One of my favorite volleyball memories

A long time ago, I was but a wee lad, starting off in the world of coaching.  I’d never played before, so I could not rely on that for help.  I had to learn by asking questions, reading books (like Ari Selinger’s).  Along the way, I had the opportunity to be an assistant for Jim Stone at Ohio State…and this story goes back to my second year working under him, 1993.

Ohio State was selected to participate in the Big 10-Pac 10 (God only knows how many teams were in those conferences at that point…numbers aren’t the strong suit of Big 10 schools, y’know?) Challenge up in Ann Arbor.  It was OSU, Michigan, some team I don’t remember, and…Stanford coached by Don Shaw.

My job was stats–in my prime, I really was faster/more accurate with two clipboards on my lap than a coach with a laptop…I’m still proud of that.  I’m sitting there next to Linda Grensing on the bench with Jim Stone one more seat down.  Things are going well, it’s a tight match–Ohio State was very good, but not yet to its ’94 peak while Stanford was, as always, Stanford.

We’re on the R2’s left, Stanford on the right.  The match is close (sideout scoring) when Stanford picks up 2 points and then a third…which is where the story gets rolling…

The R1 was bad.  He was old and struggling to keep up with the speed of play–and later I found out (and felt bad) that he was one of the big names, the heroes, of volleyball officiating.  I just had the misfortune of seeing him someplace he shouldn’t have been assigned…  The R2 (floor official) deferred on everything to the R1 (official on the stand).  This was in the era of tight ball-handling calls and unfortunately, he was calling things loose and then tight, then loose and tight…it was a mess.  Well, he missed a pretty bad call.  Stanford’s middle (one of the Odens, I think) crushed an overpass down, but caught more net with her hand than a tuna in a trawler haul.

No call.

Jim blew up (which wasn’t a common occurrence).  There was no doubt he was going to pick up a yellow card.  And when you’re an assistant, you just sit there, look down, look around, but you keep things serious.  I mean, you’re boss is *mad*.  So after at least a minute, the R1 finally gives him the yellow card.  Honestly, he deserved it much earlier into his tirade.  

But. There’s. More.   A regular yellow-card isn’t a fond volleyball memory, right?

Before sitting down again, Jim turns to the R2 and in a gym currently quiet, loudly asks, “I just want to know how he can miss a call like that?”  (Absolutely could be heard over on the ref stand, I am sure of it…it was one of those moments where a gym suddenly goes deathly quiet for no reason whatsoever….)

That’s when Don Shaw stood up, took a step towards the R2 and Jim.  The R2 couldn’t really answer, so Shaw did instead:  “That’s easy.  He’s blind.”

Boom–yellow card for Don Shaw.  Man, how I wanted to giggle.  It was a great line,  perfect comedic and/or dramatic timing.  Nope–had to stay straight-faced.  But, oh, how I wanted to smile or laugh.

In my entire time around volleyball, going back 28 years now, I’ve never ever seen that happen anywhere else.  Both coaches receiving a yellow card for criticizing the official on the same play.  Stanford won the match, they won in ’94, too, down at the Final Four.  Oh, well.  Good times, nonetheless!



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Also consider reading my book. Like Heck She Isn’t a Volleyball Player, 27 essays designed to get you to think ‘outside the box’…without breaking your bank account.  It’ll be the best $4.99 you spend on coaching/teaching stuff today.



A Philosophical Conundrum regarding a 20-year Issue in Volleyball

Before this begins–you have to understand a term: devil’s advocate.  Within the Catholic Church, it is known as ‘promotor fidei’, the Promoter of the Faith.  His job is to play the skeptic, to cast doubt on the canonization of an individual.  Did events/miracles ascribed to the person truly exist?  Are they as wonderful as everyone makes them out to be?

Also remember, I used to teach composition and rhetoric.  I was trained to look at multiple sides of an issue.  Want an argument for Hitler or Stalin being a force for good–I can make it for you.  Give me enough time, you’ll vote for him (I mean, after all, 49% of voters supported the Russian candidate in the US 2016 presidential election…)

So now you have a combination of me being willing to make arguments on either side and me thinking about the role of devil’s advocate…which invariably also made me consider the philosophies of Jesus and the New Testament.  You’ll see why that’s important in a bit.  Bear with me.

A large part of the ‘Me Too’ movement has been outing predators, predominantly men, who have accosted young women (and some boys, too).**  Most recently that’s included team doctors at Ohio State and Michigan State, some swim coaches, and the one I saw today–a diving coach at Ohio State as well.  Those are all recent developments.  The first story I heard was nearly twenty years ago–the case of volleyball guru Rick Butler.  Rather than go into details, I’ll just put a link here to the start of the Chicago Sun-Times’ investigative story.

As a volleyball coach, I know people who defend Butler and I know many who despise him.  I understand the arguments on both sides and I also realize nothing will ever  reconcile the views of the two groups.  Where do I stand?  That is irrelevant for this blog–I’m here to offer something outside the box if possible (that’s the blog title, right?).

