December 2, 2010

Learning to Coach Volleyball


I visit your blog off and on and always find something interesting and definitely helpful for both me and my athletes. I am a High School Boys Varsity coach as well as I have my own club for girls. I have a small obsession with learning and knowledge (this comes from my background as a biologist). I am looking for more ways to get information on coaching and philosophies and training styles. I have worked summer camps at universities and am CAP I certified as well as I have learned GMS2 philosophies. Where is a good place for me to continue learning from? Where does a college coach continue learning from?

Also, there seems to be a plenitude of information on passing, setting and digging techniques, but as far as an overall offensive plan, or in depth information on seam coverage and issues a little more in depth it seems to be impossible to find. What are your suggestions for me to keep on learning? Thank you so much for you help! I have been stumped for a long time now!

AZ Volleyball

An excellent set of questions - How does one learn to coach volleyball, especially in a culture where the sport tends to be regionalized in popularity? I do a number of camps each summer at high schools, and some of the basic serve receive principles or offense attack options are completely new to the coach.

You have mentioned two options for learning coaching techniques and philosophies - the CAP program via USA Volleyball and the Gold Medal Squared system developed/marketed by a few successful coaches. Not having taken a course/program with either, I cannot provide an evaluation other than to say they are a resource to learn about coaching volleyball.

How do college coaches learn? We steal. We see other college teams in spring competition, we ask coaching friends, we watch club teams, we try to take in as much volleyball information as possible and then we filter. For instance, I am not a proponent of swing blocking but I absorbed the philosophy (as a player and coach) and then made a 'yea or nay' decision.

I believe there are two issues when improving as a coach - Was a coach a player at a high level or did the coach not play volleyball? Having played at a high level (and I am not saying National team, but something beyond church league), you will have absorbed a bunch of potential coaching information by happenstance. For instance, having never played football, it could be a bigger challenge for me to coach pass blocking technique because I have never pass blocked - Sure, I can learn the technique and relay it, but I would be more comfortable having gone through it as a player.

This is not to say that very good coaches in Volleyball can develop without having played elite level - there are plenty of examples, but having played does provide a certain level of comfort when coaching.

Fortunately, I played for a good college coach and I played under different coaching styles beyond college (National Team and Professionally), which provided me a wealth of experience to draw upon when I transitioned into coaching or more succinctly, when I got too old to keep playing at an elite level!!! Yet, even with this experience, I was still behind in so many areas with regards to individual and team skill development. I think this is one reason young coaches fail as head coaches.

All too often, young coaches are being provided head coaching opportunities before they are ready and must learn on the fly. It takes time to learn how to teach technique, how to develop team philosophies, to be mature enough to adjust these techniques and philosophies based upon the seasonal situations a team may be facing or the abilities of the players, not to mention learning how to manage the never boring world of team dynamics both on and off the court. These are coaching skill sets which are only attained with years of experience.

Young coaches fail when they have not attained this experience as assistants and are trying to learn these techniques as head coaches. I believe this is a by product of the lack of respect college volleyball has within athletic administration and I point to the fact that you would rarely see college basketball teams coached by 27 year olds!

As you have already gone through the CAP and GMS courses, I suggest that you go watch elite level teams in practice. If you reside in an area in which there are NCAA teams within driving distance, take some time to go watch practice. You will learn more from practice, than from watching matches. College coaches won't mind you coming to watch, as long as you give them a quick call to let them know who you are and why you want to watch. It is in practice that you can see how teams breakdown their philosophy into training. If you can get one new drill, or one new idea about offense/defense, then it is worth the drive.

Another option is the AVCA National Convention which is held each year in conjunction with the NCAA National Championship. I personally think the cost of the full attendance package is beyond outrageous (on one hand the powers that be cry out about volleyball being an expensive sport to participate in, yet they charge $450 as a member and $610 as a non member if you registered today!!!) but there are instructional sessions available where you might pick up a thing or two.

Lastly, a number of NCAA programs will offer coaching clinics in conjunction with their spring season or summer camp schedule. These clinics can range from just basic to very in depth - You would probably need to just surf the net and check out individual team web sites.

As for your concern about systems (offense/defense), it can be hard to find something to capture this information. I think part of it may be that the systems are rather easy and coaches would rather push individual techniques; let me summarize the systems:

Offense - The offensive systems in volleyball, world wide, can be broken down into a spread, a combination and a back row attack. Now, some Volleygeeks may wish to whip out such terms as overload, stack, swing, stretch, etc., but all the systems can be captured in a spread, combination and back row. Spread is to spread out the block with sets to either antennae, combination is to have two player cross each other in an attack pattern to confuse the block, and back row is just to set the back row attacker to add one more thing for the block to consider.

Defense - The defensive systems can be summarized by perimeter or rotation, and blockers are either tight or wide. Again, don't be fooled by fancy terms - The block either starts spread out and waits for the hitters to come to them, or starts narrow and chases the hitters out. The back row either stays in a perimeter defense, or rotates defenders around based on where the set goes.

You can easily learn about offense and defensive systems by just watching elite level teams play matches. They will be very patterned in their offensive and defensive movements; experienced coaches know what style works within their program and they will be consistent with this style. Just watch these teams to see what they do and you will be aware of just how repetitive it all is.

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