Serving data (inspired by VolleyballAnalyst)

Okay, this one was inspired by someone who has high-level serving information above and beyond what I can do.  You can find that here.  It’s worth the read.  I’ll wait for ya!

The difference is that the other author is looking at professional men’s volleyball and my information is NJCAA college volleyball–a different gender and a different skill level.  No matter, why not share the information I have.  I can make up for some of it with a larger sample size!!   Below, the numbers are broken down as:


2006: 634 – 47 (7.4%) – 21 (3.3%)
2007: 601 – 93 (15.1%) – 62 (10.3%)
2008: 853 – 119 (13.9%) – 115 (13.4%)
2009: 519 – 41 (7.9%) – 53 (10.2%)
2010: 1095 – 162 (14.8%) – 85 (7.8%)
2011: 1636 – 173 (10.6%) – 157 (9.6%)
2012: 1946 – 161 (8.2%) – 197 (10.1%)
2013: 1422 – 119 (8.3%) – 196 (13.8%)
2014: 917 – 98 (10.7%) – 123 (13.4%)
2015: 1490 – 154 (10.3%) – 154 (10.3%)
2016: 940 – 116 (12.3%) – 151 (16.1%)
2017: 702 – 76 (10.8%) – 93 (13.2%)
2018: 1412 – 119 (8.4%) – 171 (12.1%)               
TOTAL: 14,167 – 1478 (10.4%) – 1578 (11.1%)

2006:  817 – 86 (10.5%) – 124 (15.2%)
2007:  1856 – 162 (8.7%) – 134 (7.2%)
2008: 536 – 57 (10.6%) – 39 (7.3%)
2009: 791 – 61 (7.7%%) – 57 (7.2%)
2010: 573 – 44 (7.7%) – 28 (4.9%)
2011: 441 – 54 (12.2%) – 67 (15.2%)
2012: 735 – 77 (10.5%) – 66 (9.0%)
2013: 1093 – 73 (6.7%) – 70 (6.4%)
2014: 476 – 39 (8.2%) – 39 (8.2%)
2015: 944 – 89 (9.4%) – 93 (9.9%)
2016: 1119 – 113 (10.1%) – 133 (11.9%)
2017:  677 – 65 (9.6%) -59 (8.7%)
2018: 997 – 92 (9.1%) – 91 (9.1%)                                          
TOTAL: 11,055 – 1012 (9.2%) – 1000 (9.1%)

2006:  609 – 32 (5.3%) – 35 (5.7%)
2007:  666 – 69 (10.4%) – 87 (13.1%)
2008:  373 – 49 (13.1%) – 50 (13.4%)
2009:  229 – 26 (11.4%) – 28 (12.2%)
2010:  696 – 56 (8.0%) – 69 (9.9%)
2011: 122 – 8 (6.6%) – 13 (10.7%)
2012: 24 – 0 (0%) – 7 (29.2%)
2013: 129 – 14 (10.9%) – 36 (27.9%)
2014: 125 – 12 (9.6%) – 25 (20.0%)
2015: 177 – 22 (12.4%) – 15 (8.5%)
2016: 319 – 28 (8.8%) – 35 (10.9%)
2017: 811 – 67 (8.3%) – 84 (10.4%)
2018:  98 – 7 (7.1%) – 11 (11.2%)                          
TOTAL: 4,378 – 390 (8.9%) – 495 (11.3%)

2006: 1315 – 120 (9.1%) – 114 (8.7%)
2007: 1106 – 94 (8.5%) – 120 (10.9%)
2008: 752 – 140 (18.6%) – 170 (22.6%)
2009: 1980 – 117 (5.9%) – 116 (5.9%)
2010: 1132 – 79 (7.0%) – 53 (4.7%)
2011: 1519 – 94 (6.2%)- 89 (5.9%)
2012: 455 – 40 (8.8%) – 53 (11.7%)
2013: 542 – 50 (9.2%) – 77 (14.2%)
2014: 1522 – 117 (7.7%) – 117 (7.7%)
2015:  829 – 53 (6.4%) – 78 (9.4%)
2016: 1481 – 110 (7.4%) – 148 (10.%)
2017: 1285 – 104 (8.1%) – 101 (7.9%)
2018: 587 – 52 (8.9%) – 64 (10.9%)         
TOTAL: 14,505 – 1170 (8.1%) – 1300 (9.0%)


JUMP TOP:                14,167 – 1478 (10.4%) – 1578 (11.1%)
JUMP FLOAT:           11,055 – 1012 (9.2%) – 1000 (9.1%)
STANDING TOP:        4,378 – 390 (8.9%) – 495 (11.3%)
STANDING FLOAT: 14,505 – 1170 (8.1%) – 1300 (9.0%)

I’m not sure of a conclusion to draw–other than it’s rarer to have someone stay on the ground and apply top-spin…and that they are less effective doing it than any other way.  Other than one outlier (2008 Standing Float) with outrageous ace AND error rates–the result of two very specific servers, the Jump-Top Spin offers the highest chance of an ace.

