My changing volleyball direction

October 14, 2016

I have written a lot less over the last 12 months. Previously I consistently posted once a month but my “volleyball patterns” have changed.

Increasingly in the last couple of years I have phased out of actual coaching and dedicate more of my time to analysis work. I toured with the 2015 women’s volleyroos as a scout and spent the following domestic season (October-February) working as a remote scout/analyst for Australian friends coaching in the Swiss and Danish leagues. After that I spent the months leading up to the Olympics coding and analysing about 50 beach matches for the coaches of Louise Bawden and Taliqua Clancy who finished 5th in Rio. Now I’m back helping my friends with their teams in Europe.

Essentially I download videos of matches off a server and code them, or produce reports from existing coded matches. It’s tedious work, and outside my fulltime job I consistently spend upwards of 20hrs a week doing analysis. I’m spending more time on volleyball stuff but it’s different from the long gours of coaching. I can start/finish a bit late/early so long as I meet the deadlines, which is different from having to be at a time and place that fits in with others. I get to relate to more analytical people – since they’re the ones that are interested to have this stuff. I avoid emotional and political stuff and just get to spend hours watching volleyball. it’s cool.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t leave much time to write. And when I get the time to write, there’s not a whole lot of my work I can share!

A change is  good as a holiday, and after 15 years of coaching teams, it’s been a welcome change. Will write more now.

Doug Beal’s Golden Rules of Modern Volleyball in 2001

September 17, 2016

Doug Beal with USA Men’s coach John Speraw at the 2016 Rio Olympics after USA’s quarter-final win against Poland.  

I haven’t written for a while but thought I’d share some notes I received from an old boss. The background: In the year following the 2000 Olympics, the Japan Volleyball Association organised a coaching conference which included Julio Velasco, Doug Beal and Joop Alberda. From Velasco’s opening remarks the conference seems to have been borne out of a need for Japanese men’s volleyball coaches to get some exposure to foreign innovative ideas from coaches with more recent success.

Rally point scoring, the service let rule and the libero rule had only been around  for 2 years and players/coaches/teams were still trying to work it out. Back then these were Doug Beal’s observations of the then-modern volleyball. How many of these rules still apply now?

The Golden rules of modern volleyball

When two teams (high level) of the same or similar standard play, some of the following “Golden Rules” will decide the outcome of the match

1. The rule of Libero + 1

The best teams have at least one of their outside hitters that is a very good passer. The player is on the court to pass first and must be able to pass at 65% perfect. The other skills are only a complement to his contribution as a passer. This rule assumes that the libero is a very good passer. This player generally receives serve along with the libero in a 2-man receive formation on non-jump serves.

2. The ability to sideout rule

The team that wins will side out more often on less-than-perfect passes. If one team cannot win “the perfect passing battle” by having at least a 10% higher perfect passing the ability to side out from non-perfect passes will often determine the result.

3. The rule of 1 to 3

The team than wins will have a service ace to error ratio of approximately 1 to 3. Very few teams lose as a result of service errors alone. Team rarely win if they have few service errors along with few aces. Aggressive serving combined with as acceptable error ratio is the best formula. It is not possible to underestimate the impact of serving on today’s game. This ratio can change dependent on the sideout percentage. The higher the sideout percentage the greater the increase in ace/error ratio.

4. The rule of errors

Opponent errors is highly correlated with winning. Opponent errors is defined as a total of:

  • Attack errors by the opponent
  • Service errors by the opponent
  • Ball handling errors by the opponent
  • Rules violations by the opponent

The team that wins will score more points from opponent errors than they give up

5. The ‘have 3 bombers’ rule

The team that wins will have a minimum of 3 servers that are legitimate point scoring threats

6. The ‘have 2 terminators’ rule

The team that wins have at least 2 attackers that can kill the ball from poor reception and counter attack situations. Most sets from poor reception and defence should go to these 2 hitters. Most often an outside and the opposite.

7. The ‘carpet sweeper’ rule

The team whose libero passes most balls will likely win. The best teams have liberos who pass 50% or more of all passes.

8. The ‘attack from the middle back’ rule

The best teams are able to sustain a constant threat from position 6. This threat is apparent in all 6 rotations whether serve receive or transition

9. The ‘long-D’ rule

The best teams can kill the ball when set to zone 1 from the left of centre and deeper than 3m line. You need the player to kill this ball (good opposite hitter)

10. The 3 rules defining setters

Setters will contribute to winning most in the 3 following ways

  1. Set very accurately, and quickly to the sidelines from perfect pass
  2. Set the quick from a wide range from less than perfect pass
  3. Contribution the setter makes to point scoring (serving, blocking and attacking)

11. The rule of kill percentage

A team kill percentage of 55% almost always wins. A low error percentage wins most sets.

