A Proper Evaluation of Serve-Receive

The first coach to really make an effort to explain the mechanics of coaching to me was Jim Stone back when he was at Ohio State–the only coach to lead OSU to a Final Four or Big Ten title.  Jim was great–he didn’t spout dogma.  He gave me resources and let me think–taking advantage of the fact my background wasn’t from playing the game.  That led me to statistics and reading stuff by Jim Coleman one of the early stat/analysis gurus of volleyball (and really, any sport).

**SHORT PLUG–>If you like reading this, consider going to Amazon and purchasing Like Heck She Isn’t a Volleyball Player.  It’s inexpensive and supports my efforts at going beyond the box.  Go ahead…I’ll wait.**

One of the things I loved then–and still do–about Coleman’s approach was that statistics have to be useful, either to guide future practices or to help with the match while it’s ongoing.  Otherwise, they are basically fluff (like the individual “Points” stat used now for volleyball).  He came up with a lot of useful, brilliant stuff, including the system most people use for rating serve-receive ability.

Coleman basically rated passes on a scale of 0-3, ‘0’ representing getting aced or the ball being overpassed while the other numbers represent the number of choices available for a setter.  This meant the question became what constituted a good average.  For me, I always figured it was between 2.1 and 2.3…that was before I coached Emily Orrick, the best juco libero ever–she put up a 2.61 and a 2.65 in her two years here.  Okay–that’s irrelevant.  Anyways….

We had a tournament about that point where we had two passers total passing numbers that looked like this (I’m making the numbers up to show my argument, by the way):

  • 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 1, 1, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 1, 3  15/28,  1.86
  • 0, 0, 3, 3, 1, 3, 3, 3, 3, 0, 1, 2, 3, 3, 0  15/28,  1.86

Those two passers are statistically the same.  Both averaged 1.86 options/pass.  But are they the same passer?  I don’t think so.

So I started grinding numbers and realized that there’s a problem with the math.  When we use the 1-2-3 system, it is set up so that a ‘2’ is worth double a ‘1’-value pass, and that a ‘3’ is worth 50% more than a ‘2’ and 300% more than a ‘1’.  That seemed off.  My gut told me that a perfect pass should be much more valuable than a pass where the setter had to forearm it or a non-setter played the ball (my gut’s only partially right as you’ll see).

With information provided by multiple coaches, most memorably Todd Dagenais at Central Florida, Penn State assistants (from both men’s/women’s teams), and Pete Hanson from the Ohio State men’s team, along with stats from the NJCAA-level and a couple HS programs, I was able to put together some serve-receive statistics.  What I found was that the 1-2-3 sequence wasn’t valuing things properly. 

The chances of scoring based on the pass quality (in percent).  Remember, you can score on a ‘0’ since that includes overpasses which provide a chance for an opponent to make a mistake. :

  • “0”:  2
  • “1”:  12   An increase of 600% over a ‘0’ (instead of infinite…)
  • “2”: 44    An increase of 367% over a ‘1’ (instead of 100%)
  • “3”: 53    An increase of 21% over a ‘2’ and 442% over a ‘1’ (instead of 50/300)

Now–part of Coleman’s philosophy is that we MUST keep things simple.  Tallying things as 2-12-44-53 isn’t easy during a match, but…rounding numbers is!  But let’s look at this a different way.

On a ‘1’, I have a 10% chance of a kill, thus with normal pass-rating, a ‘2’ should create a 20% chance of a sideout (because it’s value is double) and a 30% chance on a ‘3’ (where the value is treble).  Instead we get 10-40-50.

So why not change your pass rating system to 0-1-4-5 instead and get the true value of a pass as the rating?  Well, first we need to know if it can differentiate better than the old system, so let’s go back to those two passers earlier…


  • 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 1, 1, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 1, 3  15/28,  1.86, 1 perfect pass
  • 0, 0, 3, 3, 1, 3, 3, 3, 3, 0, 1, 2, 3, 3, 0  15/28,  1.86, 8 perfect passes


  • 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 1, 1, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 1, 5  15/52, 3.47
  • 0, 0, 5, 5, 1, 5, 5, 5, 5, 0, 1, 4, 5, 5, 0  15/46, 3.07

Uh, oh–now we’ve got a big difference.  The normal system gives us an idea of the average number of options a setter has from a pass, but the second is more important–it provides an idea of our expected sideout percentage from the passes, and while it sounds simplistic, the reality is whoever scores the most points wins a volleyball set.  

What we now see is those two passers are not equal.  While the second passer is perfect more often, her problems with the other serves drops her value significantly.  Heck–if we replace those ‘0’ with ‘1’, the modified value will STILL be lower than the first player’s, even though the 0-3 system numbers are now superior.

