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.
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.
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.
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.
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.