Can Australian Coaches work better?

An inflammatory question perhaps.

I am not talking about how many hours you spend coaching, but what you do in those hours. Can we as a coaching group get better value out of our time on the court?

Many things we have to do when coaching involve modifying player behaviour.  We need to make required actions, movement patterns and skills automatic for our players for our teams to improve.

If we are training a dog to sit, we show the skill to the dog and we have to be relentless in ensuring the dog actually sits on command. If we accept the dog sitting one time out of five commands then we would not consider that to be good enough and certainly we could not suggest that the dog has actually learned the skill of sitting on command.

I think we sometimes coach like this. We set the bar too low. Is coaching volleyball any less demanding than training a dog?

If we are training a team and we are suggesting that a skill or movement pattern would make the team better then, once we have shown the team/player that skill or movement pattern, we have to be relentless in ensuring that this pattern is learned.

The challenge to us as coaches is that we have to do this in a positive, fun and motivational manner. We have to, as John Kessel suggests, “catch them doing it right” and then make an effort to ensure that the players know we saw them doing it right.

Teaching the skill/pattern and then allowing the players to do it right in a wash drill or in a match one time out of five attempts will lead to failure, just as the dog will not learn to sit.

Perhaps sometimes we can work a little harder and, if we do better results will follow.

The Elson Volley website has been upgraded with a new web shop still with the best prices and the best service in Australia. 

It is a clean, modern look with full support for tablets and smartphones, now also featuring pages of information supporting coaches.

Getting teams to talk

This is the second post in a series on communicating on-court. For the first part, see here.

As a coach, the oft-used comment “talk it up” is just not useful.

If you want your teams to communicate (“talk”) then you have to train your teams to do it. If you have not trained your team to do something a 1,000 times in practice, then you have no right to expect it to appear on court in a match. You certainly do not have a hope in hell of it occurring in a pressure situation.

Talking is a habit - just like getting outside the court to spike - and it has to be taught so that it becomes a player's habit (hopefully, a lifelong one).

Having the wrong people saying the right things is also not helpful in games.

What does this mean? Examples are many, and could include the libero calling “free ball” when the setter has not made the same decision and has not penetrated into the front court, or a loud enthusiastic call of “out” by the team mate who happens to be in the worst part of the court to make a good call.

Step 1

As a coach, it is your job to work out what communication you need your players to involve themselves with on the court. Then you have to work out who in the team is responsible for that communication.

Having half the team calling “out” with the other half calling “in” is just as bad as nobody in the team calling anything. In my last post I gave you a list of key volleyball words and who I thought should be responsible for using them.

Step 2

You need to have a discussion with your team on why communication is important. If your team is not willing to buy into this, then get another team.

Work out with each player in your team what calls do they make ALL THE TIME. If they make three calls instinctively, then go through the list and see if they can add a fourth call. If a player does not make any calls, then work hard with them so that they at the end of the month are making at least one call.

Step 3

You then have to manufacture wash drills so as to test your team’s lines of communication.

Do not worry about the score. If your team is young, base the score on good calls by the appropriate person. Take points off a team if the responsible player does not do their job. I used to give a good call by a player 2 points and non-calls by a player minus 1 point. That way we are rewarding good behaviours or, as John Kessel says, “catching the players doing something right, and telling them.”

It will take at least four weeks of relentless work by you as the coach for your team to pick up the “good talk” habit. The good thing is that most players, once making some good calls, will have this habit for life. However, do not rest there. There are always more and better quality calls that can be made.

Good Luck and Good Coaching.

Coaching Development Session

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Thanks must go to Hugh Nguyen for taking a great coach development session last night. Participants included three South Australian state team head coaches, coaches from the major volleyball school programs, club coaches, and even a school coach from Queensland who was in Adelaide for the holidays.

Huy in his clear meticulous manner discussed the new video delay programs available for coaches, and the strengths and weakness of each. This is clearly the way to make great gains in both individual and team learning.

It is a matter of concern to me that this development seems to be passing most coaches by without so much as a cursory glance. I think this "head in the sand" approach could well be a telling factor into the future. I can clearly remember the clear, quick, precise changes kids have made when seeing the type of feedback Huy was demonstrating. The cost to set up a club or individual coach is about the same as a used bag of old volleyballs.

The second part of the session was based on high definition stats and integrated video packages. The benefits were obvious. The view was that these should not be done by coaches while coaching but should be done by assistant coaches, parents or support staff. The high quality discussion revolved around the best cameras to use. The key fact to look at was the format the camera used with MPEG4 being the preferred option. Huy uses cameras costing way less than $200 (which is good seeing as he has six of them).

