Asian Girls (U17) Volleyball Championships – part 1

October 7, 2014

Currently I’m in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand with the Australian Youth (U17) Girls team preparing for Asian Championships, which starts in 4 days. After travelling with the Junior Women (U19) in July and both groups in April, this is my 3rd tour and I would have spent 7 weeks away from work and overseas.

Thailand is a cool place volleyball wise. It’s the most popular sport for women and a popular spectator sport (after Soccer of course). The national women’s team has enjoyed great success in recent years with a  win at Senior Asian Championships and 4th place at World Grand Prix last year. As such they’re quite popular with sell out games and have their own TV Show.

For the first few days we’re training at Sura Nari Wittaya school – a school with 4000 students, which has put about 100 players into the women’s national team including the current captain. The teams here are really good. We played the Sura Nari Wittaya school team today and lost in 5 sets.

Generally we train twice a day, or once a day if we have a game (or trial match). It’s a more demanding workload than a lot of players are used to back in Australia. It’s a good coaching staff to be a part of. Everyone has good general skills but also specialist skills for this level of competition. My job is to do a lot of the video/statistical analysis and scouting work, but for now while we’re in preparation, I get to help out in trainings hitting downfalls, chipping free-balls and coaching a side in scrimmages. The Head Coach Nam is also master of quite a few coaching trades (he pretty much can do all our jobs) having assisted the senior women’s team for a long time and a practical joker. Bill, who by now I’ve worked with on countless teams is tour manager, but helps out in trainings and takes some stats during games. He’ll be on the radio from he stands. The last member of the team is Anna, who at 21 still has the playing fitness to jump on the court to help out in scrimmages and as a final year physiotherapy student acts as the team’s trainer. It’s a good set of skills. Not every team that tours gets a physio and/or performance analyst.

The players have been great so far and quite professional. It’s easy to forget they’re still young. At this age, they have less competing demands on their time and we have been lucky to get all 12 players we initially selected.

We play our first game on Saturday against the Philippines.

The Sura Nari Wittaya School gym. I've never seen anything quite like it. There's no walls on the long sides so it's well ventilated. No Doors on either end - you can walk right through. It;s fan friendly with two banks of seating, loudspeakers along the ceiling and lights.

The Sura Nari Wittaya School gym. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. There’s no walls on the long sides so it’s well ventilated. No Doors on either end – you can walk right through. It;s fan friendly with two banks of seating, loudspeakers along the ceiling and lights.

I love it how gyms in Thailand are built for spectators. In this case a modest scoreboard. If there's a scrimmage it's not unusual to have a couple of kids hanging around watching and updating scoreboards.

I love it how gyms in Thailand are built for spectators. In this case a modest scoreboard. If there’s a scrimmage it’s not unusual to have a couple of kids hanging around watching and updating scoreboards.

There's a Video Ezy in the small town we're competing in. Random.

There’s a Video Ezy in the small town we’re competing in. Random.

The kids from the school training before us washing the coach's car because they lost the scrimmage.

The kids from the school training before us washing the coach’s car because they lost the scrimmage.

On the school bus travelling to the training venue

On the school bus travelling to the training venue

The mall complex where we will be competing. There's a lot of shops, a water amusement park and what appears to be a "magic mountain" styled water feature.

The mall complex where we will be competing. There’s a lot of shops, a water amusement park and what appears to be a “magic mountain” styled water feature.

Preparing for our trial game against the school team. We lost 2-3. They're really good!

Preparing for our trial game against the school team. We lost 2-3. They’re really good!

The brass band practising. Yep that's about 4 Glockenspiels under the verandah. There were two girls practicing rifle drills with wooden rifles around the corner.

The brass band practising. Yep that’s about 4 Glockenspiels under the verandah. There were two girls practicing rifle drills with wooden rifles around the corner.

The national league team training after the trial game. There's about 5 national team players from this club team including the current captain,

The national league team training after the trial game. There’s about 5 national team players from this club team including the current captain,

Perana VideoTagger – The best video tagging software ever

September 16, 2014

There is not hyperbole in the title. After years of testing, the Perana Sports folks who made VBStatsHD have made VideoTagger – an easy-to-use video tagging application that lets you create your own templates and interfaces.

VBStatsHD is great – in fact I love to use it for both our match analysis during games and for scouting when I am assisting coaches. However many people who have tried VBStatsHD are overwhelmed by the number of buttons and options (you usually have to key in 3 buttons to code an action).

This is where VideoTagger comes in. You can create really simple templates and interfaces.

Create your own custom template

Step 1: Create your own custom template

Step 2: Code the game

Step 2: Code the game

Step 3: Upload the video, synch and then select the events you want to see or export.

Step 3: Upload the video, synch and then select the events you want to see or export.

For example, I use a simple template to code my own matches while I am coaching the game on my own without an assistant. The interface simply has a button for each player, and a button for 6 actions (Serve, Receive, Set, Spike, Block, Dig). So it’s only 2 buttons for any touch.

Other coaches use it for scouting, where they only code the rotations (S1, S2, S3 etc).

Just like VBStatsHD, you can code stuff live and upload the and synch the video later, or upload the video first and code later.

