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!

SAMPLE PRACTICE PLAN

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

HITTING AROUND/OFF BLOCK:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXvjNcqZRzQ

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!!

 

 

 

 

Dance with the One who Brung Ya

**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.

There’s an old saying that I first heard from my friend Phil from Dallas.  It was his mom’s actually (and I know it gues further back than her…) — “You dance with the one who brung you.”  I don’t think it was originally meant to apply to sports; it’s really about proper, ‘lady-like’ behavior, but that’s all righty–I can co-opt anything I want for the sake of sports/coaching.

I wrote previously about doing things just to make yourself look smart and the blowback you’ll get.  Always remember, don’t get cute.

I’ve got a hypothetical here–and from the post title, you should already have a good idea of my choice.  Don’t worry about that, though–that’s the past.  Reflect on your team and the choices available to you.  If or when this happens with your team–what are you going to do?

So…you’ve got a dominant outside hitter.  Big-time.  Hits hard, hits multiple shots.  Just as important, she wants the ball at crunch time and doesn’t fear the big moments.  In matches against (all but one) ranked teams (D1 or D2), she’s hit .200+ 13 of 18 times and has *never* hit below-zero.  The year before it was 12 of 15 times and *never* in the negative.  Add that up and you’ve got a kid putting up great numbers 25 of 33 times (10 of those were .300+).

Except I put a caveat there–‘all but one’.  There’s the rub.  When it’s time to make out our lineup, we’re playing that ‘one’ team.  In her five career matches against that team , she’s hitting -.016 (with more than 150 swings…so not a small sample size).  If you’re reading this and don’t understand numbers–something for another day–that is the number of points she generates with every attack; in this case, a negative number means she is effectively scoring for the other team.  Now back to the originally scheduled program, still in progress….

You’re playing a big match, she’s your best hitter, but has never-ever-ever hit your opponent.  You do have an adjustment you could make, but it’s based on a kid who’s done well against this team, but otherwise has only had a ‘solid’ season as a hitter and moving her will affect your blocking and defensive subs.  So:

  1. Do you stick with your big hitter (dance with the one who brung ya)?
  2. Move your OPP to OH and your big hitter to the right side?

I had 24 hours to decide.  Consider that, too.  Sometimes time works against you, eats at you, and gets you to double-think.  Sitting there at your screen, think about your lineup.  Can you get production from your Big Gun by moving him elsewhere?  Is he limited to just one position?  Are there side-effects of benching him if you go that route?  If it isn’t working, will the Big Gun be mentally ready to come off the bench?  You can go down a pretty deep rabbit-hole of these questions, thinking and double-thinking.

***

Well, I’d already been cute with this group of kids and  it cost us, so I stuck with the lineup, and…it didn’t work.  We played hard, we got beat fair and square, and the Big Gun put up a 5-9-23, -.174 for the match.  The other player? She hit 12-2-24, .417.

It’s been several years now.  I’ve had off-seasons and bus trips to think about things, and you know what?  I’d STILL run that same player out there.  Do you take 88 matches and 288 sets of performance or just 5 matches and 20 sets as the basis for your decision?  I write all this even though I’ll also say I had a long conversation with my assistant the night before the match, then the same conversation with her and my A.D. (who is also a coach with a pretty decent track record of success).  We were all on the same page–you go with what got you to the Big Stage. 

When times are tough–you want your best player on the court, you want the ball in that person’s hands, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out.   It didn’t work out, not in this quantum-dimension anyways.

Consider this dilemma now.  It’s the off-season when you have time and it isn’t going into the final set of a Sectional Championship with the Big Gun having an off-night.  You’re the coach–that means you need to consider these things in advance.  Don’t wing it.  

But you have my advice–dance with the one who brung ya.

 

**Consider clicking that lil’ ol’ “Follow” button.  You’ll get notified when other blog posts get put up.  They aren’t all volleyball or teaching/coaching related, but ideally, they’ll get you thinking about things, one way or another!

