Asian Girls (U17) Volleyball Championships – part 3: Australia

January 5, 2015

So now that I’ve written about what we did before the tournament, and how other teams went, how did our team (Australia) finish?

We came last. We lost 2 games in pool play to the Philippines and India. Both were winnable and we were 2-1 sets up in each game but managed to lose in 5 sets. The wins would have put us into the top 8. To add salt into the wound we finished last behind a team that was disqualified for playing 3 players who had previously competed at an AVC Youth event.

It was disappointing but we made good progress in reinventing the way we play – Being able to receive serve closer to the net; being able to better defend attacks that are not hard driven; playing a faster offense. As I like to say to our head coach this is more than just a team or squad but a modernisation project.

Some highlights were when we played well and could go toe-to-toe with our opponents. Executing a game plan well and rattling China enought to call a timeout against us was great too. Sadly I feel that given our result the way we think the game should be moving in Australia won’t be picked up.

What I got out of this is how much better at competing players from other countries were. I have some thoughts on this:

  • A significant number of our players didn’t play much indoor competition this year. In fact for some of them, all the indoor games they played had been on tour with our program. They trained at a high level but didn’t play many games. The rest of our players played in fairly low level competition. Only three players in our squad signed up for Australian Volleyball League. In contrast our opponents were exposed to high level competition. Thailand’s Pimpichaya Kokram played in the Thai national league alongside and against members of the senior women’s national team who finished 4th in WGP last year!
  • School volleyball is a big part of volleyball in Australia. State volleyball (AJVC) feels like a step up and is also a big part of volleyball in Australia. But it wasn’t until I was exposed to international competition that I could appreciate the massive gap there was between our domestic junior competitions and international competitions. And having low nets and 12 sub rule makes it harder to adjust. From watching Thai school teams with 13-14 year olds train and play against us: they always used 3 receivers forcing kids to pass large areas of the court; they learned how to play fast tempo early; played 6 sub rule and had to find solutions when the setter was front court; and most importantly the net was always full height. In short, their “school volleyball” translated better to their higher level volleyball than ours did. On our second-to-last day we played a game against Sura Nari’s junior team (13-14 year olds) I was refereeing and took a photo of their players and ours at the net to highlight the height difference. While we as Australians argue about whether having the net at full height for 15-year-olds would turn them off from the game, Thai people have no issue getting much smaller 13 and 14 year olds to play on a full height net. Perhaps they see adversity as an opportunity to grow and learn instead of a bar that needs to be lowered. Or maybe they’re just too lazy to change the height of the net.
I'm embarrassed to say that as Australians we're more worried about whether our taller 15-yar-old girls will enjoy volleyball on a full height net that Thai people are about their much smaller 13 year olds playing on a full height net.

I’m embarrassed to say that as Australians we’re more worried about whether our taller 15-year-old players will enjoy volleyball on a full height net that Than people are about their much smaller 13 year olds playing on a full height net.

Australian coach Huy Nguyen meets Vietnamese referee Huy Nguyen.... no one seemed more amused by this than me...

Australian coach Huy Nguyen meets Vietnamese referee Huy Nguyen…. no one seemed more amused by this than me…

Asian Girls (U17) Volleyball Championships – part 2: The Big 4

January 4, 2015

I previously wrote about China, Japan, Korea, Chinese Taipei and Thailand at the AVC U19 championships. This time, in my follow up to my post about the AVC U17 championships, I will focus on China, Japan, Korea and Thailand. Taipei regularly makes the top 5 with the rest, but I didn’t get much of a chance to watch them play at U17s. Just like at U19s, China, Korea, Japan and Thailand played off for the medals. For ease, I have placed the teams referred to on the close side of the net.

General impressions

  • The teams float serve hard, with many players able to put a floating ball to consistently land in the back metre of the court just clearing the net by centimetres. It was common to see teams receive below 50% positive
  • The offence is not always wide. It was common to see fast outside balls set to 30cm to a metre inside the antenna. The good spikers were drilled to make adjustments and play good angles to make use of a hittable ball that stayed in tempo.
  • Combinations using an outside hitter or opposite to attack in the middle zone were common. A simple solution for the fact many teams didn’t have hitters who could kill the ball consistently in all 5 zones.
  • All star awards were just weird with the winners of the best and 2nd best middle blocker awards both being players who played as passer-hitters. Seriously, compare the awards published with the videos below!

Korea (4th)

The smallest of the 4 semi-finalists, Korea relied on it’s Middle attackers #3 An, #4 Kim and #9 Jeong, where the mis-match at the net was minimalised. Out of system, the team relied on diminutive outside hitters #10 Ko Minji (who won the Best Outside Hitter award), and #18 Yoo. Korea was also one of 2 teams with a dedicated scout (the same scout Korea had at U19s), and implemented a great plan against Thailand to take a much stronger team to five sets. Unfortunately they fell ever so close and couldn’t back it up against China the next day losing the Bronze medal.

