With your feet, you can save plays.
With your hands, you can make plays.
I’d like to say that this is my last word on the topic. Somehow I doubt it 😀 😀
Over the course of my travels, I have had many and various cultural experiences, of all which have contributed to whatever it is that I am now. Some of those experiences have given me valuable lessons which I continue to use every day.
About fifteen years ago, I had my first real ‘Polish’ experience at the Italian home of a Polish player. During the course of evening the biggest entertainment of the evening was my attempt to correctly pronounce the name ‘Andrzej’. I pride myself on my ability to pronounce names correctly but I absolutely could not manage Andrzej. Over and over again, I listened the our hostess say the word. Over and over again, I analysed what I heard and repeated it exactly as I heard it. Over and over again, I was wrong. It was incredibly frustrating, and as enjoyable as the evening was, I never forgot the episode.
Fast forward seven years and I found myself working in Poland and learning Polish. One of the early lessons was about the alphabet and sounds. I learnt that although it mostly looks the same, the alphabet is actually different and there are some specific combinations of letters that have specific sounds. For example, ‘rz’ together is pronounced ‘zh’. My mind instantly flashed back to that dinner. ‘You don’t pronounce the ‘r’!!!’ I suddenly knew the mistake I had been making with ‘Andrzej’. When I was listening to the word, I was always trying to hear the ‘r’ and figure out where it went, even though there is no ‘r’. The problem was that no matter how much new information I received, the underlying concept in my mind would not allow me to hear what was being said.
Exactly the same thing has happened to me in my coaching life. It has happened to me many times that the information I was trying to give players was being blocked by a concept they already had. On one occasion, I was giving feedback to a player about his platform during reception and his inability to put my words into practice was just as frustrating as my very first attempt at Polish. It took me some time to work out that although I was talking about his platform, he was thinking about his footwork and the two concepts were working against each other. Once I worked this out, I was able to adjust my feedback appropriately and our progress was better.
The moral of the story is that in most cases, a coach is not the first coach of the player. However many coaches that player has had, there are at least as many technical concepts in the mind of that player. When providing feedback to a player, the coach must be aware that everything said is being added to the existing jumble in the player’s mind and as the coach is speaking the player is trying to rationalise the new information with what he already holds to be true. For the feedback to be really effective, the coach must understand what the player already thinks and put the feedback into the right place in the chain. Only then will the player be able to say ‘Undjay’ correctly.
Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.
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.”
I just recently watched video of a presentation that French National Team coach, Laurent Tillie, gave at the US High Performance Coaching Clinic. In it he talks about the technique he uses with his players for service reception. Very briefly, he talked about how the platform was important and more easily controlled if you allowed the player to bend his elbows. He also said that to be in a stationary position at contact was unrealistic and described the movement that he used instead. When he described it, it seemed reasonable enough although it is, shall we say, an unorthodox idea. Karch Kiraly, coach of the USA women’s National Team, certainly thought so, as in a later session he made a point of saying he disagreed.
It occurred to me that there should be an easy way to find out which was better. For all the talk of efficiency and biomechanics and repeatability, the object of service reception is the play a serve to the setter. A better reception technique should get the ball to the setter more times than a less good technique. We can measure that. And in other skills as well. A better spiking technique will produce measurably more power, or measurably better results. And it occurred to me that while we endlessly debate technique, I have rarely heard someone** support their argument with actual evidence of results. I wondered ‘What if we ask for supporting evidence when we are discussing technique?’ Ultimately the goal of technique is to serve the game, to produce better results. What if we asked for those results?
For the record, at last year’s World Championships France were the best receiving team.
** An earlier version of this post said ‘never’. Gold Medal Squared have evidence on receiving from the centreline versus left / right side of the body.
”Do not be afraid to learn from players. Especially new techniques. “Stars” become “stars” because they do many things non standard, not by the text book.”
Readers of this blog will instantly recognise the above quote from Vyacheslav Platonov, which I have used before. I was reminded of it recently reading one of the many articles produced to mark the retirement of Steve Nash from the NBA. The article talks among other things, about how Nash’s style of play affected the way basketball was taught. For example:
Before he started winning MVPs, old axioms like having two hands on the ball while passing still ruled the basketball landscape. Nash not only made one-handed passing cool, but necessary. Trainers and coaches watching him play noticed that he passed with one hand not for flair or attention, but because it offered more efficient, less restrictive angles for getting the ball to his teammates.
In other words, the star player became a star by doing non standard things. And eventually (because I am guessing it really did take until he won MVPs for it to happen) coaches recognised that using another technique actually created advantages and actually began to teach it.
So when we see players like Earvin N’Gapeth (as in this post with video) we should always keep an open mind.
There are (at least) three myths in volleyball.
‘It’s all about repetitions’
‘Good setters see the block’
‘Good spikers can spike in every direction’
I have never written about the second, but I can assure that it is not true.
The third myth was part of the background to my recent ‘Everything Is Timing‘ post. In that post, I asked the question ‘At what moment does the spiker decide whether to spike cross court or down the line?’ That is the big decision that spikers must make.
The poll results were interesting. Over 50% of respondents answered that the spiker makes this major decision when he sees the blockers hands, i.e. at the very last moment. I am reasonably certain that this is the only incorrect answer. For that statement to be true, it would require a spiker to be able to control his armswing in to spike in a full 90° range after the motor program has been initiated. I suggest that is improbable. You will find that spikers who seem to spike in every direction, don’t do so with full power. One of the directions is most often a shot or some kind.
The reality, I believe, is that the spiker chooses his main direction (line or cross) early in the process. In some cases the set dictates the spike direction (‘the set leads the spiker’). In other cases, the spiker sees the starting position of the blockers, or some characteristic of their movement. In still other cases, a spiker just has a favourite shot. Once the main decision has been taken, the spiker can then make small adjustments of height, angle and timing much later depending on the final movements of the blockers. This explains the phenomenon of a spiker who is effective even though he always hits the same shot. And the phenomenon of the ‘cross’ spiker who suddenly hits line.
Sometimes things aren’t the way you think they are.
Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.
The title is one of life’s little no-brainers, but I have a specific timing question in mind.
When we get to the highest level, most spikers have range. That is they can spike in all directions. Whether they actually do spike in all directions is one of those questions that we answer with scouting. In practice we can predict with some reasonable degree of accuracy where a spiker most likes to spike.
But there always outliers. For example, the cross court spiker who sometimes spikers line. Why does he spike line at exactly that moment? The most obvious answer is because it is open. So the question presents itself, when does he decide to spike line?
And to be a little more specific, I don’t mean when he decides to spike 20cm left or right, but when he decides to spike line or cross.
The follow up to this post is here.