It’s a great entry level application for video analysis for only $10! Trust me, it’ll be the best $10 you ever spent on volleyball related stuff.

 

VVI State League Grand Final – 16 Aug 2014

August 30, 2014
Yarra Ranges - Winners!

Yarra Ranges – Winners!

A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate to be a ringer on the coaching staff in a Victorian State League Grand Final. My good friend Bill was the assistant coach of Yarra Ranges Premier Men, and I had worked with 8 of the players and coaching staff in the Victorian state teams over the last couple of years, so was more than happy to help out when asked. I’ve now been involved as a coach in state league grand finals in 3 states.

Most of my work was done before I even arrived in Melbourne for the game having coded the semi-final and preliminary final matches.  I coded games the head coach, Luke, had posted on youtube and provided statistical and video analysis that helped Bill and Luke come up with the game plan. In the end the game plan we started with didn’t work, but the research, and in-game stats we took on both sides of the net helped us make the adjustments to win. During the game I took stats on the other team while one of the other coaches, Allan, kept stats on our team.

The Teams

Yarra was playing Southern Cross Cobras. The 2 teams had been the 2 strongest teams all season. Yarra had comprehensively beaten SSC in 3 straight sets in their semi final but SSC would not be so easy this time round. Both teams were coached by ex Olympic Middle Blockers: Yarra by the former Australian captain Luke Campbell and SCC by Ben Loft. Yarra had won last year’s premiership and despite losing 3 starters, still had the best all round player (Steve Wallace), middle blocker (Campbell) and scorer (Kiwi Ben O’Dea). SCC had the best libero (Cam Blewett) and two formidable passer hitters (Jason Hughes and Matt Richards).

The Game

Yarra won the first set narrowly 27-25. They had outscored SCC 18 kills to 11, but 14 unforced errors from spiking and serving had kept SCC in the game. SCC owned the next set winning 25-15 as Yarra struggled with consistency. Our best player Steve Wallace was struggling in attack scoring only 1 kill in each of the 2 sets. SCC’s best player was Matt Richards scoring 7 from 12 in the first 2 sets. Although he lead his team’s scoring, Richo’s numbers didn’t jump out at me, but did something to stir Bill’s gut feeling. Impressively while we were being thoroughly beaten in the 2nd set, Luke swapped his player’s hat for his coach’s hat and subbed himself off to talk tactics with Bill and figure out what to do.

Bill suggested a revised lineup for the third set. The two key moves were Steve (who had been playing as a receiving opposite-hitter) would be moved to passer-hitter next to the setter, and Ben O’Dea (who had been playing passer-hitter in front court, but hit right side in backcourt) would be moved to opposite to create a match up on Richo. Ben had lead our team in attacks up to that point getting set just under half of the balls hitting 16 from 28, and so there would be a risk making the move. The other consequence was it matched up the playing-coaches Luke Campbell on Ben Loft in the front court.

The moves worked. In the third set, SCC’s setter responded to the bigger block on Richo and set him less. He only scored 4 more kills in the next 2 sets. Steve got out of his funk and dominated scoring 8 kills in the next 2 sets. The move didn’t affect Ben O’Dea’s scoring effectiveness at all as he scored even more points in the 3rd and 4th sets than he had in the first 2. He would finish the game as our best player scoring 35 kills. Luke Campbell and Ben Loft’s duel was great to watch and Luke got the last word winning a huge joust on 17-9 in the 4th set. We won the 3rd set narrowly 28-26 (we dominated but made 12 unforced errors) and 25-11 in the 4th set (we made less errors, and SCC lost some steam)

* * *

The celebration afterwards was great. Two of the Yarra families owned vineyards and so there was plenty of great wine at an intimate party at a cellar door. They also inducted the first of their life members and the stories that flowed during the citations and mingling were great. There was plenty of celebrating with our young Div 2 men’s team also winning their premiership playoff. The good news also came that Ben O’Dea had won a contract to play professionally in 2nd Division in Germany and our setter, Linford had scored a contract in 1st Division in Holland. It was a pretty cool weekend!

(Videos edited using VBStatsHD)

I still don’t like screening

August 24, 2014

So screening on the serve is still against the rules. But referees are apparently not allowed to call it. This one team at Asian Junior Championships used it a lot. One referee called them on it and they stopped… but the referee got marked down in the assessment for calling it. Good on them I say. Volleyball is about reading, which you can’t do when people are blocking your view of the cues.

They played against Japan in the finals and got smashed. It’s good to see gimmicks like that not working on the best teams.

Asian Women’s (U19) Volleyball Championship – Part 3: Players < 175cm

August 14, 2014

Often in sport we talk about “growing the base of the pyramid”. More participation translates into a larger number of elite athletes at the pointy end (surely). However, a friend of mine who works as a High Performance Manager told me recently this is not a paradigm that will help Australia compete with larger countries. As such, sports such as volleyball in Australia focuses many of its development resources on (let’s be blunt) tall players. In countries where the pyramid paradigm works, “tall” players are still developed, but smaller skilled players can stay in the system for longer… This post is dedicated to those short players at the Asian Women’s U19 Volleyball Championships who I found impressive. I define short as 175 cm or below.