The catch is–somewhere in Coaching Volleyball magazine a few years back, there was a different study (wish I could remember where I put it) that showed this was true–but that after the first serve, a Jump-Top Spin serve quickly lost its efficiency for scoring compared to either sort of float serve.



June 22, 1941: The World Will Hold Its Breath

A couple weeks ago on my Facebook page, I made an observation that was not the most popular thing ever.  I put it up on June 6th which is a date celebrated as D-Day, the invasion of Normandy by western Allied forces.  In US history books, this is usually linked to assertions that this led to Hitler’s defeat–that the effort against the Nazis of the West and the Soviets was equal–equal in level, equal in value.  That is nonsense.

This isn’t a commentary on the bravery of the US and British divisions which came ashore or the airborne units which dropped behind German lines that day as part of the assault.  I am not saying there was no value in the invasion.  What I am saying is that the Soviet effort and contributions towards defeating the Nazi menace dwarf those of Britain, the United States, and their minor allies.

Let’s look first at the biggest/most important campaigns from each theater.  Remember also that the USSR was fighting the Germans for nearly three years before the Allies came ashore.  For those who don’t know military history, it is possible to have more casualties than men because of how casualties were replaced in units.  Newly trained/conscripted soldiers would be billeted into slots vacated by KIA/WIA/MIA soldiers.

Barbarossa (June-December 1941):
Initial Soviet Forces: 3,000,000 men, 11,000 tanks, 8,000 aircraft
Total Casualties: 4,900,000 KIA/WIA/MIA (estimated)

Battle of Moscow (OCT-DEC 1941):
Soviet Forces: 1,300,000 men, 2,000 tanks, 500-1000 aircraft
Casualties: 1,029,234

Stalingrad Campaign (AUG 1942-FEB 2, 1943)
Peak Soviet Forces: 1,140,000 men, 894 tanks, 1,115 aircraft (and 30 divisions of artillery)
Casualties: 1,129,619

Operation Citadel (July 5-17, 1943)
Soviet Forces: 1,900,000 men, 5,128 tanks, no aircraft data, 25,000 artillery pieces
Casualties: 177,847

Operation Bagration (June 23-August 19, 1944) <–coincidental with the Overlord invasion
Initial Soviet Forces: 1,650,000 men, 5,818 assault guns/tanks, 7,799 aircraft, 32,718 artillery pieces (which is less impressive than Citadel since Bagration occurs over an entire front and Citadel in the small area around the town of Kursk)
Casualties: 770,888

Battle for Berlin (April 16-May 2, 1945)
Soviet Forces: 766,000 men, 1,500 assault guns/tanks, 2,224 aircraft, 9,300 artillery pieces
Casualties: 360,000 KIA/WIA…and sick (apparently a severe flu went thru the Soviet forces at the time–I had no idea!)

Total KIA in actual fighting (not counting civilian casualties, etc): 8,668,400

Look at the size of these campaigns and specific battles–and that they are coming as early as 1941.  What do we get on the Allied side for the major battles/campaigns?

Operation Neptune/D-Day (June 6, 1944)
Allied Forces: 156,000 soldiers, 200,000 naval personnel
Casualties: 4,414 confirmed dead, total KIA/WIA estimated at 10,000-12,000
(Of interest, German casualties on June 6 were roughly 1,000 KIA.  3,000 -roughly- civilians were also killed that day)

Operation Cobra (July 25-31, 1944)
Allied Forces: 150,000 men, 2,451 tanks/tank destroyers
Casualties: 1,800 KIA

D-Day to the Seine (June 6-August 30, 1944)
Allied Forces: 1,452,000 men (reinforced to 2,000,000 on the continent by 8/30/44)
Casualties: 226,386 KIA/WIA/MIA/POW

Operation Market-Garden “A Bridge Too Far” (SEP 17-25, 1944)
Allied Forces: 45,000 regular, 41,000 airborne–>86,000 total
Casualties: 15,000-17,000 estimated  (some depends on arguments of whether the casualties count as part of Market-Garden or not–such as something happening on 9/26)

Battle of the Bulge (December 16, 1944-January 25, 1945)
Initial Allied Forces: 228,000 men, 1,000 tanks/tank destroyers
Peak Allied Forces: 700,500 men, 4,350 tanks/tank destroyers
Casualties: 90,908 (1,408 are Brits…the rest are Americans)