All in all, a great well prepared session Huy. Thank you on behalf of all the coaches present.

Why teams need to talk.

The art of good time outs must be taught.

The art of good time outs must be taught.

"Talk it up"

Nearly every coach in nearly every time out has either said this, or has wanted to say this.
At the recent Mikasa Gold Ball tournament a beginning coach asked me for some strategies to get his team to talk.

He suggested his team was losing up to 7 points a set because of the lack of communication in his team.

Beginning teams need to communicate because their game consists of "confusion opportunities" everywhere.

Calling a timeout after your team has just lost 4 points, due to confusion and a lack of talking, usually is an opportunity to tell your team that they "need to talk it up". This is a perfect example of what we call a "no shit statement". This is when the coach says something so obvious that the team in chorus, says "no shit".

It is great that Aussie kids are too polite to pay out their coaches so appropriately with their many "no shit" statements.

The nature of volleyball mandates that effective teams have good communication.

This may be team rules which clarify situations and mandated responses from designated players on the court.

The nature of our game dictates that a great deal of the time everybody is looking up at the roof making it difficult for our limited peripheral vision to be able to see our teammates.

So talking is good. Targeted talking helps make winning teams.

Here are my 10 words for beginners: (print it off as a word file)

In my team it is just as wrong for the libero in the team to call "Free Ball" as it is for the setter in the team NOT to call "Free Ball".

Players have roles and for us to be successful they have to do their jobs. It is our job as coaches to get new players through the confusion zone as quickly and as positively as possible.

This is just hard work and good coaches do it and weaker coaches hope that the kids eventually get it.

The answer to the coach at the Gold Ball tournament was essentially to positively encourage his players to talk in the last few games.

ASC volleyball is expensive: $3,000 a touch?

I made a post before the Australian Schools Cup on how coaches must get "benchies" on the court in tournaments.

Unfortunately, while at the ASC I heard a rumour that there was one player who paid over $2,000 to attend and was on the court for one (1) serve. Also heard that his dad flew over to see him play. Another $1,000. This team dominated all week only dropping one set until they reached the finals. Certainly more than enough opportunities to get all of the team's players onto the court.

This is why the Australian Schools Cup Commission have been such enthusiastic supporters of the 12 sub rule. We see this rule as a way to ensure all kids have the opportunities to get on the court.

My personal view is that if volleyballers pay to play volleyball then we should use the 12 sub rule so they have the greatest chance to get their money's worth.

If they get paid to play volleyball (and how often does this happen in Australian volleyball?) then use the 6 sub rule. If they don't get on the court then tough, train harder.

I certainly hope my information is wrong because if it isn't, then this situation is deplorable and the coach need to have a good look at what has happened here.

"You pick them, You play them."

USA release 2014 volleyball skill series

John Kessel has just let me know that the 2014 USA skill video series are now available. USA volleyball, in their typical thorough fashion, has presented all the skills of volleyball both for standing and sitting volleyball on the one web page.

This video series is short (approx. 1 min each) but concise, with the skills shown by Olympic and beginning players which are then compared showing no difference in technique between the Olympian and the junior player.

Of particular interest to me is the “new” skill of torque serving. In Australia we called this the “coach serve” and it is certainly the best way to teach beginners who may lack strength to get the ball over the net.

USA Skill series

To all volleyball coaches,
Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy new Year
from Elson Volley.

Serving

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Try and tell the coach of any losing team that serving is not important.

After a full week at the Australian Schools Cup, I have come to the conclusion that the most poorly done skill at the event was serving, and I do not mean the technique.

I think significant gains can be made by coaches who take more notice of what the players do before they serve the ball and from where they serve the ball. Many players do not have a pre-service routine, and if they do, their pre-service routine is often not helping them.

As coaches we have to help players develop a logical, thought out and a calming pre-service routine. Many players to their disadvantage were doing their own thing.

Bouncing the ball before the serve is an appropriate part of a pre-service serving routine. Keep it to three or less bounces. One player had thirteen bounces and then served without looking at his target.

I think a good pre-service routine consists of the following elements:

  1. Pick up the ball, step on the baseline on your way back to your serving position counting the steps like a bowlers run up. Any number of steps can be appropriate, including zero. If you do this you will never foot fault again which, is one of volleyballs most stupid mistakes.
     
  2. Turn and face the net, aiming at your target. Aiming should take 3 seconds minimum.
     
  3.  What type of serve are you going to do? How hard? What trajectory, spin or float?
     
  4. Whilst you are aiming at the target, take a deep breath in and left half of it out.
     
  5. Visualise the successful serve clearing the net and flying to your target.
     
  6. Say your pre-service statement to yourself which could be “hard hand,” “watch the back of the ball” or “clear the net” so that your brain is clear what is required.
     