#1 Mizuki Yanagita (JPN)

  • Height: 168cm
  • Spike: 300cm
  • Block: 276cm

Japan’s inspirational captain. She was a great back row attacker and coolly stepped into the role of setter in the semi final after the starting setter went down in the 2nd set with an injury on set point 24-21. Unfazed, Yanagita setting won the set point and she led the team to win the 3rd set and match, as well as the first set in the Gold Medal game. Despite losing, Japan still outscored China in Attacks 50 kills to 43.

#13 Tseng Wan Ling (TPE)

  • Height: 175cm
  • Spike: 285cm
  • Block: 282cm

Tseng was exceptionally good at hitting a B-Ball. possibly the best in the tournament. As a middle attacker, she was the top scorer for Chinese Taipei in their win against Korea where she scored 10 points.

#7 Patcharaporn Sittisad (THA)

  • Height: 164cm
  • Spike: 278cm
  • Block: 263cm

Thailand’s captain Sittisad was not a starter but made an impact when she came on. She led her club team Bodindecha to beat Australia in the Bronze medal match of the Sealack tournament in April, scoring most of the points. She looked tiny with this worried look on her face but absolutely kicked us. It was good to see her play well when she was on at the Asian Junior Championships.

#7 Pham Thi Hue (VIE)

  • Height: 170cm
  • Spike Reach: 280cm
  • Block: 278cm

A starter for Vietnam playing passer-hitter next too the setter. Often hit a metre ball. Vietnam were a short team and also had a starting middle, opposite and setter all below 175cm.

#2 Emma Flynn (NZ)

  • Height: 169cm
  • Spike: 278cm
  • Block: 268cm

She killed us when we played them in the crossovers as the 2nd highest scorer on her team and getting 2 kill blocks. She played a lot bigger than her size often going for the line shot at the antenna.

Asian Women’s (U19) Volleyball Championship – Part 2: The big 5

August 13, 2014

Interestingly at this tournament, the only 2 teams where the players and staff have to pay to participate are Australia and New Zealand.  All the other teams had their costs covered by their federations or government funding. Some of the top players in the other teams had semi-professional players playing in the top domestic league competitions in their countries. A couple of the players were already playing in their senior national teams in World Grand Prix events.

So the top 5 countries at this event is usually (in no particular order) Japan, China, Korea, Thailand and Chinese Taipei (OK, that was a pretty specific order). There is a big gap between them and the rest, so everyone else is playing off for 6th. For Australia, this event is the most important indoor event at the end of a 4-year program. For countries like Japan and China, where their players are in high standard daily training and competition environments, this is the 2nd most important event in a 6-moth program (They’re really thinking about Junior World Championships).

So what do the top 5 teams look like?

Chinese Taipei. Smallest out of the 5 teams. Chinese Taipei uses the 1st and 2nd tempo attacks through the middle of the net more than any other team in the competition with great proficiency. During their quarter-final against Korea, their fast tempo attack was enough to win them a set from 21-14 down. They were also able to go out of their comfort zone and win some clutch high balls at the antenna, but were not quite consistent enough on reception to beat Korea.

Thailand. Possibly the team with the least resources in the big 5 but with the most interesting offence. Setter Tichaya Boonlert was the most able setter at the tournament at running 1st and 2nd tempo offence in the middle of the net, as we saw in Thailand in April when her club team won the Sealack tournament. She was also able to add a fast ball to the antenna in the repetoire. After reviewing the video I think she was the best setter in the tournament. No other team played faster and closer to the net. Thailands 2 outside hitters (Wipawee Srithong and Chutchuon Moksri) were born in 1999 and their opposite (Pimpicchaya Kokram) was born in 1998, making them a serious threat if all 3 compete at Asian Youth Championships in Thailand in October.

Korea. This was my favourite team to watch. They were led by identical twins Lee Dayeong (winner of best setter award) and Lee Jaeyeong (joint winner of best outside hitter award), who are both on the Korea’s World Grand Prix roster. While most other teams were either emotionally reserved or played with what seemed to be a “scripted enthusiasm”, Korea was the team that wore its heart on its sleeve. They seemed to be the team playing closest to their limits to achieve their results. Most of the attack went through Lee Jaeyeoung on the left side, although she could also get set a “short” outside set, or a metre ball from 2 or 4. They were not particularly strong with the middle attack, with Dayeong not getting a consistently timed set to her hitters.

The Awesome Twins: Setter Lee Dayeong (#4) and Captain/Passer Hitter Lee Jaeyeong (#12). Both won the award for best player in their positions.

The Awesome Twins: Setter Lee Dayeong (#4) and Captain/Passer Hitter Lee Jaeyeong (#12). Both won the award for best player in their positions.

