Thursday, February 26, 2015

FIve Years...Part III

It started off as a question in a coaches gaggle but with thought has now become a third entry into this Coaches blog. It would have been easy to take bits and pieces but we asked this question of coaches from all over the country, from all different levels. Their responses, which we will post in a few blogs going forward, are honest and an insight into where our game is going.

How do you Coach differently today than you did five years ago?

Russ Rose- Penn State University

“Players have changed and I have tried to remain consistent.”

Melissa Wolter- University of West Florida

“My coaching style has changed in a couple of ways over the last few years. First off, I've made a much bigger effort to spend timing training leadership, working on team chemistry and cohesion and recruiting into all of the above. I have determined that great teams don't happen on accident. They are molded into great teams. Some of this has to do with who is on the team, but a lot has to do with how you get those people to work together. The little things matter. Who you have your athletes room with on road trips, who they partner with in, on and off court activities and how you motivate them and how you get them to motivate one another.”

“I have also changed how I recruit. Not so much the style of athlete we go after, but the kind of person. We particularly look for good people first, great athlete and/or player second. We want athletes from families where they learned work ethic, respect, integrity and responsibility. Most of the girls on our team come from big families including brothers, have worked on a farm of have dealt with some kind of adversity in their lives. In my experience, some semblance of those characteristics are very helpful in having athletes that can easily get on the same page.”

David Rubio- University of Arizona

“I haven’t changed my coaching style.”

Patrick Hiltz- University of Louisiana- Monroe

"This question got me thinking. Often, changes that occur in us as individuals and human beings we don't really notice until someone points them out or forces us to think about them. This is the case with this question you have posed."

"Mainly I would say my coaching has changed as a necessity due to an ever changing environment in the world of volleyball. We had a team open discussion today where the question was posed if we thought players in college volleyball were better today than they were 15 years ago. There was some great discussion. For me, my coaching style has
adapted over the last 5 years mainly due to a change in the level that I am coaching. Five years ago I was coaching a 15 and under club team and I was assisting at the junior college level. Now, I am preparing for my 5th season as a Division 1 coach, 4th as a head coach, and there are obvious required differences between the two."

"For the most part I have tried to stay true to myself and my beliefs but there are some areas that I have made changes not only to how I do things but to my general philosophy as well."

"First, volleyball is now a job. A business if you will. I don't like to say that but it's the truth of what I do now. I depend upon volleyball to support myself and my family. Wins are no longer a want, they are a need. Because of this, the pressure to be great at what I do is one heck of a lot higher than it was when I was coaching club and junior college, even high school. This leads to the next part of what is different: the players. I have found recently that I spend more time coaching players how to be an athlete at this level than I ever thought I would. How to pass, footwork on an approach, hand position on blocking, etc. are not nearly as important as teaching kids how to be a good teammate. How to manage their time between classes, practice, brutal travel schedules, the list is endless. I quickly realized that it didn't matter what I taught the girls from an x's and o's standpoint if they were tired and stressed about a test coming up and the fact that their boyfriend didn't call like he said he would."

"I would also venture to say that the majority of kids in the club systems across the country could not tell you who won the NCAA National Championship with conviction let alone give us the name of their MVP player that led them there. This is sad. I get hundreds of emails a
week. Many of them say the same thing:  'I love the game of volleyball'. How can we have a love of something we don't follow on facebook, read about, go and watch regularly, or know anything about? Perhaps that's for another blog."

"More specific to coaching, 5 years ago I was a stat person. However, I was an everyday stat person that looked at stats the same way someone in the media looks at them. Or a parent. Individual numbers were fun and cool and worthy of being talked about. I was great at motivating individuals through my coaching and use of stats was a great tool. Now, I only talk about TEAM numbers. And even then, we go beyond what is read about or heard in the papers after the game. We keep our own numbers that are specific to team goals and focus. For example, rather than worrying about my team's ACE/Miss ratio, we focus on how many
times we got the other team out of system compared to how often they were In system. To us, this is a better indication of how tough we are serving. Kevin Hambly at Illinois deserves some credit here as it was his clinic at AVCA Convention a couple of years ago that got me to examine what I was really using stats for and why. It has been a valuable change to me as a coach and to our team."
"This also led to a change in practices: jump monitoring. We put a jump count on my middles, similar to a pitch count in baseball, to try and extend the life of already worn out knees. Kids are playing at such an early age that they break down by the time they get to college. Because they are no good to me injured, I have learned to place an emphasis on health before repetitions when required."