Ahh, but there’s other important stuff here, not just a better way of comparing players to know who is performing better.  The progression of the value is no longer linear.  There’s a huge jump in value from a ‘1’ to a ‘2’ and a much smaller uptick from ‘2’ to ‘3’.  This means you get more bang for your buck improving poor passes than working on making good passes perfect.

There’s a sub-lesson there, too.  Youth coaches, by reflex it seems, pull some players out of passing duties because they aren’t good–but if this valuation holds for defense as well as serve-receive, then shouldn’t we work on passing with middles/others who get pulled from the back row?  Even if they are only playing defense while they serve, turning them into mediocre passers can have huge benefits (along with things like self-confidence).  Aiming for those perfect passes regularly, when the improvement over being consistently good is not significant, that’s time that could be spent improving those athletes’ other skills as well–I suspect that the value of improving other skills from poor to average is more valuable across the board than good to great (below the highest of levels).

Consider what this means for how you run a practice?  Are you maximizing your chances for improvement, making it easier to win?  Are you preparing your athletes fully for the next level of play?

**If you liked this and have some money burning a hole in your pocket, consider sparing some change and donating to the Dietz Foundation, my educational charity (501(c)3, designed to advocate for education through non-traditional means.  The website’s up and the first creative project (a boardgame) is getting ready for production already.  Your help can provide scholarships for kids looking to go to college and become tomorrow’s educators!
























Odd Family History (everyone has things like this)

A friend of mine, Eric, has a mom who has been doing some research into her family and things like her dad’s service during World War Two–some cool stuff like picking up a Purple Heart during Operation Cobra, serving as part of an ACR within George Patton‘s 3rd Army.

Another friend works to keep the memory of his grandfather’s best friend alive–he was killed in the Huertgen Forest (one of the stupidest campaigns of World War Two).  That man had no siblings, so only my friend is left now keeping that soldier’s memory alive.

In any event, some of this got me thinking about one of the useless bits of trivia from my family’s history….on my mom’s side, my great-grandfather loved playing football as a youth.  Playing a match at the turn of the century, he was clearing a ball from his end of the pitch and launched it straight into the face of the opposing forward.  Now, this is 1900 we are talking about.  This isn’t a modern FIFA ball.  This is (photo by Jacques Barralon):


The ball is leather covering inner-tubes and a rubber bladder.  It’s worse than just that.  Leather absorbs water, so that as a game went on, it picked up weight, became heavier, harder to kick, painful to head.

Anyways, my great-grandfather struck the ball and it connected with the opponent’s face.  That forward collapsed immediately like he’d been shot.  With most football games, it keeps going until there’s clear proof an injury is serious (more important in modern soccer where so many athletes flop and fake injuries).  But not this contest.  Unlike most football injuries where the game may keep going if someone gets hurt, this injury stopped the match instantly.  The health of the forward was considered far more important than the game.

The forward was Friedrich Wilhelm Victor August Ernst.  You don’t recognize that name.  That’s fair.  It’d help if the guy had a last name, right…though the lack of a surname should be a big clue.  No last name.  None of the royalty of Europe run around with last names.  See–the guy my great-grandfather knocked totally cold was the Crown Prince of Germany….

How many people do you know who have ancestors who knocked royalty out cold?  



A Pro VB League in the US should be Easy

I wrote a blog recently discussing ‘MeToo’-type problems within USAV‘s High Performance program.  In that post I flippantly make a comment on the lack of a professional volleyball league in the U.S..  Creating one would be easy.  I’ve talked about it with friends previously and I don’t think it would be difficult for one to work, nor, critically, do I think a massive amount of money would be required.

First, this is going to be all about television/broadcast.  The objective isn’t going to be to get it ‘live’–but to get a consistent time-slot on a network.  At that point, VB fans can use Tivo, etc, to find it on a weekly basis.  Making it for-broadcast also means you can enhance things in post-production, take time to include interviews with players, the works, and then be able to guarantee to the network that it can fit (with spaces for commercials) in a 90 or 120-minute space.  This is all the key–because networks only care about the bottom line.  Show them they can make money and they’ll be on-board, witness ESPN’s constant showing of both poker and cornhole.

Also, a while back, I did a post about the costs of club and what they should be.  This post will be similar.  If there are amounts here that are way off, please comment!  Please share this post so that maybe we can get progress done on this, whether it is a men’s league or women’s.  Ultimately, what is being done now via “pro” teams playing at regional tournaments is silly–and doesn’t offer anything that will ever go ‘big time.’

So it comes down to the start-up/basic costs.  What do we need for a league?

  • Competitive schedule  
  • Athletes/Coaches
  • Venue
  • Officials
  • Broadcasting expenses
  • Sponsors for gear/uniforms

Let’s take those in order then.

