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.


5 Responses to “Systems”

  1. markleb Says:

    There was a time when some SA teams played the setter following the passer just because everyone else did it the other way. This, of course is just as stupid a reason to do something as the ones who do it because everyone else does.

    Bobby Knight also talked a lot about his system being the best way to play basketball. There are stories that in the last part of his career he even went as far as to deliberately not recruit the best players so he could prove his system. It could be that he was such an arsehole that the best recruits just laughed at him. But that is another story.

    BTW the only thing more disturbing than the ‘scarface’ video is this video of the director justifying it.

  2. Alexis Says:

    I like the point that all ‘systems’ developed have been to both optimise strengths and hide weaknesses of the particular team. Which of course means that it is not necessarily transferrable to another team.

    Personally I prefer Larry Brown’s ‘Play the right way’.

  3. Hugh Nguyen Says:

    We’re all forgetting that the best system belongs to Tex Winter – the triangle offense. He didn’t invent it but certainly made it his own and got success with it at Kansas state, and Phil Jackson won 11 championships with it. maybe 9. he suffered a stroke in 2009.

  4. Sketch Says:

    Larry Brown’s idea of the right way was “his way”, not hiding weaknesses and maximising strengths (unless that strength was allen iverson), hence why he was run out of nearly every coaching gig he’s had. The triangle under phil/tex is an example of a system working when it has the right pieces and is taught correctly. the triangle as displayed by the timberwolves? not so much…

  5. markleb Says:

    A lot is made of Larry Brown’s ‘right way’, but I suspect that this is vastly overrated. Apart of being ‘well travelled’, he was also notorious for getting ridding of players very fast and being very, very active in the trade market. I’m not sure how ‘right’ his way was if he couldn’t actually coach people to achieve it.
    As for the triangle, I think the ‘right pieces’ are players who are willing to play it. The entire NBA has been designed from the very begin to highlight individuals, the triangle (as I understand it) requires players to highlight the team. How many players in the NBA are really willing to do that? I would imagine a young coach has no chance of implementing it successfully regardless of personnel or teaching/coaching ability.

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