Huertgen Forest (SEP-DEC 1944)  –there was no need for this American attack…it is a decisive German win and considered a ‘meatgrinder’ for the US forces.
US Forces: 120,000 men
Casualties: 55,000 KIA/WIA/MIA/POW  (If we take the whole series of battles to break the Siegfried Line, the full campaign’s casualties reach nearly 150,000)

Total Allied KIA D-Day until VE-Day: 195,576 (includes all MIA)

Whew.  A lot of examples there.  But ultimately, look at the final tallies of dead over the course of fighting the Nazis.  Soviet combat casualties are over EIGHT MILLION while the Allied total isn’t even at 200,000.  Soviet combat losses are 40x higher than the Allies.  Forty.

There’s a different argument though that is often made to build up Western egos–that the US was the ‘arsenal of democracy’–that the US was doing all the manufacturing to defeat the Nazis.  Well, then we should look at production totals.  AFV is an acronym meaning ‘armored fighting vehicle’.  I’ve eliminated any production totals from before the US entered the war, so 1942-1945 only here!

USSR light AFV production:            25,000
USA light AFV production:              28,300
USSR medium AFV production:     73,000
USA medium AFV production:      67,300
USSR heavy AFV production:         11,900
USA heavy AFV production:            2,200
Soviet total AFV production:        109,900
USA total AFV production:              97,800

So the Soviets build more tanks than the US.  This isn’t fair though because it’s only one category of vehicle.  What about lend-lease vehicles?  This has some validity, but…the Soviets still manufactured 60% of their non-combat vehicles and preferred using Soviet-built vehicles at the front because their reliability was higher than those provided by the USA.  The breakdown is something like 60% Soviet, 25% Lend-Lease, 15% captured German trucks.    Thus the argument that the US did everything for the Soviets doesn’t hold water.

Help?–absolutely!  It’s the same with airpower.  US efforts help, but Soviet manufacturing more than holds its own with percentages of aircraft built.  Ditto with things like ammunition and every other category of vehicle or inventory.  The US is helpful, but it is absolutely the Soviet Union bearing the primary burden of beating the Germans.

As a last thing, you can see this in the German casualties (KIA/MIA).

East Front:                      2,400,000
All Others combined:   1,500,000

That doesn’t look like much of a difference though, right?  Well, remember–that ‘All Others’ category includes German casualties from 1939-41 during their campaigns in Poland, France/Low Countries, Balkans, Africa, and Italy.

None of this has been to denigrate the efforts made by Britain, the United States, or any of the other nations which stood against Nazi Germany.  It is only to point out the flaw of textbooks and the way history is taught and consumed in the United States (elsewhere is no different).  We accept myths without question.  We do not do the research.

This is what gets nations in to trouble.



















Can Sandbagging be Eliminated in a VB National Tournament

A couple hundred years ago, a Danish chemist named Hans Christian Ørsted came up with a new way of pursuing science–to use imagination.  The term he created was ‘gedankenexperiment’–a thought experiment.  This is usually used with science–Einstein wondering about people traveling close to the speed of light or Schrödinger’s Cat.  Combined with what is the traditional club VB complaint as Qualifiers/Nationals come around about teams which sandbag to win easy divisions (which IS pathetically something that does happen), I saw an assertion in an argument that fixing this was impossible.

Well, why not a Thought Experiment?  Is it possible to determine an actual champion and limit the effects of sandbagging?  Can this be done without scrapping current infrastructure like AES?

I think the actual answer is–yes.  It is possible.  I also think it would require administrators to rethink things…because it would mean a completely different schedule for teams playing.  I’m going to make some assumptions here–one for ease of math, the other based on Convention Center size/available courts:

  • I’m going to assume there are 256 teams playing in an age group.
  • I’m presuming there are 100 courts available for competition (this is roughly the number used at the Mideast Qualifier)

Since AES already exists and creates ‘seeds’, we’re going to use those to rank the 256 teams.  We will then create a schedule of 1v256, 2v255, 3v254–all the way down the line.  Could this create mismatches?  Sure.  But everyone’s going to get a crack at winning–and if you want to be champ, you have to beat whoever is in front of you.  This means already you have no benefit from sandbagging–you’re just going to get lined up to face a better team.   This is a total of 128 matches.