Competitive Schedule: Ultimately, a 16-team league works best, but initially, eight teams is more manageable.  Better to limit potential screw-ups in a first year and expand after than start big and contract.  Sports leagues that contract are always perceived as ‘losers’.  For this blog though, let’s go full out–16 teams.  We’ll put them in two divisions of 8.  Teams play their division’s teams twice and never play the other division’s (because we’re going to have an all-star game AFTER the season is over).  This means a division is playing 56 matches.  Combined, the two divisions will play 112 regular season matches.  Once those are done, we’ll have the two division winners play a best-of-three series against one another for a champion followed by an all-star game.  That brings us to a total of 116 matches for the league.  Now that we know that, we’ll be able figure costs better.

Just as important, we’ll need to figure out the amount of time we need gym space for.  We’re going to stagger days for the league, one division plays MON/WED/FRI, the other SUN/TUE/THU.   We’re going to play best two-of-three sets (club-style), so teams will be asked to play twice on each of those days.  This means ALL regular season matches can be completed in the space of a couple weeks (just short of 8 play dates).  If we add a week for the post-season and all-star game, the full pro-season is going to last about a month (pre-season practice time in there as well).

Athletes/Coaches/Staff: We’re presuming 4 OH/OPP, 3 MH, 2 S, 1 L.  Basically, 10 athletes per team.  We’ll go with two coaches per team and a general manager to handle drafting players/administrative stuff, but no in-game coaching.   13 people, 16 teams gives us 208 employees.  Let’s add 12 more employees for the League to handle PR, paperwork, HR/pay, whatever.  220 employees total. 

We are going to hold this during a ‘dead period’ for international leagues (work with me–I’m aware leagues all have various schedules), so this is ‘extra’ money for athletes.  Still, we’re going to pay them fairly.  We’re just starting out, so $78,000/year is good money–>but they are only working for us for five weeks, not a full year.  That’s going to be $7,500/person.  That means our labor costs are going to be $1,650,000.  (If we are going with 8 teams, that would get halved)

Venue: We’re likely going to want to monopolize a facility with 4 courts for 30 days of use.  That’s 120 court-days.  If we’re paying $100/hour/court  (a number I consider high because we’re giving someone guaranteed money and guarantees have value in terms of revenue streams….), we’re paying $400/hour or $4,000/day.  Over the course of five weeks–no, we’ll call it six weeks because we’ll want time for set up and take down–that’s 42 days.  That means facilities are going to cost us $168,000.  The total expense rises to $1,818,000.

Officials:  We know we have 116 matches.  We need 2 refs, 4 line judges (we’re going 1st class), a scorer and libero tracker/scoreboard operator.  We can’t pay big-time D-1 rates, but we want to be reasonable and make it worthwhile.  Let’s pay $50/match for the refs, $20 for the LJ and other staff.  That’s $220/match total costs.  If finding personnel is troublesome, you use athletes from the division with the day off (and still pay those athletes).  $220/match, 116 matches will cost $25,520 bringing costs to $1,843,520.  (NOTE: Heck, let’s triple things–and it still is a drop in the bucket of costs…)

Broadcast Expenses: This is the one area I have no clue about.  Picked up by a network, ideally, this would be zero.  With the right sponsors, this would be zero.  Given time, it would be hoped this could become a positive and bring money in to the league, permitting an increase in salaries, advertising, etc.

Sponsors: Rather than presume things, sponsors would need to be found to lodge staff while the league was in session or pay for gear, or maybe the broadcast/commercials independently.  If not, you’re looking at extended stay rooms ($400/person over six weeks–$88,000) and about $8,000/team for gear ($128,000).  We’re adding about $216,000 to our expenses, so we’re finishing up with total costs of running the league at $2,059,520, but you can NEVER be sure of being on-budget, so let’s build in a cost overrun of 30%.  That would mean we’re going to need $2,677,376 to operate the league.

Is that really that much?  Consider that an NBA star gets paid $20-30 million/year for an endorsement deal by a major company.  We’re running an entire league for 10% of a single endorsement.  If we broadcast once/week for nine weeks, they are getting good mileage from sponsorship.

What if USA Volleyball helped?  According to the USAV website, there are 364,000 registered members in the U.S.   If we added an $8 surcharge to registration fees (which is piddling given the freakin’ thousands kids are paying to the clubs), then there isn’t any sponsorship needed.  It’s ALL paid for.

I had a talk two years ago with someone who convinced the AVCA that a grassroots league with championships/matches held at regional tournaments was a better way of doing things.  Maybe–but ESPN/NBC Sports/Outdoor Network aren’t going to drag gear all around the US to film in venues not suitable for TV.  If you want a successful VB league in the United States, it HAS to be done with broadcast (TV, online, whatever) first and foremost in mind.  

Have you heard of that pro league?  Seen it on TV?  Unless you are a radical fanatic, I doubt it.

I get that my idea is imperfect–I don’t know the playing schedule of European leagues, etc.  —but by putting it in one place, compressing the playing (but not broadcast) schedule, costs are clearly kept at a minimum and make a league financially feasible.

