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).

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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?

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I Hate John Kessel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Per Match Average  (Percentage of Matches, rounded)

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

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

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

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

So observations you can make from our train wreck?

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

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

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

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





Pass Quality and Hitting Efficiency

Mainly because few coaches are willing to provide detailed numbers for other coaches to look at, I figured, “Why not do a blog showing the breakdown of the relationship between pass quality and hitting efficiency?”  Besides, it’s better than doing other paperwork and adult crap.

Now–it’s important to realize that when you break VB passing down, using the scale of 3-2-1-0 does NOT provide an accurate assessment of the passes’ values.  3-2-1-0 suggests a 3 is 300% more valuable than a 1, 50% more valuable than a 2.  The reality is that a 3 is about 500% more valuable than a 1 and 25% more valuable than a 2.  Please keep this in mind!!  I say that because even though using a 5-4-1-0 system is a better use of passing stats as an evaluation tool, I’ve presented everything below in terms of 3-2-1-0 since that is what a majority of coaches continue to use.

The breakdown below goes:
3+2% / 1% / ZERO% / S-R Rating / Hit Eff % / Record

2018:  72.3% / 21.1%  / 7.6% / 2.06 / .263  Current Record: 27-11
2017:  76.0% / 19.1% / 4.9% / 2.12 / .237  Final Record: 37-7
2016:  73.6% / 20.2% / 6.2% / 2.11 / .232 Final Record: 40-9
2015:  70.7% / 24.2% / 5.1% / 2.20 / .270 Final Record: 40-6
2014:  77.4% / 15.6% / 7.1% / 2.09 / .243 Final Record: 25-18

Hmmm…so our season where we have the highest percentage of good/perfect passes has the worst W/L record.  It also has our second highest percentage of getting aced/overpassing the ball.  Coincidentally, our current season has the highest rate of 0-passes and a very similar record to 2014.

So really–even though I’d concluded that the important thing is to convert 1s to 2s, more than converting anything to a perfect pass–the reality is that it seems to be most important to eliminate the aces/overpasses from the equation, that the priority on serve-receive simply has to be “get the ball up somewhere/anywhere” for a reasonably controlled second contact.

The alternative is that there is a ‘magic’ breakpoint somewhere between 6.2% and 7.1% of serve-receive passes that are ‘zeroes’ that significantly tilts the final record (presuming similar quality of competition).



In any event, while you’re here…have you considered hitting the “FOLLOW” button?  And just as important, why not go buy a copy of Like Heck She Isn’t a Volleyball PlayerIt’s under five dollars and it’ll make you think about volleyball (hopefully) in different ways.

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Every day–find a way to enjoy yourself and learn!!!






One of my favorite volleyball memories

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

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

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

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

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

No call.

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

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

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

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

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

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



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A Philosophical Conundrum regarding a 20-year Issue in Volleyball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey–speaking of unabashed self-promotion:

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

The Cost of Club

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

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

Let’s presume certain things:

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

So…with all that, what do we get….

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


If you are interested in more of this sort of thing, hit the *FOLLOW* button…you’ll get updates every time I have some weird, radical idea, maybe volleyball, maybe history, or maybe the best two teams in sports (LLCC VB and the Chicago Cubs)…that maybe helps you think ‘outside the box,’ too!