Cal Newport has written a book that has impacted how I work. This is a "no holds barred" assessment of how to succeed in the New Economy. "There are two abilities for thriving in the New Economy; 1. The ability to quickly master hard things; 2. The ability to produce at an elite level in terms of quality and speed." Newport ventures into how to improve in these two areas. To master new and difficult things and be a person that produces valuable work requires working without distraction and eliminating multitasking. Of course, this approach flies in the face of how most people work. We constantly check messages, take phone calls, respond to emails, etc. Newport delves into how these distractions negatively impact the ability to create quality work.
Chip Kelly is currently the head football coach at UCLA. As I write this note, the Bruins are undefeated and are competing for a PAC 12 championship. What intrigues me about Kelly is how he runs his practices. The tempo, the designed distractions, the limited amount of talking by the coaches, and the use of post or pre-practice video are all items that can be transferred to other sports.
"To Kelly, practice is for one thing: repetitions. Learning by doing. Teaching and talking take place in classrooms and video sessions beforehand, whenever possible. Stopping to talk during practice is a wasted opportunity and pulls you away from the rhythm of actual games. As much as possible, every aspect of practice emulates the game environment."
Kelly rarely practices for more than two hours. However, because of his tempo and limited stoppage for talking, he will get in more repetitions than other coaches on the field for a much longer period of time.
Another aspect of Kelly's approach is focusing on players who can play more than one position and are multi-skilled. He wants his running backs to be able to catch passes. His quarterbacks are capable of running with the ball. Kelly feels that his teams are more challenging to defend with multi-skilled players.
Volleyball coaches should read this book, focusing on how some of Kelly's principles might be incorporated into volleyball practice. Lots of repetitions, limited talking, lots of video to provide feedback, and everything at game speed are concepts that are relevant to volleyball. I highly recommend this book to any coach interested in a unique but very successful coaching method.
I'm generally an avid reader of non-fiction books. But, when needing an escape, I'm somewhat hooked on novels by Jack Carr. The novels are a sequential accounting of the kick-ass activities of Lieutenant Commander James Reece. A Navy Seal by trade, Reece begins the saga by exposing a government plot that costs the lives of his family. The sequence involves many plot twists and turns that will keep the reader involved in "what's next"? So, if you need a diversion from practice planning or something to do on long bus rides, check out this series.
When dealing with controversial topics of the day, it's best to gather as much information as possible from the most comprehensive array of sources. It is easy to be swayed to believe what is said by those that occupy the "bully pulpit" or possess the loudest voice in the room. In his book "Apocolypse Never," author Michael Schellenberger provides information and solutions to many of the challenges facing the world's occupants. He touches on climate change, nuclear power, conservation, feeding our planet, and other issues we face.
"Despite decades of news media attention, many remain ignorant of basic facts. Carbon emissions peaked and have been declining in most developed nations for over a decade. Deaths from extreme weather, even in poor nations, declined 80 percent over the last four decades. And the risk of Earth warming to very high temperatures is increasingly unlikely thanks to slowing population growth and abundant natural gas. Curiously, the people who are the most alarmist about the problems also tend to oppose the obvious solutions. What’s really behind the rise of apocalyptic environmentalism? There are powerful financial interests. There are desires for status and power. But most of all there is a desire among supposedly secular people for transcendence. This spiritual impulse can be natural and healthy. But in preaching fear without love, and guilt without redemption, the new religion is failing to satisfy our deepest psychological and existential needs."
This book is a worthwhile read and will provide a perspective that is not always available on the daily news feed.
The Harvard Business Review has collated ten articles by ten different authors that deal with various aspects of mental toughness. A quick review of the table of contents reveals articles on positively dealing with stress, bouncing back from adversity, rebounding from setbacks, and other areas that athletes and coaches deal with daily while in the competitive arena. The articles offer some interesting takes and provides coaches with a good resource of information.
Nicola McDermott-Journaling Her Way to Olympic Silver
In the process of watching the Olympics, you come across so many interesting stories. I'm always drawn to the coaching aspect focusing on the various methods used by the world's best athletes to achieve at this level. Australian high jumper Nicola McDermott took a silver medal in the high jump clearing 2.02 meters (about 6'7"). Between jumps, Nicola has an interesting method of refocusing and preparing for her next jump. She would rate herself on various aspects of her technique in a notebook.