So back to religion.  The Old Testament and New Testament are radically different entities.  Read them.  The God of the Old Testament is angry and throws smack down on cities, regions, individuals, sometimes for reasons that seem nothing more than capricious spite.  God of the New Testament?  Apparently, he’s changed his mind on things.  OT God wants payback and delivers it with hellacious fury; NT God turns the other cheek, counselling forgiveness.

I’ve seen people comment on the situation in various forums (hiding and reading forums…it’s always tempting to appear from the shadows and take part…)–and I know from their posts in non-volleyball subjects that they attend church regularly, that they claim to be Christian (meaning that they go along with the New Testament as the primary Holy Book rather than the Old Testament).

So back to Butler.  Butler is accused and has a substantial amount of evidence*** weighing against him, ranging from accuser statements to love letters he wrote to at least one victim.  For purposes of this blog, I declare him 100% guilty.  I’ll go further.  I’ll hypothetically say there are another 20 victims from 30+ years ago out there who are too scared or traumatized to ever come forward.

And now back to the New Testament.  It teaches forgiveness, right?  It doesn’t talk about vengeance or smiting wrong-doers.   Forgiveness is different than forgetting, by the way.  Never forget–but we’re talking about modern Christianity now, not the Old Testament.

Did you know ‘forgiveness’ is used more than 100 times in the New Testament.  It’s one of the most common nouns in the Good Book.

  • Luke 6:37 “Judge not and you shall not be judged.  Do not condemn and you will not be condemned yourself.”  To receive forgiveness from God,  a man must first be willing to forgive his fellow man, regardless of what the sin or trespass may be.

There’s a large part of theological theory that discusses this in relation to punishment.  Forgiveness is not absolving someone of their sin or crime–it is more like a commutation of the punishment.  If you go back to the Reformation, look at what Martin Luther talked about (never mind his downside and problems, such as his virulent anti-Semitism), he discusses forgiveness regularly–that forgiveness is the only way to heal, to be able to enjoy a blessed life.

So then, if you take Jesus’ healing of the palsied man as a metaphor (rather than fact), Jesus is ‘forgiving a sin’, thus restoring the other man to full life, giving him that ‘blessed life’.

Forgiveness is a divine act, releasing the forgiver AND the sinner from past actions.

And back to Butler.  In my role of devil’s advocate/promotor fidei, I’m not interested in those proclaiming his innocence.   Like I said–I’m presuming 100% guilt and more acts that are publicly unknown.  No, I’m interested in the “Christians” who believe him guilty and want him punished.  Shouldn’t there be forgiveness by Christians?  Time has passed–shouldn’t those involved forgive?  Again, not forget–forgive.

Has Butler changed from the man he was in the 1970s and 1980s?  I have no idea.  Should this even matter for another individual’s views?  It is not his faith/beliefs in question, but those of Christians.  The argument is from the religious standpoint.  Presuming guilt, if you are a Christian, shouldn’t you offer forgiveness to him?  Isn’t that your responsibility to your faith?

I’d love to hear what people think in terms of the theology.  It’s easy to be Christian sitting in a big, clean church or a gated community.  It’s easy when everything in your life is going well….but you read your Bible and you see Jesus among the lepers, working with the poor and downtrodden, even washing the feet of a prostitute.  He’s not there in a mega-church or a cathedral.  He’s in the trenches with those who suffer–and those who cause the suffering.

Can this be a civil conversation?  I’d like that, but I’m skeptical.  Civility withers on the vine of social media.  It becomes right vs. wrong, a fundamentalist, polarized world, and yet…the world is never so black and white.  We live in gray tones with every decision.  Thus, how does a person of faith reconcile the requirement of forgiveness with the alleged (or proven) acts of men such as Butler, Nasser, or Pryor?

Have you forgiven Butler?  As a Christian, there are two possibilities:

  1. Butler is innocent, thus there is no need for forgiveness.
  2. Butler is guilty in which case the Christian faith mandates forgiveness.

Other faiths?  They carry a similar message.  Buddhism does not mandate forgiveness, but extols forgiveness for the required integrity and strength of the act, that forgiveness prevents bitterness–it cleanses the spirit.  Islam permits revenge in an Old Testament sort of fashion, but also extols forgiveness–that he who forgives will be rewarded commensurately by Allah.  In Hinduism, forgiving someone who does not repent is seen as an act of the highest nobility.

So again–if he is guilty, have you forgiven him?


**The Me Too movement has also sought to eliminate more subtle forms of discrimination.  I note that here, though as a word of caution, be aware that some radicals within that group have publicly declared that they do not care if innocent men are hurt along the way if it advances the cause of ‘equality’ (whatever that’s supposed to mean)…I’d caution the advice of the Founding Fathers–it is better that a hundred guilty men go free than see a single innocent man wrongly punished.

***Much of this evidence is public record, mentioned in the Sun-Times article, or has been posted in certain coaching forums such as Facebook’s Volleyball Coaches and Trainers or the Women’s forum of Volleytalk.

The Big Difference between Men’s and Women’s Volleyball

Here we go, the bi-monthly VB post.  I suspect this is going to make people defensive, try and justify keeping things secret for years for competition’s sake.  Feh.  That’s crap.   