China (3rd)

The tallest of the 4 semifinallists. The standout on the team was 14-year-old #1 Li Ying Ying – A left handed outside hitter who led the scoring in just about every game she played, she probably deserved the best outside spiker award, but somehow managed to win best Middle Blocker (Perhaps a nod to the time Russian setting great Vyacheslav Zaitsev won the Best Receiver in the 1977 World Cup).

Towering Chinese outside hitters #3 Han Wenya (left) and #1 Li Ying Ying (right)

Towering Chinese outside hitters #3 Han Wenya (left) and #1 Li Ying Ying (right)

China was big but seemed less advanced than the other 3 teams. They were slower and played the simpler system with less variation. Their attack tendencies were more predictable and their attackers had a limited (but still formidable) range of shots. While the team that played ay U19s was serious and all business, this team seemed a lot more playful and friendlier – they would talk to the other teams, take photos with them and even swap uniforms on the last night.

* * *

One of the odd quirks at AVC tournaments is the occasional requirement for each team to perform a musical number on stage at the opening ceremony. I think it’s a weird Asian thing and happens at all sorts of other events. While this used to happen more frequently, it’s becoming less common and we weren’t required to perform this time.  This didn’t stop China from volunteering (yes folks, this actually happened). And for the life of me I have no idea why our team volunteered after with a bizarre rendition of “Land Downunder”. Anyhow, i digress.

* * *

Out of a combination of pride and youthful confidence, China managed to take a much stronger Thailand to 5 sets  in the crossover round, before being methodically dismantled by Japan in the semi finals. They were able to finish strong with a win over Korea for the Bronze medal.

Thailand

What can I say? They were awesome to watch and on paper possibly the best team with an unstoppable offence when they got going. No other team created as much time pressure on their opponents as Thailand. The reception or dig was usually low and tight to the net, and the ball came out fast to the outside or middle. They had 3 players who were starters  in the U19 team that lost the Bronze medal at AVC in July in 5 sets – #1 Anisa (Libero), #9 Chutchuon Moksri and #12 Pimpichaya Kokram. Chutchuon had been in the Thai World Champs team that competed in Italy earlier in the month! Pimpichaya won best opposite attacker (deservingly, scoring 20 kills in the semi-final and 15 kills in the  gold medal match), while Chutchuon won 2nd best outside hitter and setter #13 Natthanicha Chaisan won best setter.

They played in the rotation with the middle following the setter. They were simply fun to watch because of their dynamic game and the large crowds they drew due to the popularity of the sport (you’ll notice the attendances are much better in the Thai scouting video). Both Korea and Japan, with scouting were able to exploit weak rotations, and put them under enough pressure to make them predictable enough to beat or get very close.

Japan

Once again Japan turned up as the most professional outfit, with the best uniforms and the best equipment, and the best scout. They didn’t seem to have anyone who was the best at anything but had the uncanny ability to collectively make the best on-court decisions time and again. Captain and opposite #5 Airi Miyabe won MVP and was simply clutch in the Gold medal match scoring off a lot of high balls. Her teammates #9 Kanoha Kagamihara won best Libero and #12 Miyu Nakagawa won 2nd best middle blocker (like China’s Li Ying Ying who won best middle blocker, Nakagawa was also an outside hitter).

Japan didn’t drop a set until the Gold Medal match, and facing an intimidating Thai offence with the competition’s 2 best spikers, came up with a game plan that did enough to help them win narrowly. Japan had the 2 best “actual” middle blockers in #4 Shiori Aratani, who received serve in EVERY rotation and #12 Haruka Sekiyama. What impressed me most about Japan is they had the deepest understanding of the game to get the best out of themselves. Where China and Thailand became one-dimensional under pressure, Japan could improvise and find a way to keep their weapons in the game.  They played a system where the middle blocker and receiver next to the opposite went off for the libero, and were somehow less confused than the other teams that played a simpler system. They also had wonderful role players, from #14 Miku Shimada who as a serving sub scored aces, and backup setter #8 Manami Mandai who closed a 6 point deficit in the semi final match to get them to 21-21 during a double sub stint.

Semi Final 1: Japan v China (Statistics)

Not much to say. The scores flatter China but they were never in it. Japan didn’t play at 100%. China looked confused out-of system, whereas Japan seemed comfortable. China (receiving at 48% positive and 36% perfect) received better than Japan (21% positive and 10% perfect), but scored much less in the middle – China’s middle blockers scored a combined 6 kils from 19 attempts while Japan’s middle blockers scored 12 from 21 attempts. Japan were just much better at scoring off reception and in transition, in fast tempo offence and in high ball situations.