Think about it.  Could you support something like this?  A pro league is absolutely possible–it just has to overcome bureaucratic inertia.

In any event, please consider buying my book on volleyball and thinking outside the box.  It’s called Like Heck She Isn’t a Volleyball PlayerIt’s under $5 and it has some good stuff (my opinion) on various things about the sport–different ways to look at the game, coaching, or what goes through a coach’s mind as a game goes on…I mean, all you’ve got to do is skip that latte for one day and you’ve got a book forever, right?.






George H.W. Bush (A quick note)

Former President Bush has died.  There’s already argument about his legacy, whether he was ‘the last of…,’ ‘was he a good president,’ etc.. That is for history to sort out.

I remember his campaign in ’88 as I was working for the Republican National Committee during that summer and had the opportunity to be in New Orleans for the Convention…where one of my great memories is learning that good tasting alcohol is FAR more dangerous than beer…and that you CAN make money on the shell game from con men.  But what I really remember from New Orleans was something I didn’t process completely at the time.

I was shocked how many younger adult Republicans (people between 30-45 or so) had radical ideas–restricting the 1st Amendment, restricting the 5th Amendment…the works.  I thought they were outsiders, radicals, in those meetings held during the Convention.  It certainly turned me off from continuing in the Party machinery.  What I didn’t realize was that was the beginning of what the Republican Party has become.  Control the machinery, control the Party–that was Stalin.  But it has worked for those 1988 Boomer radicals intent on fighting “the Left.”

And that wasn’t Bush–I think it’s why many within the GOP didn’t support him wholeheartedly in 1992 against Clinton.  It’s a pity–Bush was moral, he was ethical.  He did what he thought was right for the nation, worked with Democrats to forge answers to problems.  With the Gulf War, he forged a coalition of 100+ nations, he chose not to exploit the fall of the USSR for potential advantage, but to make sure it didn’t launch nukes in a death spasm (though if only Bush had authorized a ‘Marshall Plan’ for the USSR, perhaps a true republic could have flourished there instead of Putin’s neo-Soviet rule).

Bush could not help being the tail-end of the ‘Greatest Generation’ in power or that the Baby Boomers wanted to shove everyone aside so they could run things.  We’ve had three Boomer presidents (plus Obama–but hate for him is a different Boomer story) and hopefully we will move on in 2020 to the next generation.

It’s what Bush was hoping for–for a decade, he has told children that they are the future, they will work hard, they will earn their prosperity, that they will have an amazing world ahead of them.  Bush was wrong on few things.  Ultimately, I think his legacy will be his correct prediction here–that today’s youth are amazing, they will do great things, and they will work to return civility to our political system.

Dystopian or Apocalyptic Movies

So…since I’ve done a few posts on books and movies and music related to history, why not look at some stuff that hints at the future?  Not all of these take place at the ‘end of the world’–many are dystopic, meaning ‘frightening’ or ‘anti-utopian’.  The list is alphabetical.  The first great dystopian movie was Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’.  You’ll find that here–don’t worry.

28 Days/Weeks Later: Released in 2003 and 2007, they explore the effects of an animal-borne virus that spreads from monkeys to humans because of animal-rights terrorists.  In terms of end-of-the-world movies, 28 Days Later does one big, important thing for cinema–it changes zombies from shambling, slow-moving creatures into frenetic berserkers that descend on victims like packs of wolves or schools of piranha.  28 Weeks Later takes up the story after Britain has recovered–until it doesn’t and the virus spreads beyond Britain, setting up a third movie…that never got made.

Blade Runner/BR 2049: Neither movie did well in theaters, but both are film-noir classics, created 35 years apart.  Based on Philip Dick’s novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the movies take up the theme of what it means to be human–and whether an android can be human.  The world is dark, the Earth slowly dying from atomic war (the book) or unknown causes in the movies.  The movies make things interesting with the central city of the story–massive, sprawling, and a complete mosh of cultures and languages.  For philosophy, the book is better–for imagery of what a world falling to pieces could really look like, the movies are better.

Blood of Heroes:  Known outside the US as ‘The Salute of the Jugger,’ this is a movie about a sports team traveling the wastelands, gambling on winning for things like food and supplies, moving from one poor area to another–until they get a chance to get back to the underground city where wealth still exists and they have a chance at glory against a professional team.  They never tell you what the disaster was that caused the world to go to Hell, but you can play the game they invented for the movie.  Info is here.

The Book of Eli: From 2010, it has Denzel Washington in a nuclear wasteland heading west towards Alcatraz where the people there are trying to save the best of the past.  He’s fighting to get through a post-apocalyptic ‘Wild West’ where Gary Oldman runs things.  People either love the movie or they hate it.  There aren’t many in between on it.  I have a personal odd relationship with the movie–it’s the last one I watched with my mom before her final trip to see my sister where she died a few days later.

