A History of Bad Behavior…

NOTE: This is meant to be 65% amusing, 30% educational, 5% disturbing regarding my OCD. 

Traditional opening statement:  I’m not gonna complain about officiating, but….

And now, with the amenities and proper form out of the way, we can move on to this bonus spectacular blog.

Okay, so I was driving a couple weeks ago to help move my daughter in today for her final semester of undergrad–since she is on an internship rather than ‘normal’ school.  In a coaching forum, someone mentioned yellow cards and I started thinking about this and for a second wondered whether throwing a tantrum and stuff like that makes a difference.  –It was just a second.  Then I realized, I can still remember all of the cards I’ve been given in volleyball–not the exact date, but the opponent and the year.  I even can tell you (honestly) which ones I deserved.  Oh, yeah–and my favorite memory from my time with Jim Stone at the Big10/Pac10 Challenge….

(Side Note #1: I don’t mind how volleyball is officiated, but I wish things were consistent across sports.  The yelling and berating that goes on in basketball and football is mindboggling–and accepted as normal…and then fans/coaches/observers are shocked at the shortage of officials.  Go figure.)

(Side Note #2: I’ve been a head coach for 595 HS/college matches, I’ve coached roughly 400 club matches, and assisted 150 college matches or so.  In all that time, I can tell you all the times officials truly decided the match.  Through willful decisionmaking: 1.  Through unintended poor officiating: 4.  That is FIVE matches out of 1,145 or 0.4% with the intentional being 0.08%.  If you knew you could generally get the right outcome 99.6% of the time overall in life, you’d be damned happy.)

Without further ado then…my personal history of bad behavior:

  • 1996: Crossroads Classic by an official we’ll just call “Bobbi”.   I got it for arguing that a non-setter could play a ball overhand legally.  She said a set couldn’t have any spin on it once it was set.  The yellow came on the next point when their setter had the ball come out of her hands spinning. (We’ll meet Bobbi regularly here….)
  • 1997: Crossroads Classic again…two yellow cards.  In the first match, it was for arguing a serve that hit the net (when that was illegal).  The official, named “Bobbi”, said she didn’t hear it–and didn’t have her hand on the net.  Boom–yellow card.  The other match, I got it for asking the R2 what the call was–I was writing stats down and didn’t see it (no assistant, no manager, and stats for the paper were mandatory).  Yup–“Bobbi” again.  (Are ya noticin’ a pattern here?)
  • 1998:  Tournament at Martinsville.  I didn’t have a JV coach and I had the flu.  While the prior match was going on, I went to the bathroom.  Match ended quickly and the official…”Bobbi” called for captains (apparently before the court was even clear).  Since I was..busy…and wasn’t out there, I was given a yellow for delaying the match.
  • 1999: At the Casey-Westfield Tournament.  We were playing Edwards County and sucking (EC had two great hitters–best two in that school’s history and we weren’t going to win, regardless).  I didn’t like a call; it was incorrect, but I was mostly upset at my team.  The R1 let me go on for a little bit and then the R2 told me to sit.  I said, “I ain’t sitting until I get a card, Chris.”  He walked over and about five seconds later–yellow.  I sat down.  About 30 seconds later, my setter seriously sprained her ankle (career ending since she was a senior)–the R1 gave us a ton of extra time to sort things out.  I appreciated that then and now.  She came up to apologize about the call after the match–I told her it was fine, that I was sorry she had to give me a card, but I was upset at how we were playing.  She said she thought so, wasn’t going to do anything, but then the R2 came over and she was going to back him up.  I’ve forgotten her name and haven’t seen her at HS matches in a decade.  “Chris”–I now live about three blocks from him and he’s a big-time softball ump now.
  • 1999: I’ve got a JV coach for this year, by the way.  We’re changing benches, having just lost a set.  I make the comment, “I hope they get it right” as we’re passing the scorer’s table, having turned in my lineup–not even talking about officials, but an adjustment we’re in the process of putting in for the next set.   R2 walks over to the R1 and boom–I’ve got a yellow for badmouthing the officials.  Do I even need to have you guess who the R2 was?
  • 1999: The “Non-Card“. First set and we were called for being in the next something like five of the first seven points.  Yes–I know that’s possible, but not when your kids aren’t within three feet of the net.  The R2 was the sister of the other team’s coach…gee, who hired the officials?  The R1, “Dee”, came down off the stand because I was pretty mad.  She said she didn’t want to give me a card and I told her–you’re going to need to and explained what I’d found out from the scorer’s table.  The R1 hadn’t realized the R2 and coach were related.  “Dee” told me to sit down, shut up, and focus on coaching–“Look like you’re having fun, Jim”.  She’d make sure there were no shenanigans.  She had a word with the R2…no more net violations.  A couple weeks later, “Dee” told me it was the one night she’d forgotten to bring her cards…

Dee had some good advice there.  Enjoy it.  I was still young then, had a good, young team that I knew was going to be great in 2000 and 2001.  It’s not the worst ethical breach I’ve seen…that was 2012.  We dominated a match, but it went to five sets on some ‘interesting’ calls.  We lost the 5th set and when it was done, the R1 got off the stand, hugged the opposing coach, got in their damned huddle and wished the team good luck with the post-season.  (No, we haven’t gone back there since.)

  • 2000: It was a tournament–Casey-Westfield’s I think.  Player’s uniform came untucked and she didn’t tuck it back in before the next play.  Yellow card after the R1 gave the other team a sideout for us delaying the match for the untucked uniform.  The official?  Yup, “Bobbi”.

HS POSTSCRIPT 2000: Flora, Sectional Title Game.  We are 34-2 and playing a good opponent.  You can ask people who were there and they will tell you it was one of the greatest HS matches ever.  Sideout scoring, best-of-three, and it went two hours.  The problem was that the R1 had a relative die and we had a replacement  official coming that night.  By seniority (she was the region’s head of officials), the official declared she would be the R1 for the match.  I didn’t get a card–but …you can guess who the official was, right?  At 14-13 in the deciding set, we scored match point, my outside slapped the pad in excitement, we piled up, and she blew her whistle–‘sideout, dangerous contact with a playing surface’.  I was not permitted to call TO to appeal/protest.  The R2 said “She’s the person that runs things, I’m not doing anything.”  While I was talking to the R2, R1 whistled for serve and then the R1 called us out of rotation (the receiving team).  BHE on the next play before our opponent scored point 16 on a hard swing.
None of my seniors from that team have ever gone in to the gym where that State banner hangs.  I have–see it all the damned time as it is where my son goes to school.   So what was up with “Bobbi”?  Well, a week before our sectional, she made a comment that the wrong ears picked up–a comment she’d made repeatedly within the hearing of coaches: “Men have no business coaching girls.  Anything to get them out of doing it is fine.”  That sectional title game was the last match she ever officiated.  Why couldn’t they have done that sooner?  
As the last bit of that, I coached those opposing kids during club season.  They apologized so many times for what happened–even though it wasn’t their fault.  They loved going to State, but for them, they said it was rough knowing how they got there.  Those were good kids and it makes looking at that damned banner easier for me over the years because the kids on the other side were classy.   Still, of the seven yellow-cards I received as a HS coach over eight years, a single official gave me six of them.

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So I coached high school another three years before an unfortunate sequence of events.  No yellow cards.  Nada.  Part of this was because I was growing more comfortable with running a program, some was because my athletic director let me have input in who we contracted as officials., some of it was officials getting more comfortable with my mannerisms (and vice-versa)  Some of it was also because we were really, really good and its just gauche to argue when you are up 12-5 or 14-6.  That brings us to college.

