Archive for November, 2011

More Tom Landry

November 27, 2011

Some quotes attributed to Tom Landry:

“When you want to win a game, you have to teach. When you lose a game, you have to learn.”

“Leadership is a matter of having people look at you and gain confidence, seeing how you react. If you’re in control, they’re in control.”

“Leadership is the ability to get a person to do what he doesn’t want to do in order to achieve what he wants to achieve…it’s getting the best out of people.”



November 26, 2011

I got sent this video some time ago. When i saw it, it reminded me of the feeling I get when I see 3 undersized junior players with no conditioning trying to receive a whole court in a 5-1 system. 

My boss at my new job paraphrases this Henry Adams quote whenever things don’t go to plan:

“Chaos in the law of nature; Order is the dream of man.”

What dawns on me is that as volleyball coaches, we’re essentially dreamers on any given day – trying to impose a system on randomness and complexity.

Players and teams are never too young to learn a system. To build a system is to build desired behaviours. To build desired behaviours is to build a desired culture. And that’s worth doing at any age or stage of development.

All the teams I have coached that enjoyed success have had good systems. Good in the sense that I stole them from coaches who had proven them to work. A coach’s system is a form of their creative expression, and trying out different coaches’ systems is one of the most enjoyable things I find in volleyball.

Systems don’t have to be overly-sophisticated. Some of the best ones are really simple. One of my pet peeves is seeing junior coaches apply overly-specialised systems to novice teams. The 5-1 system developed and popularized by the USA teams in the 80s has become some sort of gospel that coaches assume was etched on tablets sent from the heavens to be applied to EVERYONE. It wasn’t. It was something conceived to work for a bunch of players with particular characteristics. I seem unable to convince many of my colleagues coaching junior teams that their 15-year-old players don’t resemble Karch Kiraly, Steve Timmons, Craig Buck etc etc.

One coach complained to me at a tournament that he thought the SIV schools in SA teach their athletes the wrong system. I asked him what he meant, assuming he was talking about basic skills. His gripe was with the fact they allowed some of their teams to play with the setter following the receiver as opposed to the setter following the middle blocker.

The other thing junior coaches forget, is specialized systems are designed to hide weaknesses and emphasise strengths. Developing players need to be exposed to their weaknesses and need the opportunity to play in a system that allows that.

I’ve been watching a lot of videos on the NFL website recently, since I find watching documentaries and reading books about sport to be far more interesting than actually watching sport. This one video talks about Tom Landry’s complicated offensive system at the Dallas Cowboys in the 60s and 70s. The best quote comes from a former player at 01:33:

“The system was too much for me. And I think I grew to resent him based on some of that. He didn’t know I was a drug addict or alcoholic until, you know, a couple of years later”

Just classic.

Culture and Behaviours

November 1, 2011

“Culture is what happens when you sum-total all the behaviours”

I would have to say that over the last 12 months or so, the biggest influence on how I view culture from a coaching and professional perspective comes from this podcast. I’ve written about this before, but the quote above kept me awake on one particular sleepless night as it occurred to me that if we were to express it as a mathematical equation it would look like this:

Culture = ∑ Behaviours

Sounds trivial. But the light bulb moment came when i realised that by looking at it like that, there were things that weren’t in the equation. Things like external events.

There’s always talk about how external events can shape a culture, but another way of looking at it is it’s actually the behaviours in response to those events that determine a culture.

I’m convinced this applies on an individual level too. We don’t have to be a product of our environment. We can be a product of our behaviours. Published science has plenty to say about nature and nurture, but at the end of the day it’s the behaviours we choose that make us who we are. We can’t choose what happens to us. We can only choose our behaviours.

How does this relate to volleyball? I’m always amused when i hear coaches and players talk about a culture, a behaviour or a performance as if it is something beyond their control. “we played badly because ….”, “people don’t turn up to training because…”. At the end of the day, people choose and need to hold themselves to task.

Culture is what you get when you sum-total all the behaviours. And all those behaviours are within our control. and just because nobody sees certain behaviours, doesn’t mean they didn’t happen.

For me, culture and systems of play are equally important and two sides of the same coin. To build a system is to build desired behaviours. To build desired behaviours is to build a desired culture.

I never tell my players what their behaviours should be. Philosophically, I’m too laissez faire to tell anyone how they should behave. But I like to ask them if they think their behaviours matches their desires.

I have always found the notion that as individuals, we are the sum-total of our behaviours, both empowering and frightening. It’s frightening because it would suggest there is no divine force determining who you are and your identity is not absolute in any shape or form; empowering because it’s within your means to create your own reality.

It’s the reality that people choose (or not choose) to create, and how those realities compares to their desires, that makes coaching interesting to me.