Once the first round is finished, we have a winner’s bracket and a loser’s bracket–basically, we are setting up a “Swiss tournament”–so that all teams play in each round.  With each round, the winners are narrowed down, so after the 2nd rd, you would have four ‘brackets’: Win-Win, Win-Lose, Lose-Win, Lose-Lose.  After the third, you get Win-Win-Win; Win-Win-Lose; Win-Lose-Win; Win-Lose-Lose; Lose-Win-Win; Lose-Win-Lose; Lose-Lose-Win; and Lose-Lose-Lose.  Make sense?  For us to get to the point of only having two undefeated teams will require 8 rounds–a total of 1,024 matches.

That means we’re going to occupy those 100 courts for a total of 10.24 time slots.

Well, that means if we have 256 18s, 17s, 16s, 15s, 14s, 13s, 12s, and 11s, we’re going to need 81.92 slots of court time.

At a Qualifier, courts are generally used for an AM pool and PM pool, so 12 slots/day.

USAV Nationals were slotted for nine days last year–which would be 108 slots of court time available.  AAU teams play for a week or so–that’s 84 court slots of time.

That means there’s plenty of court time available–even if some matches go long.  It means the initial schedule would be a pain to put together–8 age groups trying to be fit in over a week…but it would eliminate a ton of coach confusion regarding what comes next–it’s either/or.  You win–you go here.  You lose–you go there.  There would be no more tie-breakers based on point differential, no need for teams to wait around to play a single set at midnight to determine who plays at 8am the next day.

You win, you advance.  You lose–you get to keep playing, you just won’t be playing for a title.  It would eliminate sandbagging, create an actual champion, and would still give teams a full 8 matches–with a bracket-system that SHOULD make each match more balanced than the one that came before it.






Immigration should not be restricted

It’s always about fear.  That’s why there’s a call for restrictions on immigration.  In the past, there’ve been quotas/restrictions placed on Chinese, Irish, Japanese.  You’ve had things like Operation Wetback to reduce Hispanic populations in the American Southwest.  This is nothing new or just something dreamed up just by the current president.

It’s always about fear.  Fear of cultural change.  Fear of what looks different.  Fear of losing a job.  Fear of the unknown.  Yet how many people trace lineage back to Europe or elsewhere proudly?  Why is it different for Bob to trace his family back to 1348 Sweden and be okay with coming to America while Ali can’t be proud of immigrating from Syria in 2007?

The past few years have made me realize how important this issue is–first, to me personally, and then to the nation.

Most people don’t realize I’m the child of an immigrant, that my mom’s family came to the United States in the 1950s.  They don’t realize they were Germans–which in the aftermath of World War Two didn’t make them overly popular in the small Iowa town where my grandfather found employment/sponsorship (indeed, the ‘welcome’ they received in the town’s local church is why they never went back to attending church).

My grandparents came to the United States for a better life, for a chance to live in a system that protected its citizens’ rights, that was open and free–my grandfather (a Democrat) disliked Reagan but ALWAYS respected Reagan’s view of the US as a ‘city upon the hill’.  They bought a small house, they learned English.  They sent their kids to school.  Those kids went on to be successful–had grandchildren who have (other than me, a volleyball coach) have been amazing successful with their careers.  Everyone is now 100% American.  There’s no question of loyalty.  No one who comes here ever chooses repression over freedom.  They are fleeing repression–why recreate it?

So–isn’t it my responsibility as the child of an immigrant to advocate for future immigrants?  It shouldn’t matter where they are from.  Repression does not know gender, sexuality, skin color or religion.  If you wish to be free, if you’re willing to work, then you should come to America.  American greatness is built on immigrants.

You don’t need to trace lineage too far either to see that.  What would happen if the US government suddenly did what (many) Republicans want and kept out all those immigrants from undesirable countries?

Well, last year, naturalized immigrants accounted for 42 of the 400 wealthiest businesspeople in the U.S.–more than 10%.  By the way, naturalized citizens account for only 6% of the population, so those immigrants are producing more than native citizens.  (There’s another dirty secret–unemployment rates are lower for immigrants than native citizens…when you’re fleeing repression and want to succeed, you’re willing to work hard–and not worry that the job involves scrubbing floors or hard work…)

Those 42 are from all over the globe, not just American allies.  They don’t include companies now run by “Americans” but were founded by immigrants–you know like that Lebanese guy, Steve Jobs and his Apple corporation….