  • 2004: Opening weekend for Allen County, 11 days on the job–and yes, I still had to pause for names once in a while.  College Yellow #1 in the books.  I don’t remember the match details because it was a stupid card–had nothing to do with the official and everything to do with a couple players willfully doing old stuff rather than what I asked them to do.  I was frustrated with them and doubting myself–this is the fall after I was fired, after all….
  • 2004: Allen County at Butler Community College.  They had rowdy fans (the entire football team).  I was new, wanted to win, but had several players who still resisted doing things the way I wanted them, always saying, “But Coach K did things this way….” or “I played Position X for Coach….”  That didn’t help my mood.  So I was standing right on the sideline (Yes, too close while the play was going on).  The ball is hit by their right-side, tags *me* in the left knee–no, I wasn’t actually on the line/in the court.  The line judge calls it in.  R2 calls it out.  R1 consults R2…sticks with the line judge’s call.  I make a comment regarding the R1’s decision in a loud stentorian voice.  Yellow.  
  • 2004: Allen County.  It was away–it was at Neosho County.  Line judge blew a call badly.  R1 and R2 consult and won’t overturn it.  It’s in a set that’s something like 26-26 at that point.  I stomped my foot, slammed my notebook.  A deserved yellow.  To be fair though, before the next set while the R2 was checking our lineup, we had a sotto voce conversation–she said she didn’t doubt it hit the court, but they were both screened from seeing it and the line judge was ‘absolutely sure.’  If a ref is screened, I get the hesitation and why you go with the LJ.  The problem is that at the small college level, those line judges are often classmates/students/friends of the VB team.  Sucked–we lost that set, then the match.  I deserved the yellow.  We lost the match, but I won’t blame the LJs for that…the 71,249 unforced errors get the credit.

I didn’t pick up any cards my second season in Iola before coming to LLCC after the 2005 season where I’ve been ever since.

  • 2006:  Home tournament against Shawnee.  Fifth set and I had a player have her shoe come untied (we’re winning, so we aren’t stalling).  I say something to the R2 and he steps on the court.  Player had looked up at the R1 who nodded at her…and then turned and beckoned for serve.  Ace.  I pointed out (so did the R2) that the R2 was on the court, that he’d just nodded to my player when she gestured to her shoe.  Nope–just a card out of his pocket.  Welcome to LLCC Yellow #1.
  • 2007:  I picked up one in a match against State Fair CC, but I don’t remember where it was at–just not at their tourney.  The official was inconsistent in what was permitted with middles and power-tips.  Deserved the card.
  • 2007: At Johnson County.  Totally deserved it.  We lost a set 33-35, ending with a couple BHE calls…and I projected my voice: “It’s okay guys, hard to win playing 6 on 7.”  They were bad BHE calls, but you can’t intentionally say something like that and get away with it.
  • 2007:  at John Wood.  It’s one of only two times in more than a decade at LLCC I’ve told my AD–I don’t want that official any more.  I got a yellow all right.  I deserved it.  Deserved a Red, but it’s the worst complete match we’ve had from an R1 I can remember.  As bad as the ref was, we still lost on our unforced errors.
  • 2008: Manatee CC at FSC-Jacksonville, I think (though it may have been Pensacola instead).  Inconsistent ball-handling calls–and the match was nothing but close sets (15-13 in the 5th, I believe).  I think the intensity of the match that caused the yellow, more than anything else.  Deserved?  Maybe?
  • 2010: Home in a big match.  We lost a set because of a replay when the opponent complained of being distracted–would’ve won 3-1.  Instead we lost 3-2.  Did I deserve it?  Totally.  Afterwards, a couple of my players thanked me for sticking up for them.  In hindsight, I was mad enough, I could’ve been given a Red by the officials.  Given things, I think they handled a unique situation and a mad coach pretty well.  I still think the replay was crap, though.
  • 2010: At the Marshalltown tournament.  I told the officials beforehand of a couple things that would go on because I knew our opponent used stalling as a regular tactic.  Yup–straight from the get-go and the refs didn’t do anything, so I started calling how/when they’d delay the match before it happened and got them all right just like Ms. Cleo.  That was enough for a yellow.   On the other hand, the refs then stopped the stalling shenanigans, we built a rhythm and swept the rest of the match.
  • 2010: At Kankakee for a tournament.  A couple of really bad calls in the 5th set cost us the set–R1 missed a BR attack with the kid wayyyy over the line.  It didn’t take much for me to get the yellow.  The R1 was the R2 for the next match, so I kept conversation to a minimum.  The thing is, when the whole day was done, that official came up and apologized for the blown calls.  It shocked my players.  I told the R1, “Thanks, but it didn’t cost us the match–23 unforced errors did.”  Refs are human.  I think he realized the mistake shortly after it happened.  Obviously, I deserved the card.  Still, the ref didn’t cost us the match–without those errors, it never goes to a 5th set.
  • 2011: At Lake Land College.  I got it for arguing a ball-handling call.  It was the right call, but we were sucking canal water.  R1 let me go on for at least a minute, I made sure he heard enough to issue a card–voila, yellow!  The thing with it is–he understood the card.  Later in the match, I had a player suffer a concussion.  He thought I was stalling, I started yelling, and he reached for a card–then he saw the kid, tapped his chest and mouthed ‘my bad’.  He apologized for that after the match–and I apologized for going off on him–that I knew his call was right, I was just mad at my team.
  • 2011: Region Playoff, 3rd set.  Other team had a player lift her uniform on the court between plays to adjust her belly-button ring–that’s jewelry, folks.  The R1 decides she can take it out, no need for a sub or any sort of sanction.  This is a 2-3 minute process.  I got mad.  I got the yellow, but the R2 went, talked to the R1, and that player came out of the match…and it took her the rest of that set to get that ring out (I’m not convinced she got it out…I think she left it in and stopped picking at it and lied to the officials).
  • 2012: Last away match of the regular season.  Some ‘interesting’ ball-handling calls throughout the match go against us.  I can chalk a few up to inconsistency, a couple to just whiffed calls.  Fifth set comes and I get a yellow for arguing a BHE.   I deserved it because by that point I was riding that official–freely admit it.  We lost 12-15 with the last two points being BHE.  Okay–I’ll calm down and be okay, except…the R1 came off the stand, hugged the opposing coach, wished her good luck in the post-season and did the same for the team in their huddle.  It’s the only time I’ve ever seen that.  This is one of the matches where the official DID decide the outcome.
  • 2015: at Southwestern Illinois.  Well, I didn’t mean to get the Yellow here. We were up 18-5 for God’s sake.  At that point, SWIC hit a ball well out, but the student line judge was busy talking to her friend sitting in the bleachers and wasn’t watching the court.  That annoys me regardless of where I’m at or the level being played, so I pointed over there and projected my voice at the official, “Can you have the line judge pay attention to the game not the bleachers?”…at the exact moment the gym went totally silent.  Total. Silence.  So, yeah, that’s a card.  Then…as I’m sitting there (not even standing), I turn to the R2 and say, “Can you guys just ask her to stop talking with her friend and watch the match?  Good or not, she’d expect officials to pay attention when she’s playing.”  Out of nowhere, the R1 raises a Red card–he told the R2 to tell me I needed to drop it.  (I would’ve been happy to, but then as R1 say something to the LJ ignoring the game in front of her…the R1 never did.)  If I had known I was going to get a Red, I would’ve done something worthy of my first.  Nope.  The funny thing–on our video, you can see the girls wondering who got the card.  They thought it was for the ref overhearing one of my players drop an f-bomb.  No one believed it was on me…”Dietz isn’t even talking.  He’s just sitting there.  Did he give the ref the finger or something?”  Ahhh, good times.
  • 2015: At the conference tournament.  It was deserved, but I think it was a necessary yellow card.  Opposing coach was complaining about some calls and it felt like it was affecting the R1’s decisions–I have no way to know if that was the case or not, so I started doing the same thing.  It felt like it made a difference in how it was called–but the ’15 group by that point was 26-4.  They needed to know I was as invested as they were. 