"My transition from club/high school coaching has been eye opening to say the least. I can offer this advice to the club and high school coaches out there:

1) Speed the game up as often as possible for the kids.

2) Teach your best players how to make their teammates appreciate them: not because they are a great volleyball player, but because they care about making their teammates better. This is a delicate process, tread carefully.

3) Give the kids enough of an understanding of the game that they can think and create strategy on their own. Then, give them the freedom to do it. Allow them to be wrong, even if it costs the team a point, a set, or even a match."

This has turned out to be a pretty popular question and we will continue this thread as we get coaches submissions. If you would like to hear from a specific coach, let us know at

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Five Years.... Part II

It started off as a question in a coaches gaggle but with thought became more than that. It would have been easy to take bits and pieces but we asked this question of coaches from all over the country, from all different levels. Their responses, which we will post in a few blogs going forward, are honest and an insight into where our game is going.

How do you Coach differently today than you did five years ago?
Jason Watson- Arizona State University

"I think this is a great question. Reminds me of this quote –“The less there is to justify a traditional custom, the harder it is to get rid of it” – Mark Twain. Is there no better representation of this quote than pushing towels across a gym floor?"

"Daniel Pink in his book 'Drive' talks about motivation in 3 ways: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Those 3 things resonate with me as I've looked to define my coaching style:

  • · Autonomy: Coaches – Let’s get out of your way. Mistakes are good. Practice should look like the Apple Store not the DMV.
  • · Mastery: Coaches – partner with you in your goal to master skills. It’s fun and satisfying for us each to get better.
  • · Purpose: coaches need to be 'purpose maximizes' and not be guided by 'profit' or outcomes.

When I refer to 'coaches' it’s in reference to our coaching staff at ASU. Not coaches in general."

"As the head coach at ASU, I continue to look for ways to improve the relationships and culture in our gym by using these qualities as a guide: autonomy, mastery and purpose."

Ken Murphy- Northern Arizona University

"I think I become more organized every year and that my systems become tighter and more cohesive very year. For example, the way we mentor our players in the gym is consistent with how we mentor them everywhere else. We have themes for learning, decision making, forming habits, etc. that fit the same into all phases of our program. And we have worked hard and improved at making sure there aren't any gaps."

"I'm not sure if my coaching style has changed but I think I'm better at challenging athletes and pushing them to reach their potential while retaining a positive learning environment. Because of this our athletes seem to be more self motivated and better at handling adversity and performing well in typically stressful situations."

Joe Trinsey- Pepperdine Men’s Assistant Coach, U.S.A. Women’s National Team Technical Advisor

"Well since I'm only 27, you bet my coaching style has changed a lot over the past 5 years!
The main change, among many big changes, has been a deeper understand of motor learning and the science of learning. Of course, I have learned a ton about skills, strategy, tactics, etc. But if your players can't learn that, it's no use!"

"I started coaching when I was 15, assisting my parents, so I think I got a pretty early start on being able to 'be a coach' in terms of just soaking up lots of the little behaviors that coaches need to have when running a team. I was always comfortable instructing and giving feedback. However, in the past 5 years, I've really tried to take to heart the concept of, 'if they haven't learned, you're not done teaching.' I think that, like so many good coaching insights, is attributed to John Wooden."

"I've learned so much about motor learning from Carl McGown and the other GMS folks, a lot about mindset and psychology from Carol Dweck. Another very profound book for me was 'Inner Game of Tennis.' That book transformed my career as a player and has been incredibly helpful in my coaching."

Kevin Hambly- University of Illinois

"In the last five years I just think I have matured as a coach. I have become more patient in the process and less patient with effort and toughness. To me if the players are working as hard as they can in the moment we are in and they are training with a growth mindset and intention than I am in and very happy with the process. Five years ago, I was certainly less patient with players and how fast they are learning. Staying process oriented mindset is easier now."