By continent/region:

  1. Asia – 16
  2. Eastern Europe – 8
  3. Mideast – 6
  4. Western Europe – 5
  5. Africa – 3
  6. Canada – 2
  7. Australia -1
  8. South America – 1

What about by decade of immigration to the United States?:

  • 1940s: 1 – Fled Greece during the Civil War there post-WW2
  • 1950s: 5 – Four fleeing the Soviets, one fearing life in Israel (which was a tenuous diplomatic/economic/military situation in the 1950s for sure)
  • 1960s: 14 – Includes four Israelis who left in 1968 (after the Six Day War), one Italian from a family targeted by Communists, as well as more fleeing both Soviet and Chinese Communist regimes.
  • 1970s: 15 – Fleeing Indo-Pakistani strife as well as many from 5 from Taiwan/Vietnam (the Taiwanese fearing the loss of US diplomatic recognition and potential mainland invasion as well as Taiwan’s own repressive gov’t)
  • 1980s: 4 – Includes South Africa and South Korea–at points where they weren’t true republics.  Also Rupert Murdoch avoiding Australian taxes.
  • 1990s: 3 – One fleeing taxes (Canada) and Elon Musk coming from S. Africa.

No immigrants from 2000 on make the list.  Then again, building your business to one of the top 400 in the United States isn’t an overnight thing, right?  It’s also not the goal of many immigrants.  Still, immigrants are between 200-300% more likely to start a business than a native American citizen.  Children of immigrants are up to 200% as likely to do so.

Think about that.  How many businesses do you shop that fit in those categories?  How many products are you using created by the firms of immigrants?  Could you survive a day without the work of immigrants? Hahahahha.  No.

No immigrants, no cell phones, no iTunes/spread of digital music.  Think about the veggies/fruit you eat…ever thought about the percentage of immigrants (legal OR undocumented) working in those fields?  Ever wondered about that at meat-processing plants?  How about entertainment?  Did you enjoy Yao Ming and Dirk Nowitzski?  Ever notice the homes of baseball players?  ‘America’s Pastime’ has people from Asian nations, Central and South America, people born in Europe, and last year, MLB’s first African player.

Don’t fight immigrants because they are different.  Welcome them.  They WANT to be like you.  They WANT what Americans have held as ideals since Jefferson enumerated them in 1776: rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Help them succeed and it will KEEP America great.


– – –

There’s another lesson here. I thought about leaving it inferred, but decided against it.  If the United States is greater for the diversity that comes with immigration, then maybe, just maybe, we are greater for the diversity that comes from within our nation.  We are stronger because we have Christians AND Muslims; people of every skin color; hetero- AND homo- sexual people; religious people AND atheists.   Differences should be celebrated.  All of them.



The Danger of Improper Terminology

This is generally going to be about coaching–really.  It’ll just take a minute to get there.

One of my pet peeves is the improper use of language or terms.  Every time a word or idea is misused, it distorts the truth–and worse, in many instances makes the word unusable for any real purpose.  Need examples?

Look at the evolution of words such as ‘gay’ or ‘queer’.  Do people realize why or how those words came to be associated with sexual orientation?  Left and Right–those go back to the French Revolution.  ‘Liberal’ and ‘Conservative’ don’t actually mean, aren’t supposed to mean, what many Americans use them for.  It’s perfectly possible to have a liberal conservative or a conservative liberal…except in America.  Why, it gets confusing enough that a radical (Jesus) is claimed as a conservative.  Go figure.

We can do this in numerous fields.  That brings us to education and coaching.  There is a constant call for ‘punishment’ as motivation for athletes.  That’s when the chaos starts to come in to the picture–because some realize that the word ‘punishment’ will draw fire, so they say ‘negative reinforcement’ instead to avoid the criticism

This makes it worse–because negative criticism IS ITS OWN THING.  It is completely different than punishment, so what you now have happen is people mis-use a term, use methods of conditioning that are less effective than others–and along the way make it more difficult to apply one of the techniques (negative reinforcement) that IS better than punishment.

It’s enough that I figured–I’ll write a blog post on it, describe it like I did when I was teaching it in high school…and maybe it can shift knowledge enough that people stop using terms improperly (I mean, it’s worked well so far for me with left/right, liberal/conservative….) and can become better educators from this.

What people are referring to with reinforcement is trying to change behaviors in some fashion.  This has been going on for thousands of years, but the guy who made an active study of it was a Russian named Pavlov.  In short, Pavlov rang a bell, gave his dogs food.  They drooled.  After a time, he would ring the bell, didn’t give food, but they continued to drool.  Thus, Pavlov showed how you could create a desired behavior.  There’s more to it, but this isn’t a Psych textbook.  Ultimately, there are three types of conditioning:

  1. Positive Reinforcement  –With this, we are going to add something in order to add to an existing behavior.
  2. Negative Reinforcement  –With this, we will remove something as long as we get the desired behavior.
  3. Punishment  –We will do something the subject doesn’t like to remove an undesired behavior.