Don’t. Get. Cute.

**Consider clicking that lil’ ol’ “Follow” button.  You’ll get notified when other blog posts get put up.  They aren’t all volleyball or teaching/coaching related, but ideally, they’ll get you thinking about things, one way or another!

And now–>on to the blogging….

 

Pete Carroll is a great football coach.  He had success at the NCAA D-1 level, then followed that with a Super Bowl title.  He even had a chance to win back-to-back and blew it.  That was three years ago and he still gets hammered for what happened–indeed, many of his former players are still salty about it and the fact Carroll insists he made the right decision.
To recap the end of that Super Bowl:
From the Patriots 1, time running out, Carroll chose to throw a ball, an inside slant that the defense jumped on, intercepted, and ended the game as a Patriots victory.  Carroll chose to not hand the ball off to Marshawn Lynch (aka ‘Beast Mode’), a giant running back who had already scored and run for more than 100 yards on the day.  Lynch even dragged a 350lb Patriots lineman (Vince Wilfork) behind him a couple of times for several yards.  Stat geeks (and I use that term lovingly) estimated Lynch’s chance of scoring from the 1 to be near 80%–so he’s got a 1/5 chance of failing.  He’s going to get at least two tries, so probability suggests he’s going to fail both times 1/5×5 times–1 in 25.  4%.  If I’m coaching, I’m taking the 96% chance of winning.
So what’s this got to do with volleyball, Jim?  Fair question.
Carroll is a brilliant one and here with a 96% chance of winning–he doesn’t take it.  He got cute.  Not only did he not hand it off, he didn’t let Wilson run, he didn’t throw a fade to the corner (an almost impossible ball to intercept)–he ordered a slant towards the crowded middle of the field.  He. Got. Cute.
That’s where I turn to volleyball.  Football coaches don’t hold a monopoly on going cute (see also: Joe Maddon’s World Series, Game 6 and 7, decisions…he was saved crucifixion by Ben Zobrist in Game 7).
I saw a coach go up 21-5 in a volleyball match and decide to let her players start jump serving–something I know they didn’t practice much, but hey–it’s 21-5, right?  Missed serve, run of a few points.  22-10.  Missed again.  23-16.  Missed another.  24-22.  Now it’s panic mode, don’t jump–“just get it in”…lollypop to the center of the court, sideout.  Three serves later–24-26.  The coach got mad at her players having blown such a big lead…they come out flustered, can’t pass or hit or block, and lose the third game 25-11 (Illinois only plays best of three, and the deciding game is to 25, not 15…unless it’s a tournament in which case you play to 15 unless you choose to not even play a deciding set and leave the match a tie. Really.)
Was that the players’ fault?  Playing sound volleyball, they built a big lead–then got cute and blew it.
Several years ago, we were playing at a tournament and got smeared in the first game, 16-25…and it wasn’t that close.  We fall way behind in the second game, score a couple points and the opposing coach tells her players to stall…shoes mysteriously come undone, the gym developed a humidity problem with moisture on their side of the floor, and they needed line-up checks to boot.   She’s trying to rattle us–she wants a big win because we were ranked high and a dominating win against a ranked team always gets you noticed.  Instead, my players felt like they were being shown up and FINALLY decided to play.  Down 13-23, we won 26-24, then won the next game 25-20, then 25-10 (which isn’t what is in the official archive…but I know what we submitted…).  When we won?  The other coach made her players do sprints because they lost–never considering that they were smoking the crap out of us until she got cute and made them use stall tactics.  Don’t. Get. Cute.
For the record, I’m not innocent.  Uh uh.  I blew a big match in 2015–the closest anyone came all year to beating the eventual undefeated national champs.   @#%@#$!!!!!  (I’m still seriously @$%@* at myself nearly three years down the road…)
I used two primary lineups in ’15–depending on circumstances.  Nothing wrong with that, right?  In this match, I used lineup #1 and we won 25-20, then lost 13-25.  I switched lineups to the second alternative because there was something not clicking with the first group.  The score didn’t improve.  We lost 13-25 again but the person I subbed in played well, and we looked like we were playing well–it was the sort of set where a serve hits the net, drops over for an ace against you at a key moment, someone pulls a dig out of her butt that couldn’t be duplicated in a thousand attempts, those sorts of things, play after play after play…so I stuck with the lineup and we won game 4, 25-18.  And then I went cute.  $@%@#$.
With a fifth game, I’ll either go with the same lineup for a game five, same starting spots and everything OR we’ll start in the exact same spots we ended game four in.  I don’t really worry about the other team and what they are doing–I focus on our side of the court.  So….we had one player who was hitting lights out…Instead of starting where MY players expected–either middle back (her normal starting slot) or right front (where she ended the 4th set), we started with her at left front.
So out of nowhere, because I want to get that hot hitter as many swings as possible, we started somewhere we’ve never started.  Strike one.
I didn’t take into account our setting situation…it meant the setter was at right front and would go to the back-row immediately and need to play defense (the weakest part of her game).  Strike two.
That hot hitter?  I only went with my eyes.  She’d been hot for two games, bad for two.  The most consistent hitter for the match was now starting in the back row and unable to affect the match immediately.  Steee-rike three, Dietz!
Yeah, we lost.  10-15.  I didn’t yell at the players, though, or anything.  I knew I pooched things five points into the deciding set, so I spent most of the game being encouraging because my cuteness put us in an immediate 1-4 hole.  I. Got. Cute.
So now–I’ve got myself a little note taped inside my favorite game notebook: Don’t Get Cute.   Three years on, I haven’t forgotten that.  Instead, it keeps me thinking of a different (very Texas) saying: “Dance with the one who brung ya.”
By the way, if you’ve been reading, right now you are suffering cognitive dissonance…notice how this whole thing is me going against the ideas I put into the second article on streaking?  Yeah.  I know.  We all learn…and we don’t always know what we need to know when we need to know it.
**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.