Since the title notes a difference, you’re thinking I’m going to discuss the power or physicality of the two sports or maybe even how they are officiated.  Nah.  Those don’t affect the growth of the game or its level, not really.  (Not for this blog’s purposes, anyways)

I like to do research on a lot of things about volleyball.  For that research, I can get a ton of the information I need from my own teams statistics or videos.  For basic statistics like kills, attempts, or digs, I can find that information for almost every college in the country.  That’s good to a point.  I have no problem grinding numbers for myself…sometimes it leads me to ask more questions, think about things differently even if I find no profundity otherwise.

Sometimes though, what I’m looking in to requires more technical information, things that Sports Info Directors don’t put on school websites.  These are the things that most coaches use or have heard of–things like S/R Passing Average (even if it’s using a 0-3 scale rather than a more accurate 0-1-4-5 scale), First-Ball Sideout Percentage (FBSO%), etc.  Normal (i.e. casual) fans wouldn’t look at those or don’t understand them at all–sort of like casual baseball fans not understanding IsoPower or spin-rate.  Of course, some of the advanced information is potentially useful to an opponent, so I can understand why you wouldn’t want it out there publicly during your season.  It would be bad for it to get out that your OH-1 passes 1.65 on the left in serve-receive and 2.54 on the right.  That WILL get used against you.

–And this is now where we come to the issue…

When I need information, I have no problem contacting coaches requesting that info.  I’ll send emails, make phone calls–always from my office phone and email so that there’s no question that I’m at a college level.  I explain the information I need–and also that I am happy to receive their information from last year or several years ago rather than the current season’s if they feel they could suffer a competitive disadvantage by giving me the info.  

The last time I did this, I reached out to 50 women’s  and 8 men’s programs at the NCAA D1+2 level.  (There aren’t a ton of men’s programs out there and I was only interested in the D-1/2 level at that point…)  Guess what?

  • I received the requested data from 6 of the 50 women’s coaches.  (12%)
  • I received the requested data from 7 of the 8 men’s coaches. (87%)

That’s not a typo.  A couple of the women’s coaches didn’t want to part with ANY information because it would help opponents (I’m not sure how…I just wanted totals of things…ugh), but mainly the women’s coaches ignored me.  That’s been the case every time I’ve requested information from women’s coaches.

The men’s coach who didn’t send the data?  He sent an email back, said they didn’t have the information–he’d just taken over the program and apologized for not being able to help.  He then asked specifically for me to let him know if I needed anything down the road when doing research.  So 7 sent the info and the 8th contacted me with an apology.

Do you see the difference?  One group of coaches willing to share information–treating coaching knowledge as ‘open source material’.  I think the logic is that everyone will move jobs, take the info with them and spread it anyways, so why not do it all openly in the first place?  Men’s VB is a close-knit community it seems to me and this is the result.

With women’s coaches, it is always much more secretive.  That’s NOT a comment on women coaching–men coaching women’s volleyball are just as unwilling to provide help as female coaches, but I don’t get why your 2014 FBSO% in Rotation 4 is top secret information.  I think this sort of secrecy stunts the growth of the sport.  Not just at the college level.  This goes on at the high school level here–I’ve talked with a few HS coaches about mentoring/helping younger coaches and had one coach, one of the 10 winningest in state history, directly say, “Why would I help her?  That’s not my program.  Making them better makes my job more difficult.”  Yup, a 55-60yr old woman refusing to help a 24yr old woman struggling in her second year of coaching….

Bwah.  This is hypocrisy on a bunch of levels.  Which is it going to be–“grow the game together” or “Screw you, I’m keeping my uber-doober secret practice strategies to myself”?  It can’t be both.  If we each work to improve one another as coaches, the sport gets better.  The old saying IS true: “A rising tide lifts all boats.”  

This is part of the reason why I decided to start blogging again back at the end of May.  If the object is to make the game better, we need to discuss it openly, have a good back-and-forth with open minds.   I want to make others better–because in that, I’m going to push myself to be better.  I want to make others better because the true value of sports (teamwork, pushing yourself to find new limits, sportsmanship, friendship) can help make the world a better place.

To that end, so that we can actually grow the sport (because I believe in that wholeheartedly), hit the “FOLLOW” button the side, so you can see what I’m thinking (50% history, 50% volleyball), share it with others.  Open minds, get coaches, players, teachers, students to go, “Ahhhhh!” with new ideas.  They may be outlandishly crazy…and they may even work.

PS.  This is something that seems to be ‘unique’ to volleyball for some reason.  Very little is kept hidden statistically in other sports.  Advanced stats/metrics are readily available for college football and basketball, baseball (college or pro), hockey, soccer, the works.  Why is volleyball different?  –it’s not just the money…metrics are available for women’s basketball.  It’s almost as if D-1 coaches have no desire to grow the game, only to maintain their position in terms of prestige.  Would that attitude change if pro ball came to the US and succeeded?

Hey–speaking of unabashed self-promotion:

If you’re interested in more stuff on volleyball designed to make you think, maybe give you some insights into your own coaching,  check out Like Heck She Isn’t a Volleyball Player available on Amazon and other internet bookstores.  It’s a collection of 27 essays on all parts of the most exciting indoor (and outdoor) sport in the world and it’s going to cost you five dollars.  Yup–five.