It made a difference four days later when I actually “won” an argument with the officials, got them to overturn a call–and I have awesome respect for that R1…we were on the road and after I demanded they look at the rulebook, the R1 reversed his call…our opponent went ballistic.  There aren’t a lot of officials in any sport willing to admit a mistake and reverse a key call.  I respected what he did immensely.  While all of the discussion was going on, my players knew I was fighting for them–it built their excitement, believe it or not–visibly.   As a tangent to this whole post–I consider cards tactically; at the college level, they disappear after each set.  You can use them for a pause, to get a point across, whether to your team or to an official, but it’s important to know the team or official.

  • 2016: at Marshalltown against undefeated Indian Hills.  We won, but lost a set.  The kid doing the scorebook wasn’t paying attention and while we were serving, gave Indian Hills two points.  We lost the set 25-22.  I saw the mistake immediately and argued (to no avail) it was fixable.  The R2 said they had to go with what was in the book and the R1 just shrugged her shoulders.  Not.  Happy.  The Yellow wasn’t the motivator for the team, but the situation did.  We came out and dominated the final two sets.  I deserved the card, but still think the officials should have done something about the score–they couldn’t have missed we’d scored the last two points, not IH.  Changing the book would have been easy.
  • 2016: Home tourney against a ranked team.  Deserved–but I appreciated that the official knew I wasn’t really upset with the calls, mainly how we were playing.  It was one of those ‘tactical’ cards you pick up as a coach.  We didn’t fix it until I subbed out every starter (it was a ‘Sub 5’…left the libero out on the court)–and the bench came from behind to win a set…and then the match.  
  • 2016: National Tournament vs. Kirkwood.  Deserved.  I enjoyed the text messages from people afterwards commenting on my ball-handling ‘skills’.  I picked up the Yellow for demonstrating what a double-hit looked like as I sent the ball back to a shagger.  Through the first 1.5 sets, none had been called.  Personally, I think it changed how BHE were called the rest of the way, but who knows?  I was upset with the lack of calls, but at that point, I was also annoyed with how we were playing.  I’ve had a good laugh about it with the official the past couple years–he remembers it as well–not in a bad way, just that ‘coaches are coaches sometimes.’
  • 2017 at a tournament against a D1 opponent.  Absolutely deserved, but I think it says something about the R1’s inconsistency that each coach had a Yellow before either team reached 15 in the first set.  The other coach picked up another yellow and a Red later in the match.  The one thing I’d give the refs credit for though in the match–some of the fans were being rude/filthy/unsportsmanlike towards my kids on the court.  The R1 stopped the match, got the tourney manager, and squared things away…of course, those parents left in the meantime.  I haven’t ever seen an official willing to do that–or find it necessary.  I’ll give credit for that because it WAS absolutely necessary–those fans were vulgar and rude, an embarrassment.  I was told he’s a great official–and that may be.  Everyone has bad days, players, coaches, and officials, but that first set–whoa, that was rocky officiating.
  • 2017 but won’t mention when or where.  I blew up.  My daughter was there and said she was glad she saw it in person–said it was the first time she’d ever seen me truly angry/furious ever (I’m good about my temper, believe it or not from my OCD listing of all my card-offenses).  Basically, I sent the player to ask the R1 about a call and the response was “I’m not going to give your team that call today.”  My team?  That got me mad–because he’d already called us for more BHE in the first set than we averaged per match (and for the match we wound up at 400% our season average while our opponent was at 50% of their norm).  Yellow right here.   I told the R2 that was wrong and the R2 went over to discuss things–came back and the R1 called my captain over and asked, “Why did you lie to your coach?”  Accuse my player of lying–I lost it….I have kids that will lie to me, I know that–but not this one.  The kid started crying.  My behavior wasn’t the best–but my players are my kids.  You can call them for BHE, make incorrect line calls, but don’t comment on their personal integrity.  We’re 18 months past this and I’m still sore.  I don’t regret this card at all.  I would have defended the kid to the point of ejection from the match and I think any coach worth their weight in salt would do likewise for their players.  Otherwise, why are you coaching?
  • 2018: Opening Weekend against Longview.  Stunningly bad call by the R1.  Our back-row setter tried to bring a ball back and played it while it may have been over the plane of the net.  As she did so, the opposing blocker swept the ball.  No call–play went on for a few minutes.  I asked why there was no call.  She said there was no foul.  Horse-hockey.  Either my kid played it over the plane, so it was a back-row attack or else she was setting it on our side and the blocker interfered with the set.  An officials supervisor was right there and agreed with me–blatant enough that she said something then and there.  Yellow card.  I knew we were in trouble because she had my captain come over to come tell me I now needed to sit down because I had been given a card.  Ummmm, you know this is college and not high school, right?  (It may have cost us a set, but Longview dominated two sets and even if we won the set, they would’ve won the match–they played great.)
  • 2018 Opening Weekend against Neosho.  Bad whole match by the R2.  It won’t be a shock–it was the same official as my other card from the weekend.  In the 5th set at 12-12, she called us out of alignment.  She said my setter (at right back) couldn’t be in front of the libero (middle back).  I told her we were stacked left and she replied, “There’s no such thing.  Sit down coach.  I’ve warned your players about it all day.”  Well, I didn’t let it go and she walked over and the R1 issued me the Yellow.  No such thing as a stack?  No understanding that the middle back has no relevance for how far forward the setter/right back is?  Yikes.  Cool thing though–when the match was done, Asya, the opposing coach, went over and told the head of officials how bad the call was.  I deserved the card–but it was brutal officiating…and as bad as it was, if we wouldn’t have crapped away the 3rd AND 4th sets, it wouldn’t have gotten to the point of her ignorance mattering–as usual, our mistakes/Neosho’s refusal to give up is what gave them the win.

So there ya go–my cards.  1 Red and 31 Yellow in 22 years of coaching.  I suppose that’s a reasonable number, about 1.5 per season.  If you’re going to judge me, I suspect it’s going to be on the fact I know the circumstances of 20+ years worth of sanctions.  I understand.  It’s probably some sort of OCD thing.  Same with me and stats and certain volleyball moments.  Other than the official for Opening Day this year and Bobbi the HS sexist, I’ve never received a card more than once from an official.  I hadn’t really thought about that.  I wonder if that’s weird.  *shrug*

If there’s a point to this blog this time–other than worrying about my OCD tendencies, think about sanctions.  Are there times when you went too far?  Are there times where they are potentially useful?  Are there times you regret a card or maybe are ashamed of it?  If you were an official, how would you react to your coaching behavior?  It’s all an art, no real science to it.










Applying JFC Fuller’s Military Theory to Coaching

A little more than a century ago, a new weapon showed up on the battlefields of World War One.  Initially described as a landship, it was decided that was too descriptive and to keep it secret, it was given the name ‘tank’ and that’s stuck ever since.  The first nation to build a full-fledged tank unit was Britain; this was the Royal Tank Corps.  One of its staff officers proved to be an important military theoretician.  This was General J.F.C. Fuller and he put these ideas into a book titled The Foundations of the Science of War, first published in 1926.  Basically, there are nine principles–success comes from applying/following them.  Let’s think about them in terms of coaching.