Japan. Another fun team to watch. The team had arguably the best player in Sarina Koga. Playing with ultimate precision and control, the team possessed a number of players who could hit hard as well as the control balls into the gaps to create uncertainty in the defence. Also the strongest team in reception and defence. Japan had won this age group at Asian Youth Championships 2 years previously but had lost to China at World Youth Championships when Koga was called up to the national team. Japan’s promise in the media guide of “resolute and speedy combination volleyball, which is regarded as a tradition of Japanese” was severely put to the test when their starting setter was injured in the semi-final. Their inspirational captain (Yanagita) and libero (Koike) had the wildly entertaining warmup ritual of handstand walking from one sideline to the other.  The players were the most professional of any team. Nothing seemed to unsettle them – not even the injuries of their best player (Koga) and setter (Shirai) during the semifinals seemed to affect them as they crusised to win the game against Thailand.

China. They were just bigger. While the other teams had players who could spike reach at 2.90-3.00 and block reach between 2.80-2.90, China’s starting lineup could al spike reach at 3.10+ and block reach at 3.00+. While the other teams relied on speed, angles and skill, China could just hit over the top of the block – which they often did, hitting angles we teach players to avoid – and make it hard for the other teams to to score. China possessed a capable setter (Sun) and the 2 best middle attackers (Hu and Zhang). They had a lot of depth on the bench and didn’t show their true lineup until the finals.

The Semifinals. Both these matches were fantastic and full of drama. All 4 teams had been able to play varying lineups during the 2 weeks but played their best lineups with a gold medal game on the line. In the first game, Korea gave China a decent scare winning the first set and narrowly losing the 2nd set after leading for much of the time. Lee Jaeyeong was mercurial in leading in the attack in these 2 sets, but an injury to middle blocker Kang caused disruptd the momentum. The stadium was silent when Kang fell and screamed in agony. In the silence, an ultra-competitive  Hu yelled something to her teammates as Kang was being carried off which prompted an awkward murmered laugh from the crowd. One of the locals explained to me that she had yelled “Don’t worry about her. Just do your jobs!”. By the end of the 2nd set, Korea had played 100 rallies at their best level and ran out of steam. Korea were unlucky to not win. They scored 60 kills compared to China’s 48. They scored about the same amount of points off blocks and aces. They just made too many errors. China just prevailed with strength, size and consistency.

The 2nd semifinal between Japan and Thailand was not without injury. The crowd was shocked with disbelief when Japan’s Koga was carried off late in the 1st set after landing on the foot of the Thai opposite spiker going under the net. After the substitution, Thailand ran the same play again and the opposite spiker once again went under the net. You could see the Thai coach yelling about it afterwards. Late in the 2nd set Japan lost its setter landing on the spiker’s foot. Japan’s captain and other passer hitter, Yanagita took over setting duties and Japan cruised to an easy 3-0 win over Thailand. After both injuries Japan seemed to perform at the same level, siding out and straight away as if nothing had happened.

Bronze Medal Match – KOR v THA

This was a fantastic match going to 5 sets: Korea finding something in the tank after giving everything they had the night before against China in the semi; Thailand really putting Korea under pressure and finding  ways to score points through its young players out of system. By the time Thailand worked out they were good enough to win it was too late. While Lee Jaeyeong was a strong contributor to the win scoring 19 kills off 45 balls, she had a quiet 2nd and 3rd sets where she scored only 2 points. While she was struggling, her teammates Ha Hyejin (20 kills from 40 balls, including 8 kills from high balls), Jeong Yuli (11 kills from 28 balls) and Kang Sohwi (10 Kills from 16 balls) stepped up to keep Korea in the game.

Thailand relied largely on their 3 young players hitting 90% of the ball. To add variety these players attacked along the width of the net. Although preferring to use the 1st and 2nd tempo attack in the middle 6 metres of the net, Thailand also found ways to win when forced to play a high ball on the outside.

Gold Medal Match – CHI v JPN

Japan’s lineup adjustments due to injuries to their starting setter and best attacker changed their game significantly. Their other starting outside hitter Yanagita took on setter’s responsibilities and players Sakamoto and Nakamoto came off the bench to play the 2 passer hitter positions. The result of the lineup change was that Japan played a slower offensive game setting mainly to the 2 players coming off the bench (they got set 98 times). Mabashi, who eventually won the Best Opposite award only got set 16 times, and Yanagita struggled to set a 1st tempo ball in the middle, placing enormous pressure on the passer hitters. Japan was able to win the first set with some great attacking from the left side. The sets were higher and slower but China initially only put up a double block, allowing Sakamoto and Makamoto to hit line when china blocked cross and vice versa. It was fantastically executed. As the game progressed, China worked out the set was going to the left side and began using triple blocks. However they left the line allowing the Japan’s left side hitters to score there. Finally they set the triple block at the antenna and it was game over for Japan. Japan actually performed OK considering the 1 dimensional attack the implemented outscoring China in Attacks (50 to 41).

China on the other hand started off nervously losing the first set, but eventually were just too big. Their middles were set 32 times, with Hu scoring 11 times. This took the pressure off the outsides and opposite hitters, who were able to score anyway by hitting over the top of the block into position 6. Finally, stacking the block on Japan’s main attackers took away the Japan’s last chance to win (They scored 13 block points to Japan’s 4).

