Australian Junior Volleyball Championships 2012

The 2012 South Australian Under 17 Women’s Volleyball Team after collecting silver medals. Don’t worry, I’ve actually paid for the photo and waiting for the full res version to be made available for download.

The Australian Junior Volleyball Championships are over and I was happy with my team’s result – a silver medal. Coaching the team (SA U17W) was a challenging assignment. I lived in a different state 1200km away and flew back on 8 weekends to train the team. Even then, I received criticism from people that I wasn’t there enough. Before selection trials even started, my planning had to be immaculate, and my communication with players, parents, coaches and administrators had to be thorough. I spent a lot of time analysing and documenting the way we did things and the players we selected but still received criticisms about the squad I picked. Injuries to key players only added to the uncertainty of the final team we could pick and how to manage the injuries.

Aside from that, the preparation went well. The players were oblivious to the off-court dramas and just stuck to the business of getting better at playing volleyball. We trained twice on Sundays – each session 90 minutes long with a break in between to simulate tournament conditions (we played 2 games on 4 of the tournament days). Each session was geared to practice something specific in our playing system, which aimed at making us be more competitive against the taller teams. The players worked hard, improved, and were incredibly professional about the way they worked. It was the most enjoyable coaching I got to do each week.

Coaching a state team for SA requires more organisation than a lot of other teams. In SSSSA U16s there’s a tour manager looking after only 2 teams and each team has its own manager; Many school teams have well established AVSC programs which free the coach and manager from a lot of organising; even the clubs I coached had fantastic infrastructure. I decided to publish a weekly e-newsletter to the team with training times and what we would be working on with links to video examples etc. I probably spent more time on it than I should have and it cut into my working day.

So by the time I reached Melbourne for the tournament, making a gold medal game was the furthest thing from my mind. I just wanted to get through the week. Because of the amount of teams at the younger age groups, the schedule is tough with 10 games in 6 days. The older age groups have less teams and some of the other SA teams enjoyed more days with only 1 match. Between our matches, duties, travelling time, preparation time, recovery, meals and laundry, there wasn’t a lot of spare time to relax. The team was incredibly good about this and didn’t treat the week like a holiday punctuated by the odd game. They woke up and went to sleep early; they ate properly; stuck to the strict recovery regime; did their stretches, proprioception and theraband exercises before games etc. They were in the business of playing better volleyball. I was impressed by the professionalism.

This was also the first tournament I used video scouting. It meant getting earlier to the venue and leaving later but was well worth it. I used a great tool called VBStatsHD, developed by some Australian coaches, which helped me produce the edited clips I needed in a matter of minutes. Having the players watch the videos the night or morning before the games definitely helped them execute gameplans. However, the best execution of a gameplan came from a game I got them to scout during a duty. So a diagram on paper is better than a verbal description; video is better than a piece of paper; getting the players to watch and analyse is better than the video. I was probably the only coach in our competition who scouted. Many were of the opinion that at that level, there are more things to worry on their own side of the net than the opponents. While that is true, I think it’s important for the development of young players to be in the habit of learning and executing a gameplan.

After a slow start, our team and 2 others crossed over to the “Championship Pool” each carrying 1 loss. The teams in the other pool looked a lot stronger. We hit good form and took a set off the best team (QLD) and beat the Victorian team in straight sets. My Libero was injured before the Victoria game and the player who took up the role did a job that surpassed all expectations.

It was a plucky ACT team that presented our last obstacle to a medal match. Although they weren’t as intimidating as some of the other teams, every player on their team was acutely aware of their window to win matches and executed that game plan flawlessly: They served hard (best serving team), hit kills when the opportunity was there, and played wisely when they couldn’t win points. They made few errors and were able to trouble a lot of teams. They lost a heartbreaking game the night before our match 19-17 in the 5th set after having 2 match points, but regrouped to be 2:0 up against us in our second-to-last match before the medal playoffs. They needed to win to make a medal match; we needed to win to make the gold medal match.

After taking the next 2 sets we reached the 5th set and got an early lead. We were up 13-12 when the controversial point occurred. All I remember was one of our middle blockers serving, then she and my receiver both diving for a tip. While to many it looked like the ball hit the floor, the referee called it play on and we won the rally and the next. One of the player’s parents rang to tell me today that on closer inspection of a video they shot (they played it in slo-mo), the pancake made contact with the ball and the call was correct. Irrespective and understandably, ACT were inconsolable. They had played a great tournament and proven themselves worthy of winning, but had lost two 5-set games that could have clinched them a medal playoff. I knew many of the girls from friendly rivalries over the years with various teams I coached, and they were now kids that played in my new home state. It was a bittersweet victory.

The ACT game took a lot out of the team. Our last game against NZ turned out to be a dead rubber as convenient results from other teams had clinched us a spot in the Gold Medal game the next day. They were physically and emotionally exhausted. One of my setters indicated to me that she would just use her standing serve, as she could no longer jump. The lethargy carried on to our gold medal playoff as we struggled to play against QLD as well as we had in the crossover match. However, a silver medal was a great achievement from the team. I had always thought it would be hard enough to make a medal game, and we’d need to cause an upset to make it into the gold medal game, which is exactly what happened. There was joy, but mostly I felt relief. SA had a good year with all 6 of its teams winning a medal, including its first gold medal in 5 years (coincidentally, their coach had played in the last team that had won gold in exactly the same competition). One of the other SA coaches joked that whilst some of the other states made AJVC a priority, we nearly accidentally won the president’s cup, missing out by just one point. All in all, it was a great result from a state whose coaches had possibly the least impressive CVs (three head coaches were coaching teams for the first time, and none of the coaches had coached or assisted a senior or junior national team). We got very lucky and it was great to see every player come home with a medal. What are the chances of that happening again?

A nice touch by the AVF had our Olympics bound Volleyball Team Australia Men playing a green v gold game on the Friday night. The players stayed back for the closing ceremony and 50th anniversary dinner. At the medal ceremony, VTAM players presented medals to the winning teams from their home state. It was very cool.

* * *

Some other subplots that were curious:

  • A player in the U17M competition was vilified for his sexual orientation. Definitely a low point.
  • The NSW U17M team had a great tournament and took out the gold. On Monday, the first opposing coach thought their medal chances had been quashed because of their team losing to a weaker opponent. The next day, two other coaches echoed the same sentiments. By Wednesday, it was no longer a coincidence. By Thursday, people were saying NSW was going to win it, which they did. The team had one “star”, some effective players and a team that understood how to play in their window to win points. It was a great effort.
  • The SA U19W were the other great story of the tournament. The team started the year without a setter after losing their best player to a representative beach duties. They chose a player to set who had only previously set in 2 school matches and was slow and injury prone. One of their starters was a relative newcomer who had never played in a tournament before. The team performed and broke SA’s 5-year gold medal drought. It was definitely THE performance from a team and coach that impressed me the most.

* * *

So now it’s back to the dull 9-to-5. I’m looking forward to the weekend after going 14 days straight without a break. I have nothing planned other than finding somewhere warm to use my frequent flyer points.

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4 Responses to “Australian Junior Volleyball Championships 2012”

  1. markleb Says:

    Great post. Made me smile 🙂

  2. brendan Says:

    Hugh i didn’t know you were coaching at the state champs my .nz u17 middle hitter played in. Oliva had a blast and mentioned the top ozzy teams were well coached.

  3. Video Analysis « Huy's Volleyball Blog Says:

    […] on iPads, which are hardly rare these days amongst volleyball coaches. I used VBStatsHD during AJVC this year. I was able to scout/stat our opponents while my team dutied and in a matter of seconds […]

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