  1. DIRECTION:  What’s the goal?  What do we need to do to get from here to there?  This is pretty simple.  Ultimately, to me, one important thing to remember is that goals must be realistic.  Saying your goal is to win state with 6 girls who have never played before–that’s not really achievable.
  2. DISTRIBUTION: How do you deploy your troops.  In volleyball terms, who is starting, who do you plan to come off the bench?  In most circumstances, you hurt your team if you try and ‘wing it’.  As a coach, you need to have an idea of who goes where if you want to succeed.
  3. DETERMINATION: The will to fight.  How badly do your players want to win?  I’ve found that in many instances, if we get up 2-0 in a match, it’s over, especially if it is the last match of a tournament or our opponent has a long drive home that evening.  I think it’s important to rephrase my initial question, too (and it becomes a different question this way….): How badly do your players hate losing?
  4. CONCENTRATION: This is NOT mental focus–this is deploying your forces to the right spot at the right time.  In terms of volleyball, this is recognizing that your 6’1 right-side is matched up against a 5’5 blocker or that your opponent’s middle just served and is playing at right-back.  Get the ball where it needs to go to score points.
  5. DEMORALIZATION OF ENEMY: Figure out your opponent’s plan and neutralize it.  Unable to succeed with their commander’s orders, they will lose heart.  In volleyball, this is understanding how your opponent succeeds–do they block well, serve tough?  Do they have one dominant hitter?  Do they win because of their offensive system’s speed?  What takes away these advantages?
  6. ENDURANCE: Your ability to defend while faced with an all-out attack from air, artillery, and ground assault.  Essentially, what is your plan when your match goes five sets?  How do you train your players when facing an opponent tough enough that they do not get demoralized or applies these self-same principles against you?  Fuller argues the best bet is training specifically for this situation, not just with field maneuvers (practice), but discussion and education (things like scouting and mental training).
  7. OFFENSIVE ACTION: A properly executed offensive prevents similar action from an opponent; they become disorganized.  With volleyball, I think this starts with the serve–my teams WILL come at you.  We intend to take you out of system, prevent you from using #2 and #4 above which will cause #5.  When you watch a match, you can usually tell which team is dictating the pace of events–is it you?
  8. SECURITY: Preventing surprise threats from disrupting your force.  A minor point for coaching, I think.  I suppose this would have watching film/charting as the equivalent.  To counter this though, I’ll have my team practice certain things throughout a season with the intent of using them only once or twice at key points–so that they can’t be countered, so that surprise is guaranteed (and ideally leading to demoralization of the opponent).
  9. MOBILITY: The ability to move while preventing the enemy from doing the same.  I think you can take this one of two ways.   First, keep yourself in system more than your opponent is so that you have options and your opponent is constantly reacting to unexpected attacks.  Second, maximize the tempo of your attack.  Moving at an uncomfortable speed will disrupt your opponent.

There we go.  Nine principles that we can translate from war to sports (symbolic war).


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The Folly of Blocking

You know, if I can’t upset people every once in a while, it’s just not a good week.  So with that noted…here we go.

I think blocking in volleyball as a skill is overrated, especially considering the time required to get good at it.  When you look at available time, you get more bang for your buck from improving passing and hitting instead of blocking.  I say this and back it up with the fact that in my program we very, very rarely practice blocking; we just make it part of our 6v6 scrimmaging.  Never fear the block.

So–you want me to back it up?  Fair enough.  Let’s see what the numbers say (as always, I go and look them up as I do this…we may find I’m completely full of poop in my initial perception!…welcome to trying out the methods of science…).  Info below is the year, our W/L record, and where our blocks/set stands nationally.

  • 2018: 29-14, 17th (finished 8th at Nationals, #12 in poll)
  • 2017: 37-7,  38th  (finished 3rd at Nationals, #4 in poll)
  • 2016: 40-9, 50th, (finished 2nd at Nationals, #3 in poll)
  • 2015: 40-6, 33rd (finished 2nd at Nationals, #4 in poll)
  • 2014: 25-19, 66th (#ARV in poll)
  • 2013:  33-8, 63rd  (#11 in poll)
  • 2012: 33-9, 27th (finished 11th at Nationals, #8 in poll)

It’s all over the place.  Our best finish was this year (going back past what’s here to 2006…). How about hitting though?  I’ve just listed our ranking below for each year, first for kills/set, then for team efficiency.

  • 2018:  4th, 11th
  • 2017:  7th, 18th
  • 2016:  4th, 20th
  • 2015:  3rd, 11th
  • 2014: 13th, 21st
  • 2013: 16th, 19th
  • 2012: 15th, 32nd (but we had the best juco libero to ever play for the NJCAA on defense…)

Those numbers line up much better with our success–and I think we rank higher in efficiency than what is shown, but there are some teams in the NJCAA which keep…interesting…stats.  Of course, I get the arguments–a good block doesn’t necessarily go down for a point, etc., and that’s true enough.  Still, we scored 1900+ times hitting this past year and 300 with blocking…I don’t think that 1,600pt difference is being made up with our block channeling opposing hitters.

Two schools near here focus on blocking, making sure to spend at least 1/3 of their practice on it because in the words of one of those coaches “you can’t be a serious college program without teaching your kids blocking and being effective at it.” (Horse hockey).  The four-year records of those schools:  59-69 and 86-64…and to be fair, that 86-64 includes a lot of tough opponents.  Still, that’s 145-133 combining two schools which emphasize blocking compared to our 146-36 (emphasizing passing) and a rival of ours who’s gone 204-7 during that time (they hit that ball and play a zillion more matches than anyone else).  That’s 350-43.   Cherry-picking, yeah…but it says something.

Carl McGown told a story once about his team leading the nation in blocking–but finishing last in his conference.  Can you see why he told that story?

(And now you get to Jim’s opinion…)

I think it’s because blocking is reactive, not active.  The opponent controls the ball, they are making the choice where to set, who will hit.  Your blockers are left trying to decide/guess where the set will go–and even when right, the hitting team may be making that set because of a mismatch against a weak blocker, etc.  With blocking, you have to have perfect timing, you need to penetrate the net, avoid touching the net…and even so, a good hitter can use the block to disrupt the defense (our hitters are 25-35% more efficient when we can hit a ball into/against a blocker than if they swing cleanly past it)

And still teams emphasize their blocking.  Does my assertion hold true for national teams?  I doubt it–that’s a level far beyond normal players, and I don’t have the numbers anyways.  So let’s keep my conclusion to college-aged athletes and younger.  That 20-30 minutes per practice spent on blocking, blocking, blocking, is better spent on the other skills.

There’s actually a lot of wisdom in the words of young teams, yelling “Bump! Set! Spike!”  There’s no “Block!” there.  Pass the ball–so you can get the ball to the setter who can get it to the player most likely to score the kill.  You want to increase your success?  Work on what will let you kill the ball, score a point directly–>hitting.


**If you’re interested in more stuff on volleyball, 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 inexpensive–under five dollars!





A Bittersweet 15th Anniversary, 1/21

Back before I started this blog (the dark ages of spring, 2018), there was a thread in a coaching forum called ‘Volleyball Coaches and Trainers’ on Facebook started by a coach who had just been let go from a coaching position because of upset parents.  She wondered what other coaches did to get over being fired, what it was like to find that your summer was suddenly free–the works.