The first big thing to note between 1/2 + 3 is that the first two are addressing the behavior desired directly.  With 1 and 2, if I want the person to take a drink of water, my actions relate directly to the act of drinking water. Notice that 3 does not?  With the current water-drinking example, 3 doesn’t address the drinking, it’s going to work to prevent standing in line talking; walking down to the end of the hall; playing with the foot pedal.  These things may all be undesirable, they may get in the way of taking a drink, but they don’t incentivize getting a drink.

That’s another big thing.  A lot of people see ‘positive reinforcement’ and think things are being given away for free. From coaches over the age of 30, you’ll see the term ‘snowflakes’ used to cast scorn on positive reinforcement, that addressing a desired behavior this way makes the player soft, weak, or any number of other words with negative connotations.

The difficulty with ‘negative reinforcement’ is that most people see the word ‘negative’ and take it to mean bad–‘Don’t be such a negative person’.  The word here doesn’t mean that.  It is meant more like plus/minus.  ‘Negative’ means to subtract something from the equation–but I guarantee that 99/100 times when you see a coach (at least 80/100 for teachers) use this term, they are conflating it with ‘punishment’.

So teaching Intro to Psych clued me in–I can sit and give textbook examples and definitions all day, but people still don’t get it.  It takes concrete examples.  The examples below aren’t meant to be specific to any team–I’ve tried to make them generic along with how to fix them…


  • Positive: In practice, athletes GET a high-5 for a perfect pass; when 25 consecutive don’t drop, athletes GET to play 3-on-3 for 15 minutes; when practice is done whoever keeps the most from dropping GETS a Snickers bar.
  • Negative: If we get 15 in a row that don’t drop,  we will NOT do the second ball-handling drill players don’t like; if we get 50 good passes before we have one drop, there will NOT be a curfew at this weekend’s tournament
  • Punishment: For every ball that hits, we’re doing burpees. For every ball that hits, the passers have to stay an extra minute after practice.

Notice that the first two create incentives–things players want?  High-fives, playing games, candy…or the removal of a curfew or getting to skip a drill they hate.  Every coach knows the drills players don’t like and hopefully has seen the morale boost when athletes find out “Hey, good job–we’re skipping Evil Drill Four today!”  Punishment doesn’t address that.  Players don’t get a benefit from a perfect pass–all they need to do is keep it from the ground–even if that means it shanks off and hits Grandma and her knitting.

As always–if this is of interest, consider purchasing my book here.
I’ve also got an educational foundation that seeks to create scholarships for young people going in to education and teaching via non-traditional means (coaching, games, play-acting, whatever).  You can donate to that here.


  • Positive: Players permitted to select own teams during practice; Team Hustle Award; direct selection via consensus of team captains
  • Negative: Permitted to supervise own non-practice events (warmups, weightlifting); coach does not select roommates for road trips
  • Punishment: Micro-management by the coach; players directed not to speak/offer suggestions during practice; lack of ‘calling for it’ in a drill leads to physical consequences.


  • Positive: Increased playing time; larger role in crunch-time; named team captain
  • Negative: Coach does not hover over player during certain drills at practice/trusts player is going 100%, moves on to other players who coach is unsure of.
  • Punishment: Run. Pit drills. Dive drills.  95% of overuse/repetitive drills.


  • Positive: Feedback on what the player is doing–which can include what the player is doing wrong, by the way; high-fives; attainable but challenging goals to move on to a different aspect of the skill
  • Negative: Removing certain “handicaps” (for lack of a better word)–we’re going to have you hit off a setter rather than a toss–or have to hit an out-of-system ball rather than a perfect one; we’re going to put live blockers on the other side rather than an empty net.
  • Punishment: Hit it in the net–>burpees.  Hit it out of bounds–>sprints.  All sorts of errors–reset a counting drill ‘back to zero’

Do these examples help?  I hope so.

For me, I try not to use punishment much.  I save it for special occasions–>discipline issues.  My athletes know that if they get punished, they have screwed up in a large way.  This adds to its effectiveness–if we use the exact same stimulus over and over, it’s possible for it to lose effectiveness.  Eventually Pavlov’s dogs realized, “Hey, the bell doesn’t mean steak after all.”

This isn’t in-depth by any means.  Some of it is taking short-cuts to make sure of the high points.  I haven’t even gotten in to the types of punishment (also referred to as positive and negative–which is MOST unhelpful) or extinction.  I’ve also missed one other key thing when it comes to athletes.

They are people–and you have to be aware of their own motivations.  When you try as a coach to impose conditioning on an athlete, you may be messing up their own intrinisic motivations.  Michael Jordan didn’t need to be pushed by the Chicago Bulls to greatness for instance.  The personalities of your athletes has to be kept in mind.  That’s a HUGE challenge–because 15 athletes are going to have 15 different things motivating them and 15 different ‘best’ ways of motivating them..


