Archive for November, 2012

Volleyball Culture

November 18, 2012

One of the benefits of living in Canberra for the last 8 months is experiencing a different volleyball culture in Australia. One thing it’s made me appreciate, is that many of the values and behaviours I took for granted as “universal” to (Australian) volleyball, was actually more specific to where I came from – South Australia. 

It’s hard to know where to start, but perhaps it’s easiest to start at the end. I spent the weekend watching the SA Wolves play against the AIS and Canberra Heat Teams as part of the final regular Mens AVL round – distinctly different volleyball cultures I have become familiar with having lived in both SA and ACT and seeing these individuals and teams play – and the contrast just jumped out.

One of the things I’ve come to recognise is that there is a large body of values and knowledge that South Australian coaches share due to the influence of Steve and Mark Tutton. Most of the coaches from SA have either been coached by a Tutton or by coaches who have been coached by the Tuttons (whether they know it or not).

Certainly I’m sure that what most South Australian players and coaches understand about setters comes largely from Mark Tutton. I found it really enjoyable this weekend to watch Brad Tutton (Steve’s son and Mark’s nephew. #6 in the video above) coaching and setting part of the time. Despite injuries he demonstrated he could still “set the right ball”, change the direction of the ball, and had the uncanny ability to sense what the block was doing – all while making it look easy and effortless as he put his spikers into favourable situations that they liked and could score from.

As a coach, the SA values I identify with are working hard, with intelligence and innovation; the perpetual desire to find improvement wherever possible; and leaving no stone unturned to create the best possible experience for those you coach.

The most negative part of South Australian playing culture (at least in the men’s) is the amount of trash talking that goes on – something I’ve never subscribed to. Having asked numerous people what it was like to play volleyball in SA in the 80s and 90s, they all have anecdotes about the amount of trash talking that went on and instances of when players could or could not back it up (there are also stories about when fights got physical). I’m sure that the players from that era passed on that culture to subsequent generations and the talk is still common in SA state league and representative teams (I am confident that to some degree of accuracy, I could draw a tree diagram showing which players taught which players to trash talk). While many people think it’s an enjoyable part of the game, I’ve always found it to be a distraction that doesn’t add any value to anyone.

Earlier in the week, I spoke to a Canberra Heat player, and brought up that I was looking forward to the games on the weekend and that I would be supporting the team from my home state. His usual easy-going demeanour was replaced by a grim look as he proceeded to describe what he thought of SA players and teams and how unpleasant they were to play against. I didn’t think about it until watching the games a few days later.

The Canberra team was loud, but generally positive. The SA team was loud, but in a much more antagonistic and aggressive way. They talked trash through the net, got in people’s faces and managed to antagonise the referees and even the commentator. Part of me recognised the SA behaviour as what every SA Men’s State League match has always looked like – loud, aggressive and obnoxious, with players arguing with the referees over everything. Lots of theatre.  The other part of me recognised that it wasn’t how they played on the other side of the net. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that that “expressive aggression” from the SA team was exclusively South Australian in character – There’s at least one other “loud” team in the MAVL competition – but it’s certainly not universal.

The starting South Australian setter (not Brad) got yellow carded twice in one game. In the final game, at 1 set all, he got red carded. The SA Captain also got yellow carded. Whilst the officiating wasn’t perfect and may have cost 5 rallies the match, the Wolves became preoccupied with antagonising just about everyone in the stadium to notice that they were always within 1 or 2 rallies and had the tools to possibly win the 3rd set. What should have cost them 5 points ended up costing them more dearly. With the setter red carded, Brad Tutton, who had decided not to play, had to get on the court. Since it took some time for him to get changed and they had to immediately make a sub after the red card, it lead to the unusual scene of one of their receivers setting for a couple of rallies and changing up the whole rotation. As Brad subbed on, the whole rotation changed again and was just completely out of whack.

SA let the game get away. Meanwhile, the Canberra team just got on with it and won the points when they needed to and made few errors.

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Video Analysis

November 15, 2012

(A clip created from VBStatsHD. From Mens Australian Volleyball League, QLD v Canberra Heat)

A few years ago, I was fortunate to meet through this blog, Chau Le, a Programming/database/user interface expert who was developing a suite of volleyball statistics applications for iPhone devices. The first of these products, VBStatsHD became available last week when Apple approved it to be available on the iTunes Store.

I’ve been a beta tester for VBStatsHD for the last 6 months and for $31.00, it’s a great app that lets you take stats and then synch them up with video of the match. Once coded, clips can be created of individuals, skills, rotations etc.

While this stuff isn’t new, it’s never been so affordable and accessible. Products like DataVolley and DataCode cost $5,000+. And it works 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 exported the clips we used for gameplans and team meetings. My assistant took stats during our games, so we also had video of our own performance. So it didn’t cost us a lot of time to get stuff that was of huge value to the team (as you’ll read later, maybe I’m overestimating the value players have for video).