They Call it a Streak, Part II

(Reporter):  Hello, everyone, this is your action news reporter with all the news that is news across the nation, on the scene at the volleyball court. There seems to have been some disturbance here. Pardon me, sir, did you see what happened?

(Witness):  Yeah, I did. I’s standin’ over there by the club parents, and here he come, writin’ ups a storm with Excel sheets and everthin’, prolly wrote it nekkid as a jay bird. And I hollered over t’John Kessel an’ I said, “Don’t look, John!” but it’s too late, he’d already read it.

Okay–for those of you too young to get the reference up above…that’s ripping off a Ray Stevens song called (shockingly) “The Streak“.

So last week I wrote up something VB related on the importance of scoring 4 points consecutively.  Don’t want to leave me here?  That’s cool.  Click here and you’ll open up that first article.  I’ll wait here for you.

Stop (hammer time)–four disclaimers…

*If you are looking for absolutes, you need to go somewhere else.  There is an exception to everything, whether it is volleyball, nutrition, or automobiles (yes, there are well-made English automobiles, believe it or not).

*Commentary can’t apply to every level as provided here.  Of course international men’s professional volleyball will have different results than Jr. High School ball.  I’m not aiming for a single level–the aim is for (no guarantees) useful concepts or at least things that get YOU to think outside the box.

*If you want answers, I don’t even have those.  What I have are questions, suggestions, and nothing more.

*I try and use simple math.  Ideally all coaches can work with ‘normal’ numbers.  Do teams all score 25/50/75% of the time?  No, not at all.  But unless you’re going to cough up money to me to do the actual number crunching, you’re going to get normal math (because the concept is what is important–the specifics you need are within your own team’s data).  

Okay, so that’s out of the way.