Hope this helps.









Specific Training and the Dogs of War

This is about history.  The coaching stuff comes at the end.  As always, as coaches, as educators, we should always be learning and applying ideas from one area to another.  It makes us better, more educated people to boot.

(Please also consider checking these out.  None are expensive.  All are interesting.)

So as I’ve mentioned previously a couple of times (here and here), I had the opportunity to attend a USMC leadership workshop in May.  On the last day, the highlight was a visit to the Marine Corps’ National Museum.  We were there on a day where they were opening a brand new exhibit dedicated to the service of dogs in the Marine Corps.  Now that may sound silly, but I assure you it isn’t.  It was serious business and the “Devil Dogs” did important work for in the Pacific during World War Two.  Here’s the link.  It’s got a lot of stuff (and then links to the Army and other stuff since it is a dog-history site rather than a USMC one).

The Marines and the U.S. weren’t the only people who tried to train large groups of dogs during World War Two.  The other nation who tried in quantity was the Soviet Union.  We’ll get back to the U.S.S.R. in just a moment and where their program went wrong.

With the Devil Dogs, did you notice how the Marines went about the training?  They implemented basic commands, sorted the dogs into duties, and then immediately had the dogs work on that duty–by doing it.  A messenger dog received different training from a sentry dog.  The sentry was kept on a leash, worked with a handler, and was put on duty at crossroads, etc–practicing  being a sentry.  This was done straight out of the gate.  The messenger?  He learned to go back and forth between his two handlers–but they didn’t do this with the two handlers standing 100 yards apart.  Nope.  The dog had to find them by scent, past and through various obstacles.  The Marines trained the dogs to keep going in the presence of explosives and gunfire.  The dogs were taught in ‘game-like’ situations, so that when it came time for real duty–they would be ready.

Were they ready?  Well, that link notes their first duty was with the Marine Raider Battalions (the Raiders were bad-asses, no other way to put it).  The Raiders loved them.  Once units worked with the Devil Dogs, everyone loved them.  The dogs performed exactly as they did in training.  Game-like training meant they were ready for the game.

Now back to the Soviets.  For no good reason, Stalin refused to believe that Germany planned to launch Operation Barbarossa in June, 1941.  When Germany struck, the Soviets were caught off-guard, the situation made worse by Stalin’s insistence on not retreating (and his purge of thousands of officers over the preceding 5-10 years).  The Soviet Union was desperate for ways to stop the German armored columns in their advance and because Soviet industry was being evacuated to cities beyond the Ural Mountains, could not (yet) build enough tanks to go toe-to-toe with the invaders.  Something else needed to be done that could be done inexpensively.  The answer: dogs.

The Soviet plan was more brutal than the Marines’.  The plan was to strap explosives with a magnetic detonator to the dogs, have them run underneath the German tanks where the mines would explode and disable the German tank.  It would be great–dogs were quick, readily trained, plentiful, and it was easy to manufacture explosives for the purpose.  …besides, they are ‘only’ dogs….

Training went quickly.  The dogs had packs strapped to them and were then given Pavlovian conditioning.  Treats were placed under the tanks (T-26s generally) in the training area leading the dog to go hunting for it under the tank.  When the dog succeeded, he got a pet on the head, moved back a distance, and the process was repeated again with the dog charging headlong towards the tank for his treat/food.  This was repeated until the dog would go under the tank even if a treat was not present.  When it became automatic, the dogs were sent forward.

Notice the problems?  There are a ton here…all from the core problem that the training is not gamelike:

  1. The target is stationary.  The dogs wouldn’t run under a moving tank, so they ‘sat’ waiting and were shot in the process.
  2. Soviet tanks smelled different than German ones (using diesel not gasoline), so that when the dogs were released, they immediately sought out *SOVIET* tanks.  Yup, the training regimen meant the Soviets hurt their own combat forces.
  3. Gunfire scared the dogs, so they ran away seeking shelter–often Soviet bunkers/entrenchments…where the presence of metal/whatever caused the detonation of the explosives.  Again–hurting their own forces.

The Soviets insisted the program was a big success, but during WW2 the Germans documented only 20-ish successes with the anti-tank dog program.  Let’s call it 50 destroyed for the heck of it.  That means 0.1% of all German tanks were damaged (not even classified as destroyed) by the dogs.  If we use Soviet figures, that climbs to a balmy 0.6%.  Yuck.  What a boondoggle.

So…I get the difference between culture and situations, the desperation of the Soviet fight against the Nazis in the summer of 1941 is far different than the Marines taking it to the Imperial Japanese Army in the Pacific campaign.