The Cost of Club

If the objective of a travel sport is to improve the skills of a young athlete, then there shouldn’t be excessive profit involved…unless the objective is actually capitalist and to make a living doing this stuff.   I have no problem with capitalism–I have a problem with dishonesty.  Claiming you are doing something for a noble purpose while bankrolling a ton of money, that’s not noble.

This came about because of a comment I read somewhere that paying $10,000/year for club is a good investment. My snarky response here in my blog is–sure…a ‘good investment’ for the director’s retirement plans!  But while I love snark and sarcasm, I think it’s more important to look at real numbers.  So here we go….

Let’s presume certain things:

  • The club does not own it’s own gym, but has access to four courts of space three times per week.
  • That space is available for 5 hours/night, meaning we can run three teams per court (overlapping so they can play one another for 6v6, full-game scrimmaging), and still have time for some individual position training (if that’s your fancy).  –I am intentionally not putting two teams/court/90-minute block.
  • Thus, we are presuming 12 teams (though with 4 courts and 5 hours, you can comfortably double that to 24 teams)
  • I believe in playing time, not maximizing money.  We’ll consider each team has 10 athletes (I’d prefer 9, but dividing things by 10 is easier for the math side of life)
  • We will pay coaches/directors $15/hour.  For tournaments, $100/day.  (This is roughly the equivalent of a $34,000/year salary–not great money, but certainly better than being a line-cook at McDonald’s)
  • Because 90% of young people do not wish to go to school more than three hours from home, we will not travel to tournaments beyond that radius.  So let’s do ten tournaments plus a qualifier.
  • The season will effectively go 30 weeks.

So…with all that, what do we get….

  1. We are using 60 court-hours of space per week at $75/hour per court for space rental.  We are paying $4,500/week which is $135,000 for the club season.
  2. We have it set at 12 teams, so 120 athletes.  That’s $1,125/athlete for court time.  (Of course “elite clubs” are putting 12-14 kids/team–that would knock the per/athlete cost down to 803.57-937.50/athlete.
  3. For coach pay, we have 30 weeks of 3 practices (90), but we then subtract out tourney days (10) and the two practice days missed heading/playing at a Qualifier.  That gives us 78 practices, 156 hours–$2,340 per coach.  The coach is at ten tourneys, so that’s $1,000 and then $300 for the three days of a Qualifier. If we provide a hotel at $150/night for the Qualifer ($450) and a $50 per-diem for tourney days (50×13=650), we are adding another $1,100 of expense per coach for a total of $4,740/coach.  12 coaches, 3 directors (admin, recruiting, technical) getting paid the same or covering expenses:  $71,100, or $592.50/athlete.  Total so far per athlete: $1,717.50.
  4. Gear for players?  I found a package online including 2 Spandex, t-shirts, 3 uniform tops (admittedly I can’t tell if it is ‘nice’ fabric), and shoes for $199.99.  $200 is round though, so this works for me.  That’s $24,000 in gear plus let’s budget for annual purchases like balls, nets, pads, or iPads for stats/video.  We’ll call that $10,000/year.  That’s $34,000 now for gear and accessories, $283.33/player.  Total per athlete now: $2,000.83.
  5. USAV registration fees, other office type expenses…let’s call that $100/athlete, a website–need one of those, right?  Let’s pay that guy good money–same as a coach.  All this is $12,000 + $4,740 or $16,740…$139.50/athlete.

Basically, I’m out of even cool things that are actually necessary for a kid to have and we are at $2,140.33.  It’s nowhere near $10,000.  It’s not close.  But, Jim, you didn’t include a family’s travel expenses and hotels….   At $300/night for food/hotel, choosing to go up the night before to the other tournaments (and clearly eating/living well), we’re adding, by family choice, another $4,200–and still not at that $10,000 mark.

The only way to get up that high is travel around the country to as many ‘national’ tournaments as possible.  But who does that serve?  A large majority of athletes who become college athletes play at schools within driving distance, yet clubs mandate playing at tournaments 8-10 hours of flight time away.  That’s not about helping athletes–that’s about image, prestige, marketing–>and convincing kids to come pay your prices. 

What about the truly great athletes?  Well, I’m going on the common-sense idea that Penn State, Arizona, Minnesota, Florida, those guys (or girl–Mary Wise!!!) are working to find out about those 6’4 setters out there and the 6’8 outsides.  They will find the great athletes regardless.  It’s not like Tennessee ignores the Crossroads Qualifier in Colorado or UCLA won’t be attending Mid-South or the MEQ.  They’ll see kids even if the kids aren’t jetting all over God’s creation.

An effective, player-focused, club can be, should be, run for under $2,000 in club fees and under $3,500 in total family expenses.  Heck, we run ours at under $750 and I’d ballpark parent expenses at maybe $1,500 on the upper end.  We’ve had players talk to D-1 schools (which is for some reason the holy grail of parent aspirations), we’ve had players go to pretty much every level–NCAA D1-2-3, NAIA D1-2, NCCAA, NJCAA.  Our travel teams are coached by  current or former college coaches* managing teams, so that $10,000 training?  We’re giving that at 7.5% the cost.  How?  Why?  Because we have coaches doing it for the kids and not making a living off of running a club.  They do it because they want to help kids without exploitation.