I was thinking about streaking again yesterday, and as, per usual, because of baseball.  It started on my drive back from a club staff dinner.  Pat Hughes, the Cubs’ announcer, was talking about unconventional batting orders.  That’s something that has come up a lot in the past 3 or 4 years.  Tradition holds that you put a fast guy first, followed by a contact hitter, and then three power hitters.  The weakest hitter goes 8th and the pitcher MUST go 9th.

Volleyball has similar rules when it comes to a lineup.  How many coaches have been told that they MUST start with their best server serving first OR the setter at right back?  Coaches do this because it is the way it has always been done.

You may not know me well–but understand, I will ask the question “Why?” until it bugs the living crap out of you. I despise ‘because I said so’ or ‘because that’s the way we’ve always done it.’  Those are lazy answers.

To be fair, tradition does come with reasoning–fast guy can steal, the next guy can hit or move him over to scoring position (fast guy’s hard to double up), and then the bashers drive him in.  The pitcher’s worst, so he goes last.  We can see the logic.  With volleyball, three hitters gives more options than two, making it harder for the other team to block (and your setter is usually a weaker blocker anyways) while at younger levels, it is more difficult to pass a serve, so a great server will score a bunch of points.

The thing is–those may be the right strategies, but without an understanding of why, they may also be wrong strategies.  Knowing why always helps you as a coach.

Baseball has moved away from that style of lineup.  Finally, managers and front offices have realized that it doesn’t matter how you get on base–you just need to get there, so that being fast doesn’t matter if you aren’t on-base often (see: Billy Hamilton).  That’s because they’ve also realized that if the mashers are jackin’ home runs, speed is irrelevant because runners are actually joggers–plenty of time to circle bases after a blast into the upper deck.  Thus, the first reason for change in lineups.

The second with baseball–every game starts at the top of the lineup (duh, right?).  The thing is, over the course of nine innings, a variable number of batters come to the plate–but any overage ALWAYS goes to the guys at the top of the batting order.  You don’t notice this over the course of a game or even a week–but over the course of a full season, that can be a difference of up to 60-80 plate appearances (depending on the team’s offense, etc) between a hitter at the top of the order and the ones at the bottom.  Would you rather Billy Hamilton get those 100 attempts or Bryce Harper or Kris Bryant?  (Again, duh.)   So teams have begun stacking the front end of their lineups more and more with their best hitters to insure they get those extra at-bats in later innings.  More at bats for your better players–the change makes sense.

So now (yeah, yeah, finally, I know) we get to volleyball.  Why don’t coaches consider things this way as well?

Look–I run a program with me part-time and a part-time assistant.  That means a lot of stat-stuff doesn’t exist or I don’t take the time to log it.  In the long run, match stats aren’t ‘important’ enough for me to keep play-by-play results for more than a week (if that).  Sorry.

…so that means, I looked at matches I’ve ground through for other reasons.  I stuck to the ones where the teams were balanced.  Once again, blowouts aren’t useful–none of us worry about those.  The difference between winning 25-8 and 25-12 is nada.  But that same 4-pt swing between 23-25 and 25-23…now we’re cooking with gas!  So I skipped out on anything where both teams didn’t reach 20 (or 10 for a deciding set)

The first step I took was going back and counting how many rotations we played per set.  Against evenly matched teams, we tend to  go 14-15 rotations/set.  The deciding set matches went 8-9 rotations.  (I’m going with 15 and 9 since those work well with ‘6’ rotations–we’re considering the principle, the mileage for your team will vary)

That means in a regular set, we’re going around 2.5 times and a deciding set, 1.5.  Essentially, it means that the players you start at left front and left back are most likely to be your hitters at the end of a set–and the one at middle front is next in line for importance.   

That all is a long-winded secondary point–if you’re playing a team equal/close to yours, you’re going to want to lead with your best lineup (which means you should lead with it all the time so you don’t get cute/screw up your players with unexpected adjustments).