But–look at the success of the USMC program because of the training regimen.  The Soviets continue with their dog-training and never have success with it.  What’s the difference?  Yup–game-like vs. blocked training.

It’s not just about coaching sports–game-like matters in real life and with big deals.



The application of an ethical mindset (beyond coaching)

So a couple weeks ago, I went to a Marine Corps workshop on leadership.  I wrote about the basics of it for

This blog is the first in quite a while that isn’t really about coaching–even though it was provoked by it.  This is about politics and also was influenced by an article at The Atlantic.  You should read it–but one of the conclusions is important.  The two major parties do not look at the Constitution in similar fashion.  Since 1992 (the start of the destruction of the GOP by Newt Gingrich), Republicans refer back primarily to the Republic’s early years–basically before the Missouri Compromise.  Democrats?  Believe it or not, their references almost all initiate from within the Republican Party.  The catch?  Their references all come from the Radical Republican era of 1865–1876.

Anyways, all this percolated in my brain.  Please remember, too, I’m a registered Republican.  Yes, I’m an old white guy.  The thing is–somewhere along the way, the GOP veered away from the ideals that attracted me to it long ago in my youth to become the monstrosity it is today.  As it stands, the GOP will go the way of the Whigs before the end of this century.  Deservedly.  Its current stance on trade, immigration, education, voting rights–all are on the wrong side of history and are reversed from the party’s policies of its first 130+ years of existence.

Anyways, what’s this got to do with the Marines?  Yeah.  A big part of the workshop was the constant emphasis on ethics and personal integrity–that those are qualities that separate a Marine officer from others.  If a Marine officer holds himself accountable to a higher standard, he will hold his men likewise, thus insuring that the Marines remain an elite military force.

One thing was mentioned by three different officers in three different seminars/lectures: Under no circumstance should a Marine officer trade short-term gain at the expense of his/the Corps’ long term, core values.  To improve a sports team, they recommended using that as a framework.  I was glad to hear that–it was re-affirming as I’ve put ethics and morality ahead of winning on the scoreboard since I became a coach.  Still, in the two weeks after getting back, I’ve been ‘practicing’ with ethics, applying that statement to any situation I could.

I realized that starting with Newt Gingrich’s takeover of the Republican Party, the GOP has done *exactly* what the Marines say not to do–they’ve traded short-term gain at the expense of long-term values.  Has it worked?  Short-term…absolutely.  Senate Republicans are appointing judges left and right, a “Republican” is president, Republicans govern a majority of states.  But what has the price been?

  • Alienation of a large majority of non-whites
  • Alienation of non-fundamentalist Christians
  • Hypocrisy–fundamentalists declaring Trump to be a true Christian for instance
  • rollbacks on free trade agreements
  • reducing environmental protection (go and look–the EPA is Nixon’s, Bush II created the first ocean ‘preserve’ in the US, the national park system–Republican…heck, conservative and conservation…same basic word)
  • allies’ loss of confidence in American values
  • the tearing up of international agreements–including some negotiated by Republicans

It would be easy to go further.  Every one of these, though, has helped win elections.  But to what end?  Where has the gain been for the medium or long term?  Is the health care system getting better?  What about the national debt which will *double* in the next decade to nearly $30 trillion? (about $85,000/American in 2030 or about $200,000/worker)

Long-term, the GOP needs to find its principles and act on those.  I dare you to tell me what Republican principles are.  The closest you’ll find is their declaration upon Obama’s inauguration that “We will oppose any legislation he proposes.”…but that’s not really ‘principle’, is it?

What needs to be considered long-term?

  1. Climate change
  2. The rise of China
  3. World demographics–from Russia’s shrinking population/economy to the continuing untapped potential of India and all of sub-Saharan Africa
  4. The interplay of science-ethics-religion–just because science CAN do something, SHOULD science do it?
  5. International agreements regarding cyber-conflict…needed to prevent the possibility of nuclear war based on hacking/tampering
  6. the national debt

So after all this rambling–think about your actual ethics and values.  Do you value the long-term?  (We have a generation that has generally proven to think ONLY in the short-term…everyone after the Boomers MUST do better).  How do we take your values, my values, and work to fix those problems, to make sure the long-term is squared away?  It’s not easy.  I know that.

It leaves me with a thought from Ronald Reagan and his philosophy of politics–something also forgotten by today’s “Republicans”.  Reagan understood there was not going to be agreement on things like abortion, that all that issue did was stir up fanatics on both extremes (which it has…).  So–why don’t we ignore the issues where we know there is no room for agreement, leave them alone, and focus on what we can get done?

His attitude sums up Republicans (and Democrats really) through most of the 20th century.  We need to get back to that.  Now.