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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 willed 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.

No way out

March 29, 2014

 

image found via google on tmmorris1.blogspot.com

Admittedly, Cortes’s conquest is a cringeworthy moment in human history. It does however, illustrate how having “no way out” can motivate people to be truly committed.

Late last year at the Australian Junior Women Development Camp, we were fortunate to be visited by Australian beach Volleyball team coach Mick Nelson and player Louise Bawden, who spent 3 days helping us with the beach component of the camp. Mick spent a lot of time talking to the coaches, and the one thing I took away was what he said about creating situations for athletes where there is no way out.

Enjoying a high standard of living, Australians are not as often exposed to the same “no way out” situations as some of their competitors overseas. Nevertheless, Mick described ways that he could create “no way out” situations that motivated them to find solutions and accomplish more than they would have thought possible. This could be as simple as not letting up on players when they are struggling to finish a drill.

As a coach that wants to address a list of stuff in a given training, I’m in the bad habit of moving on when things don’t go well to get to the next thing. Recently, I tried the “no way out” approach with a serving drill for beginners and while we didn’t spend too much longer on the drill, the players did improve a lot more than they would have originally thought themselves capable of doing.

The Most Important Coaching Research Ever II

February 24, 2014

The title for this post comes from a post Mark Lebedew wrote a few years ago about the Hawthorne Effect. Indeed, the studies of Elton Mayo & Co formed the cornerstone of modern motivation theory in the workplace replacing the medieval notions of financial reward and punishment. However, I recently read a book which would have to be up there in significance. I would go as far as to say if you only read one book about coaching, it should be Mindset by Carol Dweck.

For the last 30 odd years psychologist Dweck has dedicated her life researching how a simple idea in our minds can profoundly influence the way we approach challenges and adversity that appear along the road to success. In short, Dweck describes two types of mindsets: The “Fixed Mindset” where a person believes their talent, intelligence and character are innate and unchangeable; and the “Growth Mindset” where a person believes their talent, intelligence and character can be cultivated through effort.

For fixed mindset people there is an urgency to prove and validate themselves over and over again (and avoid situations that might disprove their talent or intelligence); for growth mindset people, there is a need to continue improving and getting better at things.

In one famous test (see video above), a group of children are given a math puzzle to solve. Afterwards, half are praised on their intelligence (promoting a fixed mindset) and half are paused on their effort (promoting a fixed mindset). The kids are then given a harder puzzle – the kids praised on their intelligence give up earlier, want to go back to the easier puzzles or lose interest completely; the kids praised on their effort try for longer and are keen for harder challenges. Afterwards the kids are asked to write about their experiences to students at the next school and give their results. The kids praised on their intelligence lie about their results and always in the same direction (upwards). Just by giving a kind of feedback was enough to change a group of students into liars.

Mindset gives plenty of insights and advice into how to promote the growth mindset in educational, parenting, sports and professional contexts. Some stuff I thought was useful:

Fixed Mindset Growth Mindset
In one world—the world of fixed traits—success is about proving you’re smart or talented. Validating yourself. In the other—the world of changing qualities—it’s about stretching yourself to learn something new. Developing yourself
Failure is about having a setback. Getting a bad grade. Losing a tournament. Getting fired. Getting rejected. It means you’re not smart or talented. Failure is about not growing. Not reaching for the things you value. It means you’re not fulfilling your potential.
Effort is a bad thing. Like failure, it means you’re not smart or talented. If you were, you wouldn’t need effort. Effort is what makes you smart or talented

On stories like “The hare and the Tortoise” and “The Little Engine that Could”

The problem was that these stories (The Hare and the Tortoise) made it into an either—or. Either you have ability or you expend effort. And this is part of the fixed mindset. Effort is for those who don’t have the ability. People with the fixed mindset tell us, ‘If you have to work at something, you must not be good at it.’ They add, ‘Things come easily to people who are true geniuses.’

Dweck suggests praising people on successfully completing things quickly and without error is a bad idea:

Speed and perfection are the enemy of difficult learning: “If you think I’m smart when I’m fast and perfect, I’d better not take on anything challenging”

Instead it is better to deny praise and apologise for wasting their time on something too easy.

Dweck’s research is important in that everything seems to point to it. It’s cited in “The Talent Code”, “The Goldmine Effect” and works by Gladwell (she’s just the kind of character who’s spent her life  researching a counter-intuitive niche concept that always pops up in his writing). After years of academic research, Mindset was written as the kind of New York Times bestseller list book that could be accessible to a broad base of readers. The book was on the required reading list for the USA women’s team under Hugh McCutcheon and the Arizona State University Sun Devils volleyball team.

Read it. You won’t regret it

 

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Running DataVolley on an Apple

February 23, 2014

I’m a big fan of DataVolley/DataVideo, but one of the things that sucks about it is there’s no OSX version. I’m partial to my Apple MacBook and take it wherever I go. Which means I’ve had to take both my MacBook and Windows laptop the last few times I’ve travelled (one of my “first-world problems” is having to take out my laptop at the security queue of the airport, so 2 laptops sucks).

The IT organisation I work for focuses on consolidating our IT infrastructure from 240 server rooms with a lot of hardware to cloud-based shared services  on virtualised services. So with that I tried installing DataVolley and DataProject on a virtual machine on my MacBook. With a bit of fiddling, I got it to work. A friend laughed that it wasn’t anything new and plenty of people have been doing it for years. Since I couldn’t find any articles about it online, I thought I’d post my solution on this blog.

  • Virtual Machine software: Oracle VirtualBox (the good thing about VirtualBox is you can set a size limit of the VM, but the space is allocated. So what hard drive space you don’t use stays on OSX)
  • OS: Windows 7
  • Also need to add the dongle as a USB device in the settings.
  • After that, I still had issues getting the VM to recognise the dongle, so tried running VBoxWindowsAdditions, and installed  Eutron InfoSecurity SmartKey update. I’m not sure why it worked but it did.
  • It’s also worth changing the keyboard preferences to set all the F1, F2…F12 keys as standard function keys without having to press the Fn key in tandem, and giving the trackpad a “right click” function. there’s no “Page down” or “Page up” key so you have to use Fn + cursor to navigate down the codes.

Looking forward to carry one less laptop in my bag when I travel next!

Screen Shot 2014-02-18 at 10.14.58 pm

Setter Following the Receiver

February 23, 2014

Commonly, most teams play now with the setter following the middle blocker in the rotation (the middle is clockwise to the setter). It’s considered common wisdom this is the way to play that we assumed everyone always played this way. Having the setter following the receiver is often considered a bad idea – the setter has to run a long distance on reception when in 5 behind a receiver; it’s hard for the middle to run an attack on reception when the setter is in 1; you need a receiver who can hit from the right side.

Curiously, watching the USA Men’s team play in the Olympics in ’84, ’88 and ’92 on youtube, the team always played with the setter following the receiver. The obvious benefit being that in their 2 receiver system, 5 out of 6 rotations, the receivers passed on the same sides (a left side receiver and a right side receiver).

I spent quite some time in the AVL season last year scouting a team that ran this lineup. One thing I noticed is they scored a lot of middle attacks. The obvious reason was two of their strongest attackers were the middles. Looking at it more closely, in most of the rotations it’s a lot easier for the middles to run an attack on reception (not much lateral movement manoeuvring around other players) – and in more rotations, the setter can see the middle in front of them before setting. Maybe sometimes it’s not such a bad idea.


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