I was able to reply–because I’ve been fired (shockingly, this post is about that).  One of things I remember being told after I was fired was “Congratulations.  You aren’t a real coach until an administrator screws up your life.”  Gallows humor, but now with hindsight, I see there’s great wisdom in those words.

Anyways, she wanted to know what you did to get over it and the reality is–you don’t.  This month marks the 15-year anniversary of getting fired from what I considered a ‘dream job.’  Here’s an open secret–I’m still pissed about it.  I still hold some grudges….yes, 15 years down the road.  And if you’ve read any of my other posts like #1, #2, or #3, you know that I’m pretty happy where I’m at now kicking some butt:

Heck, I’ve been at Lincoln Land now thirteen seasons, five more than Satan’s School where I was terminated.  I am blessed to work with an athletic director who cares about all of the sports and with other coaches who believe in the ‘student’ part of ‘student-athlete’.  I’ve seen our baseball and softball teams go to Nationals, the soccer team come within a goal of Nationals and, possibly, our women’s basketball team making it this spring.  I’ve enjoyed almost every young woman I’ve coached, I’ve loved watching them move on to success in their own personal and professional lives–and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

I’m still salty about getting fired though.

The thing is–it was ‘my choice’.  The school superintendent, the head priest, relayed the message to me that I needed to play the right person, do the right thing.  The choice was the 6’3 MH freshman or the 5’5 senior.  I’m a coach and built that program based on the principle of ‘you play for the front of the jersey, not the name on the back.’  It was inferred I’d face consequences for the wrong choice.  Well, I played the 6’3 kid (who made all-state) and that was that.  –‘We need the program to go in a different direction.’…7 winning seasons, a state-qualifying team…Satan’s School has gone a different direction since, by the way….but the ‘right’ people have played at least….

When I was suggested to change the lineup, it was also mentioned that I needed to think about my family–here’s a lot of why I’m still upset, by the way.  That if I didn’t do the ‘right’ thing, how would I support my family?  I needed to think about their well-being….honestly, it was like a Mafia threat.   Of course, you can’t support a family of five on a religious school’s teaching salary or the $1,000 coaching stipend.  I did those things because I love teaching/volleyball.  Ugh…hinting at family ruin all for the sake of a wealthy kid.

The other part of that which upsets me–I know there are coaches who would’ve changed their lineup.  It isn’t the coach I get mad at…it’s that I understand there ARE coaches who rely on that salary, who need that tiny paycheck to make rent, buy groceries.  I hate seeing people forced to compromise principles for the sake of cold, naked reality.  It lessens the individual.  I hate that.  And to this day, I’m thankful I could stand on my principles–not just for me, but I know it made a difference for several of my students in choices they made later.  It’s also made a difference with my recruiting now–I can show that I don’t play favorites, that I will stick to principles.

So–we get back to that coach at the start of this who got fired…my advice?  Acknowledge you won’t get over it, but don’t let the anger or despair blind you.  Keep your head up, look for opportunities, and if they don’t come right away, use the sudden free time to recharge your personal batteries or get involved in other ways–college summer camps or officiating (there is a drastic shortage in all sports, everywhere…consider checking it out here, here, or here).  Consider what happened–would you do things the same if you had the chance to change them?

For me, I was offered a different high school coaching job–then it turned out that superintendent’s college roommate was the dad of the 5’5 kid…he vetoed my hire (you can’t make this stuff up, y’know?).  I did get discouraged.  I decided I’d change gears in life, focus more on other things like my business and investments–those were things that needed more attention to prosper, but I kept them on the back-burner because I enjoyed teaching/coaching much more.  Oh well–time to gear up the business!

And then, the first week of August, a college head coaching position opened with teaching responsibilities to go with it.  The pay was pretty good–worth being two states away from home.  What the heck–I applied.  The next day I had a call from the college president, had a nice talk, and two days later, I was in Iola, KS, interviewing at Allen Community CollegeTwo days after that, I was hired and moving to Kansas…having found out that the season was already underway!!  (A ton of stress to learn on the fly, I’ll note)

I spent two seasons there at which point my current job near home opened.  Without Allen, I likely don’t get the LLCC gig.  Things worked out because I didn’t let the past control me.  I used getting fired by Satan’s School as motivation.  I used it to critically examine how I coached, to evaluate how badly I wanted to coach.  I realize now it was a crucible, a temptation–I had the chance to remain in a job I loved if only I compromised my personal principles.  I didn’t.  Under pressure, I was able (thankfully) to remain true to myself.

But I still miss teaching, seeing light bulbs go on.  I miss watching an athlete go from being unable to hit a ball 20 feet in distance to pounding it straight down, to watch confidence grow in themselves and a team–in a way that you don’t get with emotionally more-mature college athletes.  I miss seeing girls survive the trauma of junior high, begin the process of becoming young adults.  I’ve missed that for fifteen years.

I know some of my former students and players at Satan School will read this–I post it on social media and stay in touch with a ton of them.  You are missed.  I think of you regularly–and am proud of who you have all become now as doctors, mothers, fathers, carpenters, artists, nurses, musicians.  Indeed, I loved you then and love you now.

Well, that’s all maudlin and ramblin’.  Sorry.  Really–reflect on what has happened and use it to make today and tomorrow better.  Your fate, your path, is yours to choose, not anyone else’s.  Free will, baby.  Free will.

* * *

So, since I wrote everything above in preparation for today, a different story came forward out of Texas.  A coach there resigned (or was asked to resign as I saw in one story) and after doing so, went public/to the internet with her issues, noting:

“…“As a coach, playing time decisions are always difficult. Unfortunately, upon making these decisions in the best interest of team success, I was not supported by athletic, campus, or district administration. I was told by campus administration that I needed to recognize the political aspect of my job, and also of theirs. I cannot and will not compromise the integrity of my decisions based on a parent’s political pressure or position. I believe strongly in the value of athletics, that being a part of a team is a privilege, and playing time is earned….”  

I don’t know the coach and really, no one can know the internal situation unless employed there.  In coaching forums, naturally, coaches side with coaches (administrators and officials are the enemy for some…).  The problem is–you’ll never get to hear the administration’s side of the story.

It’s why I’ve added this post-script.  With mine, you know where things stood in the aftermath or as Paul Harvey would say, ‘Now you know…the rest of the story.”

It was January 21, 2004 when I was sitting in my 8th hour prep period–and actually using it, grading some US History homework.  There was a knock at my door and the principal (Thom) and the athletic director (Matt) came in to my room and asked to talk.  I wasn’t too worried–it was time to do contracts and since I didn’t have regular state certification, I was going to need to start heading in that direction with summer classes, etc.  With coaching, I’d received a note from the school accountant/financial person that there was a ‘glitch’ with my coaching contract–but not to worry.  So, this was no biggie.

Except it was, obviously.  But Thom and Matt didn’t come to fire me.  They came to tell me that that ‘glitch’ was intentional.  The superintendent would accidentally have someone else sign the teaching contract and then wouldn’t want to go back on their ‘word’–and since they were one year positions, it wouldn’t be a big deal for me to not coach any more since I should expect to leave at the end of any season.  The super’s plan had been to get me to sign a teaching contract first so I felt bound/obligated to remain–since the teaching contract prevents employment at other schools (which would have prevented me from coaching elsewhere).  And that was that.

So–why am I adding this?  Because of what happened to Thom and Matt, because what happened to them stayed quiet, too.  Because they told me what was going on, having been warned not to, because they acted with integrity, they were fired as well.  Yup…three firings because of an upset volleyball parent (you’d think that’s something that would come from football or boys’ basketball only).  They stayed quiet, too, choosing not to air grievances in public.  SO what happened to them?