According to News.com, Australia was asking one main question throughout the final as McDermott sat down with her journal at the end of every single jump. The unusual tactic helped deliver her a silver medal as she jumped higher than any other Australian woman in history. “I was giving myself a rating out of 10 for every single component of the jump. By the last time, that was my highest, I gave myself 10 out of 10 but I still had work to do.
- "After every jump, Australian high jumper Nicola McDermott sits down, retrieves a notepad, and scores various aspects of her jump out of 10. On Saturday, on her way to winning a silver medal at Tokyo 2020, it was 10/10. “There were a few nines, but overall I rounded up – I gave it a 10,” she laughed.
- She would never look at another jumper perform. “She only looks up after they have finished jumping. She looks down and looks elsewhere so she doesn’t take that in as a mental image. “She only has to think of what she is doing. The other thing we found was for her to sit down and write in a book, “She can focus on herself. She writes in that and gets the image of what she thinks is a problem or might have done well.
I find this intriguing as I'm convinced that most players, both collegiate and high school do not have great knowledge and a clear picture of the skills they are trying to perform.
I'm a huge fan of the books written by Walter Isaacson. One of my all-time favorite books is The Wise Men, which chronicles the lives of six diplomats as they reconstructed the world after World War II. The Isaacson book I'm currently loving is a biography of Leonardo Da Vinci. Of course, Da Vinci was talented and brilliant. What Isaacson details are the personality of Da Vinci and the traits that made him a genius. Da Vinci possessed an insatiable curiosity. He would study the seemingly mundane items for hours. How wings would operate on birds, or how water would flow. Then, the ability to extrapolate these smaller concepts into grander schemes, such as is there a way that man can fly? The way Da Vinci combined science and art was astonishingly detailed and accurate. Isaacson's book is not a novel, it is a study of a genius and the personality components that enabled the genius to come to the surface. Highly recommended as a great way to take your mind off your team during the fall season.
I recommend a couple of articles that resonated with me.
Texas QB Casey Thompson Using NIL Money for a Good Cause- University of Texas quarterback is using the recently passed NCAA legislation allowing players to use their Name, Image, and Likeness for income. He is charging $50 for a video shout-out. He is donating the proceeds to NoKidHungry.org, a non-profit established to feed hungry kids. “Most importantly, all the proceeds will got to NoKidHungry.org,” Thompson said in a video on his Cameo profile page, via The Spun. “That’s an organization that helps bridge the gap between the one in every six Americans that go hungry every year. As many as 13 million children in America could go hungry this year, and I’m happy to donate all the proceeds to the organization.” I freely admit I'm not much of a Longhorn fan, but athletes like Thompson might change my attitude
Here's Why You Need More Bad Ideas- This is an article by author Seth Godin about the benefits of starting with small ideas that serve as a platform for building better ideas. Sometimes coaches are guilty of wanting to make changes in a technique or a system but hit a roadblock and retreat to their comfort zone. Godin encourages all to avoid being judgemental of an initial effort. Just keep building on a bad idea and soon, something positive will emerge.
MLB Owners, Wake Up! I'm not a huge baseball fan. I enjoy the game, but my inside baseball knowledge is lacking. This article is a rant about the state of the game and how home runs and pitching controversies are overtaking the fundamentals of the game
Chris Paul Played on the Junior Varsity, Now He's in the NBA Finals - A WSJ article on how NBA star Chris Paul developed his leadership abilities by playing on the junior varsity in highs school, rather than the varsity team.
I recently read an interesting article by R.R. Reno explaining the reasons why he no longer considers applicants from Ivy League Schools. He does not question that Ivy League institutions have students of high intellect and have motivations to excel. I copied a short clip that might explain his rationale for looking for employees from other types of institutions.
"Student activists don’t represent the majority of students. But I find myself wondering about the silent acquiescence of most students. They allow themselves to be cowed by charges of racism and other sins. I sympathize. The atmosphere of intimidation in elite higher education is intense. But I don’t want to hire a person well-practiced in remaining silent when it costs something to speak up."
"A few years ago a student at an Ivy League school told me, “The first things you learn your freshman year is never to say what you are thinking.” The institution he attended claims to train the world’s future leaders. From what that young man reports, the opposite is true. The school is training future self-censors, which means future followers."
I have no doubt some will disagree with Mr. Reno's assessment of Ivy League institutions and students. However, it is food for thought as many students are in the process of making college choices.