As a parent, consider that–ask what the goal of the club is?  Do they encourage activity in multiple things like drama or basketball?  Or do they insist you have to focus on a single sport to get that scholarship (which is an outright, bald-faced, Trump/Goebbels level lie)?  Is that club director living off the club’s income?  Do they own summer homes or drive nice new Infinitis?

Don’t get caught up in the logic that–“Program X charges more, therefore I’m getting a better value!”

My advice?  Go find a club for the two-grand, set the other $8,000 to the side.  Repeat this for all four years of high school.  Now you have $32,000 set aside.  That alone will pay for many public institutions.  Want to save further?  Go to a two-year college.  Pay $4,000/year for tuition, get an A.A. for $8,000 total, and STILL have $24,000 left over to pay for the last two years of a B.A. degree

Ideally, this got you thinking.  Where is your heart?  The greatest advice given to me as a youth coach was by my first athletic director, Matt Hensley: “Always ask yourself, ‘What’s in the best interests of the young person’ and the answer is the path you follow.”  $10,000/year for sports is not the answer, I guarantee it.


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La Victoria trova cento padri….

Hey–how about that…a little bit of Italian for ya.  It’s important it’s in Italian because if you go looking around the internet, you’ll find that the quote igets attributed to John F. Kennedy.  It’s not.  The Italian is the real deal and the full quote is “La Victoria trova cento padri, a nessuno vuole riconoscere l’insuccesso.”  It was written in 1942 by Galeazzo Ciano, Benito Mussolini’s son-in-law and foreign minister at the time.

In English, it translates to: “Victory has a hundred fathers, but defeat is an orphan.”

In context, Ciano was talking about Italy’s performance and fate during World War Two, but it’s a quote that can help inform people with coaching, as a guide and warning.

The ‘hundred fathers’ referred to the fact that with a military victory, there was no shortage of officers and politicians willing to claim credit for the victory–Mussolini, his general staff, the commanders at the front as well as their subordinate commanders.  Confronted with defeat, you get the ‘orphan’–blame shifted between levels with Mussolini blaming his generals, the generals blaming the soldiers, the soldiers blaming the politicians and officers.

You know how this immediately transfers to coaching–when there is success, the team owner, the coach, the stars all immediately take credit, wanting the glory and profit.  If the team loses, the athletic director fires the coach to save her own job, the coach pulls scholarships, and athletes transfer schools or go become free agents.  All of those “We’re #1!” fingers pointing in the air–they now start pointing at other people–“Your fault!”

But Ciano’s quote doesn’t have to be a total negative.  How can you use it to improve yourself/your team?

The first thing is–check your ego at the door!  Team success is not about you.  It’s about your players.  Rather than be reactive and let everyone else claim credit for the success, pass credit on to others yourself:  “Thanks for saying I had a great game plan tonight, but it was the girls who carried it out.  Beth and Jody did a great job on defense, that let Katie run the offense and distribute the ball wherever she wanted.  It also helped we had so many students follow us on the trip–it made it feel like this was a home game rather than being on the road.”

You aren’t lessened by passing credit on to others and acknowledging what they did.  If anything, it enhances your true credibility as a coach.

The back end of the quote, defeat and orphans?  It’s the same principle.  The quote is about passing the buck and avoiding responsibility, so let’s reverse it, not quote to being an ‘orphan’, just to a ‘single parent’.   “It was a tough loss tonight, hard to take because we got dominated on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.  I’d love to blame Johnny for going 12-40 with 50 yards passing, but I called the plays.  He did what was asked, but when you give the wrong orders, you’re putting a kid like Johnny in a bad spot.  He’ll try and tell you he could play better, but that’s him being a great kid.  The fault’s all mine.  We get back on to the field Monday, but between now and then, I’ve got a couple days to fix the game plan so I can put the guys in a position to succeed.”

Instead of avoiding responsibility, this coach is taking it.  More important, he’s shifting it away from a player who didn’t do well.  The truth is–Johnny may have sucked with 15 ‘u’ in the spelling, but throwing him under the bus to the local paper doesn’t do any good, especially for a young person.  You may have had a great plan, but the kids didn’t execute.  No matter, you’re the coach–own the defeat, absorb the negative blows so that your athletes can thrive.

They’ll likely respect you for it because they know when they did well or not.  They’ll know why you are shifting the blame on to yourself.  With most kids, doing that will add to their commitment to the program and your long-term goals for it.

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USAV HP and Me (too)

For better or worse, I have a habit of playing with words.  There should be an obvious allusion to a social movement within that title above.  That’s intentional.

Chances are, you’ve read some of the other things I’ve written which means you know I’m a middle-aged Caucasian male with a bad sense of humor, eclectic taste in music, movies, and politics, with an irrational/obsessive passion for volleyball.  If you didn’t reach those conclusions already, well…take my word for it.  Along with that, I try and keep a few other things in mind for myself at all times–an open mind, an awareness to ‘wrongs’ (and a willingness to agitate to fix them), etc.