Now back to today’s program.  From the previous article, the critical factor in winning a set are runs of 4-pts. We win (or our opponents defeat us) whenever they put together a set’s longest streak and those are 99% likely to be at least 4 consecutive points.  What I didn’t consider was the question of “Does it matter when that streak takes place?  The start of a set?  The end of it?”

It’s a big question.  Mathematically, a point is a point, each no more significant in value than any another (though there is math out there that can show that not every point is equally valuable once you take into account another concept that baseball calls ‘leverage’).

Remember–this is absolutely a small sample size–but if we are able to put together a 4-pt run in the first 10 points of a set, we win the set roughly 95% of the time (presuming we do not permit an equal-sized streak during that time).  Also of note, I’ve found that the team that gets to ‘5’ first wins 70-75% of matches regardless of streaks.   Since matches start as 50-50 propositions, those are two important factoids that drastically alter the potential outcome of a match in your favor.

So?

So–that means if you can crank out that 4-pt run straight out of the gate, you’re increasing your chance of winning at least 50% before you’ve gone 2-3 rotations, regardless of anything else (like your opponent getting a run later on), or if you are LLCC, you put your chances up at 95%..  

I also found that these runs tend to happen early in most sets.  There are two points which provide context/an explanation:

  • They ‘can’t’ happen at the end of a close match because of the point-limit that ends games.  My girls may be ready to go on a 5-pt roll, but if we’re already up 23-21, that ends after just 2 points.
  • When up 2-0 in the match, long runs seem to happen equally at the end as at the start.  The only guess I have for this is because the losing team is ready to pack it in rather than try and fight back for the rest of the set and two more after it…easier to just get ice, get food, go home.

There’s another thing going on (I think).  I don’t believe in momentum, but I do believe in pressure.  If we score 25pts in 15 rotations, that’s an average of 1.67/rotation.  So–if we start with a 4pt run and then are statistically average from that point on, our opponent has to be above average in every rotation played for the remainder of the set.  That means they’ll take more risks, potentially leading to opportunities for more runs of points.

A run of points out of the gate is essential.  But I think that the next place it becomes significant is the end of a close match–as previously mentioned, I know every point is equal in value, but I just can’t get past the baseball concept of leverage and the importance of points/streaks later on for a team’s success.  (For the record, we won 60% of matches where we had a streak after 20-20…3 of 5, way too small of a sample to draw conclusions)

The short lesson of all this:

Don’t get caught up in “I must put my setter at right-back” or “She’s my ‘best’ hitter, so she’ll start at left front”.  Look at the data for your team and figure out which are your best two rotations for scoring and putting together that 4+pt streak.  You may find the rotation most likely to pick up those points are with that setter in the front row (who knows–only you know your team!). Lead with your rotations that score!

 

If you like this or it made you think, consider clicking that ‘Follow’ button.  Otherwise, you’ll have to remember to come back next week rather than get a notice!

 

If you’re interested in more stuff on volleyball that rambles a little less :),  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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Importance of Streaking

First, if you read this, like this, etc–hit the follow button.  That’s helpful on my end of things…even lets me see who reads what and all that good stuff.  Besides, you know you need to know when I’m doing a blog, right?

Second, always remember that me and technology…well, we’re not always on good terms.  Writing this, I think I spent as much time trying to format the data below as I did writing the text.  Since you can see it below, it remains in unwieldy format.  If you don’t want to look at it, don’t–the writing will give you the conclusion.  The spreadsheet stuff is there to show where I got everything.  And now, off we go…

Actually, not quite.  For some out there, I should disappoint you.  The title is for amusement purposes–this isn’t about running down the street in your birthday suit.  This is about scoring consecutive points.

I like reading stuff about other sports.  With the way professional sports like baseball and basketball mine data in hopes of finding a 1% competitive edge (which is huge statistically speaking, by the way), I think it’s important to take those things and see if they can be applied to the sport I coach–volleyball.