Look for further Coaches comments on this question coming soon...

Five Years..... Part I

It started off as a question in a coaches gaggle but with thought became more than that. It would have been easy to take bits and pieces but we asked this question of coaches from all over the country, from all different levels. Their responses, which we will post in a few blogs going forward, are honest and an insight into where our game is going and how we can better coach it.

How do you Coach differently today than you did five years ago?

Tom Black- Loyola Marymount University and Assistant Coach of U.S. Women’s National Team

“It’s put a lot of pressure/reflection on how I communicate and how thoughtful I’m being (ie – am I doing this to vent (for myself) or to get the best out of the player in this moment). It’s taught me a lot on how to control my emotions and be in the moment, which is absolutely a work in progress for me.”

Lisa Stuck- Glendale Community College and 2014 NJCAA Div. II National Champion

"I would have to say I have lightened up quite a bit. Today's athlete is a lot different from the athlete of the 80's and 90's. The mental toughness is not as prevalent."

"Today's athlete, generally speaking, needs more one-on -one attention and structure. They are a less independent and require more help with problem solving and critical thinking. I have to spend more time explaining the reasons why we are doing things. They aren't comfortable with failure and having to go through the struggle to improve. They are looking for immediate results and do not like having to wait. Long term goals are hard to explain and I've had to set more immediate goals in order to keep their effort at a high level over the course of a season."

"I have also started recruiting the athlete that possesses the intangibles: work ethic, team-minded, selfless, intelligent, independent etc. My coaching style matches up best with those qualities and I've found myself looking for those types of kids vs. the superstar. I am a very demanding coach when it comes to hard work, and I can't coach kids that do 'just enough' to get by, regardless of how talented they might be. When I'm out watching players I pay close attention to those things, during warm ups and the match."

"I have also been open to learning new ways to teach the game and new innovative strategies. I have a sound philosophy, but also know the game changes all the time and I have to be open minded about trying some new things. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don't, but I'm willing to experiment a little more than in the past in order to have the best recipe for success".

Quinton Kraeer- Head Coach U.S.A. Men’s Sitting Team

“Thanks for including me on this email, I greatly appreciate and love trying to help other coaches grow in anyway shape or form. My coaching style has completely changed over the past 5 years. First off 5 years ago I was only a CAP 1 and have since then become CAP 3, so that has definitely broadened my scope of how to approach things. I would say my interaction with parents has also influenced my coaching style, not in the sense that parents tell me what to do and I do it, I mean in the way that it has hardened me in not listening and avoiding parents who think that their kid is the greatest and that I am not treating them fairly."

"I have become a more well rounded coach because of the relationships with the players that i built, I took the kids first philosophy and spent many years more concerned with them than with wins or parents views on how we looked or fared at tournaments. Also a big help has been using the Bompa chart that was given during CAP 3, having that has helped me specialize and hit every topic the team needs and not what I always want to work on or focus on."

"Last I would say that coaching multiple teams every year was a big help in my development. Having different ages to have to work with makes you think differently from a offense defense to even social standpoint. On top of that certain years I was even coaching different gender and that really made me think on a whole other wavelength from the different ages to the different biomechanical brain processes.”

Amanda Lieberman- Phoenix College

"I explain myself more now to my players. I explain why we do what we do, and I give players feedback when I sub them. Then they know why I made the change. I also give positive feedback for things that are basics to their skill set. When I played, we were never given kuddos for doing what we were supposed to be doing. Now, players expect positive feedback for doing what they are supposed to do."

Look for Part II of this blog coming soon....

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The 1% Solution...

In mid January, ASU hosted a coaching clinic from Gold Medal Squared. It’s a comprehensive 3 day clinic that goes over theory, methods, drills and statistics to help coaches develop systems to meet their team’s needs.

It’s a daunting three days for coaches. They are inundated with so much information that often times they will go back to their practice trying to implement 10 new drills and new techniques and share their new wealth of knowledge with their athletes but then get discouraged when their athletes struggle with the concepts and techniques.

Whoa…slow down a bit coach.