12. The rule of patience

There are just as many lead changes in rally scoring as there was in old scoring based on the number of rotations played. The team that wins demonstrates patience regardless of the score.

13. The ‘in-a-row’ rule

A team’s ability to score consecutive sideouts and/or consecutive points is highly correlated with winning. If you give up 3 points in a row just once in a set you have reduced to 50% your chance to win that set.

Goal Line Nickel Package

October 5, 2015

You’re gonna win and lose games in practice. I mean there is no such thing as being a game day player – Ernie Adams (New England Patriots Director of Football Research)

I’m an unashamed fan of American Football and Bill Belichick. This year’s Superbowl finished spectacularly with Seattle 4 points behind and 1 yard from a touch down with 26 seconds to go. Seattle runs a pass play and the improbable happens when undrafted rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler intercepts the pass to win New England the game.

What is more surprising is that the play was far from a fluke and New England’s attention to detail in preparation saw them practice the situation several times in the week leading up to the game. Do Your Job, the documentary about the 2014 NFL season from the perspective of the New England coaches and executives documents the play and the preparation leading up to it. Watch from the 3:30 mark.

Some great quotes:

New England Patriots Linebackers Coach Patrick Graham

So much work went into that. I mean I Can’t tell you how many guys got that same route. (linebacker) Jamie (Collins) had it twice in practice. (safety Patrick) Chung had it about two times in practice. Malcolm (Butler) had it twice. We went through it with everybody

New England Patriots Director of Football Research:

I wish I could say that everything we did worked out as well as that. Obviously it doesn’t, but we do try to make sure we’re ready for anything that’s gonna come up on a Sunday.

That the team practiced an obscure situation at least 6 times in the week leading up to game speaks volumes about the depth of preparation.

Capital Volleyball League Finals

September 26, 2015

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. Been so busy since getting back from World Grand Prix.

A couple of weeks ago we wrapped up Capital Volleyball League. My team lost in 5 sets in the grand final. It was close, with each side scoring 48 kills and 10 aces. Was a good close game.

* * *

We had only beaten the opponent 3 times in the the last 13 encounters since I coached the team. We have historically lost the serving/receiving battle against them and were often aced off the court. They had the 3 best servers in the competition, and we didn’t have strong receivers.

Tired of getting aced, i decided in our previous match against them to use only 2 receivers for the whole game. I only had 2 players who could capably pass and betted that it could be better being very good receiving a small area than receiving a bigger area poorly. I was also sick of having my opposite receiving in the backcourt and having one less attacker – on an average pass it meant that without the opposite or middle we were down to 1 option. 2 receivers worked and we won that time.

* * *

Our strategy this time was the same. Using only 2 receivers would also let me play an attacker in a passer hitter position who was a weaker receiver. What I found interesting was that a tactic that we used to free up our opposite and play a strong attacker, had an unintended consequence on how the other team responded.

2 Receivers in women’s volleyball is unusual. Maybe it’s the low net, but it’s become conventional wisdom that you can’t receive with less than 3. The other team was rattled. Sometimes they’d try to serve the ball short into the gaps. It was often rushed – as if serving quickly would make it hard for us to get there. Sometimes they’d try to serve down the middle in the seam, which turned into either an easy pass or a ball that went flying out. Often it went straight to a player – in which case their confidence seemed to drop – being unable to ace less receivers gave the illusion they were playing worse and worse. Conversely, the confidence of our own team grew. As the game went on, reducing the number of servers from 3 to 2 became a potent mental weapon. It was like playing poker and raising the bets with an ordinary hand.

We didn’t win the game, but managed to even up the odds significantly. We finished the season in good spirits.


Photo after the game. It actually felt like we had won.

World Grand Prix

June 22, 2015

You can follow the Volleyroos Women on Facebook

I haven’t posted for a while. I’ve been fortunate to have been picked as the analyst for the Volleyroos women as the statistician/analyst. We are in Thailand for the pre-camp and spirits are high. Today we visited the Thai Sport Authority training centre where the Thai national team trains and played some practice games against their junior and senior teams. Was cool to meet some of the superstar players.

I was surprised that Coach Kiattipong’s Olympic champion wife Feng Kun and Wilavan both spoke pretty good English and were kind enough to ask us how long we were staying.

The FIVB development centre where we train.

The FIVB development centre where we train.

