Tag Archives: Volleyball Coaching Philosophy

Foot Defence Is Alright

I am sure that there are some people who have read this blog, or heard me talk, or been in my gym who think that I hate all defensive actions with the feet. Those people are misguided.  I have no issues at all with players using their feet to play the ball. I do however have issues with players not being ready to play the ball and using their feet to mask their laziness.  I have an issue with coaches who don’t recognise those actions for what they are and let their players get away with it.  And I have issues with people who highlight that laziness as something all players should aspire to.

Sometimes, just sometimes, using the feet to play the ball is the required action. And sometimes those players are rewarded.


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

Cover v2

The Secret About The Secret

‘The Secret’ is the central theme of Bill Simmons’ epic book about the NBA.  As revealed to him by Hall of Fame player Isaiah Thomas, “The secret of basketball is that it’s not about basketball”.  That is, while the collective skills of a basketball team are important, what is most important is the collective, the interactions between those skills and the personalities of the players.  If you ask virtually anyone close to basketball, or any other team sport, his opinion on the topic, I am extremely confident that virtually all would agree with Thomas’ sentiment.

‘The Secret about the Secret’ is that while virtually all agree that it’s not about (name your)ball in the abstract, almost no one actually takes it into account in practice.  In the vast majority of cases, clubs do not build teams, but collect players or, even worse, ‘assets’ or ‘pieces’*.  While clubs talk about the importance of the team, they will always, always take the slightly better player or slightly bigger name regardless of how they fit into the current team and without considering the mix of personalities**.

I have had the extreme good fortune to spend a large portion of my career working with Scott Touzinsky.  Scott was a pretty good player, especially in reception and defence, but by no means a top level player.  However, every group that Scott was involved in became a team, and most likely won or came very close to winning. His list of (team) achievements includes championships in five different countries, and an Olympic gold medal in 2008.  Yet I personally experienced two different clubs not re-signing him after the team had a great season, because he was not good enough. The drop off in performance on both occasions was catastrophic, but at least in the second case the club was smart enough to correct their mistake.  One of the highlights of my career was being able to bring him to Poland, and listen as real volleyball experts instantly recognised his contribution.

The reason that clubs don’t take into account The Secret is really simple.  Their goal is not to win.  Logically if someone acknowledges the importance of an element and yet systematically ignores it in practice, then they cannot have the goal of winning.  Their actual, hidden, motivation’ is not to look stupid or be criticised for their decisions. If a club takes a ‘worse’ player over a ‘better’ player, they will instantly be criticised and if they also lose, they will likely be sacked.  Karch Kiraly, picking the roster for the 2016 Olympics acknowledged The Secret and took a third setter instead of a fourth receiver.  This was questioned at the time, and continues to be questioned after his highly favoured team faltered in the semi-final.  But the reality is his team led that semi-final 11-7 in the fifth set.  The presence or otherwise of a fourth receiver would not have made a difference in that match.  If you look at the playing time of the fourth receivers in the men’s tournament, you will find they were essentially meaningless (in terms of points scored).  And yet he is still criticised for making that decision.

As he had the first word, so should Isaiah Thomas have the last word.  He knows The Secret, but as the General Manager of the New York Knicks he aggressively ignored it in building historically bad teams, including signing multiple stars who played the same position.  He himself could have predicted the outcome***.


*In the case of the AFL, they don’t even call them ‘teams’ anymore. What the f*** is a ‘playing group’?

**It goes without saying that it becomes the responsibility of the coach to mould these disparate, ill considered pieces into a team.

***He was criticised at the team for his team building. It is still not clear what his hidden motivation was.  One writer judged him as the second worse General Manager of all time.


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

Cover v2

The Hockey Error

A lot, or at least a few, sports count assists among their statistics.  That is, the pass that leads to a score.  In volleyball, at least in America, a set that leads to a spike point is an assist. In basketball, a pass that leads to a basket is an assist.  But in hockey, not only the pass that leads to a goal counts as an assist, but also the pass that leads to the pass that leads to a goal counts as an assist.  In some circles (i.e. Bill Simmons), that kind of assist is referred to a ‘hockey assist’.