Clockwork Orange:  Ahh, Malcolm McDowell.  What a weird, wild movie by Stanley Kubrick–England dominated by thugs (droogs) and violent criminals.  One is arrested and subjected to psychological torture/conditioning to change their behavior…becoming a political tool in an election campaign with no one realizing he has been ‘cured’ of his conditioning.  Honestly, the most disturbing part of the film is the juxtaposition of the violence with the classical music:

Dawn of the Dead:  This is part of Romero’s series starting with ‘Night of the Living Dead’ and was filmed in 1978.  It’s redone in 2004, but don’t watch that version.  Dawn of the Dead sees a few survivors occupy a mall, looking to survive the Zombie Apocalypse there with the mall’s food and services.  …except it wouldn’t be a post-apocalyptic movie without things going wrong, bikers rampaging without care across the remains of the world.  It’s also a great movie about consumerism and the mindlessness of American customers (the mall, sadly, no longer exists).

WARNING–>this is low budget…but with that said, Tom Savini did amazing work with the zombie guts!

This discusses both versions of the movie…with a bit of snark.

Death Race 2000:  From my childhood (1975), one of my favorites–never mind that I was too young to even understand the nudity-sort of stuff.  This was wild cars running over people on the streets for points!  It’s an interesting take on modern America–a president who sits on a big throne (in his White House–in China!), controls the population through the media and the creation of a driving superstar: Frankenstein.  There’s a resistance movement, too, fighting back against massive government and repression.  It’s got some big stars including David Carradine, Sylvester Stallone, and Mary Woronov, as well as Gopher from ‘The Love Boat’.  After you watch it, you’ll start counting the point-value of pedestrians.  Trust me.

Escape from New York/L.A.:  Escape from New York was the first R-rated movie I went to.  It takes place in 1997 after New York is turned into the US’s only maximum-security prison where prisoners are left to fend for themselves.  It takes place at a time where the US is at war with the Soviet Union–with vital information for peace negotiations, the President crashes (due to terrorists) inside New York and only war hero-turned-criminal Snake Plissken (Have you heard of him?  I heard he was dead.) can get him out–and he’s got 24 hours to do it.  EfNY has great actors, great action, and a twist at the end.

LA is a different sort of movie.  With this one, John Carpenter’s take is different.  This is the dystopia of Hollywood/California life.  Rather than the gritty urban scenes of Escape from New York, this is more…”cheesy” (for lack of a better word).  You’re going to feel the oddity of California, get surfer-movie and Disney references in it as well.  I’m one of the few people who finds both enjoyable.  Many who see LA first like it a great deal–but those who love the ’81 New York movie and watch it over and over have their eyeballs bleed if LA is on a screen nearby.

And Escape from L.A.–it’s cheesy, but realize that’s Peter Fonda and intentionally so…not everyone understood that when the movie was released.

I Am Legend/The Omega Man/The Last Man on Earth:  All of these are based on the same novel, I am Legend, by Richard Matheson.  They are all about one man immune to a plague that has turned the rest of humanity into vampires.  By day, the man hunts and kills as many vampires as he can while at night, he hides while vampires try and track him down to stop his murdering of their kind.

The most recent remake featured Will Smith.  Before him came Charlton Heston and before him, Vincent Price, so it isn’t like these were schlubs starring in the films–and yet all three are just ‘okay’.  I prefer the Heston version, but it hasn’t aged well–it looks like the 1970s.  Price’s version looks like it was low-budget (which it was) while Will Smith’s looks the best/most timeless–but it just feels like it’s a generic attempt at a blockbuster summer movie.  This is the trailer for Heston’s.  See what I mean about it looking dated?

In Time: This isn’t the greatest movie in the world.  I get that.  It is entertaining though if you ignore the economics of it all.  Basically when you become an adult, you get a clock that starts running on you.  If it reaches zero, you die.  When you work, you get paid in time–so the more time you have, the longer you live…and no one ever ages past 25, so everyone stays beautiful, too…unless you die. 

Thus, the very wealthy accumulate time/manipulate the system to further their wealth and power while the bottom of society, the working class, can do nothing other than work/slave away.  Yeah, it’s pretty Marxist…but in terms of a modern take on dystopia?  Why not?

The Last Chase:  Lee Majors from ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ (a silly title now in the era of athletes with $300 million contracts) is a race driver in an America left without oil where cars are banned.  Top that off with a plague that killed a bunch of people.  Now it’s time to escape to freedom (California) with a young boy and pursued by the government…and the only way to catch a race care lieft–a F-86 Sabre jet with the last living jet pilot.

I get that it isn’t a great movie…but was okay when I had the flu back in ’82 or ’83.  It is interesting though in showing American fear of running out of oil after the OPEC crises of the 1970s.