That brings me to USAV High Performance Volleyball.  I didn’t do HP this year and I figured out why (that comes later).  Please realize while reading this that the High Performance program/system does its job magnificently–it identifies talent across the entire bloody continent, organizes it by skill level, trains those kids into a potential pipeline to the National/Olympic program.  Given the *embarrassing* lack of a professional league in the US (a rant for a different day), the HP pipeline does great things.

Better still, having worked HP camps for a few years, I can tell you that the “IQ” aspect, the classroom teachings on nutrition and life goals, are great, and the module on bullying should be used across all sports programs and not just within the various national team organizations.  The kids who go to HP camps receive quality training without time wasted on making posters or performing skits.  Every minute of time is spent bettering VB skills and IQ.  USAV HP is serious volleyball.

Again, I want to re-emphasize this–the development of athletes within the High Performance program is outstanding and the people I’ve worked for in the national offices out in Colorado work hard, work to the point of frazzlement, and care greatly for USA Volleyball and growing the sport in general.

So with all that praise–you have got to be wondering, “So what is the complaint?  Why aren’t you doing HP, Dietz?”

There are two primary reasons, the first of which, I don’t have an answer for.  The second is the more serious.

PROBLEM 1 – I’m old, I’m white, and I never played volleyball, so I don’t get considered for any open college positions (another argument for a different day) and I suspect it’d be likewise with high-level teams within USAVHP.  When I was young, that stuff bothered me.  Now, I’m good with it.  I help kids through club and at LLCC, getting more of an opportunity to make a difference with those than I would if I was coaching D-1, etc. so I’m at the right level for my personal preferences.

So anyways, the first problem at the camps is ego.  I got tired of hearing coaches talk about how they were unjustly assigned to a young age group or a lower skilled group–that the kids they were assigned were beneath them as a D-1 or elite club coach.  Speaking up to argue that assertion once, I was told my club isn’t known and I’m a juco coach, so my opinion counts for zero.  Yikes.  But it gets worse.  Worse is the attitude towards coaching colleagues who cannot further that coach’s march up the illusory career ladder.  Yeah, I coach at a juco…I suck.  Yeah, she’s a high school coach/teacher…if she knew anything, she’d be a 17-elite club coach, she sucks, too,…blah, blah, blah.

Beyond the fact that a lot of coaches remain non-D1 by choice (like I said, I’ve found a comfort zone that lets me coach, write, and currently be in the process of starting up another business interest in addition to co-directing that club), I’ve got a bigger gripe for those individuals:  It’s not about you.  It’s about the kids.  The USAVHP cadre tell every coach to check their ego at the door–you aren’t on your school’s time, your club’s time, you’re on USA VOLLEYBALL TIME.  Don’t talk volleyball around the kids that promotes/criticizes any other college or club program.  Period.

Heck, one coach thought so little of me as a coach that at a later HP camp, when he wound up with a kid assigned to him who, within his hearing range, said she was coming to play for me–he took her aside to persuade her he could find her a dozen other places  ‘better’ than playing for a coach like me*.    So much for being on USA Volleyball time, right?   Of course this is an extreme example–I get that.  But it’s not the only one.

*Kid got to play in two Final Fours, a national title game, moving on to a full-ride scholarship at a school with a great volleyball program AND academics.  Her total bill for college?  $ZERO$  

Faced with this repeatedly, why should I continue working ‘with’ those people?  I can stay and do my own camps, work with other coaches who treat everyone as equals.  Heck, there’s a GREAT group of coaches around my area, people I like dealing with on a regular basis:  Mark Tippett at Lincoln College; Kristy Duncan at Illinois College; Danielle Doerfler at MacMurray; Ashli Wicker over at Lake Land; and the other member of the growing League of Bald Coaches, Jim Hunstein at Blackburn College.  Just a shoutout to those guys.  There are a bunch out there just like them, working their own camps, helping kids, treating other coaches respectfully, too.

PROBLEM 2 – This is where the ‘Me (too)’ part comes in.  For better or worse, there’s a perception that too many head coaching positions in the sport of volleyball are filled by men (more arguing on a different day).  Logically to me, if you want to increase the number of women in leadership positions, they first need  ‘training’ in being a leader–stuff like coaching for HP or being an administrator for a full camp.  (HP does this wherever possible–the problem is NOT with HP itself).

See, #2 is a big problem, but I don’t know how to fix it and I’d also bet good money that if there was a good way for HP to catch this stuff, it would.  The problem is, sexism, just like racism or ageism, is sneaky, hard to catch, easy to deny/claim something was misheard.

So I know some female coaches who have worked HP tryouts and camps.  Several I know only did a couple years worth of HP work before deciding to stop.  I asked a couple of them ‘Why?’ and was surprised when I got the same reasons from both.  Worse, once I thought about it, I’d either noticed the same things and let them pass or didn’t notice them in time to speak up, then made the mistake of saying nothing afterwards when I did notice things.   Since I did that more than once, I’m pretty upset with myself.  It made me want to write this from a sense of atonement or shared responsibility in some fashion.  I’m not perfect and we all have to be accountable for snuffing out things like ‘Problem #2’:

  • Male coaches corrected female coaches constantly when the female gave instructions
  • Male coaches were more interested in flirting with female coaches than coaching (to be fair, I saw some female coaches happy to flirt back OR instigate things)
  • Male coaches used forms of physical intimidation, things seemingly innocuous like tossing to himself and pounding it straight down on a woman’s height net, etc, then bragging about their prowess (this also could be considered a more overt form of flirting/spreading peacock feathers)
  • Belittling career choices made by the women–that they do not coach full-time, therefore shouldn’t be given significant responsibility within the HP system–it was not fair that they (men) were answering to female coaches since they were college/elite coaches themselves and ‘above’ the women based on their current employment.

