Archive for November, 2010

Animation & Volleyball

November 23, 2010

It’s rare I get to write about the two pre-occupations of my life in the same post, so i just couldn’t resist when i saw this on Volleywood. Mark has written about the “Talent Code” and the role of “ignition” that coaches play in getting young people into the sport. Another source of ignition that comes to mind  is the media that young minds are exposed to.

Back in the late 60s, there was a manga comic series about teenage girls playing volleyball called “Attack no. 1”. It was adapted into an anime series that was quite popular, that then “spun off” into another manga/anime series , “Attacker you”. “Attacker You” was sold to France and Italy where it reportedly inspired Francesca Piccinini to take up the sport.

The influence of a cartoon on the sporting choices of a generation may seem far fetched but this is not the only case. Manga/Anime series Captain Tsubasa reportedly inspired many japanese stars to take up Soccer as well as Alessandro Del Piero. According to John Kessell, one of the original Italian versions of mini-volleyball was heavily branded with the Disney characters Huey, Louie and Dewey (Donald Duck’s nephews. how they got this licensed is beyond me).

Of all the types of media, cartoons have always been among the most powerful means of influencing the youngest children. For a start, they’re usually among the first examples of the recorded moving image that children see. The first film my parents took me to see at the cinema was a re-issue of 101 Dalmations. For most in my generation, the first film they are likely to see is a Disney animated feature. For younger generations it’s probably a Pixar film. Young kids will respond to a Pixar film before they understand why they want to emulate David Beckham.

Why does this matter? Well, when I was researching screen cultures I found two very strange facts about Danish cinema: 1) In the last 10 years, Danish made films have taken an unusually high percentage of the Danish Box office – averaging at about 25% (Denmark outperforms Italy and Germany, which both have traditionally strong native film cultures. Australia averages at a pitiful 4%); 2) The Danish Film Institute, which funds Danish productions has funded an unusually high number (about 12) of animated features over the last 20 years.

I’m guessing that unlike children in anglophone countries whose first cinematic experience is a Disney movie, a Danish child’s first cinematic experience is a danish animated film. Does that influence their cinematic choices when they’re older? I hope so (it could just be that the Danish Film Institute’s commitment to making animated films is a reflection of the country’s overall commitment to a healthy screen culture from both producers and audiences).

Anyway, just enjoy the f!@#ing cartoon.

[The volleyball depicted in SPIKE TEAM is possibly the “least worst” screen depiction of volleyball I’ve seen. They have already done more for volleyball than Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, Ciara, Peter Horton and Magnum PI. A couple of weeks ago I bought the boxed set of the French dubbed version of Attacker You! off eBay. I hope I won’t be disappointed]

My second rule of coaching

November 10, 2010

I have three rules of coaching (as well as in business and in life) and I’ve written a bit about the first:

“People don’t remember what you did for them, they remember how you made them feel.”

I have never liked this in principle, but it’s something i have learned to accept on face value.

How you can influence the way people “feel” brings me to my second rule:

“You can’t control anything (or anyone) but yourself. But by controlling yourself, you can influence others”

That is, in order to be effective in delivering a message you have to be able to control your own behaviour. I’m sure all five people everyone reading this is saying “duh”, but if it was so obvious why aren’t more people willing or able to do this?

The idiots guide to dealing with, and preventing bad behaviour by controlling your own behaviour, would have to be Dealing With People You Can’t Stand by Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner. If you can’t be bothered reading the whole book, you can get an incredibly practical abridged handbook that is so brief that it is bound together by staples. if you are getting the impression these guys have a John-Gray-like range of single focus self-help products, then you wouldn’t be incorrect. Although their ides aren;t unique and there’s plenty of literature on this perspective of interpersonal relationships in working contexts.

In a nutshell, Brinkman and Kirschner describe 10 or so undesirable behaviours that manifest from 4 different needs – control, attention, perfection and approval. As a task oriented person, my undesirable behaviours fall into the “control” and “perfection” categories. At our best we sit in the middle of all these behaviours, but when we move to the extremes, we influence those around us to bring out their undesirable behaviours. It comes natural for us to start behaving badly when people around do, but if we can control ourselves to stay centred, we can bring them back to being reasonable.

I have no control over anything but myself. But if I have a problem with a player, everything seems to sort itself out if I control my own behaviour instead of waiting for them to be better behaved. It worked with artists and filmmakers so I decided to apply it to volleyball players.

It’s quite liberating when you accept the fact you have absolutely no control over anything external: how your players behave; how good/bad the other team decides to play; how competent the officials are; how dysfunctional the organisation your work for is etc etc. Most importanty, you can’t control the outcome of what you do. But you can sure as hell influence all these things when you choose to control the only thing you can control.

I got an interesting insight into this stuff from my mother who is a practicing  psychologist. Controlling yourself requires the ability to “diffuse”. That is, the ability to separate a “real” event that actually happens from what is a narrative you create in your head that hooks you to a set of behaviours. Shanking a pass is real and in that moment disappointing. Sulking about your inability to pass for the rest of the set is a narrative you create yourself in your head. Once you can diffuse, “mindfulness” is the ability to make the best decision in that moment based on your values and without unnecessary baggage – ie the moment you choose to control what you can and make the best decision in the moment.

One thing I insist on all my players and teams that they never speak to a referee unless personally summoned. For a number of reasons: I’m sure if I took stats on it the success of getting a bad call overturned is very low; you can win more rallies in the time that you argue; and it doesn’t make them officiate any better. But most importantly, it’s a commitment to following the principles that success will come from controlling the things we can. The brief moments between rallies should me spent reinforcing this between the team by staying “on message” rather than getting distracted by things that you can’t control.  Neil Craig said it best when reporters tried to bait him into criticising the umpiring at a post-game press conference “if we do everything right and the umpires take the game away from us, then i’ll complain”.

During the Level II course I attended, we were fortunate to have Steve Tutton drop by and he talked about success over winning. That is, success comes from committing to the team philosophy regardless of the outcome. It’s the same as focusing on performance rather than results. It’s the same as focusing on being deserving of winning rather than winning. We can’t control whether we win, get an outcome or get a result. But we can definitely control our performance, our success and our worthiness.

Level II course

November 9, 2010

I had the pleasure of doing the Level II coaching course over the weekend. Although I’m not likely to get into coaching at a particularly high level, it was a good experience and the opportunity to do the course doesn’t come up as often as it would be ideal. The last time it was held in SA was 2005. We had 2 participants from WA – apparently the last time they ran theirs was even longer!

The presenters we had were fantastic: Steve Benson, Mick Nelson, Alexis Lebedew and Simon Phillips. It may have been a bit luck that all these guys now live here. During a session on serving at the AIS/SASI beach courts, Steve Tutton and Craig “Frog” Marshall came down to say g’day and offer some words of wisdom.

I particularly enjoyed listening to Mick’s experience as an assistant coach in the AIS beach programme. Mick and I played in the U21 state team years ago, but I didn’t know much about what he had gotten up to in the last few years as a coach. He’s talented and has worked hard and now has an incredibly challenging but rewarding job. I truly underestimated the amount and complexity of work they deal with at the AIS in preparing athletes on and off the court. I wonder if any of the top beach teams in the world are able to stay competitive without the support resources our athletes have (coaches, physiologists, facilities, living allowances etc etc).

Coaching at a professional level is demanding and a bit frightening on a number of levels. Not sure I would ever want to do it. But what i can do well is create an environment that attracts kids to playing the sport and doing just enough so they don’t have injuries or bad habits, and can move on to a higher level. Not a bad gig really.