Logan’s Run:  From 1976, this movie needs to be remade!  It’s about a post-nuclear war society where no one is permitted to live past 30…amusing since the Baby Boomer generation’s slogan was ‘trust no one over 30’.  Of course, it’s been 40 years now and the Boomers have changed their beliefs–since they hold most offices.  Now, of course, they cynically proclaim the wisdom of their advanced age.  Go figure.  Like Heston’s ‘Omega Man’, the costuming and envisioning of the future don’t hold up well which takes away from the plot and ideas.  

Mad Max (series):  Starting as a low-budget Australian film, Mad Max proved popular enough to spawn a 1980s trilogy–Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome and then a 21st century film, Fury Road.  In Mad Max, there’s a semblance of order left as the oil runs out and people begin fighting for resources, but by the time of The Road Warrior, that’s gone and you get pure post-apocalyptic Australian wastelands.  Big ideas, big action…Thunderdome is disappointing mainly because it’s good, not great like the others.

From the Mel Gibson ones:

From Tom Hardy’s:

Matrix (series):  The first of these was great.  Then you got ‘Reloaded’ which was good and ‘Revolutions’ which was all right, I guess (you also have the animated ‘Animatrix’ which has several small stories and is an interesting thing to watch).  The problem is like many innovative movies–the sequels can’t capture your original amazement at what you see.  The movies take place in a world where the world is actually inside a computer, except for humans resisting machine control…except that it could all be within another computer which seeks to erase everything as glitched.  The original remains a great movie to leave on if you see it.  Laurence Fishburne is great, but sometimes I can’t help but wonder, “Why do I see him and think ‘Why isn’t Samuel L. Jackson in this instead?'”

Also important–those special effects in this scene are now two decades old.

Metropolis: One of the first dystopian films–maybe the first as it goes back almost a century to 1927.  It was long for its time–more than two hours, and it grossed about 2% of its production costs, about as big of a bomb as you can get.  Yet here we are talking about it.  It’s about the son of the city’s controller who tries to unite the workers and the city management for the good of all, a bridging of classes.  In Weimar Germany, this was a large issue with a great divide between the wealthy, the middle, and the poor and communists.  There’s an early 1980s release of it where they put in modern rock music from Freddie Mercury (yes, that Freddie Mercury).  That doesn’t do anything for me, but I do like Queen’s song, “Radio Gaga,” which uses the film for inspiration.

Clip from the film:

Queen’s music video:

Planet of the Apes (Charlton Heston era):  I don’t think they ever expected to make sequels and a TV show out of this.  It’s a fascinating look at space flight and the horror of nuclear war and what happens when astronauts are thrown far into the future, humanity is destroyed, reduced to being animals, as various species of monkeys evolve and create a new world order.  That’s where the astronauts come in–the apes have never seen a talking human before.  They need to be destroyed.   The sequels are entertaining and also serve as allegory for things like racism.  

There’s one big problem with the movies and you have to suspend disbelief.  Thousands of years in to the future and the apes have evolved and amazingly….they speak English.  This (sort of) gets ret-conned by one of the later movies where an ape is taught to speak circa 1970 or so, but still….

Planet of the Apes (21st century series, and specifically NOT the 2001 remake by Tim Burton):  Completely inspired by the first–and designed to be a movie series, the premise here is a serum that increases primate intelligence, but with genetic manipulation that causes a virus to cross over to humans which kills 99% of humanity off.  This leaves equal numbers of intelligent humans and monkeys and a conflict between wanting power and wanting peace and trying to co-exist.  What is nice is that they set up as prequels (mostly) to the originals.  You can take these, then watch the first movie and they link together quite well.

Ready Player One:  Based on the novel, it’s a world where everyone’s caught up in virtual reality.  It has a ton of inside jokes regarding video games and ’80s cultural references.  It’s not my cup of tea, but most people I know have found it entertaining.  I think it’s just too obvious in terms of the power/downtrodden, wealthy/poor storyline.  I appreciate movies with a message, but this is a bit too obvious.  

RoboCop: The funny thing with this is that it’s got a sleazy city government led by a corrupt black mayor…which is exactly what happened 10-15 years after the movie was made.  In an effort to cut costs, the city creates a cyborg cop to patrol the streets (conveniently with an attractive female partner…).  It portrays a dying city, rife with drugs, crime, the works…which is pretty much what Detroit was becoming/became.  The thing is, what you don’t get from this Dystopia–the hope of recovery.  Detroit’s in better shape than it was 20 years ago, finally heading in the right direction.

Rollerball (James Caan version):  This is the first Dystopian movie I can remember watching on ‘Channel 100’, the precursor to HBO.  It’s the story of a man named Jonathan who plays the world’s greatest sport of rollerball for the Houston corporation.  The sport is about the team, that no one can rise above as an individual–yet Jonathan does, so the movie becomes the story of the attempt to destroy Jonathan.