  7. Execute the serve.
     
  8. Move quickly to your court position and play hard.

In summary I think too much time was spent bouncing the ball, not selecting and looking at the target and not being organised enough resulting in foot faults.

By the way, if you want your players to serve in after a time out, then practice it at training. One of my great coaching mentors Harley Simpson often said:

“You have no right to expect a player to do something unless you have practiced it at training 100 times”

What to do with benchies

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It is likely that you will have some players that will be harder to get on the court than others. Two points that I have heard from coaches are important here:

“You picked them, you play them” 
- Sue Dansie

“A player will never surprise you sitting on the bench” 
- Alexis Lebedew.

As junior coaches, we have to give all of our kids fair court time. To do this well it needs to be planned. I think it is important to have every kid at some stage start in the first six.

Using the Ribbon stats rotation sheets you can plan your starting rotation, Plan A, Plan B and the 5th set plan.

In my experience, it is easier to get kids on the court earlier in the set than later in the set. If you start with a weaker player, the set may well be 15-all and you can then take them off. But once the set is 15 all, it may be difficult to get them on the court.

On the Australian Schools Cup commission we have also ensured that the rules governing set and point percentage makes it easier to get your benchies on the court without costing you percentage. Getting these kids on the court is hard, but very important. We do not want parents dividing the $1,000 it cost for their child to attend the ASC by the 10 times their kid touched the ball in the event with a $100/touch result.

If that happens, you may well be that kid’s last volleyball coach.

Using Statistics at the Australian Schools Cup

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There are thousands of ways available to take stats; laptops, iPads, iPhones, flow charts, etc.

The best, without doubt in my opinion, are the Ribbon Stats we developed for use at Heathfield High School. They're designed to be easy to use for everyone from the coach to the parents.

The Ribbon Stats sheets can be downloaded free here. You need the front page, optional rotation sheets and the back notes page.

I always kept the back notes page from each match for the next year’s planning.
These back pages were like gold to me.

Why bother with stats at all? Simple: after any match there are three conflicting opinions on how a player went:

  1. The player's view
  2. The coach's view
  3. The stats

I seemed to find that the boys often had (in my opinion) an inflated view on their performance, while girls often had a negative view on their performance.

It is also very important to realise that your view as a coach is often coloured by the importance of when things happened. Often I looked at the Ribbon stats and thought, "wow, they played better than I thought”, or “wow, why did we keep setting Smithy?”

The match reality is somewhere in the middle of these three views, like somewhere in the middle of the triangle. This is why stats are important.

Perhaps the most important factor in using Ribbon stats is that they are a great tool to show Mary that her serving is getting better, and “hey Paul, look at your hitting stats, you had your best game ever”.

Time Outs

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One gem of advice I received when I started coaching was to listen to other coaches’ time-outs. Some of the rubbish I heard was important in increasing my level of confidence.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill:

“Never has so much crap been spoken by so many, so often.”

With this in mind, here are some basic pointers when conducting time-outs.

Call time-outs early

If you lose three points in a row, call a time out. Some opposition teams will carry on like pork chops when you call one. Do not be intimidated by these idiots.

Remember that when you call a time-out you could well have a 66.6% chance of getting a service error from the opposition when the match resumes.

Know what you want to say

When you call a time out, get out of the way. Always let the kids get a drink first. Take that time to get your act together and figure out what you are you going to say.

While the players are getting a drink, look at the notes you have on the back of your Ribbon Stats and cut the five points you may have, down to three.

Know how you want to say it

If you need your team to be calm after the time-out, be calm yourself. If you need more energy in your team after the time-out, bring that energy yourself.

You do not always have to talk to the whole team. Leave the team to the captain and you talk to the setters, the passers, or Tall Tina who is having a shocker.

Finish with the important bit

Go through the 3 points in reverse order of importance, finishing up with the main reason you called the time-out. Just before you finish the time-out ask the team to tell you why you called it. 

If your team is not good at handling instructions ask them to repeat your key point in the time-out.

Avoid "no shit" statements

Your team has just shanked the last seven serves into the grandstand. You call a time-out to tell the team: “We need a pass”.

Your team may be too polite to say it, but they are thinking: “No shit, coach. What a great insight.” Try to avoid these moments.

With your time-out over, get the drink rack off the court, sit down, relax and then watch the next serve to see if you did, in fact, make a “coach’s point”.