Thom left and went to work for his son’s construction company in Colorado and when the snow came, he and his wife went to Florida where they nannied his daughter’s three children.  Once word got out Matt was let go, he didn’t even really have to apply for jobs–job offers came to him.  He took one as an AD/assistant principal and has been there ever since, supervising massive growth in that school’s booster program, adding a couple sports, and supervising a multi-million dollar capital improvement program.

Thom retired basically so he isn’t a great example, but would those job offers have come in to Matt if he’d blown up at the school/superintendent who fired him?  Unlikely.  Prospective employers will hear your side during the hiring process; if they are good, they’ll find out the details all around it, too.

So this is why I give administrators benefit-of-the-doubt when there is coaching turnover.  It’s why I am thankful to have worked for Matt and Thom and then John/Randy* at Allen, and now Ron at LLCC.  Consider all the possibilities–not just the ones that fit your prior notions!!

*Randy was acting A.D. while I was at ACCC; the ‘real’ A.D. (Dan Kinney) was serving a tour of duty in Iraq, so he didn’t return until my last two weeks at Allen.

Anatomy of a Disaster (Mind of a Coach)

So, elsewhere I’ve written a bit about the Great Passing Disaster of 2018.  That post is: I Hate John Kessel  (For the record, I obviously don’t hate John.  He’s a good guy, does good things for the sport of volleyball and people in general.  The world could use more people like him in it.).  But when I was writing that post, my brain veered onto a tangent; I realized there was an opportunity for a different sort of post–a look into a coach’s thoughts when a contest is going to crap.

I’ve done this in my two books, The Human Side of Coaching and Like Heck She Isn’t a Volleyball PlayerIn The Human Side of Coaching, I went through my thoughts as we won Lincoln Land’s first-ever Regional title back in 2012.  In Like Heck She Isn’t a Volleyball Player, I go through my decision-making process on subs, timeouts, and other choices during a fifth-set victory that went 19-17 with us fighting off multiple match points.

Those were great moments.  That 19-17 win remains the most stressful set of my coaching career–more than two years later, it’s hard to think, “Oh yeah, we win this” while watching it.  The thing is, coaching isn’t just about the high points.  It’s about what you do during the low points.  How do you handle them?  What goes through your mind?  With that in mind, fair is fair.   I decided to do a game report of the Hindenburg-scale (hyperbole) flaming wreck that was our second set against Grand Rapids at the National Tournament this year.

Before starting, it’s important to realize I can laugh about this.  It was a once-in-a-lifetime level of passing atrocity.  Grand Rapids was a good team.  Most importantly–this is a game, not life.  I love winning, I love competition, but there are bigger fish to fry with college/amateur athletics than just the scoreboard and if you can’t laugh after things like this happen, you’ll go nuts.

We were missing one of our starting outside hitters, one of two passers who were in serve-receive all six rotations.  In addition, our all-Region/all-Conference middle-hitter suffered a Grade-2-ish sprained ankle when an opponent came under the net in our first match of the National Tournament (thank goodness for ankle braces); she missed the rest of Day One, but for this match, the trainer said she could play as tolerated, but she  would have zero lateral mobility.  Fair enough–I intended to avoid her playing if possible.

The first set went back and forth with neither team building more than a two point lead.  I used the player with the ankle injury for one point in serve-receive hitting (she got the kill) at 22-22.  We wound up winning 25-23 and I figured there’d be a humdinger of a match coming up.

I didn’t make any line-up adjustments going in to the second set.  I didn’t see any reason to.  We were playing well–and I’m stubborn…I prefer waiting for an opponent to adjust before I do.  We started with our setter at right back where she would be our first server.  This was for the ‘traditional’ reason that it gave us three hitters in the front row, but also because our setter was our most aggressive serve/generated the most points with her serve throughout the season.  Ideally, we’re going to get a good start here on our way to a 2-0 lead in the match.   Ummmm….yeah, about that….

0-0: Good serve, some transition, and then we overpass a half-speed shot that gets put down in the back right corner.

0-1: Out of system pass.  Setter BHE.  Easy call to make.

0-2: Out of system pass, had to set it outside, kept in play…and we hit it long.  A tile popped up on the SportCourt (this has happened every year in West Virginia…), so there was a momentary delay.  I wondered at the time if that would maybe give us a chance to focus better…ummmm…didn’t see the future coming….

0-3: We get a kill.  S/R pass was all right, but the set went beyond the antenna.  We kept the ball in play, got the transition kill down the line (their setter left early).

1-3: Our best hitter (484 kills on the season) goes back to serve.  It lands somewhere, possibly Chicago, maybe Minneapolis.  I tell my assistant–we’ll have a better chance of winning if we serve a ball in this set.

1-4: We get a good pass, set our middle, she gets stuffed.  (Why did we set her?  They’d committed a double-block there, no one was on the RS, just one on the OH.  Sigh.  Oh well, this happens–I know that…the price of letting the setter run the team without me micro-managing.)

1-5:  Long rally of ugliness.  Why are we playing tentative?  What’s going on?  Setter dump scores for Grand Rapids.

TIMEOUT –We are not playing like we did in the first set at all.  We haven’t given up a big run (yet…), but we aren’t communicating on the court–whether that’s calling sets or recognizing where the setter is/who is taking the second ball, etc.  Add that to the missed serves and…no Bueno.  I’m calm in the time out though.  If I got mad every time a LLCC squad fell behind like this early on, I’d be the angriest man on Earth.  My assistant feels otherwise; she wants to chew some butt.  When the TO is over, I explain why we aren’t going to do that.  She disagrees.  I’m laughing because I was exactly like that 25 years ago–but whatever’s going on out on the court, I’m 100% sure it is beyond our control right now.  It’s either inter-personal or we’re lost in our own heads.

1-6…1-10:  Aced. It’s our OH forced to play six rotations because of the player who didn’t travel with the team.  Nice pass on the second one, but as was the case all year, GR tips the ball–kill. (We sucked playing short tips…nothing would change that for us–not drills, not grills…and certainly not the rash of injuries making the ‘threat’ of playing time a realistic worry)  They are picking on the OH– but another reasonable pass…we hit this one in the net.  Shanked pass, front-row OH puts a FREAKIN’ DOWNBALL ten feet long.  –Look, GR is a good team.  I get that.  I know that on the bench, but I am sitting, trying to remain calm (because we don’t react well to intensity/’negative feedback’) as we cough up four straight points without our opponent doing anything more than serving over the net.

Should I call the other timeout here?  We’ve coughed up five more points and 1-10 is almost completely out of control.  Will it clear their heads?  I don’t think so, so I let it go.  The problem is a perfect storm of not having a bench, frustration, and the lack of execution that happens to every team during a set.  Ugh.

1-11: Perfect pass…and we sail the ball long with our OH.  Another error.  Tiffany’s on me to call a timeout–thinks I should have used it a couple points ago?  Dunno.  We’ve got  attitude going on out on the court though now–stuff we’ve had all season.  Here’s the thing I’m thinking–if we get the sideout here, we’ll right the ship, and then we’ll be at a best-of-three when this set’s over.  We just have to get everyone over thus hump.

1-12, 1-13: Roll shot short and again.  We bleed these.  Bled them the night before.  Another.  Seriously, 50+ practices working on short tips/defense and these keep falling.  My mind wanders a little–2019 will be different…we’ve got multiple great defensive players coming in.  Somebody’s going to play those.