One of those tidbits was from baseball and something called run-clumping.  MLB results show that a team who puts together a single big outburst of runs is more likely to win a game than a team who scores more often but fewer runs at a time.  Fair enough.  Given the sequential progression of volleyball (one point scored after another, always one point at a time…), something like this should be capable of being duplicated.

First, the ‘live’ test.  I went back and watched 45 sets of the team I coach over the past three years.  I picked specific matches where I felt the teams were reasonably competitively balanced–where the SO% for both programs would be close to equal.

In those 45 sets, the team putting together the longest streak won 44.  Yikes.  That looks like confirmation of the idea.  So the next step–I’m going to chart everything from a back-and-forth 5-set match we played at 2016 Nationals:

SET 1:  21-25.  Our largest run was 3-points, our opponent’s was 4.  Both teams scored multiple points with the ball seven times.

SET 2:  22-25.  Our best three runs: 4-3-3.  Their best three: 4-4-3. We scored multiple points six times, they did eight.

SET 3:  26-24 .  Our best runs 3-3-3, their best 3-2-2.  A lot of ugly volleyball.  A lot–unless you like net serves and ball-handling errors…in which case, THIS is the set for you!

SET 4:  25-20.  We have a 5-pt and 4-pt streak.  They manage two 3-pt streaks…things really start rolling for us the last quarter of the set.

SET 5: 15-10.  Our top runs go 5-3-2.  Theirs are 3-2-1.

But even then, a single match–it’s too small of a sample size to prove anything, so I spent some time trying to figure out how to do two perfectly balanced teams, both with a 50% chance of scoring on a given play.  It dawned on me–that was a coin-toss and the internet offers apps that will do tosses for you, so I went in and did coin toss after toss until either heads or tails reached 25 (or won by two).   Those are the results in the unwieldy spreadsheet below.  What happened with those random games?

Gm 1:  25-23, same point-streak for both, the winning team put together one extra streak

Gm 2: 25-23, the exact same thing

Gm 3: 25-20, winners with a 6-point streak.  The losers had a 4-pointer.

Gm 4: 25-23.  Winners had a 6-point streak, losers had two 4-pt ones.

Gm 5: 28-26.  Winners with a 8-point streak, losers with a streak of 5 and 4.

Gm 6: 25-22.  Both had 4-pt streaks, but the winner had two of them.

Gm 7: 23-25.  Winner had two 3-pt streaks, loser had a 4-pt streak.

Gm 8: 25-23.  Winner had one 8-pt streak. Loser had 5 streaks of 3+ points.

Gm 9: 25-22.  Winner with a streak of 6, loser with streak of 5.

Gm 10: 25-17.  Both with streaks of 4.  Losers only had two real streaks during the set, winner put together six 3+ point streaks.

Gm 11: 25-20, Winner streak of 5, loser streak of 3.

Gm 12: 25-19, winner with a streak of 6, loser with 6 2-pt runs.

Gm 13: 25-22.  Winner with two streaks of 4, loser with four streaks of 3.  Winner with 7 streaks of 3+, losers with 8 streaks of 3+.

Gm 14: 25-23.  Winner with a streak of 6, loser with two streaks of 5.

Gm 15: 25-15.  Streak of 8 vs. streak of 4.

So–out of 15 runs of coin tosses, basically the team who put together the best run won 14 of 15 sets.  To me, that suggests the sampling I did that got 44/45 isn’t too far off (we could translate the 14/15 as 42/45 if you need to).

The thing is, statistics should be able to tell us something, whether it is to make in-game, immediate adjustments, to determine what to work on during training, or in shaping your team/coaching philosophy.  Thus, these numbers should hint at something to improve a team.

For me, the numbers tell me that it’s really okay to whiff on your first serve if you are being aggressive.  Going through a rotation without scoring isn’t going to hurt you tremendously, what you need to do is get a roll started–thus, the aggressiveness.