I am about 80% through a fascinating book by Jason Riley chronicling the life of Thomas Sowell. For those not familiar with Sowell, he is a brilliant thinker that began his career as a teacher, a writer, and a Marxist, only to evolve as one of the leading conservative commentators in our time. This book is listed as a biography, but very little time is spent on Sowell's upbringing. Most of the book devotes itself to a study of how Sowell has evolved as an independent thinker that is very unafraid of putting his thoughts into the arena for critique. Sowell's passion was as a teacher of Economics, however, the structure of academia was frustrating for him and led to his departure from education. He turned his focus to writing and speaking on a variety of subjects, especially the current focus on identity politics. Sowell does not buy into the narrative of the day. He actually takes the time to support his opinions with data.
There is no question that Thomas Sowell is one tough dude that is unafraid to opine on the very tough subject matter of the day. I would encourage all to take the time to read a wonderful study of a man of great substance.
ACL Injuries and the Volleyball Athlete
The process of surgically repairing a damaged knee has made unbelievable progress over the years. It wasn't that long ago that one wore a 6" long scar as a reminder of an ACL surgery. Now, the process is arthroscopic with extremely positive results and a much shorter rehabilitation process. However, the best thing coaches can do is make the best effort to injury prevention. Below, I've placed three links that will provide both information and activities for coaches to put into their pre and post-practice routines.
A shout out to SportsEd TV https://sportsedtv.com/ for making this material available.
I Would Love to Have a Driveline Baseball for Volleyball
I'm geeking out on what Driveline Baseball offers to athletes from High School to the Major League. This is an organization that dedicates itself to finding that extra mile per hour on a fastball, or a more efficient swing when batting. Part of the program is physical training, but what intrigues me the most is the approach to the technical aspect of skill development. I love how the high-speed cameras track the spin rate on a curveball. I'd love to see a similar facility to refine the technical skills of volleyball athletes.
Fund Students Instead of School Systems
This is an interesting article that focuses on school funding and how the model might change to benefit families. In a nutshell, restructuring how money is spent and where the money goes. Would the children benefit if money was sent directly to the families thereby providing them some control as to the academic choices available to their children? They could use the money to select a private school, a charter school, or homeschooling. In essence, our academic system would become competitive, both in terms of academic offerings, but also the environment for prospective students.
"If a Walmart stays closed, you can take your money elsewhere. If a public school doesn't reopen, you should similarly be able to take your children's education dollars elsewhere. In fact, even if your school does reopen, you should still be able to take your children's education dollars elsewhere, because the money is for educating the child, not protecting a government monopoly."
This article definitely encourages creative thought as to the future of the public education system.
Whenever I'm doing a coaches clinic, I recommend the book, Forever's Team by John Feinstein. The book is an extraordinary chronicle about the Duke men's basketball during the 1978-1979 seasons (before Coach K arrived). The book tracks the Duke team as they went to the 1978 national championship game, only to lose to Kentucky. A majority of the book, however, focuses on the following year. The entire team returned, and there were visions of an undefeated season, along with guaranteed Atlantic Coast Conference and NCAA championships. Unfortunately, everything that could go wrong went wrong. Most veteran coaches have been down this road. There were injured players, academic ineligibility, disgruntled bench players, family turmoil, a testy fan base, players eyeing the NBA, etc., resulting in a 7-7 ACC record and an early exit from the NCAA tournament.
Why do I consider this such a great coaching book? During this time, the poor coach, Bill Foster, was in the middle of this whirlwind of events, wondering what he was doing wrong. The simple answer is he wasn't doing anything wrong. It was just bad luck. Or, perhaps better put, sh*t happens! Coaches would like to think they are in control of all matters impacting their troops. The reality is, coaches are generally doing their best to hang on. The saga of a season gone wrong is a testament to how much a coach does not control but is held responsible.
Spencer Lee-NCAA Champion, University of Iowa
A great interview of Spencer Lee, a University of Iowa wrestler, after he won an NCAA Division 1 national championship. His team also won the team championship. An unbelievable story of conquering injury, commitment to the team, and enduring obstacles without losing sight of a goal. It is unfortunate that wrestling is a sport that schools are all too quick to eliminate from sponsorship. This is emblematic of the type of athlete that is impacted by these decisions.