Playing Like a Dog: It happens, and we can help

If you have a team or a player having a poor tournament, and they have lost their confidence, then you as the coach need to step in. This is a realistic and common problem and it eventually happens to all of us. It is a serious issue and thankfully there is a simple solution to this problem. 

This issue is often more obvious with your better players because it stands out more, but it can still happen with your weaker players. If you are a good coach, you can recognise it and help them as well. They will appreciate your time.

The discussion you need to have with a player needs to be in private, perhaps with your manager or an older player around the place.

Step 1

See where the player is at. Do they agree with you? Would they like your help?

Step 2

The issue is generally based around the fact that the player is not meeting their/your expectations. One very workable solution is to set some easier and achievable goals.

An example may be serving. Pick an easier target for the server. Set a percentage lower than their norm so that they have a greater chance of meeting that target.

Step 3

Come up with a strategy that may help release the tension before they are going to serve and there are hundreds of ways. Master coach Sue Dansie was an expert at this.

Step 4

Celebrate like a crazy person on the side of the court when they do succeed with their easier skill or lower expectations. They have now been successful and they can build on that action.

There is a lot more on this topic and there are many, many more suggestions I could give you. What I am trying to do with this post is to suggest that there is a successful solution to this regular problem.

As a coach we can help or destroy this player who is going through this common problem. Let’s help.

I will be in Melbourne all week for the Australian School's Cup, and am happy to discuss this further with you, in a lot more detail. Call me on 0401 121 600 and we can meet. I can even help with the player if required.

Not another signed volleyball?

If you are going to the Australian Schools Cup this year you are getting dangerously close to getting another signed volleyball from your team. If you already have 20+ signed volleyballs, another one may not be what you need.

If you coach a boys’ team, chances are that you will get nothing. If you do get something, the chances are very high that you will get a signed ball (or tournament T shirt) because that is the only thing they can get at five minutes notice.

If you coach a girls’ team, chances are it is too late, as they would have signed the ball already, wrapped it, and packed it ready for Melbourne.

The solution – ask the manager for a card. I have kept every card, as these mean a lot, but kept only a few presents. I think kids giving bottles of alcohol to coaches is a bit off as well. The fact is, it does not tick many boxes in the role model list.

To my ex-players reading this post, be assured that your present is one of the ones I have kept.

How to be successful at the Australian Schools Cup

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Last year was the first time that I have ever attended the ASC in a role other than that of a coach.

Working on some of the younger divisional courts, I was amazed and disappointed at the way some of these younger kids were being treated. For some of them, I thought that it would probably be their first and last tournament. The expectations some coaches were putting on these kids was just outright unreasonable.

One girls team—in a division where free balls and trying serve in was the order of the day—were being told by their obviously knowledgeable coach about stack blocking. A good point for AVL teams perhaps, but way off the mark in that level of competition.

Right now, your kids are about as good as they are going to be skill wise at this tournament. All kids will learn at an event like this, that is why the event is so important for the development of our junior players. If they learn lots and lots, then perhaps these kids have learnt more by playing matches than they did by attending your trainings.

I have been there and done that. Indeed a salutary lesson learned and one we will all eventually learn.

Volleyball unfortunately is a game that can be broken down into its many parts. Volleyball coaches since time began have been breaking the game down and have been doing this to their disadvantage. Kids will often learn more by playing a match than they will by doing some poorly referenced drill training actions that are not relevant in the actual game. This week, some teams will certainly prove this to some coaches.  

After many years of coaching rubbish, I ceased to brag about how much my kids improved during the tournament as I eventually realised how little they had improved by my training drills during the year compared to the tournament they had just played.

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The ramifications for Australian volleyball are clear: we need more tournaments and regular match opportunities for our juniors. The fact that the ASC is such a huge portion of a kids volleyball year is not something we should be proud of. Yes, it is a great tournament. However, it should be one of many.

As I said above, all kids will improve at the ASC. As coaches, we can facilitate that improvement by, as John Kessel says, "catching them doing something good and then telling them". Be consistent and positive in your message.

Of course, that is way harder than it sounds. Don’t throw your clipboard on the floor, don’t raise your voice, try to avoid rolling your eyes and don't be sarcastic. If you manage to do that all week email the Pope at the Vatican and seek your well-deserved sainthood.

Work hard to make sure your team has a great time during the week, so much so that they will not be able to wait till training starts next year so that they can do it all over again. Do other things beside volleyball during the week—even if you come last, we all need your kids to want to come back again next year.

Make sure every kid has their moment in the sun. If “Benny/Betty the benchie” does something great either on or off the court make sure you take the time to acknowledge it. Work out now how you can have all the kids start in a set and how you can get them on the court.

