End Of An Era

© Picture-Alliance
© Picture-Alliance

In every field of human endeavour there are those who stand out among their peers.  In my profession an exceptional body of work is normally related to winning.  Among volleyball coaches one of the most exceptional bodies of work belongs to Rumanian born German coach Stelian Moculescu.  Over a 40 year coaching career in the German Bundesliga he won 18 championships, 19 cups and the CEV Champions League.  For a large part of his career he was also coach of the German National Team, who he led to Olympic Qualification for the first time in history in 2008.

He was a controversial figure for his entire career, up to and including his last match.  Every story of the Bundesliga in his time was about him in some way.  He was a ferocious competitor, putting him at odds with many along the way.  He was a great coach.  The teams he had in Friedrichshafen in 2009 and 2010 were a perfect blend of control and aggression.  I have tried to adapt that philosophy in every team I have had since then.  I stood on the other side of the net from him nearly 40 times in my career.  I came out of it a bit worse than even.  I did better than most.

On sunday in Berlin was his last match on the sidelines.  His team lost, but Berlin (club and fans) represented volleyball.  For these three minutes, volleyball celebrated one of its greatest figures.




German Cup Final – From HALLE luja to Devastation

The ‘HALLE luja’ in the post title is a play on words.  The German cup final in held in the city of Halle.  Reaching the cup final has been a major club goal for at least the time I have spent there and so when we reached the cup final for the first time since it has been held there, we were so excited we shouted (figuratively) ‘Hallelujah!!’.  I think you can figure out the rest.

The ‘Devastation’ in the post title refers to the feeling after losing the match in five sets to great rivals VfB Friedrichsafen.  I’ve been lucky enough to take part in plenty of big matches but I don’t remember ever in my career having suffered such a devastating loss.  Perhaps the positive side of that is that I must have won most of those big matches to feel this loss so deeply.

When we reached the cup final, the club hired a film team to made a behind the scenes look at the lead up to the big match.  It has come out fantastically well. I have watched many of these kinds of things before and this ranks with the best.  If you love sport, watch this.


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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Learning Lessons And Exploding Myths

The worst coach I’ve ever spent time with once offered me a piece of sage advice.  After I commented that I couldn’t learn anything from a game we were watching he replied that ‘you can always learn something’.  To prove his point, he taught me one thing (in this context learning to do the opposite of everything he did doesn’t count).  The simple and incredibly useful piece of information he taught me was exactly why the team winning the toss in the rally point system should ALWAYS choose to receive**.  I was reminded of this reading an article in the most recent edition of the German Volleyball Magazin.  The magazine reported a study of the 2010/11 men’s German Bundesliga in which scoresheets for every regular season match (all 156 of them) were analysed.  They discovered that the team receiving first wins the set a statistically significant (p<0.05) 53.3% of the time.  Incredibly there are still professional teams who choose to serve first.

Some other interesting information was also presented that among things dispelled some myths about volleyball.  Some highlights…  The overall sideout percentage was 65.8%.  When the setter penetrated from the backrow the percentage dropped to 65.2%, while for the frontrow setter the percentage increased to 66.3%.  Conventional wisdom predicts the opposite should occur.  But we all know what I think about conventional wisdom.  I have heard a theory that when middle blockers serve, it is more difficult to score a point because the libero is not on the court and therefore the defence is weaker.  As it turns out, conventional wisdom is also wrong on that one.  When the middle blockers served the point scoring percentage was 34.6%.  For other serves the point scoring percentage was 34.1%. Given that middle blockers typically jump serve less than other positions, those figures could also talk about the importance of the jump serve.

One personal favourite of mine is the idea of changing momentum of the match through making substitutions and taking timeouts.  In sport, as in many other things, there is a lot of pressure to be seen to be doing something.  Substitutions and timeouts are the most obvious things that coaches can be seen to be doing.  So what do the figures say?  After a timeout the receiving team sided out at 66.2%, 0.4% over the average.  So it could be said that timeouts were (slightly) effective.  However, after substitutions the sideout percentage was dropped to only 63.8%.  The figures say that changing the team most often leads to a (at least short-term) decrement in performance, but are effective CYA moves.  On the other hand, substitutions while serving (serving and blocking substitutions) increased the point scoring percentage by 0.3%.  The one that I would really like to see is the effectiveness of the double sub.