If there’s a point where the old saw of ‘just serve in’ may make a difference–it’s after you’ve scored three points in a row–scoring 4 points in a row certainly looks to be a big deal.  In 43 of the 45 LLCC sets I watched, the winning team had a run of 4+ points (not including the 5-set match described separately).   In that five-set match, 4 of 5 sets, the winner had a run of 4+points (and the other was just a comedy of serve errors and BHE).  In 14 of the 15 coin-toss sets, the winning team had a run of at least 4.

* * *

By the way, if you like this–and because authors need people reading their stuff, consider picking up one of the volleyball books I’ve written.  It’s a collection of 27 essays meant to make you think about coaching (even if it isn’t volleyball)!  Just as important–the Kindle version is like five bucks:

Like Heck She Isn’t a Volleyball Player

 

THE COIN-TOSS SETS:

AWAY 2 2 1 2 2 1 1 3 3 2 1 1 1 1 23 2 streaks of 3 2x 3+
HOME 2 1 1 3 1 3 3 1 1 2 1 2 2 2 25 3 streaks of 3 3x 3+
AWAY 1 2 1 2 1 6 2 1 1 2 4 2 25 streak of 6 2x 3+
HOME 2 1 3 1 4 1 1 2 1 3 1   20 streak of 4 3x 3+
AWAY 0 1 3 1 3 3 2 2 4 4 23 2 streaks of 4 5x 3+
HOME 6 2 2 1 1 1 2 4 3 3 25 streak of 6 4x 3+
AWAY 2 5 2 1 4 3 1 1 4 1 1 1 26 streak of 5 4x 3+
HOME 1 1 1 5 8 1 1 1 2 3 1 3 28 streak of 8 4x 3+
AWAY 0 1 2 2 1 4 1 4 3 1 2 1 3 25 2 streaks of 4 4x 3+
HOME 1 1 1 2 2 2 3 4 1 2 1 2   22 streak of 4 2x 3+
AWAY 0 2 1 3 1 1 2 3 1 2 1 2 2 1 3 25 2 streaks of 3 3x 3+
HOME 2 1 1 2 1 1 4 2 3 2 1 2 1 1 23 streak of 4 2x 3+
AWAY 0 1 1 1 3 1 2 3 1 4 1 2 3 23 streak of 4 4x 3+
HOME 1 1 2 8 2 2 1 2 2 1 1 1 1 25 streak of 8 1x 3+
AWAY 0 2 1 1 1 1 1 2 5 2 3 3 22 streak of 5 3x 3+
HOME 4 1 2 1 3 1 1 1 1 1 6 3 25 streak of 6 4x 3+
AWAY 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 4 1 17 streak of 4 1x 3+
HOME 2 4 2 4 1 3 2 3 2 1 1 25 2 streaks of 4 4x 3+
AWAY 0 1 1 3 1 1 1 2 1 2 2 1 2 2 20 streak of 3 1x 3+
HOME 1 1 3 1 1 1 1 2 3 1 1 1 3 5 25 streak of 5 4x 3+
AWAY 1 2 1 1 1 1 7 3 2 2 1 1 1 1 25 streak of 7 2x 3+
HOME 1 2 2 1 2 1 2 1 1 1 2 2 1 19 6 streaks of 2 none
AWAY 0 2 4 3 2 3 1 4 3 1 1 1 25 2 streaks of 4 5x 3+
HOME 1 3 3 2 2 3 1 1 2 3 1 22 4 streaks of 3 4x 3+
AWAY 3 3 1 2 1 1 2 6 1 5 25 streak of 6 4x 3+
HOME 1 1 5 2 2 1 1 5 1 4 23 2 streaks of 5 3x 3+
AWAY 0 8 3 2 2 3 2 3 2 25 streak of 8 4x 3+
HOME 3 1 1 2 1 4 2 1 15 streak of 4 2x 3+