What do any of those four things have to do with helping young people improve at volleyball???

Heck, a different female coach was told she had no business coaching boys and another coach was told she was ‘too young’ to be a coach because she wasn’t yet legal drinking age followed with the chaser, ‘USAV must be desperate to let a girl your age coach.’

Grrrr.  This makes me want to punch people.  It doesn’t help kids and it doesn’t make the world a better place.  It doesn’t help develop coaches, doesn’t give younger coaches positive leadership experiences.  Just as frustrating, I don’t know how High Performance can fix this.  Cockroaches will scramble when you shine light on them, but you can’t lift every rock.  It just sucks–it takes away from the good USAVHP does for girls and boys volleyball skills in this country.


Post-script observation not related to the argument above, but about HP.  I don’t like the fact that clubs out there that label themselves as “High Performance” and then go around in combinations of red, white, and blue apparel.  It’s willfully deceptive.  It’s an intentional effort to confuse parents/young people–to make it look like the club is part of the HP-Pipeline program when it isn’t.  It’s no different than me forming a volleyball club called “A-Five” instead of the real A5 club in Atlanta or “Circle Cty Indiana VBC” instead of Circle City VBC.  You know the difference with those shenanigans because you know volleyball, but few parents of 12u or 14u children get that sort of thing.

USA Volleyball–you guys should just ban clubs from using that as part of their name.  That’d solve things straight out.



A Game-Like Practice Plan

One of the things coaches get caught up in is practice planning–that was the riff I started working with terrifically for this blog (there’s an old music reference there, by the way).  But then I realized, there would be some people who looked at it and said, “This looks more like basic scrimmaging stuff.  Geez.”  I’m gonna get the argument I need more drills, need to hit balls at my players, take more control of things.  Except, see, if you go wandering through internet volleyball forums (or the really cool Facebook group, “Volleyball Coaches and Trainers”), you’re going to pretty regularly see arguments over drills, ‘training ugly’ and ‘game-like practice’.  A lot of it is old-school vs. new-school stuff and I know better than think I can convince old people that today is better than 1986.

But it is.

So let’s look at the numbers there, chief, that convinced me it’s better to live in 2018 than an era before iPods, X-COM, or Cubs World Series titles.  The beautiful thing of this is that I now have the same number of seasons before I made a switch to after switching to game-like training–so the numbers involved are going to be basically the same sample sizes.

LLCC’s W/L Record/PCT before the switch:   201-74, .731

LLCC’s W/L Record/PCT after the switch:      208-57, ..785 

So basically, you’re looking at an improvement of 5.4%.  Not huge, but that’s still a couple matches per year, and you never know which ones you now get to count as wins!  The one big difference is that before the switch, LLCC had never been to the National Tournament and since the switch, we’ve gone four times with three Final Four appearances and should have gone a fifth time. Over the course of a season, a 5% improvement makes quite a difference, right?  Oh, yeah, and for context–I ramped up our schedule’s toughness starting in 2014, so we did better against a more difficult schedule.

Okay–but why?  I actually think there’s a different factor that makes the huge difference.  That’s our injury rate.  I keep track of the reasons players don’t play in matches.

PRE: 1,129 individual sets missed by players / 953 sets played by the team

POST:   266 individual sets missed by players / 885 sets played by LLCC

PRE, we averaged being short 1.2 players/set on average over the course of SIX YEARS.  POST, we were short 0.3 players/set.  That’s a difference of 400% in reducing injuries.  That’s accumulated over 1,883 sets…I don’t think this falls into the category of ‘small sample size’ folks.

So, I know the question coming and thus the blog title.  “Jim, how would you create that plan?”  And I’m glad you ask that question.  No, really; I’m trying to procrastinate and what better way to avoid real work than write about history or volleyball?

I haven’t mentioned it here, but one of the biggest influences on me as a coach was Jim Stone.  He coaches the 18u National Team now, but I got to work for him for three years while he was the head coach at Ohio State, and I don’t think in the three years I worked for him that he ever blocked drills or segments to take up a specific amount of time.  Ohio State worked on things as long as they were productive–if something wasn’t working and wasn’t helping, OSU moved on.  If something was going great, we kept going, extending the teachable moment.

What that means is–I don’t ‘time’ my practices.  I’ve put some times below as a rough guideline, but don’t mimic them for the sake of imitation, for God’s sake!  I’ve also put comments in with what I am thinking for each part of the plan.  Put aside ego or hating that you’re tossing out 80% of a practice plan you spent hours thinking about and designing–extend the teachable moment, run with what is improving your team!


USAV Shoulder Pre-HabWe alternate days for this.  I freely and fully admit this shoulder workout is 100% stolen from the USAV High Performance manual….

