Tag Archives: USA Volleyball

French Reception Technique

At the USA Volleyball High Performance Coach’s Clinic in 2015, French National Team coach Laurent Tillie caused quite some consternation amongst participants by explaining a reception technique that emphasised bent arms and cross over footwork.  It occurs to me that many who were so concerned have not seen his team using this technique.  Last week I had the very great pleasure to watch the French team attempt to qualify for the Olympics, and to see how they used these ideas in practice.

I don’t want to editorialise in this forum so have simply transcribed (as best as possible) Tillie’s exact words, and then included a video of the French team in action.

“The arms are relaxed.  From this position, go to the ball and think only of the orientation of the platform.  And finish the movement (shows cross step movement)….

(For float serve reception) Usually we ask to have straight arms and move the shoulders. If the ball comes fast and you stay (with straight arms) the ball goes away.  So we try to work bending the arms. Bending the arms it is easier to control the platform, gain time and be ready to bring the ball to the setter.”


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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What If? 1984 Olympics Edition

If volleyball had a journalist or written tradition, one of the great debate topics would revolve around the 1984 Olympic Men’s Volleyball tournament.  The United States were the great emerging team, playing at home, with a group, the core of which would largely dominate world volleyball between 1986 and 1988.  The Soviet Union, had dominated world volleyball since 1977 with a great team of champions very close to their peak.  One great team just before its peak against one great team just after its peak.

The first ‘what if?’ is who would have won the 1984 Olympics if the Soviet Union had not boycotted.  The 1985 World Cup suggests that it would have been exceptionally close and hints, to me at least, that one year earlier with the Soviets closer to their peak and USA further from theirs, the Soviets would have been favourites.

The second ‘what if?’ is whether the system of specialisation developed by the US would have become so widespread, so fast if they had not won the gold medal. This ‘what if?’ is clearer.  I think specialisation would have become just as widespread, although maybe taken a little longer to become standard practice.

There is another hint at what the outcome might have been in a match played later in 1984 at the Japan Cup.  Highlights have just popped up on YouTube.  The match was won in five sets by the Soviet Union.  The ‘what ifs?’ remain.

To quote the comment in Russian on the video…

“This “Japanese Cup” in November 1984. It was conducted among male teams 8 countries – the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, the USA, South Korea, Poland, Mexico, Japan, China. The Soviet Union in the year boycotted the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles in response to the boycott of the Summer Olympic Games in Moscow in 1980, so the US volleyball team took first place in the summer of 1984. And Japan Cup team of the USSR proved that in fact it is still the strongest in the world.”

To quote Doug Beal from his book, ‘Spike!‘…

“The USA goes to this tournament and answers the critics of the boycotting countries.  We crush Poland and Bulgaria, lost a tight match to the USSR, and along with the Soviets dominate the field.  (We are, of course, without half of our Olympic team***).”

What if?…

*** Timmons was injured and Dvorak doesn’t seem to play.  The Soviet Union on the other hand are missing Pantchenko and Antonov.

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Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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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.

Why I Love Volleyball

I could also have titled this ‘Volleyball in the 21st Century’.  This is a great example of the latest evolution of volleyball and why I think it is the most dynamic, spectacular and exciting sport in the world.

And one specific point… I have written often enough about how volleyball has changed in the last two or three years.  This rally contains nine net crosses and not one high ball.  As recently as 2012, at least one of the teams would have tried to slow the game by setting a high, high ball, which in all probability the spiker would have tipped short to position 1.  Now, they are always attacking, always looking for a place they can attack the block and defence.

Anyway, enjoy…

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

Greatest Volleyball Match Of All Time – Part Two

What does it take to be the ‘greatest match of all time’? I guess simply speaking the match needs to have high quality, great drama and a big stage.  In a previous post I suggested a couple of candidates but those are not the only ones.

When the Olympic Champion USA met World Champion Soviet Union on day two of the 1985 World Cup in Osaka it wasn’t technically a final. The peculiar format of the World Cup (single round robin without playoffs) and shortsightedness of the organisers (seriously, how could they not play this match on the last day?) saw to that.  But it was the decisive match of the tournament and hugely significant in many ways.  The Soviet team was at the tail end of the greatest golden era the sport has seen, had just dominated the European Championships (again) and was almost certainly feeling robbed of an Olympic gold medal due to the LA boycott.  The USA team, at the beginning of their own golden era, was almost certainly feeling that they deserved their gold medal and wanted to justify it by beating their main rivals.  Add in a few tired old Cold War cliches and we know that the resulting match must have been a battle.  The video that is now on You Tube (and below) shows that it was.

Some random thoughts…

  • The level of volleyball seems to have made a huge jump from just three years before (although in fairness the quality of the videos is very different) perhaps due to the structure and specialisation that the USA had introduced to world volleyball.
  • Tactically there are some obvious differences to today’s game.  The lack of service pressure and therefore greater quality of the reception (coupled with the rarity of service errors) meant that the middle players hit (relatively to the other spikers) a lot more balls than would now be common.
  • Tactically both teams were using a lot of overload situations with the reception often close to position 2 and a first and second tempo player in a small area.  That forced the opposition to either expose himself to a two against one situation in that area in order to get a double block against position 4, or to leave position 4 with a single block.  The Soviets had a lot of problem blocking in that small space.
  • The Americans had an obvious defensive plan to try to stop Savin, to make up for the very great difficulty in stopping him at the net.  They dug him a couple of times but the one Timmons got in the face probably wasn’t worth the effort.  We’ll call that a win for the Soviets.
  • History seems to remember Kiraly and Timmons as the prominent players from this USA team, but the most important guy in this match is Pat Powers.  And it isn’t close.  He is the guy who let the Americans compete.
  • The Americans were relentless.  They never stopped or let up or blinked, even when they **spoiler alert**  were down 5-11 in the fifth (in sideout scoring).

Anyway, three sets from this iconic match are on You Tube below.  You can make your own observations.  Present are the first, second and fifth sets.  There is a little break during the second set due to video tape degradation but hang in there, the picture comes back.

A lot of the information quoted here is the from excellent Volleyball Results website, here.

The Data Volley Match Report of the video is here.

More statistical detail of the USA team is here.

More statistical detail of the Soviet team is here.

If anyone has the other two sets, I would love to see them.

If anyone would like the raw Data Volley file for their own purposes, let me know in the comments.

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Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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Spike! Interactive Guide

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There is a famous American sports journalist named Bill Simmons.  He wrote a huge book about basketball named The Book of Basketball‘ (actually about the NBA) that became a best seller.  Because 90% of the book is about events and players that most readers have only ever heard of, an enterprising fan put up a webpage with youtube links to many of those events and players, an interactive guide, if you will.

There is a famous American volleyball coach (and administrator) named Doug Beal.  He wrote a book about volleyball named ‘Spike! (actually about the 1984 Olympic gold medal winning volleyball team) that hardly anyone bought and is now out of print.  Because I believe in preserving volleyball history and because more and more clips are starting to pop up on youtube (and because it took about 10 minutes to do) I have created an interactive guide for ‘Spike!’. 

Needless to say if you have any relevant clips that add to the narrative, I will be happy to add them. Continue reading