment having pushed for it during his time as a player and implemented elements of it while of coach of Barcelona.  But his take on it  is a little different.

“I can imagine the most amazing solution to a problem and then sometimes players come out with something better during the game that I hadn’t thought of.  Then that for me is like a little defeat, it means I should have found that solution earlier.”**

Coaching isn’t easy.

**(from ‘Another Way Of Winning, p12)

NCAA Final Four

I first read about college volleyball over 30 (!?!?) years ago.  Since then, I’ve read and seen countless article, movies, documentaries about college sport (not only volleyball) and coached graduates from the system.  But until two weeks ago when I joined a tour run by BringItPromotions, I’d never actually experienced it myself.  Now that I have, I can make the following observations about this quite bizarre (from the outside) world.

–  Atmosphere..  The Galen Centre at University of Southern California is a wonderful tribute to USC sport.  The history of sport at the school is recognised everywhere.  From the Hall of Fame and current players highlighted in the lobby to the display of NCAA tournament trophies to the retired jerseys hanging from the roof.  Inside it is a beautiful arena, purpose built for sport, with a capacity of 10,500.  Around 9,700 spectators rocked the stadium for the final between the home team, USC, and University of California, Irvine (UCI). I can’t say that the atmosphere was as good as a Berlin Recycling Volleys home game at the Max Schmeling Halle, but that is partly due to contractual obligation.

– Quality of play.  I really didn’t know what to expect in terms of quality of play.  I knew that players often go directly to top leagues and many of the best players in history played college volleyball but what is the level between college teams?  The answer is high and at times very high.  The players are big, strong, athletic, technically sound and competitive.  The teams are well organised, well prepared and well coached.  I have heard it said that it is essentially a junior competition.  It is true that the players are young, there is a drop off in depth and some of the errors in evidence were caused by inexperience.  It is also true that against a quality, experienced opponent the teams I saw would have difficulties but the same can be said about bad, experienced teams.  In my opionion, USC and UCI could easily compete in the German Bundesliga and by extension do very well in many European leagues.  Individuals to watch out for are Kevin Tillie (who played his first World League matches on the weekend) and Tony Ciarelli.

– Tactics.  As I mentioned, the teams are very well prepared. In block I saw a variety of different commits with one or multiple blockers although I think they might have been better off reading in some of the situations.  I also saw some clear serving tactics.  Indeed, in my opinion the serving tactics of UCI, and their ability to carry them out diligently for a long period of time, was a major factor in their victory (together with an opposite who hit at 60%).  Overall I see a lot of teams who play completely without tactics or any semblance of a plan, so it was refreshing to watch teams so clearly tactically aware.

– Rules. There are some very different rules, or at least protocols.  For example, the coaches sit on the side of the first referee rather than the second referee, which means they have an extra second (third?) ref whose job it is to liase between the coaches and first ref and the scorers table.  The bench is at the end of the court, almost in the warmup area and the head coach sits anywhere along the bench.  All coaches are allowed to get up and talk to players during the game.  There are no technical timeouts, and coach’s timeouts are 90 seconds instead of 30, which gives extra time for the cameras to show spectators on the big screen.  Literally without exception, every person shown on the big screen, from ages 6 to 80 celebrated their 15 seconds of fame by dancing and acting crazy.  Which brings us to…

– Stereotypes.  I am pleased to report that every stereotype about college sport and college life propogated by Hollywood movies is 100% true.  The haircuts, the tans, the teeth, the clothes, the cheerleaders, the sorority girls, the jocks, I could go on and on.  It was both hilarious and comforting and I didn’t need to take any photos as reminders.

And that was that.  If BringIt do the trip again, I can highly recommend it.  Particularly as it corresponds with the AVCA Spring Conference.  For more information about the actual games and stuff like who won and why check out Off The Block and Volleywood.