It is all interesting stuff.  And certainly interesting to see if commonly held beliefs stand up to analysis.  I am happy that the one thing I learnt from that coach did stand up.  Otherwise I would have learnt nothing from the whole thing.

** The reason is… in any given set, the number or sideouts is equal, give or take one.  What decides the set is the number of points the teams win on serve.  The receiving team must win one more point on serve than its opponent to win the set.  The serving team must win two more points on serve to win the set.  Scoring a point on serve is more difficult than winning a point on reception.  Therefore the team receiving first has an advantage.


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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Every coach or volleyball ‘expert’ knows that the best place to watch volleyball is from behind the court.  From there you can most easily see the movement of the players and the ball.  Knowing this coaches will always drift towards the back of the court to watch.  Whether it’s at a match they’re spectating or scouting or in their own practice.  I know in my own case that I tend to feel uncomfortable at practice if I am not behind the court.  But coaches should beware of always drifting to that spot.

One excellent reason is that during a match, the coach never stands behind the court.  The instructor at a coaches course I once attended told us that just as the players have to practice for a match, so too must the coach and therefore should stand at the side of the court as much as possible during practice.  You have to learn to interpret the play from the position you will be in during the game.  Back in the old, old days, I even went to the extreme of pulling out a chair a couple of times to get that specific perspective.

Another reason is that although the behind the court position gives the best view of the game, it is still not a complete view.  I personally sometimes find it difficult to accurately gauge spiking power from behind the court if I am even a little bit elevated.  But the most compelling reason to gain a different perspective, is that it can fill in some of the gaps in understanding that you have.  At the recent cup final, I found myself in a seat on the side of the court, at about the 3m line.  Although not the traditional optimal position I actually learnt some relatively minor things that nevertheless allowed me to much better understand the defensive system of one of our playoff opponents.  With that extra (and non ‘traditional’) information at hand, we were able to develop some opponent specific tactics that helped us enormously in the playoffs.

Of course, I am not saying that if you sit beside the court you will win.  But maybe you can learn something that will help you on your way.

Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.Cover v2

Ciao Bamberg

I have no neutral memories of my season with VC Franken.  I hated the people who cheated me out of my pay (this could also fit the previous half season with SG Eltmann) and those who tried to sue me for money that I didn’t owe them.   I loved the people who work night and day to try to save the team.  I loved the team and how we developed on the court over the course of the season despite our off court troubles.

This game is significant for no reason.  It was actually pretty bad.  I’m only posting it as a memory of the occasion.  As a completist, I should note that if you watch the two points from the 3:16 minute mark you will see the two points that inspired me to throw my folder on the ground and earn a yellow card.  I should also note, without judgement, that the following season in the same gym, in the finals of the league, I threw a (plastic) bottle of coke which consequently exploded, spilling some of it’s contents on the floor and various people.  For that I received no sanction.

Season Review

With Sunday’s V-Day spectacular in Rome, the 2010-11 European season officially ended, leaving volleyball fans scratching their heads wondering what they will do in the 12 days they have to wait for the international season to start.  But that is another story.

The end of anything is a time to look back, thinking about what just happened and perhaps to try to put it into some context.  There were some events that were so standard they could  be used to provide comfort in an ever changing world.  For example, Bełchatów and Friedrichshafen winning their respective leagues for the 6th and 7th consecutive times and the Greek league having financial troubles and not paying all their players.  There were some events that were so earth shattering they could be used to prove the Mayan end of the world.  For example, Lennik reaching the Belgian league final after Roeselare and Maaseik played against each other for 14 consecutive years.  That was so earth shattering that Lennik itself forgot to sign their own coach for next season.  Mostly though it was more of the same, about half the teams won, about half the teams lost. and ultimately hardly anyone was satisfied.

