Tag Archives: Vyacheslav Platonov

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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Learning From Stars

”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.

Julio Velasco – The Thinker Of The Game

Volleyball does a terrible job of promoting itself and its history.  Most other sports have legendary heroes and characters about whom we can read and hear.  Volleyball does not.  There is no volleyball literature. and virtually no written histories or biographies.  Incredibly important figures such as Matsudaira and Platonov and Beal are virtually unknown in the wider volleyball community and even those who know of them, do not know their influence, their philosophies, their visions, their successes.

Another of those figures is Julio Velasco.  An Argentinian, he moved to Italy where he had enormous success at club level, with Panini Modena, and the Italian national team.  In terms of training methodology and development and success he is one of the most influential coaches of the last thirty years.  And through his successes he helped drive the volleyball boom in Italy that I think we can call the Golden Age Of Volleyball (roughly 1990 to 2005).  But there exists virtually nothing of his philosophies, theories or work in English.  I find this quite appalling and an enormous loss for the volleyball world.

This is my first attempt at addressing that failing.  The interview below appeared almost a year ago now, in the Argentinian journal LA NACION on the occasion of his returning to Argentina after thirty years as national coach.  It was translated into English by fellow Argentinian coach Ruben Wolochin.  I hope it adds something to the conversation. 

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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

Quotes – Part 3

Over the last couple of years on the facebook page I have posted quotes that jumped out at me from various sources.  Here is the third collection of some of them. In no particular order.  Part 1 is here.  Part 2 is here.

“Every player should take 5 minutes to themselves before practice and mentally lock into what needs to be done. Jeff Boals

“Training doesn’t have to be certain length of time to be effective.” Mark Lebedew

If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. Ken Robinson

“The interesting thing about coaching is troubling the comfortable and comforting the troubled.” Ric Charlesworth

“Practice is the battle you must win.” Hugh McCutcheon

“The bagger is the technique of lazy.” Daniele Bagnoli

“After the game is before the game.” Sepp Herberger

“There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas. Susan Cain

“Victories come when their time comes. Often later than you wish. Patience is an essential quality of a coach’s profession.” Vyacheslav Platonov

“It’s not all rainbows and ponies.” Hugh McCutcheon

“You cannot buy experience. You have to fight for it.” Marc Wilmots

“The idea that I [should] trust my eyes more than the stats, I don’t buy that because I’ve seen magicians pull rabbits out of hats and I know that the rabbit’s not in there.” Billy Beane

“If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.” Pat Riley

“Volleyball is not like a formula so we must give players some freedom.” Karch Kiraly

“Great organisations choose principles over people. When you give up on the principles, sooner or later you will break down.” Ettore Messina

“What you see is more important than what you know.” Giovanni Guidetti on scouting Continue reading

Quotes – Part 2

Over the last couple of years on the facebook page I have posted quotes that jumped out at me from various sources.  Here is the second collection of some of them. In no particular order.  Part 1 is here.

“Young players learn more from old players than they do from you” Wayne Bennett

“In my opinion the teaching of volleyball technique, …, must always be correlated with tactical tasks.”
Vyacheslav Platonov.

“You don’t have to do some thing, or even any thing.
You have to do the right thing.” Mark Lebedew

“You win by effort, by commitment, by ambition, by quality, by expressing yourself individually but in the team context.” Jose Mourinho

“An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes, which can be made, in a very narrow field.” Nils Bohr

“Sometimes you win because you have the better team. Sometimes you win because you have the better concept. Sometimes you win because you have more heart.
And sometimes you win because you score the last point.” Mark Lebedew

“For the players to put their minds and vigour into the game is not enough for victory. They must also put in their souls. The team that gives up to the game all its strengths and puts into it its mind and soul cannot leave the court defeated.” Vyacheslav Platonov

How long should you practice? “It really doesn’t matter how long. If you practice with your (body), no amount is enough. If you practice with your head, two hours is plenty.” Anders Ericsson 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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