Semi Final 2: Thailand v Korea (Statistics)

This was definitely the best game to watch. Korea threw everything they had at Thailand with some small unathletic looking players doing extraordinary things. Korea fell 16-14 at the very end, with both teams scoring 112 points. Korea played slightly better in attack and reception but it wasn’t enough. Korea’s effort in its combination of scouting, execution, team play and guts was just impressive, but alas, not enough. The stronger team playing below its best went through.

Bronze Medal Match: China v Korea (Statistics)

I didn’t actually see this match live as we were doing 1-on-1 meetings with the players. I watched and coded it after. Disappointingly, Korea didn’t back up their performance the night before and a proud China were determined to finish on a high.

Gold Medal Match: Japan v Thailand (Statistics)

This was a great game. We had played Thailand in a practice game and they seemed invincible. They had the two best spikers and aggressive serving to force teams to play slow. The question was could Thailand put Japan under enough pressure to prevent Japan from playing it’s game? Thailand attacked better on reception, but Japan was able to create enough transition points to stay level and win. Both teams received as well (or poorly), but Japan managed to attack more with its middles – 17 kills from 32 attacks compared with Thailand’s 4 kills from 11 attacks.

Japan had clearly prepared well. You could see their leftist blocker holding on the B-Ball not concerned about the backcourt attack. Japan didn’t neutralise Thailand’s two biggest weapons Cutchuon who scored 17 kills or Pimpichaya who scored 15 kills. Thailand really could have won. They were leading 23-22 in both the 2nd and 4th sets. Japan was just slightly better. Miyabe and Nakagawa were Japan’s best performers on 16 kills each, many off high-balls from poor reception and good defensive plays. As a sign of their flexibility, Japan moved Miyabe to Outside hitter so they could start their second opposite and reverse the 3rd set 18-25 loss to win the 4th set 26-24. The change in lineup wasn’t a big deal for them. The reception lineups changing and the libero changing for different players wasn’t a big deal. Japan’s maturity, adaptability and understanding of the game were just phenomenal.

Extrinsic Motivation Part III: Sugar factories and braces

November 28, 2014

When she was a child, she dreamt of graduating from a Bangkok university but realised that the family’s modest income, with father working at a sugar factory in Ratchaburi, wasn’t going to fully cover her study costs. To accomplish her goal, she needed to get a scholarship. With her brother emerging as a keen footballer and her elder sister in the school volleyball team, she decided to focus on sports.

I’ve previously written about extrinsic motivation here and here, and how in contemporary western culture, we underestimate its value in preference to encouraging in children a sense of intrinsic motivation towards what they choose to do.

The above is an extract from a Volleywood article about Thai setter Nootsara, who is part of the enormously popular Thai Women’s national team. It’s a great example of the power of extrinsic motivation.

I’m not sure how much it costs to send someone to a Bangkok university, but for less than A$1000 a year, you could pay for a year’s tuition and boarding expenses at the university where our liaisons for AVC U17s studied. It’s not that much money, but for Nootsara being very good at volleyball was the difference between getting a university education or not.

While many of the young players I work with have aspirations to get a playing scholarship in the US or Canada, it’s not quite the same motivation. They can still settle for a decent education in Australia if they don’t get there.

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High profile players with braces: #10 WIlavan, #6 Onuma, #5 Pleumjit and #13 Nootsara.

The image above comes from a promotional newspaper sized handout about the Thai women’s national team and their apparel sponsor, Grand Sport. Interestingly in the photo 3 of the 4 higher profile players WIlavan, Pleumjit and Ouma all have braces on their teeth (the 4th player, #13 Nootsara actually has them too). They make no attempt to conceal it. Included in the handout is an A2 sized poster of the 14 players squad, and you can see 11 players smiling with braces. These players are in their mid 20s or older.

While having braces is an awful, awkward rite of passage or most Australians, the privilege of straight teeth is not something to be taken for granted in Thailand.

* * *

3 days before the U17G Asian Volleyball Championships started, we got to play the Thai U17G team. They were significantly stronger and probably got no value out of the exercise. They probably agreed to play us out of courtesy from the good relationship our federations have with each other. Certainly China, Japan, Korea and Taipei would have said no. And of course we were soundly beaten. Beaten by players for whom volleyball can make the difference between getting a university education or not; the difference between getting straight teeth or not; and the chance to be part of the most popular sports team in the country. They were armed with far superior skill – the kind of skill forged from thousands of hours of highly motivated practice from people who were simply hungrier. We didn’t stand a chance.

These are sobering thoughts as I come back home to my job which currently involves replacing 133 of my public servant colleagues with a foreign multinational corporation. As the economic borders around us break down, more and more average Australians will have to compete like my volleyball team for a livelihood – against people simply hungrier than them.

Maybe that’s why I’m so passionate about working in our national programs. Because it’s a chance to expose people to a real level of competition that isn’t the false economy we have been used to for years. We are so used to seeing what it means to be the best country at AFL Football, Netball and Rugby League that it’s refreshing to see what it’s like to compete in a sport that a significant number of other countries actually give a shit about.

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


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