1-14: Poor pass, setter gives it to the big hitter in the back row (first time in quite a while…then again, she’s been in the back row now since 2011)…and she rips it into the net.  *expletives*  I’m torn between yelling “Just get it in” and keeping my mouth shut.  I don’t say anything because it was a swing meant to score–the hitter was frustrated and it showed in the swing.  Hard to blame her…but I’m not jeopardizing Miss 484’s aggressiveness.  If we’re coming back in the set and next set, we need her ripping balls.
Finally a sideout.  Of course, we didn’t do anything.  The GR server missed an ace by one square of SportCourt.  That’s fine–an opponent error gives you momentum (hahahahahah—as always, momentum remains bunkum).  In the meantime, I jot a note  to spin our rotations 1-2 spots for the third set…we can’t let that server get the same look at our serve-receive patterns again.

2-14: Our libero serves.  Nice and aggressive.  Net ball by GR.

3-14: Aggressive serve again.  GR out of system.  We get a couple good swings and then the R1 calls a BHE on the setter.  Seriously?  I don’t bark at the ref–it’s something that shouldn’t have been called, but if he keeps it at that standard for the whole match, at least it’ll be consistent throughout (that didn’t happen though, the BHE calls were wildly inconsistent…but they didn’t cost us the match!)

3-15: Woohoo!  GR service error by a mile…kid was going for it.  Why not–they’re up 15-3.  It’s actually a big problem.  As they are scoring, they are becoming less tentative, more willing to take risks–and that will pay off in the third and fourth sets for them.

4-15: Our back-row RS comes in, GR tips the ball and I’m shocked…it falls untouched.  Dear Baby Jesus, can we just play one short tip successfully before 2018 is over?

4-16: Good pass by our libero, nice set, and our OH hits it out of bounds.  My mind wanders–when’s the last time we didn’t reach 10 in a set to 25 or 30?  My guess was 2014 and if not ’14, then ’08. (Answer: 10/26/15.  Before that, 10/16/10, 8/29/09, 9/29/09, 11/7/09, 11/9/08, 11/9/08…and that’s it…clearly I had some issues with kids quitting once they fell behind back in ’08 and ’09).  Are we going to reach 10 in this?  Getting 6 before they get 9, that seems unlikely right now.  *expletive*  Couldn’t we have dropped a turd like this back in September?  Bad thinking–we’re at Nationals.  A turd here is against the best teams in the country…we’re here, we’re not at home with our season over.  Must. Think. Positive.   Hah–I’m in a bit of shock at the score honestly.  I think of Mike Tyson–your plan’s great until I come punch you in the face. Then what?

TIMEOUT – Nothing doable about this set.  This timeout is all about the next set.  I note that we look defeated on the court when it’s just our mistakes causing the problems.  We have complete control of the score.  At the very worst, we lose this set and we’re 1-1 and go back to a 0-0 score.  I’ve counted 10 mental errors on our part (it’s likely more, but I needed a round number)–I point out that if we just eliminate half of those, pick up five of those points, the score’s 9-11 right now, basically no different than the first set.  I add that if I was the GR coach, I wouldn’t hit a ball hard; I’d pull a kid who takes a swing at a ball until we show we can play a tip.  –If need be, sell out to cover the tip.  The last 45 seconds of the timeout though we discuss ‘fun’.  We aren’t having it and look like we don’t want to even be playing.  If we relax and have fun, we’ll still be fine.  I see faces though–I’m skeptical it’s going to change fast.  It may be another whole set before we get mentally straight.  Yikes.

The big difficulty is–I’ve got no one I can really put in.  Our injured MH is on the bench, but she’s supposed to be ‘if needed’–that was one point in the first set.  Down this much doesn’t fit ‘if needed’ category.  Worse (and I should’ve put this earlier in the blog–because it’s been a running coach discussion on the bench), we don’t have a ton of adjustments that can be made.  Due to injuries, we have limited flexibility.  Some players shouldn’t be anywhere near S/R, others are front-row liabilities (blocking and/or hitting).  What the heck do you do–other than spin your rotations in the next set?  Seriously, once pay starts, we have no one left unused on the bench three rotations in.

4-17:  Out of system rally–we get a kill from our OH2.  This entire time, we’ve been stuck with our one healthy big hitter (Miss 484) in the back row (where she’s a poor passer–she’ll be better next year, I assure you).  That’s followed by a GR tip that OH2 puts out of bounds.   I’m wondering at this point if we’ve earned a point at all.  Lord knows we’ve given them enough.

5-18: Big hitter FINALLY back in to the front row.  Way too late though.  Hey!! Sweet, ANOTHER tip falling short–but we got a hand on it as it hit the ground.

5-19: Our big OH tools the block, kill.

6-19: Why didn’t he call their setter for a back-row attack?  Oh well, he has a better angle, but that ball was directed downwards.  Then again–he botched the call earlier.  Sigh.  We dig a ball–wrong person taking it…that’ll bite us in the butt, I reckon, because now we’re playing where we aren’t supposed to be and that’ll leave impossible-to-cover spots open.  Not at the moment though.   We get a moonball out to Miss 484–tools the block again.  Kill.

7-19: GR net swing.

8-19: We could make 10!!!  They get a down-ball, hit it cross-court, should be easy in transition and…no one in the back row goes for it.  It hits smack-dab in the middle of Zone 5.  I don’t yell.  It was our MH who was serving.  She’d been medically cleared to play about four days earlier and hadn’t been on a court before that in more than a month.  She’s playing with a broken finger; if our middle with the sprain was there, it would’ve been dug.  Sure–who the crap am I kidding…the way the set’s going, it would’ve been the same result.  Nope–no criticism for the middle.  She served tough and she’s in pain since the broken finger is on her hitting hand.

8-20: Shanked serve…was an easy one to Zone 6.  Another that takes us out of system.  We score on a GR hitting error.

9-21: What a frustrating set.  We’ve given away so many, many points.  The thing is–I don’t want to get angry, certainly not demonstrably–we’ve got two more sets to go and hiccups like this happen to volleyball teams (even good ones).  We lolly-pop a serve, but get a block for a point, our first block of the set.  And then…another short tip.  You know what that means–point, Grand Rapids.  How many times can a ball bounce on Sport Court before it wears a hole through it? –asking for a friend. *expletive* NOTE: Check the other linked blog from above for just how bad this passing performance is….

10-22: Good pass, bad set, our OH doesn’t get to swing.  Instead, we set our MH too tight, she swipes it off the block–and our setter drifted into the net.  Sigh.

10-23: We get a slide for a kill–first slide we’ve run this set.

11-23: Perfect, exactly what we needed–another missed serve long by about eight feet.

11-24: Good pass, we’ve rotated so our other OH is able to tip the ball deep for a kill.

12-24: Good serve from our libero–ace.

13-24: Good serve, actually a good dig on a great swing, followed by our second block of the set.

14-24: GR tips it, our block reaches and swipes it at the feet of the R2.  

Post-set huddle:  I wind up spinning it two rotations (it doesn’t matter).  I point out that once we stopped the bleeding, we outscored them the rest of the way–it just took too long to right the ship.  No worries, now we go back to 0-0.  I didn’t change our middles to use the ‘unless absolutely necessary’ one.  It still wasn’t necessary, I felt.  It’s tied 1-1.

Unfortunately, our passing got worse in the third set.  We lost that one 25-12.  In the fourth set, I moved players to different positions–hoping to get a different look for one of our better hitters who was struggling.  No dice–she hit -.044 for the match.