Video is now just standard in Volleyball. Whilst visiting the USA, a common task assistant coaches would be doing in between training sessions and games was sitting in the office coding video. It’s just something you have to do and a habit I’ve now gotten myself into.

From reading books on other sports it’s interesting to see the evolution of the technology.

From David Halberstam’s The Education of a Coach about Bill Belichick starting his career “doing film” for the Baltimore Colts in 1975:

“That season they badly needed someone to break down film on opponents which was critical to the (George) Allen system… So (Had Coach Ted) Marchibroda badly needed to find someone to do the film for no pay—and there was young Bill Belichick, Billy to Marchibroda then and forever, knocking on his door, wanting work, and not interested in being paid for it… ‘All work and no pay was their motto’, said Belichick. That was not entirely true. Because he was so good, they started paying him $25 a week, and by mid season, when the colts were doing very well, and on a winning streak, (General Manager) Joe Thomas came by and told Belichick how well the other coaches were speaking of him, and he was therefore going to raise his pay to $50 a week, but not to spend it all in one place at one time.

Marchibroda was hugely impressed. ‘You gave him an assignment, and he disappeared into a room and you didn’t see him again until it was done, and then he wanted to do more’. Soon Belichick’s duties expanded and became more interesting. At first they would send him to the airport to pick up film being shipped in, that and other donkey work, but then they decided that he was too valuable , that if he went to the airport they would be wasting two hours of his workday.”

My Brother-in-law used to be a film editor, Splicing 16mm film sucks. And because film was expensive and delicate, someone had to pick it up from the airport. No hard-drives, H264 codecs and broadband back in 1975.

The Footscray Bulldogs ruckman Andrew Purser tells this hilarious anecdote about Sam Newman using video analysis in an interview about his 1980s VFL playing days:

Q: “Who was the Bulldog’s ruck coach during your time at the club?

AP: Sam Newman. He was fantastic, but very injury prone too. He modelled his style on Polly Farmer.

Q: Did he use videos back then?

AP: Yes, but nowhere near as sophisticated as we see today. He used to get (infamous VFA legend) Fred Cook to edit some tapes & just put highlights together.

Q: Sounds like a recipe for disaster, if any of the rumours about Cookie’s videos are true. 

AP: Funny you should say that. One day my wife’s parents were over & Sam rocked up large as life & said to my in-laws, I’ve got a tape of some of Andrew’s highlights & he wacked the video into the machine.

Q: Unfortunately it was one of Freddie’s blue movies featuring him going at it hammer & tongs. Poor Sam just couldn’t find the stop button on the remote. He became extremely embarrassed & beat a hasty retreat.”

It’s not a surprising anecdote about Sam Newman (except that he was the one with his clothes on in this story). VHS tapes and two VCRs were better than a reel of film and a splicer, but still took ages. Obviously they still paid peanuts for someone to do the jobs. When you pay peanuts, sometimes you get Bill Belichick, sometimes you don’t.

They were still stuck with VHS in the 90s, although offline editing systems like AVID started being used in Film and TV. Still, the idea of using computers for anything video based was still in its infancy. The North Melbourne Kangaroos used video during their glory years in the 90s. Denis Pagan recounts in The Champions: Conversations with great players and coaches of Australian Football:

“(Football Manager) Greg Miller and I both took our problems home with us. I was the only full-time employee in the Kangaroos football department when I started in 1993. I often wonder: ‘How were the Kangaroos ever successful?’ Our resources were stretched beyond the limit. If people didn’t put the in time over and above their job descriptions, who knows what might have happened? Greg took it upon himself to do the video-editing of games. We’d play on a Friday night and he’d stay up all night and cut videos so we’d have ‘positive’ and ‘room for improvement’ tapes to watch at the recovery session the next morning. I’d tell Greg the things I wanted with directions like: “Third quarter, 20 minutes in, knock-on by (Darren) Crocker”. He’d have two VCRs going and it would take him about five hours. I don’t know of anyone else who has done that.”

Greg Miller was the General Manager on a part time basis while presumably holding down another job, and still MADE the time to get the video turned around by the next morning??? Good thing the players really appreciated his efforts, as Wayne Carey recounts in his (ghost written auto?)biography The Truth Hurts:

“In the period from 1993 to 1996 we used to play 8 or 9 Friday night matches each season. We almost used to circle those games on the fixture list – not just because we played well under lights and invariably won, but because it meant we had most of the weekend to get the drinking boots on nd get stuck in.

After Friday night games, we’d always have a Saturday morning session at 9am to review the match and do a light training run. It would usually last an hour or so…

I remember Martin Pike arriving at training one day after a big night and looking as though he had come straight from a nightclub. He was unshaven, dishevelled and stunk of grog.