It’s still a great movie.  The technology is a bit off–the movie is 40+ years old, but they get some things quite right–multiple, giant-screen televisions covering action from every possible angle, etc.  I watched it recently with my daughter and she also thought it was a great movie.  Ultimately, this is how you create a movie that’s fun/interesting to watch while presenting a moral dilemma for pondering later.

Also important–avoid the remake at all possible costs.  You’ll never get those 90 minutes of your life back.  It’s not even good as background noise.

Soylent Green: Charlton Heston was on a roll with these movies, having also starred in ‘Planet of the Apes’ (see above).  This is the film adaptation of the Harry Harrison novel, Make Room! Make Room! which is the story of a cop in New York in a world overpopulated and out of resources, where people are assigned roommates because there just isn’t anywhere else for people to go.

It’s a dingy movie with a great, gritty feel.  It builds slowly towards its emotional payoff and just like ‘Rollerball’, it entertains you without beating you too hard over the head with its message.  Given the way corporations are governments are raping the planet right now, at a certain point, we still have to wonder–is this a possible future for us a century from now?

The trailer gives you a good feel for the movie–and spoils nothing.

They Live:  One of my favorite movies of all time.  The funny thing?  It doesn’t have a movie star in the key role–it has a professional wrestler, the late Rowdy Roddy Piper.  It’s another movie where the plot centers around the wealthy in a conspiracy to keep the poor oppressed and to exploit the planet’s resources.  The catch is–they are in cahoots with aliens who are disguised and walking among us.  The Resistance develops a way to see the aliens, Piper gradually gets involved, and it’s a roller coaster from there.  Done by John Carpenter, it was in the middle of a serious roll of great films for him–‘Big Trouble in Little China,’ ‘The Thing,’ ‘Escape from New York,’ and ‘Christine.’

GREAT SCENE (and the origin of a line a whole bunch of people use….):

Not related to being a dystopic movie, Carpenter should be appreciated for his ability to make entertaining movies on low budgets, without relying on massive special effects.  I also love that you can see a lot of the same actors in the various Carpenter films.

Zombieland:  Over the past twenty years, zombie movies and products have saturated the market.  There are hundreds of them.  ‘Zombieland’ is different, a great deal like ‘Shaun of the Dead,’ except that SotD takes place in a normal, every day world–and concludes in a normal world with just a few changes to it.  Zombieland takes place in an America where society has collapsed, leaving stragglers and survivors scattered.  That’s nothing new for apocalyptic movies.  What makes ZL different is that it maintains a feeling for human reaction/relationships and a great sense of humor, breaking the 4th wall at points.  What happens to cultural icons when society dies?  Will survivors seek out places like Disney as comfort?  What happens when you realize you’ll never be able to eat your favorite snack again?  –those aren’t issues you really ever see dealt with in a zombie movie.

(How many movies can combine silliness, violence, Metallica–all before the credits are done?

Whew–make it to the end?  If you did and liked it, consider hitting “FOLLOW” for the blog.  You might find yourself entertained, you might learn something about coaching, but mostly, hopefully it helps you think!  





I Hate John Kessel

Well, if that didn’t grab your attention as a volleyball coach, I don’t know what can.

Not really, but it’s a great blog-post title.

So one of the things that I’ve spoken with Mr. Kessel about in the past is statistics and things like deviation, regression to the mean, and a great Star Wars-inspired quote: “May the variance be in your favor.”

But there’s the thing–it’s variance. It’s deviation. Sometimes events don’t turn out like you want and sometimes they go south at the worst possible time!

So this past week, we made it to the NJCAA National Tournament. We won our first match, but lost our best middle hitter late in the match when the other team’s setter came way under the net. Thank goodness she had ankle braces on–it limited the damage to a pretty serious sprain. The following match, I think we would’ve won if she was available, but we didn’t–and to be quite clear, the team which beat us (Johnson County) is a good team, coached well. That set us up for our [say this in a bass voice] “date with destinyyyyyy.”

Relegated to playing for 5th-8th place, I was still upbeat. We were playing a team we beat earlier in the year when we were really short-handed.  Now with our best outside hitter healthy, I figured we were in better shape, not yet aware of our “date with destinyyyyyy.”

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I’ve been at Lincoln Land for 595 matches and I’ve prided myself on always having good passing teams.  Yeah, you get bad days, but for every bad, you get a good.  Variance.  Regression to the mean.  Destinyyyyyy.

So in those 593 matches before this one now to be played, how have we passed?  Again, though the best way of determining passing value is 0-1-4-5, I’ve put everything in the traditional 0-1-2-3 scale used by coaches.  So in those 593 matches, how has LLCC passed?