It was kind of a disappointing game: Japan played well below their best but better than China and still lost; Japan did everything right within their means to win but China still won (So yes, the team that scored less kills than their opponents in both the semi and gold medal game became the champions!).

Asian Women’s (U19) Volleyball Championship – Part 1

August 7, 2014

Last month, immediately after AJVC, I had the privilege of participating in the 17th Asian Women’s (U19) Volleyball Championships in Taiwan as part of the Australian team’s coaching staff.

I love volleyball events and it was like I had died and gone to heaven. I thought tournaments here were a lot of fun. But this is something else… Everything is done for you. The tournament organisers provide the accommodation, food and transport. You don’t have to bring a water bottle with your name on it to games – there’s bottled water in eskies; you don’t have to organise meals – just make sure your team turns up to the buffet when it’s open. There aren’t 8 games on the same court in one day. Only 4. etc etc.

My job on the coaching team was to be the performance analyst – stats and video info on our own team’s performance as well as scouting the opponent. You are allowed 3 coaches on the bench, so during games I would sit in the stand on a 2-way radio with one of the bench coaches to tell him what I saw our opponent doing. For the remainder of the time, I didn’t spend much time with the team as I was usually out scouting. Besides that there’s other responsibilities too. You need to have the video and statistics ready at least a day earlier so the coaches can study it – that means weeding out 4hrs of games into 10 minutes of video. After the game plan, there’s more editing to come up with about 2 minutes worth of footage to show the team at the meeting… You’re also expected to set up a projector and screen just about anywhere with a few seconds notice. There’s also all the stuff you need to put together on your own team’s performance. Luckily we had another coach on the staff that focused on that stuff.

Being good at coaching school/club/state teams doesn’t necessarily prepare you to be a good coach on these tours. On tour they need people who are good at specific skills – stats/video, physiotherapy, logistics etc – all things you don’t get the luxury of spending a lot of time on when you have to do a million other things as a school/club/state coach… Anyway, here are some interesting things I sam.

The stadiums you play in are just beautiful. No multiple courts in the same space and "other lines" on them

The stadiums you play in are just beautiful. No multiple courts in the same space and “other lines” on them

Everything has to be of a certain standard. The organisers have to provide transport and accommodation. Everyone stays at the same hotel, eats at the same buffet and there are a fleet of buses that take teams to the games. Here I'm hitching a ride with Japan. While our uniforms lacked a coherent colour scheme, Japan were decked to in their impressive black Mizuno gear.

Everything has to be of a certain standard. The organisers have to provide transport and accommodation. Everyone stays at the same hotel, eats at the same buffet and there are a fleet of buses that take teams to the games. Here I’m hitching a ride with Japan. While our uniforms lacked a coherent colour scheme, Japan were decked to in their impressive black Mizuno gear. We had 5 staff. They had 8, including a team doctor, 2 trainers and a scout. Their head coach was the assistant of the Women’s team that won the Bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics!

In Asia, sleeping in public in the middle of the day isn't a big deal.

In Asia, sleeping in public in the middle of the day isn’t a big deal.

The tournament also gives each team a Liaison - a local who helps you navigate around the city and is your point of contact with the tournament organisers... they organise the buses for you, tell you where you can shop and get your laundry done, serve as translators etc. Often these are students. We got 2 who spoke excellent English. It's a thankless job. Here IO am with our 2 excellent liaisons, Daisy and Johnny.

The tournament also gives each team a Liaison – a local who helps you navigate around the city and is your point of contact with the tournament organisers… they organise the buses for you, tell you where you can shop and get your laundry done, serve as translators etc. Often these are students. We got 2 who spoke excellent English. It’s a thankless job. Here IO am with our 2 excellent liaisons, Daisy and Johnny.

Evan and Annie - Kazakhstan's liaisons. They had one of the tougher jobs being given a team where most of the staff and players couldn't speak english... except Sabina.... as a scout getting to know the other teams liaisons is useful when you need a lift to the stadium to do some scouting and your own team is going to another venue.

Evan and Annie – Kazakhstan’s liaisons. They had one of the tougher jobs being given a team where most of the staff and players couldn’t speak english… except Sabina…. as a scout, getting to know the other teams liaisons is useful when you need a lift to the stadium to do some scouting and your own team is going to another venue.

So the stadiums are amazing, but for the most part empty. Coaching is a people oriented activity. Unless you're the scout. Then it's just you, a camera and laptop, and a bag of unhealthy snacks for the 7-11. I find nuts, dried fruit and biscuits to be the best. least mess. Crumbs are easy to get rid of but dripping liquids are not.

So the stadiums are amazing, but for the most part empty. Coaching is a people oriented activity. Unless you’re the scout. Then it’s just you, a camera and laptop, and a bag of unhealthy snacks for the 7-11. I find nuts, dried fruit, potato chips and biscuits to be the best. least mess. Crumbs are easy to get rid of but dripping liquids are not.

Me and the other scouts - from Iran, Korea and Japan. You spend a lot of time together watching games. You become friendly, swap food, share powerboards, exchange video when someone can't film a game or their camera screwed up. Not every team has scouts, and the quality of performance analysis varies from team to team. Japan had the best scout, who worked professionally for a J-League team. One team had a coach who turned up to games with just a rolled up tournament program.

