Random Thoughts on Random Topics

Good Coaches Are Always Scrutinizing Their Methods

A highly successful coaching colleague recently made a video contribution to an online coaching education website. The video presented drills used to develop volleyball skills. After the video was online for a few days, the coach reached out to me, expressing dismay at the nasty nature of comments by some “experts” who viewed the video. I was asked if this was the norm when posting content online. I’m hesitant to say that the closet experts tossing out mean-spirited comments are the norm. I give our coaching community more credit than that. However, it is certainly not unusual. I assume these negative commentators had yet to experiment with the drills presented to ascertain their potential effectiveness. It was sufficient that these drills were not under their umbrella of approved activities, thereby meriting their scorn.

Toshi Yoshida

While searching for improvement, good coaches will continually critique their methods and exhibit curiosity about how successful coaches approach the game. Current USA Coach Karch Kiraly and former USA Coach Toshi Yoshida, are two highly successful coaches. Yet, both had completely different coaching styles and philosophies. Is one coach right and the other wrong in how they viewed the game and the best way to train players? In the spirit of being “better learners,” I think our profession can be less judgemental about how other coaches approach the game. Coaches should embrace the notion that there will always be better coaches “out there” doing it differently than you. The goal should be what might be learned from a particular coach. Experimenting with different methods or having senior coaches observe their practice methods and offer opinions should be part of every coach’s approach to the game.

First Time Playing XONTRO – Observations

If you are unfamiliar with the game XONTRO, you must check it out. The game, developed by former Wisconsin coach Pete Waite, challenges players to incorporate strategy, adaptability, solid skills, teamwork, leadership, and competitiveness into a 6v6 environment. I’ll really go out on a limb and say those are valuable commodities for any successful team.

Pete Waite

I recently had the players at Norco Volleyball Club play the game for the first time. First of all, they enjoyed the game immensely. As the game was being played, my primary observation of the teams was the lack of adaptability displayed. For those unfamiliar with the game, it involves a list of tasks that mandate scoring points in various ways (middle attack, setter dump, controlled blocks, etc.). Some of the tasks challenged the players to perform skills in a manner that was outside their comfort zone—for example, needing to score five times with an off-speed attack. Because they rarely use this shot, some players had difficulty incorporating an off-speed shot, and when they did, they lacked the creativity to be successful. They had to figure out when and how to use an off-speed shot that could score. To win this game, you must embrace the strategic aspect of the game and adapt the skills to meet the task’s requirements. As the multiple games unfolded, I was pleased to see they began to adjust and incorporate the strategies needed to be successful.

I also found it fascinating to observe certain players stepping up to lead and devise a plan to achieve their objectives. As club tryouts are approaching, it could be worthwhile to attempt this game and witness how individuals’ court personas manifest. Coaches must refrain from trying to dominate the game and instead allow the players to take charge of their winning strategies. The coach’s role should be that of an engaged but impartial observer.

Unless you are supremely talented as a team, the ability to adjust your game while still understanding the importance of skill, to exploit an opponent’s weakness, is a valuable commodity. XONTRO will assist your team in developing this worthwhile trait.

Tryout Season

Clubs will soon deal with running tryouts and placing players on appropriate levels of squads for next season. There is plenty of information available on organizing a quality tryout. It is not “rocket science” to determine the best players. The challenge is predicting which player has the most future upside, especially with the younger age groups. There isn’t a foolproof method to make this determination.

Dr. Don Shondell, a revered Hall of Fame coach, conducted his Ph.D. dissertation on forecasting volleyball potential. He discovered that the basketball chest pass for distance exhibited the strongest correlation with potential success in volleyball. Should you require assistance setting up this test accurately, please don’t hesitate to reach out and leave me a message.

There are always challenges when it comes to available facilities and coaches. However, it’s important to exercise caution when considering cutting younger players. You never know who might blossom into a key player or whose positive personality might contribute to a better team atmosphere. Instead of solely evaluating skills, I recommend focusing on intangible qualities. My priorities lie with tall players (even if they may be awkward at a young age), players that are good listeners, any players that exhibit good athleticism regardless of height, foot speed as a key indicator of potential, and players with personalities that will add to the enjoyment of practicing together.

Creativity Requires Skill

We want our players to be adaptable to situations, read the game, and be able to improvise their techniques to meet the demands of the situation. Coaches encourage their players to be creative. However, creativity without a foundation of skill will end poorly. In the video below, USA national team setter Lauren Carlini successfully adapts to a multitude of situations. Although these plays are creative, I do not doubt that Lauren has practiced similar moves a thousand times.

I teach a variety of footwork patterns for setters. The idea is to provide them with a movement foundation to facilitate court coverage and promote accurate setting. Once they have this foundation, they will use whatever footwork pattern they find comfortable and successful. The same is true with all the skills. Coaches should build a foundation of movement, posture, armswing mechanics, platform management, etc., then allow the player to be athletic and creative.

Coaches should not be deceived that creativity supersedes skill. You can be creative without skill, but the results will be dismal. Once a positive skill level is achieved, encourage players to be as creative as the situation dictates. Perhaps put it in a different way, don’t discourage players from being creative.

Dominant Environment and Summer Volleyball Camps

During my tenure at The Ohio State University, I was fortunate to interact with Dr. Daryl Siedentop, a member of the faculty in the Education Department. Dr. Siedentop specialized in Motor Learning. One of his core philosophies was the importance of a “dominant environment.” Briefly put, it is more important to have a long-lasting relationship with learning than a brief encounter. Whatever a player might learn in a summer camp environment that might have value will diminish unless it is reinforced on a daily basis. So, going to that college summer camp will be fun, and friends will be made, but it will not necessarily have a long-lasting impact on player development. What the college camps might do is have the player take homework back to their high schools so that the coach knows what has been presented and the items the player is working on.