Coach Kittiapong's wife, Feng Kun - Gold Medallist, Best Setter and MVP at the 2004 Olympics

Coach Kittiapong’s wife, Feng Kun – Gold Medallist, Best Setter and MVP at the 2004 Olympics

Enormously popular Thai captain Wilavan Apinyapong

Enormously popular Thai captain Wilavan Apinyapong

Chutchuon and Pimpichaya - young players in the senior squad who dominated at AVC U19s and U17s last year. Playing against them for the 3rd time in as many age groups.

Chutchuon and Pimpichaya – young players in the senior squad who dominated at AVC U19s and U17s last year. Playing against them for the 3rd time in as many age groups.

Enormously popular middle blocker Pleumjit Thinkaow

Enormously popular middle blocker Pleumjit Thinkaow

Feng Kun in action in Athens 2004:

The Thai team walking in to warm up. Coach Kiattipong greets them at the door. In a bit of fun Wilavan sets Nootsara a “3” ball. Feng Kun is casually sitting in the right corner watching.

Conflict part II: Dutch Football

March 16, 2015

soccer-enemy1The excerpt below comes from British football journalist Simon Kuper’s “Soccer Against the Enemy,” in explaining the differences in culture between the British and Dutch with regards to how they treat conflict, and how it impacts the sporting football fortunes of the two nations. The references are dated and I think this was originally published in 1992.

 “We Dutchmen are pigheaded,” summed up Johann Cruyff, the greatest of them all (and the most pigheaded). “Even when we’re on the other side of the world, we’re always telling people how to do things. In that respect, we’re an unpleasant nation.”

Unpleasant perhaps, but successful. Dutch soccer works. It seems that if you let players think for themselves they win soccer matches. Over the last 20 years, no other small nation (and of the large nations, only Germany and Argentina) has won as much as Holland. No one else has played as gloriously. It is precisely because the Dutch talk so much that they can play the way they do. A player has to understand his role.

One Genoa manager tried to make his team play total soccer like Ajax, and failed.  (Player) Vant Schip commented: “To play the Ajax system you have to understand it, and especially talk about it a lot.”

The difference is down to Dutch working-class culture. The Dutch working classes value debate. They are Calvinists (Even Dutch Catholics have strong Calvinist traits) and Calvin told the faithful to ignore priests and to read the Bible themselves. The result is that a 20-year-old Dutch soccer player assumes that he is as likely to have the Truth as his manager.

When Conflict is good: The 5 dysfunctions of a team

March 15, 2015

FiveDysfunctionsWhen I visited the US a few years back, I was interested in Nicole Davis mentioning a number of books the USA Women’s program gave the players to read. They were:

Since these books and authors kept popping up in a lot of sports literature, I thought I’d read them They’re all worth reading). I’ve written about the first 3 books and finally got round to reading 5 Dysfunctions of a team.

Some interesting things about the book:

  • The assertion in the book is that conflict plays a crucial role in the health of a team. People need to have their opinions heard before they can buy in and commit to an idea they don’t necessarily agree with. And if people don’t buy in, then it’s a lot harder to hold them accountable to the goals of the team and the responsibilities they have been given.
  • For the right kind of conflict to occur, people need to have trust. The kind of trust that is needed is trust that their vulnerabilities will not be used against them when voicing an opinion or holding others accountable. A fear of appearing vulnerable is a big inhibitor to a healthy team
  • The book is written in the negative. It gets confusing in that it first presents these ideas in the negative before explaining how the concepts can be used in the positive.


Certainly it all makes sense, and since reading it, I have made an effort to get teams I am involved with to have more open discussion and let the whole group hear when someone disagrees with something. Before I tended to think of conflict as a bad thing and it was part of the coach’s job to make sure people always got along and diffuse arguments where possible. Now I think it’s about encouraging the right kind of arguments.

It’s the kind of conflict that Abraham Lincoln used in his Team of Rivals cabinet and the Dutch have been using to be a football powerhouse for decades.

Having an opinion, engaging is healthy debate and being open with conflict are all part of western liberal democratic thinking. I’m not sure it works so well in countries where the culture is hierarchical, to get along and not cause conflicts with your team and superiors. Are these cultures susceptible to groupthink and the lack of innovation, creativity and commitment that more conflict-comfortable enjoy? Or is there another way?

I remember a few years ago I joined a volleyball club in South Australia to learn how their men’s team had been consistently successful for so long with varying pools of talent. I expected to learn a system that could re-applied but was surprised to find there wasn’t a clear system they had used over the years. In fact the players and coaches argued over just about everything, but it was out of that conflict that created a culture with a high volleyball IQ and buy-in for whichever system they used at the time.

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.


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.


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.


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.