Me and the other scouts – from Iran, Korea and Japan. You spend a lot of time together watching games. You become friendly, swap food, share powerboards, exchange video when someone can’t film a game or their camera screwed up. Not every team has scouts, and the quality of performance analysis varies from team to team. Japan had the best scout, who worked professionally for a J-League team. One team had a coach who turned up to games with just a rolled up tournament program.

Japan setting up the performance analysis equipment before the game. While my collection of broken cameras i bought off ebay and laptop with dents is carried around in a backpack I bought from Costco because our uniform supplier ran out of bags, Japan's gear comes out of a Mizuno trolley suitcase and includes 2 laptops (from the scout's club sponsor - Fujitsu), a wireless modem and a small laser printer.

Japan setting up the performance analysis equipment before the game. While my collection of broken cameras i bought off ebay and laptop with dents is carried around in a backpack I bought from Costco because our uniform supplier ran out of bags, Japan’s gear comes out of a Mizuno trolley suitcase and includes 2 laptops (from the scout’s club sponsor – Fujitsu), a wireless modem and a small laser printer.

We took this photo before protocol. During protocol, there's actually time allocated for the official team photo - but only those allowed on field of play can be in it. We have all the coaching staff and our liaisons in this one. We are wearing the Green uniforms. You allocate a numbered order for each of your playing strips and where them in that order. That way you have 2 days to wash each strip. always wondered how they did that.

We took this photo before protocol. During protocol, there’s actually time allocated for the official team photo – but only those allowed on field of play can be in it. We have all the coaching staff and our liaisons in this one. We are wearing the Green uniforms. You allocate a numbered order for each of your playing strips at the tech meeting and wear them in that order – except if there’s a colour clash with the other team. That way you have 2 days to wash each strip. I always wondered how they did that.

VIP area behind team benches

VIP area behind team benches

There's lots of volunteers. It's like World League. These are the statisticians. The game info they capture gets distributed in a daily bulletin.

There’s lots of volunteers. It’s like World League. These are the statisticians. The game info they capture gets distributed in a daily bulletin.

More volunteers – Field of play guys (Moppers, Ball-kids etc) having a pickup game before the teams come out of the dressing rooms.

I got to see Sri Lanka win a big game against Iran. This sealed them a quarter-final spot. I was the only spectator in that late game, that when i came down from the balcony to congratulate the coaches (and ask for a lift back to the hotel) they gave me a big hug… because there wasn’t anyone else around.

Besides Kazakhstan, I also hitched rides with Thailand, Iran, Japan and Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankans always sang songs on the bus – everyone together including coaches and players; Japan sat quietly in deep contemplation and focus; Thailand always felt like a party.

That’s it for Part 1… just what the atmosphere is like at one of these cool events. In Part 2 we’ll look at the best teams in the semi-finals and medal matches

Anatomy of a win

July 14, 2014

“I learned a lot from you this week. We worked really well together because you use statistics and I coach with my gut. I hope we can do this again some time.” – Michael Miller

Coaches and some of the team after the closing ceremony

Coaches and some of the team after the closing ceremony

This was some flattering words from my fellow Victorian U19 men’s team assistant coach as we said our goodbyes at the end of an emotional week at Australian Junior Volleyball Championships. We had both been called in to assist due to the original coaches being called up to coach the Australian Junior Women’s team at the Asian Junior Championships. I would be joining them later and was allowed to stay back till the end of AJVC.

Only a few hours before we had “technically” beaten QLD Maroon for the first time in the state careers of most of the players – a QLD team who had left some emotional scars 2 years ago in an ugly incident that was never truly resolved. The win earned us the Bronze medal. We had actually beaten them 2 days earlier, in 4 sets after siding out on 4 set points to win 28-26 in the last set. We had shaken hands and signed off the score sheet and thought we had conquered some old demons when the QLD coach protested. He had suspected they were out of rotation in the 4th set and had asked several times for the next server but was dismissed by the scorer’s desk.

Turned out the scorers had not entered in the rotation slip correctly. The referee delegate was called who upheld the request. It was determined that the 4th set and game was invalid and we had to replay the 4th set from 5-7. As the referee delegate had “upheld the protest” our head coach and head of delegation were not allowed to appeal. We lost the 4th and 5th sets and in doing so the game. To rub salt in the wound, our opposite hitter, Phil, who had lead our scoring with an average 20 kills a game had his left thumb dislocated blocking in the 4th set.

Our head of delegation appealed later that night and the referee delegate realised he got it wrong. The win was overruled the next day and we awarded the win 25-7 in the 4th set. QLD appealed against the decision and it was decided that the clause in the rules dictated that once a protest was “upheld” no appeal could be made. Everyone knew we had won the game but could not do anything about it. I have never been so disgusted with refereeing in my life.

So it turned out we had to play the same team again for the bronze medal and no one was feeling too good about it. We prepared for the game as clinically as we could by reviewing the statistics and video.

