Volleyball Culture

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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3 Responses to “Volleyball Culture”

  1. George Says:

    Good read Huy. Something I’ve never enjoyed about State League to the point that it made me uncomfortable playing for and against various teams and players.

    You’re right about it being idolised by the younger generation, too. Stories of “the good old days” where players could be “talked out of the game”.

    Maybe it’s part of the sport. Maybe not. I just know that I’m not a fan.

  2. Chad Says:

    Nice write up, Huy. There is certainly is a culture around SA volleyball which encourages trash talk and an elitist mentality, but I for one believe it is an integral part of player and character development.

    I wouldn’t necessarily say that SA teams are renown for their banter through the net, but believe the elitist mentality stems from a rich history of highly successful volleyball teams.

    Being able to mentally expose players has, and will continue to be, a major factor in volleyball Australia wide; not just SA.Describing the SA athletes as ‘obnoxious’ may be the way that some people perceive them, but remember that these athletes are in the best pool the state can deliver – and the best usually put their money where their mouth is, to be so cliché.

    With some of the SA athletes being as young as 16, surely exposing them to this part of the game would beneficial to their mental fortitude in the long run? In essence, somewhat making them immune from the trash talk and being able to expose weakness mentally in opposing teams.

    In a sport which is usually decided by momentum swings and controlled tempo as much as physical performance, getting the winning edge with mental strength is surely something we want to impose on our younger crop of players, and if that entails net-related-banter, I’m all for it.

    P.S – Brad Tutton is awesome.

    • Hugh Nguyen Says:

      Very true that the attitude stems from a rich history of successful teams. At least on a national scale, the attitude seems to have endured more than the success.

      I still think within SA we have a really healthy Volleyball environment. A healthy state league and healthy clubs, high junior involvement from a broad base (not just a couple of isolated areas), decent retention in adults. We’re also the one state where minivolleyball consistently works.

      We still manage to produce more than our fair share of athletes representing Australia at Junior and Senior level

      But our teams (that represent SA) have hardly dominated on a national level in ages.

      We did quite well at AJVC (missing out on President’s cup by a 5th set result) this year, but the year before that when we hosted it, we didn’t even finish third! We didn’t make a gold medal playoff for about 5 years!

      Our WAVL team hasn’t cracked a gold medal game in years and we didn’t even enter a MAVL team for the last 2 or 3 seasons.

      A lot of this comes down to what each state (and their associations) prioritises.

      The SA team was put together 2 days before the closing date for entries. Canberra Heat men train all year round and do tours in NZ and country tournaments. Volleyball VIC has invested heavily in its AVL teams this year (at the expense of the Melb/Monash Uni Blues who kept AVL going for a while before that).

      So we’re not putting in the kind of resources and preparation into things like AVL and AJVC that the other states are putting in. (We have great participation, retention and sustainability). We’re not putting our money where our mouth is. Not like we did in the old days. And we’re not backing it up with solid performances. But we’re still acting and talking like we do.

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