The world has become immediate: Social media can transmit messages and news faster than a phone call. Pictures, movies, audio can be transmitted across the world, and sometimes the universe, in a blink of an eye. Everything is at this moment, instantaneous.

But is that practical for our athletes in a learning environment?

The British cycling team hired a new General Manager and Performance Director in 2010 by the name of Dave Brailsford. Before his hire, no British cyclist had ever won the Tour de France. His approach wasn’t revolutionary and in fact, based on simplicity. He called it the ‘aggregation of marginal gains’ which translates to being 1% better at things.

He searched out all the areas that he could improve his team’s performance by just 1%. He purchased better pillows so his riders could sleep and recover better, a way to wash their hands better to reduce infection. He worked on the bike frames, the seats and the team’s nutrition. No stone was left unturned in his pursuit to be 1% better.

He was asked to turn the team around in 5 years.

It took three. His British riders won the Tour de France in 2012 and again in 2013. They won 70% of the cycling medals at the 2012 London Olympics as well.

One percent? Can it make that much of a difference? Tom Connellan wrote a book called “The 1% solution for Work and Life.” The gist of his tome is simple: “There are just a few key actionable ideas that you need to improve yourself in whatever you do.” Connellan says. “You don’t have to compete with other people. You just have to focus on being better today than you were yesterday.”

With this new wealth of information from whatever coaching clinic you have attended, what is a small 1% difference you can make in practice today that’ll help your team get to where you want them to be? Maybe it’s NOT running and stretching before practice this week and going forward to focus on more touches. Maybe it’s introducing one drill this week and another next week. Maybe it’s better food on tournament tables or an impromptu team building moment. What is that 1% for you today, for this week, this month, this season? What is the 1% for your coaching knowledge and performance going forward?

Connellan writes, “You may never be the very best in the world at what you do, but you can be better than you are right now. The Olympic motto is ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius,’ which translates into ‘Swifter, Higher, Stronger’- NOT into ‘SwiftEST, HighEST, StrongEST.’ That means working at getting better every day.”

Take one of those Gold Medal Squared suggestions and implement it this week. Go to another coaching clinic and grab something from that one and implement it a little at a time.

The 1% solution can help make players and coaches a little bit better today than they were yesterday.

It’s all about tomorrow…

The Vivid Disguise...

“The more salient, or more vivid something is, the easier it is for us to recall. For instance, if we see an earthquake happening in the news, then somehow, because that’s very vivid, we tend to overestimate the probability of an earthquake occurring.” Fredrick Chen, Economist from Wake Forest University.

We are easily fooled.

One of the biggest fears of human beings is spiders. Psychologists will explain it’s because of the way they look, and move and the “creepy” factor. But the facts are:

· There are 35,000 species of spiders in the world.

· Of that 35,000, only 27 have been known to cause a human fatality.

· Of those 27, there are only 2 in Arizona that are considered dangerous to humans.

· In the United States, 6.6 people TOTAL will die from spider bites this year. (Eight times as many will die from bee and wasp stings!)

· To sum up, there is a 1 in 28,794,122 chance of a person being killed from a spider bite.

This rational explanation of the facts probably won’t dissuade you from your fear of spiders because of the reasons stated above, they ARE creepy. But logic and facts prove those fears to be vastly overrated and unsubstantiated.

As Coaches, we are also fooled often by the vivid. That booming kill down the line forces a coach to call a time out and adjust their blocking and defense to accommodate that line rip when in fact, that may have been the ONLY hit down the line the entire match. Is it worth changing everything for because of that one swing?

ASU Head Coach Jason Watson has experienced this head on. “I think one of the aspects that makes coaching hard, is the need to develop a coaching eye. Can you be attuned to the right things while in the gym with your team. It’s easier when there are more coaches – you can have assistants focus on one aspect of the game while you coach another. With club teams and high school programs, you don’t always have that luxury.”

“For that reason, I think it’s so important for coaches to look for trends, or play to the mean.” Watson says. “For example, at some levels, hitting from the back row can be a significant point-scoring event. For many of us, we don’t have the athletes to be consistently scoring points from the back row. But we set the back row. In fact, we set it more than we should for our level of play. Why? Because we are influenced by the outlier: the one or two times in a match when we may score from the back row. What we overlook are the errors or the easy opportunities for our opponents in transition.”