I’ve noticed that many writers in actual publications and real website use the ‘Best of’ device for writing reviews, so I thought I might give it a try.  Here goes…

Hightlight of the Season – Without question my season’s highlight was walking into the tunnel at the Max Schmeling Halle before the game against Haching and seeing the cast of ‘We Will Rock You’ bounding all over the court doing their thing.  That was the exact moment I knew that there is something special happening in Berlin.  A close second highlight was three months later in the same arena beating Haching to clinch the semi final series and earn a place in the finals.  It was a wonderful moment knowing the work from the last eight months had been worth it and in the most important match of the season we played the best volleyball we could possibly play.  We won’t talk about the finals.

Player of the Season – There is no question that the European player of the year for season 2010-11 is Osmany Juantorena.  Over the last two years he has developed from a very good player into the best player in the world and the leader of the best club team in the world.  If there is an argument that club volleyball is better than international volleyball, he would be held up as Exhibit A.  The Olympics will be enormously poorer due to his absence.  (Exhbits B and C are Wout Wijsmans and Igor Omrcen.  Exhibits D and E are whoever are the 11th and 12th qualifiers).

Team of the Season – As Juantorena flies, so flies Trento.  45 wins for the season.  Three trophies from four competitions.  In the biggest games of the year, dominating performances against Kazan in the Champions League and Cuneo in V-Day.  They are the team of the year and perhaps the team of the last ten years.  I would love to watch a tournament between 2011 Trento, 2008 Kazan and 2005 Treviso.  But lets move on…

Performance of the Season (A1) – I can be accused of bias for this but my performance of the year was Paul Carroll in the German Cup final.  8 points in the fifth and only one error for the match were more than decisive in Haching’s victory.  Many people credited the setter with the victory and he should receive credit for his team’s high attack percentage.  But I believe some of that is diminished when all of the points are by the same spiker.

Performance of the Season (1A)  – I have to give two ‘awards’ for this.  Trento played a great season but sometimes an outstanding single performance can outdo even the best teams.  Angel Dennis gave one of those performances in game 2 of the semi final series.  He had 27 points in three sets, including this run of five consecutive aces (and seven in nine serves) in the third set.  It is pretty incredible to watch.

Disappointment of the Season (Match) – V-Day.  The biggest day of the Italian season and the last day of the entire season lasted just 72 minutes.  8000 plus spectators in the most spectacular stadium I’ve been in (PalaLottomattica n Rome) barely had time to find their seats before Trento won 25-13, 25-22, 25-9.  It was incredible to watch, and not in a really good way.  Last season V-Day was a massive success and a wonderfully realised experiment.  This year an enormous failure.  Aside from the game, there were fewer spectators and less sponsor interest.  Now I expect they’ll go back to best of five.  One commentator wrote that if this game is one of five, noone will remember it.  Who knows.

Disappointment of the Season (Overall) – The continuing prevalence of old school volleyball.  The central tenet of the old school is that clubs/coaches/players are natural adversaries.  In the ‘old school’ players don’t want to play and have to be forced and threatened.  In the ‘old school’ coaches only want to screw over players and therefore cannot be trusted.  In the ‘old school’ clubs are hindered in their activities by the presence of coaches and players and they are therefore interchangeable.  The ‘old school’ doesn’t allow for partnerships or long term development.  The ‘old school’ eschews modern (i.e. post 1980) training methods and uses training as a method of punishment.  The ‘old school’ pays scant regard to statistics and scouting (“volleyball is not chess”) despite 27 years of proof they are integral tools for success. But you can’t argue against what worked back then.

Luckiest Team of the Season – The old saying goes, ‘it’s better to be lucky than good’.  Being lucky and good is an unbeatable combination.  By any definition Dynamo Kazan (starring Lloy Ball and Reid Priddy) are good.  The final of Champions League shows that.  So does the Russian Championships victory but that didn’t come easily.  You can’t win without luck and Kazan had theirs in the quarter finals.  Despite finishing the regular season in second place and playing the seventh best team in the quarter finals, they found themselves in the fifth set of a fifth match, down 11-14.  One two of the next points Yaroslavl were very, very to close to winning.  That’s all I’ll say.  But you can see it for yourself  here.

And so the season 2010-11 is over.  But as the Germans say, after the season is before the season.  So we are already onto the next one.

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