Per Match Average  (Percentage of Matches, rounded)

2.40-99:   69 (12)
2.30-39:   77 (13)
2.20-29: 115 (19)
2.10-19: 124 (21)
2.00-09:   97 (16)
1.90-99:   61 (10)
1.80-99:   42 (7)
1.75-79:     8 (1)
1.74-0.00:  *ZERO*

Basically, 9 times out of 10, we’re going to put up reasonable passing numbers….date with destinyyyyyy….

So, we go out and proceed to have our worst passing match ever.  My thought during the match was, “Holy crap, it’s like we’ve completely forgotten how to pass.  This can’t last.  It’ll be a one set hiccup.”  Umm, no.  As a team, we passed…..  1.61.   Correct.  1.61.

Before Friday, not a single night ever below a 1.75 and then we go out and drop a number far, far lower.  The amazing thing?–we won a set passing that 1.61.   So if you go back and watch that match, you really are watching history–and we’ll regress to the mean and rebound next year.

So observations you can make from our train wreck?

  • We spend time hitting out-of-system.  We won a set while having trouble passing because one of our outsides totally, 100% bought into what we work on; she even hit .279(!) for the match.
  • When it goes south, make sure everyone can handle a second-contact effectively.  You may pass bad enough that the libero can’t get the second ball (or your right-side if that’s your preference)
  • When people suggest you’ve spent enough time on serve-receive, spend more.  If your S/R disappears, you better have a 6’5 hitter around to keep you in things….wait, I don’t have that…most women’s coaches don’t.  So work on that S/R.
  • You can’t control events from the bench.  Have an idea of how you will act as a coach when things go completely and utterly south.  Me?  I stayed calm, noted that after a bad set, the score goes back to 0-0.  I explained a couple adjustments–to suggest it wasn’t us struggling, but that they’d made an adjustment we could counter.  It didn’t work–but why yell at the athletes?  They were just as frustrated that we suddenly couldn’t pass a ball within a kilometer of the net.
  • If it isn’t the end of your season (it happens in August…), don’t get mad, use it as an opportunity to take notes on how your athletes deal with frustration.  You may be able to turn it all into a teachable moment.
  • As it happened and continued…I kept thinking ‘regression to the mean’, thinking we’d recover within the match.  Hah!  But look at the stats above–you can see what an outlier the match was for us.  We did bounce back for the last match, most of the way (1.95).

Ultimately, we have sports, love sports because of moments like this–the moment a good team struggles, a bad team puts it together for two halves, a journeyman pitcher becomes godlike for nine innings on a mound.  We know we are seeing something rare, something that we are unlikely to ever see again…but why my team? (LOL)

So I guess I don’t really hate John after all.

If anything, ‘regression to the mean’ has reminded me of the old story of the Persian king who wanted words of sobriety during heady days and comfort for the bad.  The phrase he was given was “And this, too, shall pass.”   (If only we could’ve passed…)





NJCAA Tournament seeding

I’ve paid attention to seeds for the past few years….basically since 2012.  Every year, coaches complain about seedings–who they have to play, whether they should have been ranked higher, etc.  This goes on in every sport and every college level.  –If a coach isn’t complaining, s/he isn’t happy, right??

In any event, I coach in the NJCAA, the organization with most two-year colleges in the U.S.  None of our schools have the budgets of athletic departments like you find in the Big 12 or the SEC, so when it is time to do seedings and the NJCAA people get together, they’ve got an interesting dilemma, since teams aren’t always (actually, rarely) seen by most of the committee, many of the schools do not share common opponents, and because there is a mandate for geographic representation, you have teams that are weaker who need to be included.  Thus, we can expect the committee to fail pretty often, right?

So how do they do?  There are 16 teams, so the top 8 ought to advance.   Why not check the available record….

1st rd seeds advancing: 1,2,3,4,6,7,8,12    –7 of 8…not bad.
2nd rd advancing: 1,2,4,6   –3 of the top 4 seeds still alive
3rd rd advancing: 1,6  –for posterity, we were the 6-seed, and I was upset–thought we should have been top-4.  Reaching the title game proves that to me.
Champion: 1

1st rd seeds advancing: 1,2,3,4,5,6,9,10  –got the top 6, pretty good.
2nd rd advancing: 1,2,3,4  –perfect
3rd rd advancing: 1,3   –again, a case of how it should have been seeded, but things lined up regardless, because 2-3 would have simply flip-flopped seeds in any event.
Champion: 1

1st rd seeds advancing: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,9  –7 of 8, and got the top 7
2nd rd seeds advancing: 1,2,3,4 –perfect
3rd rd seeds advancing: 1,3
Champion: 3    –But the seeding was correct as #3 played 5-set matches in ALL of the first three rounds and did not dominate anyone until the title game.

So basically, us coaches have no right to complain.  Y’know?

PS.  I’m writing this before 2018’s tournament is done.  The top 8 seeds moved on in the first round and 1-2-3-5 got to the Final Four with 1-2 reaching the title game.  That’s  four years of being spot-on.  Nice work by the committee.

Now off to the gym!