Our team was “small” but had a number of strong receivers (we had 3 Liberos in our roster of 10). QLD had exploited our weak blocking particularly over our short setter, Dan, and one of our outside hitters, Richo. This had been a persistent concern over the months of preparation. Reviewing the video and stats on vbstatshd it turned out that the setter had not been that poorly exploited in the front court as much as we thought. The handful of occasions were annoying but not great in number.

Our stronger blocking outside hitter and captain, Darcy usually started next to the setter and I suggested the radical idea of having him start next to the opposite, and Richo next to the setter. Although not a great blocker or receiver, Richo attacked the ball high and had possibly the fastest armswing in the competition. He had terrorised QLD in our last game hitting 7 kills from 9 attempts in the replayed sets. Andre, one of our spare hitters who had been doing a good job moonlighting as an outside hitter would sub on for Richo in the back court. Instead of spreading our strongest blockers around the rotation, they would all be next to each other and give us 2 formidable blocking rotation but expose us to 2 extremely vulnerable ones.

The risk of putting the 2 weaker blockers next to each other would be mitigated by starting them both in the backcourt to limit their time in the frontcourt and the fact we knew that we had strong side out percentages in those rotations, meaning we should break even in those rotations and pile on the points in the others.

The head coach, Linford also decided that in the frontcourt setter rotations, Dan would occasionally swap into the middle and have the middle blocker blocking outside.  This had worked in the previous match against QLD prompting them to change their offence and use the pipe over Dan in the middle. Our other assistant Michael had a good feel for when to do this and would be calling the plays. When blocking on the outside, Dan would block to the stick to remove the the blocker’s option of playing off the outside hand, and maybe bait the spiker into hitting the antenna. the position 6 defender would also swing to the line side behind the block.

We didn’t worry too much about creating blocking match-ups or particular serving targets. We were not a strong blocking team and needed our best blockers focused on scoring through attack and Linford found it worked better to let players take a bit of risk with the serve.

By morning of the match, Andre had a fever and could not play, Richo had a sore foot and Phil’s dislocated thumb was still hurting after being re-set. Harry, our 2nd backup libero would play the backcourt rotations for Richo instead of Andre. We let Phil make the call whether he would play with the proviso that if he did, he would be playing 100% and to expect 40+ sets.

The set started slowly with the team tentative. We would need a big game from our opposite Phil, but he had scored 2 from 10 sets with no errors, missing a lot of the pace that made him a problem for opponents. Darcy and Richo had embraced the occasion and were carrying the attack, scoring 9 from 18. Darcy’s job was made the more difficult as the serving target but he responded well passing 15 balls at 2.20. His strong reception and scoring definitely undermined our opponent’s confidence in their gameplan,

During the timeouts and breaks I constantly stressed to Phil and Richo to keep swinging, and that we would rather they got blocked 20 times than get dug 20 times. I instructed Dan to keep setting them with the ratios we had been working with throughout the tournament. By the 2nd set, Phil’s Nurofen had kicked in and Dan feeding him the ball had paid off. Phil would hit 19 kills off 35 sets with 6 errors over the next 3 sets. Dan’s distribution to Phil was equal in backcourt and frontcourt and Phil’s efficiency was consistent in frontcourt and backcourt.

Meanwhile Matt was doing a great job as Libero. He received 18 balls at 2.28 and got 17 digs. More importantly, he organised the receivers to pass at 2.09 in a 2-receiver system, which made it harder for QLD to server Darcy and allowed us to play Richo without exposing the risks to reception.

By the 3rd set I had noticed that QLD was hitting a lot of slower balls. If we could get them to pass at 2.0, we could generally make a dig. I stressed the team to go moderate risk on the serve but stay high risk on the attack.

In addition to calling the blocking plays, Michael was also calling the subs to find opportunities when someone could add value from the bench. We often argued over the subs, but his instinct often prevailed and we got great outcomes. Michael also identified the serving targets.

So did it work? Well, we did win the next 3 sets after dropping the first. Teams in the tournament needed to average hitting 14 kills to win a set and we had scored 18, 17 and 16 in those sets.

Watching the video, in the 4 rotations with the weaker blockers (setter in 1, 2, 3 and 4), QLD scored 17 kills by exploiting one of the blockers. But we managed to sideout 32 times (24 times on the first ball), so we didn’t stay there long and more or less broke even (55 points won, 53 points lost). In the strong blocking rotations (setter in 5 and 6), we did rack up the points (41 points won, 25 points lost).