I said what the hell are you doing, Pikey? Just sit in the corner, don’t say a thing, and don’t do anything which draws attention to yourself, OK? 

Dennis showed us a video pointing out the positives and negatives. Someone had made a really lame attempt to spoil, so Denis froze the video and said: “What do you think of than, Martin?” Slurring his words a bit, Pikey said Cheryl could spoil better than that – Denis’s wife! “

So while Miller was up all night with two VCRs editing a few minutes of footage from Channel 7 coverage, Carey and the boys were getting drunk and probably too inebriated to really watch the video. To be fair, Carey sometimes watched the video:

“When I dislocated my shoulder in the first game of the 1997 season, he (Pagan) came to visit me in hospital and dropped off a videotape of highlights of myself. He knew I was feeling down and needed a pick-me-up so he had this tape made, set to music. I wasn’t big on watching replays of myself but give that he’d gone to all that trouble, well, I certainly made the effort to watch it.” 

I wonder what the music was. Probably Van Halen. Or ACDC. Maybe KISS? Music with highlights isn’t a bad idea. I showed my U17W team a highlight video this year before our gold medal game without music (i had debated for a while whether or not to). It was eerily silent and sombre. The mood just wasn’t right.

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Anyway, VBSTatsHD. Check it out. For $31 it’s $1 more expensive than the camera Tripod I bought off eBay. Bargain.

Things I learned from the USA part I: “Get the locker room right”

November 12, 2012

I’m usually pretty good with sticking to at least a post a month, but I’ve been somewhat slack and distracted. So I thought I’d write about some additional insights I gained from the AVF Coaching Study Tour (I thought it appropriate to just keep an accurate account of our travels on the AVF blog and save all the opinionated stuff for here). 

I thought I asked a pretty straightforward question to this one women’s college coach we met :  “How do you use the 15 sub rule to your advantage?” He mentioned stuff like it made the game faster, but said that more than anything, it allows him to give meaningful amounts of playing time to about 9 of his 12 players, which helps “getting the locker room right”.

That was too much of an intriguing statement to not ask a follow up question about what be meant by “getting the locker room right”

The coach, who had coached both men’s and women’s teams at the collegiate and international levels replied: “Men can have a punch-up in the locker room before the game starts and still go out there and win. But with women, you need to get the locker room right.” Whether getting the chemistry right is more applicable in men’s and women’s I really don’t know (However I have seen more men’s teams with social dysfunctions win than women’s teams with social dysfunctions), but certainly, it’s a concept I’ve heard expressed in many forms with regards to all sorts of teams. And a concept that sadly took me a long time to understand.

A couple of years ago, I quizzed a friend of mine who coached a premiership winning State League Men’s team as to why he didn’t start one of his two best passer-hitters in the Grand Final. He answered by saying “You don’t pick your best 7 players to start, you pick your best team.”

It would be 2 years before I truly understood what he meant.

It was perhaps something that coaches who came from teaching backgrounds seemed to have a better grasp of. There were many times when i coached in school environments that I came to disagreements with teachers over selections (I rarely selected the team). I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t just pick the best players in the team and why some truly inferior players would just get in the team. Sometimes i dismissed this as an indulgence for cliquiness, but at other times they got it right.

This all became obvious to me when I selected a school-based team. Naturally, I tried to pick the best 10 players. There were two talented players i picked nearly first that the teachers on the selection committee had reservations about having coached/managed them before. Having not heeded their advice, the team certainly suffered from chemistry problems that I’m now sure translated into on-court performance issues. Interestingly, in the policy for its annual selections, this school based team makes it clear that the 10 best players on the day get selected. However, looking back, I’m sure the same selectors didn’t always stick with these guidelines and would have picked a couple of players to “get the locker room right”. The teachers of course knew their students and had some knowledge of the implications selecting certain players would have on team chemistry – something i was ignorant and dismissive towards to my own detriment.

Interestingly, I learned a few months ago at a Technical Seminar on setting that many international teams don’t pick the second best setter available to be the backup setter. They choose a player who understands their role is primarily in scrimmages and that there is low chance their efforts will translate into playing time. Picking a player that has different expectations can endanger the chemistry. As a mentor of mine put succinctly, “It’s about picking the best 12 players FOR the team, not picking the 12 best players IN the team.”

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So it didn’t seem to matter to this coach we spoke to in the US that the 15 sub rule let him put bigger players on the front court for smaller players and use more defensive and receiving specialists. It mattered that he could give about 9 players in his team a defined role and meaningful court time (he defined that giving a player 50%+ court time gave them a sense of personal control and meaning). And it was doing all of these things that helped get the locker room right.