In volleyball there are a lot of structural / organisational / communication errors where the fault seems to be obvious.

  • A tip falls in front of a defender.  The fault is obviously that the defender to not commit to defending the ball.  The obvious solution is to berate them for lack of effort and possibly some drill to encourage the player to change their habit.
  • A middle blocker has a chance to set a high ball but commits a ball handling error.  The obvious solution is to berate them for their lack of technical skill and possibly some drill to improve that technical ability.

You get the idea.  The wrong player receives the ball.  The wrong player sets the ball.  A player touches the net.  All simple errors with obvious solutions.

But what if things aren’t so simple.  What if there is such a thing as a ‘hockey error’.  I have written before that what looks like a lack of effort is most often actually a lack of readiness. In that example, the lack of effort is the error and the lack of readiness is the hockey error.  In the middle blocker setting example, the hockey error is probably not turning fast enough after landing from the block.  Many errors that are attributed to lack of calling, have as their hockey error a player moving towards the ball and then stopping.  Being in the wrong position is the hockey error in many different situations.

As a coach, focussing on the error can have some improvement on performance.  But focussing on the hockey error can have a profound effect on understanding of the game.


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

Cover v2

I Am Right About Timeouts

Over the last year or so I have studied and written quite a bit on the topic of timeouts.  You can read all of the posts I have written (in English and in Polish) by following this link.

The upshot of all of the research I have done with Ben Raymond is that timeouts do not seem to work in the way that we (coaches, fans, administrators) like to think that they do, that is they have no impact on the game.

An American researcher, studying USA college matches and looking at over 5,000 timeouts found eerily similar results.  They are summarised in the infogram below.

ho-phi-huynh-summary

My Philosophy Of Volleyball

I recently did an interview with the Plus Liga TV channel.  It covers a lot of areas of my philosophy and ideas of volleyball in a different (perhaps more easily digestable) format than writing. One of my players saw it and commented that it was exactly like working with me. That is just about the biggest compliment that I can get.  Above all things I try to be consistent in my philosophy and in my messaging.  Wish I’d shaved though.

Thanks to Kamil Skladowski from the Plus Liga for then interview.


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

Cover v2

The Coaching Is Not In The Interventions

There is a common quote applying to music that I first heard in a Phil Jackson book but have heard in varying forms many times since,

“Music is the space between the notes.”

The quote has been attributed among others to Claude Debussy, and it always makes me think about things like the interactions and relationships in the playing of whatever game is being talked about at the time.  A few days ago I read something that made me think of this idea directly in relation to coaching.

Most people think of coaching as being what the coach does during the game, the timeouts, the substitutions or if we want to go into real ‘depth’, the starting rotation.  Some smarter people understand that what happens in practice is equally important, the drills done, the feedback given, the time taken, the conduct of practice.

The moment I had was when it occurred to me that all of those things are interventions.  The notes, if you will.  But just as music is not in the notes, the coaching is not in the interventions.  The coaching is in the timing of the interventions.  It is choosing the moment when the feedback will have the greatest impact.  It is not giving any verbal feedback at all but allowing the player or team to learn the lesson by themselves.  It is allowing the errors that lead to learning.  It is not jumping up and down on the sideline berating players or the referee but trusting the team to carry out the vision of the game you have taught them in practice.

In short, the coaching is not in the interventions. The coaching is in the space between the interventions.


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

Cover v2

Do Not Judge It, Solve It

One of the key inspirations behind the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project is Julio Velasco.  By any measure, Julio Velasco is one of the best, most innovative, most important volleyball coaches in history. Every time you watch volleyball, the game that you see is (partly) his product.  His influence on the game is profound.

But the reason he is such an inspiration for the project, is that while most volleyball people know his name and know that he is one of the most famous coaches in the world, outside the Italian / Spanish speaking world they have no idea about his actual teachings or philosophies or methodologies; the things that made his influence so profound.  The same applies to many other great, unknown volleyball coaches.

The goal of the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project is to make that knowledge more widely known and understood.

As an example, below are two clips from presentations Velasco made that have been subtitled into English.  Just as a taste.  They are great.