USAV Dynamic WarmupWe rotate through with the three different versions.  Combined with the Shoulder-Pre Hab, it gives us six different warm-up combinations.  Yes, this is stolen, too.

TIME BUDGETED FOR WARMUPS: 20 minutes (this is done before our gym time starts whenever possible)

50-50-50  Variation on the butterfly drill…ball is thrown from 10ft line (Zn4) to Zn1, passed from there to target (if roster is big enough, setter will set to target, passer and setter move to cover target).  After 50 good passes (target is 5 feet off the net, NOT right on top of the net), thrower backs up to 20 ft from net.  At this point, thrower becomes server and serves from 20ft.  This is repeated from the end line.  The intention of the 50-50-50 is to get passers to move/read the ball coming over and gradually warm up arms.  Since all serves must go to Zn1, it also works on serve accuracy)

TIME BUDGETED FOR 50-50-50: 10-15 minutes…depends on the number of people in the drill, or sometimes we go 0-50-50 or reduce the drill length.

SERVE-RECEIVE:  (15-30 minutes, depending)

  • Serves going both ways, two or three passers, target (or setter+target), rotating every 60 seconds or so…servers are working on serving passing seams or specific zones, passers are reading server, setters are getting reps–and target will switch set of emphasis as well.
  • Servers, three passers, non-setter setting+target.  More passing practice and setters need to know how to pass, non-setters need to ball-handle.
  • Serve, passer/hitter, setter.  Serve comes over, whoever passes must also hit the set.  (We will also do this where the passer cannot be the hitter) 
  • Serve, pass/hit/defender, setter.  Competition–rotate after 3/5/10 points.  Score a point for an ace OR a kill.  Kill = hitter hits it and three defenders on other side cannot get two touches total.  Hitters now have to think passing AND hitting, but also need to think defense immediately, work on reading a hitter’s approach, judging the set, etc

SPEED BALL(15-20 minutes)

I won’t describe this.  If you don’t know it–think Queen of the Court on steroids…finding examples of Speed Ball is easy.  By the way, you increase player contacts with the ball by something like 60% this way.  We play games for time OR to certain point totals.  Rules change with every game–they are explained once only; I want players to pay attention (yeah, good luck with that).

  • Variation 1: Net serves = back to 0.
  • Variation 2: No setting allowed, contacts must be forearm OR attacks
  • Variation 3: Can not hit with dominant hand
  • Variation 4: Aces count 3 points
  • Variation 5: Tips to a specific location count extra


This can also be done with live blockers.  With the coach putting it over the net, we get a pass, set, swing, and players covering.  You can have a player serve it over, but we do it this way so the focus is on the hit/cover, etc.  I want balls put in certain places to start the drill and my players don’t have the skill (and we don’t have the time for them to get it) to do it.   …and sometimes I don’t have enough players tall enough to put up a serious block…

This will take 10-15 minutes–more if it is going well

ROTATIONS:  We will play 6-on-6, working on our six rotations–this will include serve-receive, as well as defense.  A coach will toss a ball in, the player immediately free-balls over to the other team…we want aggressively placed freeballs, not just lollipops to the middle where it’s easily played.

15-30 minutes daily for most of the season.  In the week before play starts, we’ll spend more time on this.  At the end, we spend less.

BASKETBALL (named because the eventual scores look like an NBA game *and* because you score 1-3 points per play):  This is a game with two full teams, played in either two 10-minute halves or four 6 minute quarters.  Ball is entered by coach to Team 1 who freeballs it to Team 2 to play it out.  This will happen for the first two quarters.  At the half, teams switch sides and Team 2 freeballs to Team 1

Points are scored differently each day we play… Variations:

  • After 6 hitting errors in a quarter, your opponent is in the bonus and receives 2 points for all further hitting errors the rest of the quarter (or half if you wish)
  • 3 points for quick set kills / 2 points for tips landing in Zn 1 / 1pt for all others.
  • 3 points for RS kills / 2 points for tooling the block / 1 pt for all others
  • 3 points for BR attacks / 2 points for setter dumps / 1 pt for all others, bonus 1 pt each time someone on the other team dives unnecessarily instead of remaining on their feet. 

Players get a drink break at the half.

The drill really works on transition and provides a ton of contacts.  We play this about 75% of the days.  At the proper pace, this drill also serves as great conditioning–players don’t get time outs, they don’t sub…they are out there the full length of the quarter, so if they are struggling–the other team gets to take advantage of that.   It can add quite a bit of ‘chaos’ and the unexpected–good things in my opinion.

Basketball usually takes 30-40 minutes to play, depending on length of quarters and how long you give for the halftime break.

And that’s a two-hour practice designed to be ‘game-like’ as much as possible.


So…now it’s time for camps to start.  That means rather than the weekly pace I’ve been able to keep up is going to change to once every other week.  Though I’ve put this up in places like ‘Volleyball Coaches and Trainers’, I may not remember to do it–camps occupy most of my focus now before our LLCC pre-season begins.  That means–click the ‘FOLLOW’ button.  That’ll get you a notification when something else pops out of my brain and on to your computer screen!!