Our challenge as coaches will be to turn the negatives into positives and make every match an opportunity to get better. One method I used was to ask my players: "when was your best ever match?". If it was deep into the past then that is clearly not desirable and they need to have a "best match" soon.

Often with juniors they do have their best match but do not recognise it as such, because they remember their errors. It is our job to help these kids have their best match, and to tell them if they do. You may find with this increased confidence may lead to another best match in their next game.

Next week I will address the issue of a kid or team who is just not getting better, strategies on how to deal with it, and how to get your worst players on the court without doing too much damage.

Why do good teams lose on Wednesdays?

It is hard to go through a tournament undefeated - but not impossible. 

In the first round of the Australian Schools Cup, everybody is pumped up. In the last matches of the tournament on Friday, a coach is also working with pumped up teams.

These are the easy matches. It is the middle matches of a tournament that make the coaches earn the huge bucks they get as volunteers.

There are a million reasons why school/junior teams struggle mid week. All the factors like being away from home, different food, nervous energy, stress and a lack of sleep all can play a part in throwing a spanner into the works of your tournament. Now, really good teams can still win a tournament from a loss on Wednesday, but why should they lose in the first place?

In recent years both at a school and state level I have paired up my team into warm-up pair groups. I call these pairs the warm-up captainsEach pair will be responsible for warming up the team both physically and mentally for one of the ASC matches.

Give your weakest pair the first match - the whole gym will be pumped for match one, so their input will not be pivotal. Give your meanest, most winning oriented pair of players the danger Wednesday morning match.

Let them know why you have given them that match. Let them know that they are the team's "factor x" and they will be required to guide the team through this difficult match.

Good luck. Hopefully, your team is now able to avoid the dangerous Wednesday loss.

66% of kids at the ASC do... what?

My 30 years of stats at the Australian Schools Cup show that if you call a time out, you have a 66% chance of getting a service error in the next point.

Unfortunately, your team has the same chance of stuffing up when the opposition's coach calls a time out.

This is a fact. It is what you do with the knowledge of this fact that may help or hinder your team.

The two weeks before the Australian Schools Cup

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It is unlikely you will have to motivate your team in the final weeks before the schools cup. They should be jumping out of their skin.

Trainings should be game-like and should start to look very similar to what your first match in Melbourne should look like. You also should be well into a trial match program by now.

The training warm up should be the same as your first Melbourne match warm up. Same time, same intensity. This will often make the nervous transition to Melbourne matches easier if your players are familiar with it.

You know what your team will have to do to win matches in your division in Melbourne. It is time just to relentlessly practice those actions, again and again. Highlight those actions in your matches and wash drills and positively reinforce every time players/team does it.

You do not have time to be sitting down just watching matches. If one skill is hitting line then give that skill double or triple points in the match or wash drill. If it is serving cross court to position 1, then give that team a 1 or 2 points for getting the serve in the right position and then another point for whoever wins the rally. At this stage, who wins the rally is not as important as who is doing the skills required.

It is very important to celebrate and praise every attempt and attempting these skills.

I will bet that your position at the end of the week will be decided in a major way by how well your team served. I will also bet that the best servers in Melbourne will be jump float servers.

“There are 2 types of servers in my team. There are the kids who jump serve and the kids who don’t serve.”

Now this is a way too harsh, and I have exaggerated, and as junior coaches we must give all kids chances, but – you will train your team again next year. Check this year to see if the jumpers dominate. Start planning for next year.

See the below skill clip from the USA, on how to teach beginners jump float serving.

New Website!

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Elson Volley was formed 30 years ago after a visit to Australia by USA guru coach, John Kessel. During John's coaching sessions in Australia he recommended improving kids' volleyball by buying better coaching aids and better quality equipment for the players.

Harley Simpson and David Eldridge continually tried to get Australian sports stores to stock this higher quality equipment, but were told that volleyball was too small a market and that importing volleyball equipment was not worth their time.

That is why Elson Volley was formed. It was formed by volleyball coaches for volleyballers.

At Elson Volley, we do not have the biggest range because we trial and test all the gear we sell, and we do not stock any products that we ourselves would not use.

Consequently, when you order from us we will have the product in stock and we will not waste your time talking you into a different product. The gear we sell is the best and it is usually the gear endorsed by the Australian Volleyball Federation and your own State volleyball associations.

We are the biggest sellers of Mikasa volleyballs in Australia. 

Elson Volley was one of the very first sports retailers in Australia to use an online store. It has served us well over the years, but it is now time to update. We hope you like the new look.

You can also click here to view our Facebook page. Please share this post using the convenient share buttons located below it.