When NBA Coaches Go Looking for Wisdom, They Call a Division II Coach
I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal about how NBA coaches Brad Stevens (Boston Celtics) and Erik Spoelstra (Miami Heat) seek out a Division II basketball coach to learn more about the game. Jim Crutchfield, head basketball coach at Nova Southeastern in Fort Lauderdale is a source of information for some of the best basketball minds in the world. I began to wonder how many of the more successful coaches in volleyball would seek out a successful Div II or III coach to improve their coaching acumen? My best guess is not many. In the pre-pandemic years, I would go down to Metro State University in Denver to watch their annual tournament which would bring together some of the top Division II programs in the country. Having spent my career at Ohio State, I never had the opportunity to watch D-II volleyball. I was thoroughly impressed with the level of play. The only difference was that instead of being a 6'2" hitter, they were 5'11". However, they could play!! Good passing, good defense. I came away very impressed. Perhaps in a manner similar to Stevens and Spoelstra, volleyball coaches might seek out good coaches to improve their game regardless of the level??Link to WSJ
There is a scene in the movie "Dead Poets Society" where the students are asked to stand on their desks to gain a different perspective of the world. I was standing on my desk as I read the late John Thompson's autobiography, "I Came as a Shadow." Being a college basketball fan, I was very familiar with Thompson as he coached the Georgetown Hoyas basketball team to national prominence. I admit I was never a fan of his coaching style or some of his social stands, but I certainly respected how his team played. Georgetown was notorious for its pressure defense and aggressive style of play. The Hoyas never considered backing down from a confrontation and always competed with intensity.
After reading "I Came as a Shadow," I feel like I have a better grasp of the why behind Thompson's behaviors. His reputation was one of a bully to all in his path. However, the adage we are all the sum total of our experiences certainly applies to Thompson. His upbringing was in a hard-working family where both mother and father devoted themselves to provide for the kids. Coupled with dealing with racial bias in sports and school merged to foster a coach dedicated to providing opportunities to those from a background similar to his. Thompson was a demanding coach, both on and off the court. He wanted his players to graduate. He wanted his players to represent Georgetown University in a positive manner. He wanted them to steer clear of the troubles that are prevalent in the urban areas. When 44 out of 46 players that stayed for four years obtain the degrees, you have to give Thompson the kudos for a job well done.
Thompson does not mince words when it comes to race relations, the NCAA, coaching Allen Iverson, his relationship with Dean Smith, and other topics both inside and outside of the sporting world. This book is both enlightening and entertaining. I highly recommend it to all who have an interest in learning more about a coaching icon.
I really appreciate this video from Alan Stein that details the obsession that Kobe Bryant had with the fundamentals of the game. I would like to see more players and coaches have a similar focus on the skill elements in volleyball. The first thing required is a knowledge of the fundamentals. Then taking the time to master the components of a skill. In our country, we tend to spend most of the time in competitive activities. The most important component of skill development is repetition. Many times in competitive situations a player does not receive sufficient repetitions to improve their skills. Using Kobe as a model, it is important that time is budgeted for a player to be on a court, by themselves, focusing on the smallest detail of a skill.
Did MLB Use Juiced Balls in 2020?
"a significant percentage of the 2020 balls were constructed in a way that would likely make them fly farther, and that the changes could have only been deliberate."
A Sports Illustrated article investigating the cause for the upsurge in home runs in the 2020 abbreviated season.
I was listening to an NCAA basketball game recently and they were discussing Effective Field Goal Percentage. The traditional field goal percentage is the number of shots made divided by the number of attempts. However, that assumes that all shots made are of equal value. A three-point field goal is obviously worth more, so we need to give this shot more value. So, the calculation is: (2pt FGM + 1.5*3pt FGM) / FGA. This means a made three-pointer is worth one and a half times as much as a made two-pointer. A player who shoots 4 for 10 on all two-point baskets has a standard FG% of 40% and an eFG% of 40%. But, if all those makes were three-pointers, that player’s eFG% is 60%, reflecting the extra value of a made three.
Shouldn't the same concept impact passing statistics? If a team has a sideout percentage of 70% on perfect passes (3 point pass) and a sideout percentage of 35% on 2 point passes, this means that a three-point pass has 2x the value of a two-point pass. The traditional 4 point system of tracking passing does not give a clear picture of a three-point pass vs the two-point pass.