But at no point did I yell or raise my voice at the team.  You may, and that’s okay.  I have teams where I could be more forceful with them (either volume or language-use)–but this wasn’t that sort of team.  Ultimately in hindsight, this group had players in common with those who played for me in ’08 and ’09 I think–once we lost the day before to eliminate us from title contention, some players checked out–their mental focus was gone.

Miss 484 wasn’t one.  For all the horrible passing, she still hit 17-5-43, .279.  Pretty amazing, honestly.  (For ’19, she’ll be a 6-rotation OH, not just a great 3-rotation hitter)

So how do you handle the stress of moments like this–where your team coughs up ten straight?  How do you handle the frustration of not having adjustments you can make?  What then–are you able to handle what happens because of that?  It’s now two months after this match–and I still think back to whether I made the right choices.  It’s harder in a loss than when you look back on a win.

We had too many injuries this year–and at the end, the injury bug hit a key athlete at the wrong time (the first match at nationals).  But in the time since Nationals, I’ve reminded returning players for 2019, there’s a bright spot–this took place in the Elite Eight against a Top Ten team–this wasn’t getting beat by Mother Mary and the Blind State Tech.  For next year, this gives us experience with adversity.  They can talk about it now, but they  thought it was weird I could talk calmly about it an hour or two after the match was over…but they get it now–sometimes things happen and sometimes you need to let them go (though it was unfortunate not everyone could do that).

What do you think?  Did I handle it reasonably?  How do you handle adversity?  Do you act the same each time something ‘bad’ happens or do you change your emotions and reactions with each individual circumstance?


Did you like the essay?  Consider purchasing my book, Like Heck She Isn’t a Volleyball Player27 essays on coaching–and it’s under five bucks.  Go a day without a Mickie-D value meal and you get a month of reading!



Doodlin’ with Deciding Set Data

Recently I had surgery and that threw my sleep cycle/pattern completely out of whack, so now in fits of insomnia, I find my brain alert and curious–and that’s no frame of mind to get to sleep.  So I looked some stuff up earlier (about 1am) and figured that was enough to sate my curiosity.  Nope, no, sir.  Here I am now at 5-freakin’-30 awake and alert.  In bed, I woke up and realized that if I was going to look at a little bit of stuff, I really ought to flesh it out.


And so here I am.

I’d been curious about my teams performance in 5th sets (college, we play best-of-five).  One of the myths you hear announcers talk about with volleyball and deciding sets is “5th sets are always a 50-50 proposition because the game is shorter and only goes to 15.”  But is that true?  Are deciding sets 50-50 propositions?

My guess is that that is not the case.  My guess was that the better team will win more often, but maybe not quite at the team’s normal W/L percentage.  That’s where it started.  I did a quick look at my team for the past four seasons and found we have a .848 mark overall and .800 exactly in 5-set matches.  80%?  That’s nowhere near that 50-50 mark.

So why not look at all thirteen seasons of data I have?  Heck, why not break it down based on the team’s ability level; maybe there is a secret-sauce that only affects teams with a .848 W/L%.  Below then, I’ve split my team into three chunks:

  1. The Great Years: 2012, 2015-18  These are LLCC’s national tournament/region championship squads.
  2. Coulda-Shoulda: 2007, 2010-11, 2013  These four didn’t make it because of flukes or (2007) a Final Four team.
  3. The Other Four: 2006, 2008-09, 2014  Just not the right mo-jo for whatever reason.

Within each group, I’ve put the overall record followed by the W/L% for 5-set matches and 3/4-set matches.  I then will note how many of the 5-set matches were against teams of relatively equal ability (or were NJCAA D1 since we are D2)–the more of those there are, the closer results should be to 50%, right?   I’ll finish by putting the percentage of our matches played that were 5-setters at the end.

The Great Years
2012: 33-9 / .500 / .816 (4 of 4)  *9.5%*
2015: 40-6 / .333 / .907 (3 of 3) *6.5%*
2016: 40-9 / .889 / .800 (6 of 9) *18.4%*
2017: 37-7 / .667 / .854 (3 of 3) *6.8%*
2018: 29-14 / .750 / .667  (3 of 4) *9.3%*
TOTAL: 179-45 / .667 / .815  (19 of 23)  *10.3%*

THOUGHTS: Well, that .667 is smack-dab in between .500 and our W-L for non-5-set matches.  The oddities you wouldn’t likely know.  The 2015 team was likely the ‘best’–and they have the worst 5-set percentage.  The 2016 squad missed nearly 500 serves (like 3.5/set) on the year–hyper-aggressive…which may make a difference because they just played and ignored the scoreboard for the most part. The massive # of 5-set matches in 2016 throws off the percentage a bit for total 5-setters.

2007: 38-15 / .833 / .702 (1 of 6) *11.3%*
2010: 34-11 / .375 / .838 (6 of 8) *17.8%*
2011: 33-11 / .625 / .778 (4 of 8) *18.2%*
2013: 33-8 / 1.00 / .842 (1 of 3) *7.3%*
TOTAL: 138-45 / .571 / .787 (12 of 25) *13.6%*

THOUGHTS: Closer to 50% with this group, but still above it.  Weird that more than half were against teams I’d consider not-at-our-level.  2010 was an unlucky group–lost the region title game due to a couple balls that hit the net and rolled over…bad to happen in a 5th set that ends 13-15.  2013 was a year with a couple bad apples on the team and the year I had a heart incident the second Saturday of the season.  2007 is a year we got matched up with a Final Four team.  Yeah, even though these are ‘bad luck’ teams, they’re still winning more than 50-50.  Just as interesting, the percentage of 5-set matches is up.  Clearly, if you aren’t quite at the top, you’ll need more sets to try and win.  Take out the 2013 bad apples on our bench–and it’s about 80% the same lineup as 2012.  It’s the outlier in this group–because I recruited two bad seeds.  Ugh.

The Other Four:
2006: 29-21 / .571 / .581 (3 of 7) *14.0%*
2008: 33-14 / .667 / .711 (5 of 9) *19.1%*
2009: 34-12 / .778 / .811   (4 of 9) *19.6%*
2014: 25-18 / .333 / .600 (2 of 3) *7.0%*
TOTAL: 121-65 / .643 / .652 (14 of 28) *15.1%*

THOUGHTS: 2006 was my first year and only half my recruits–more importantly, NJCAA still permitted best-of-3 at this point and was playing regular sets to 30. 2014 was a rebuilding year (and we still came oh-so-close…) after the 2013 recruiting disaster.  Total matches needing a decided set goes even higher as the ‘quality’ of my team is lesser.

TOTAL TOTAL: 434-155 / .658 / .749   (45 of 76)  *13.1%*

Potential conclusion:

While it is inaccurate to say that a deciding-set is ’50-50′, there is a great deal to be said for avoiding it if possible.  Your chances of winning are less (if you are a good team–and I don’t mean that with ego, I hope you realize) than if you take care of business in three or four sets.  The question is whether 76 five-set matches and 500+ regular matches is enough of a sample size for conclusions.

I’m curious what other teams’ records look like in this regard.  Does it become more 50-50 at the international level?  NCAA D-1?  Or is it the reverse and it’s more 50-50 in high school–and college sees it deviate away from that mark?  Feel like leaving a comment–please do.  I’d love more observations/data on this.

AND–>If you like things like this, consider purchasing my book, Like Heck She Isn’t a Volleyball Player It’s 27 essays on aspects of volleyball and it’s $4.99.  Skip Starbucks for a day and you’ve got the book forever!




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!