Sideout Report: Team siding out 24 times in rotations with 1 or both weak blockers (Rotations 1, 4, 5 and 6, or Setter in 1, 4, 3 and 2)

Sideout Report: Team siding out 24 times in rotations with 1 or both weak blockers (Rotations 1, 4, 5 and 6, or Setter in 1, 4, 3 and 2)

Team breaking even in rotations 1, 4, 5 and 6 (Setter in 1, 4, 3 and 2), and winning more points in rotations 2 and 3 (Setter in 6 and 5)

Team breaking even in rotations 1, 4, 5 and 6 (Setter in 1, 4, 3 and 2), and winning more points in rotations 2 and 3 (Setter in 6 and 5)

This was only possible because of the contributions of our unique team: Matt able to run a 2-receiver system and take most of the court so we could put more attacking players on court; Our Middle Blocker Sam Nothnagel scoring 8 from 12 with 1 error – playing next to the setter, he allowed us to sideout in the frontcourt rotations, and being our best server on our team, he burned up most of QLD’s timeouts; Our outside hitters Darcy and Richo attacking out of their skins for a combined 28 kills from 49 balls; Our middle blockers James and Zach sharing the other slot to keep the blockers honest on block, score points and make blocks; Our opposite hitter Phil playing with a dislocated left thumb to kill 50% of the balls he got whether in frontcourt or backcourt at the same volume to win a deserving all-star selection; our backup liberos Harry and Andre playing utility roles as passer hitters with overqualified receiving abilities and a penchant to score points at the right time; and our setter Dan, who although having never played for the first team, more than any other setter I worked with was able to deliver the offensive concept planned in each game he played, and to set the right guy a well set ball when it mattered.

Had we won the first game against QLD we could have made the Gold medal match, although i’m skeptical SA would have dropped the game we needed them to against VIC white on the last day if they knew they weren’t a game clear. After winning the Bronze, the sting from the game earlier in the week had gone. It was a good way to finish the tournament!

** All statistics, videos and charts generated using VBstatsHD, an app that costs $30 on iTunes. 

 

Giving feedback on failure

June 24, 2014

Carol Dweck’s work is just amazing and I keep finding pearls of wisdom and stuff useful to coaching all the time.

In particular is a scenario presented in Mindset about “Elizabeth”, a child who competes in a gymnastics meet and is disappointed  to not win a single prize at the event. The scenario gives the reader 5 possible things Elizabeth’s father can say to Elizabeth and asks them which they would pick:

  • Tell Elizabeth you thought she was the best
  • Tell her she was robbed of a ribbon that was rightfully hers
  • Reassure her that gymnastics is not that important
  • Tell her that she has the ability and will surely win the next time
  • Tell her she didn’t deserve to win

Interestingly (and disturbingly), the options are all common things parents, peers, teammates and coaches say.

The best and worst responses aren’t immediately obvious:

  • Tell Elizabeth you thought she was the best – Insincere. She was not the best—you know it, and she does, too. This offers her no recipe for how to recover or improve
  • Tell her she was robbed of a ribbon that was rightfully hers – Places blame on others, when in fact the problem was mostly with her performance, not the judges. Do you want her to grow up blaming others for her deficiencies?
  • Reassure her that gymnastics is not that important – Teaches her to devalue something if she doesn’t do well in it right away.
  • Tell her that she has the ability and will surely win the next time – May be most dangerous message of all. Does ability automatically take you where you want to go? If Elizabeth didn’t win this meet, why should she win the next one?
  • Tell her she didn’t deserve to win – Sounds hardhearted but correct. This is what he actually said: “Elizabeth, I know how you feel. It’s so disappointing to have your hopes up and to perform your best but not to win. But you know, you haven’t really earned it yet. There were many girls there who’ve been in gymnastics longer than you and who’ve worked a lot harder than you. If this is something you really want, then it’s something you’ll really have to work for.” He Also let Elizabeth know that if she wanted to do gymnastics purely for fun, that was fine. But if she wanted to excel in the competitions, more was required.

So don’t tell a losing team that you thought they were the better team, don’t bitch about the referees, don’t tell them “it’s just a game”, or that “we’ll get the next one”. While these sentiments may not be entirely inaccurate, they do little to help the team succeed.

Speed and perfection is the enemy of difficult learning

June 23, 2014

…is a phrase that really stuck with me from Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset.

In it, she states that praising people (children in particular) on how effortlessly they accomplish easy tasks promotes the Fixed Mindset.

How does this relate to volleyball. Getting good at volleyball takes years of difficult learning in mastering “open” skills such as spiking, blocking and receiving serve. But in the beginning, winning requires being good at a relatively easy “closed” skill – serving.

We praise children for serving in, and/or scoring aces against low-skilled players on a low net. We celebrate how many points they win in a row, how quickly they won the set or how few errors they make. Sometimes I hear coaches excitedly telling me how their team went and hear things like “Jill served 13-in-a-row to close out the set and we won it in 15 minutes.” In essence praising them on speed and perfection. By doing this, we may be getting the “quick wins” we think we need to keep people engaged in the sport but risk creating the wrong expectations in players’ minds and the wrong mindset to succeed.  With the best intentions we are ruining our athletes. I was guilty of this for years.

To promote the Growth Mindset, Dweck suggests denying praise in these situations, and instead making the focus on harder challenges they could learn from.

With the last group of U15s I coached, I made very little emphasis on serving and winning lots of points on serving. Of course we won many of our points on serving but we never commented on it. We commented on how well they executed putting float on the ball and pushed them to jump serve. Instead all the praise went to the “difficult learning” skills – Receiving serve, lateral passing, spiking with a max jump and big swing.  In the end we made it to the gold medal match where we lost because of terrible serving to a team that served great. Losing a gold medal match sucks. But it definitely doesn’t feel as bad as knowing you have ruined a group of players.


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