Joe Trinsey is the technical coordinator for the USA Women’s National team and an assistant coach for the Pepprdine’s Men’s program. He studies trends and statistics in video and presents his findings to USA Volleyball and their coaches and teams.

“I think the biggest example of Coaching to the Outlier vs. Coaching to the Mean, is the deep deflection off the block.” Trinsey says from experience. “For some reason, there seems to be something psychologically damaging about the ball that gets deflected and goes just over the head of the middle back player. There's this natural tendency that we MUST move that player back farther and farther until no balls could possibly go over his or her head. For some reason the ball that gets hit in front of them and out of reach doesn't stand out as much. It seems like the instinctual reaction for many coaches, including myself, is that the ball that gets over the player's head is an error in positioning, while the ball in front that isn't played is more of an error in technique- the player did not get their platform out early enough or sprawl fast enough.”

Trinsey recalls dozens of matches where he felt this way. “During the match, I was sure that we were too shallow and we needed to adjust back. After the match, I would watch the video and realize that we only got beat on two or three deep, but there were still all these balls going shorter. It's so important to watch in a setting away from the emotions of the match where you can view everything with a clear mind and see exactly what happened, rather than what you think happened.​”

Trinsey and Watson are at  or approaching the pinnacles of their coaching careers and yet still have to keep their perspective about coaching to the mean and not the outlier. It’s easy to be fooled by the vivid disguise but take a few more minutes to process and take the emotion out before you make a decision. We all can be better at our Coaches eye.

Making Music...

I am a terrible guitar player.

I started playing when I was 8. My parents bought me a cheap little acoustic with the strings so far off the neck, it required a herculean effort just to play a note. My first guitar teacher was an older gentleman who taught me to play notes: an e, a g, an f out of a song book. In a couple of half hour lessons, I slogged my way through the Top 40 smash hit “Hava Nagila” at a pace that would make a sloth nap. Needless to say, I was done with the guitar by 8 ½. When my Parents asked me why I didn’t want to play anymore, I just told them it wasn’t fun and to be honest, I wasn’t playing music.

I have the privilege of getting to talk to coaches about coaching and one of the things we bring up often is having a growth mindset , being a lifelong learner and coming out of our comfort zones. All of these are in such demand of coaches going forward today that I figured I needed to do something to work on these skills for my benefit as a coach and a teacher of coaches and players.

Fast forward the cassette player (ask your parents) three years ago and I picked up a guitar for the first time in 7 presidents and noticed right away that things had changed. I could go on line now and find a chart for chords, and songs with guitar tabs making it easier to try and replicate the songs I listened to on my iPod. If I struggled with a certain riff or change, I could maybe go on You Tube and a nice guitar teacher would SHOW me, on video, how to play that certain lick.

In a great article entitled, “The Secrets of Self-Taught, High Performing Musicians,” Tim Buszard talks about how so many of our best guitarists were self taught: names like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Prince, John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

Buszard says, “Research over the past few decades has demonstrated the advantages of learning a skill implicitly: that is, to learn a skill without a conscious awareness of the underlying processes of what is being learnt.” He adds that one of the advantages of acquiring a skill implicitly is it’s more durable under pressure, like performing before a live audience.

“Pressure often causes people to think about the step-by-step processes of what they are doing and this often leads to slips in performance. But if the skill was learnt without any knowledge of the step by step processes, the performer’s automatic mechanisms take over.” Buszard notes.

There is a reason volleyball players are drawn to the sand and it’s the reasons given above. Most of the time, there are no coaches in sand and the players have to figure things out on their own. With only one other partner, they aren’t sketched into a certain spot on the court, a specific position. They get to do it all. And oh yea, it’s really fun…hard but fun.

When we over coach kids out of their passion for the game, we are committing a heinous act. There are so few things that a person may be passionate about in their lives and to pound that passion out of them is a criminal act as a coach or a Parent.

We forget sometimes the characteristics that make something passionate in our lives: something we strive to get better at, something we can share with others and yea, something fun!

I am still a bad guitar player, but in my tiny speck of the universe, at least now I am able to play music.