I’ve been told I should write a blog for a while from numerous people on many different occasions. I think they look at me and see a crazy person, or maybe they just don’t understand me. One of my players, I’ll call her fluffy hair, I swear she looks at my head and sees a bouncy house in place of my brain where she can jump and play. I like fluffy hair. We get along.
Anyway, I THINK, A LOT, about everything. Well, really not everything, but I think a lot about the things that MATTER. I want to make things better, I see patterns, things coming down the line, and I either want to capitalize on them or prevent them from happening if they are bad.
I approach coaching this way. I see patterns in a player, tendencies in a pair, in a team, in a program, in a coach. I guess this is what made me decent at college coaching. At the end of the day, I was very good at developing players, but I was even better at game day coaching; seeing the patterns in our opponents, placing our chess pieces accordingly, and communicating strategic adjustments.
In beach volleyball this can be very valuable right now. Film is not available on very many teams. It’s expensive, and if you have the type of mind that pattern recognizes (ALL THE TIME) in real time, you have an advantage. It’s called intuition, but it’s not like the woo woo intuition that the media talks about with mothers and their children. It’s advance pattern recognition; seeing the patterns of the patterns. Wow, crazy, I’ve never actually shared this with anyone. I guess the cat is out of the bag. My players probably already know this about me, or knew there was something that was at least, different.
My players love to talk about their opponents: so and so does this, and so and so does that. First off, my players know I try not to give a name to an opponent (probably a topic for another blog) and 2nd, I don’t need to know the history of most players. In fact, a lot of the time I don’t WANT to know it. I don’t trust it. In my experience, even if it is accurate, it doesn’t take into account the context of the situation: the conditions, the teammate she is playing with, her coach, and the type of game/strategy her opponents will have. It’s one data point, but it’s not always the most important.
In motor learning we learn that it is easier to build a new habit than to break an old one. The last thing I want is my players to enter a match with a particular game-plan and expectation that is completely false. That is WORSE than no expectation at all. It’s like training the dog she gets a treat every time the bell rings. Next thing you know the dog is salivating and there’s no treat in front of her anymore and she can’t figure out why. I don’t want my players expecting a cut when I’m not sure that their opponent has that cut shot in her bag today. What if the reason she usually cuts is because her normal partner is a terrible setter and she is always hitting a ball that is set too wide? This happens a lot by the way, my partner always would punch a ball deep when she played with me because I always set the ball too low and tight for her. Luckily our opponents were not the smartest and always pulled instead of just clamping her at the net. I never understood that. Anyway, do you see my point?
Don’t get me wrong, video and scouting can be very valuable to a certain extent. Under pressure situations, players tend to fall back on their bread and butter. But for the middle of a match, the meat of it, we need to be malleable, flexible, making adjustments when needed. Last season our 1s pair almost beat Stanford because of video (thank you Pac 12 network) We had a really effective strategy of bullet serving them right down the middle, and cutting their hitting angles in half while simultaneously running our offense out of the middle and causing a pull situation with their 6’7” blocker. It worked, until it didn’t. (Actually, until they switched their serving strategy and we couldn’t pass) You see, adjustments = wins.
Back to my point. I am not like other coaches. I’m not like other people frankly. I don’t like the tried and true methods. I don’t enjoy taking a cookie cutter system and applying it to every player. I like optimization. I like making the SYSTEM BETTER. And frankly, this sport contains many systems that could use improvement. But I’m also not the type of person to throw anything out into the universe and see if it sticks. Those people annoy me. I just saw a video today that was made by a guy who had a hip impingement and he was “trying” ways to fix the problem by researching on the internet. It’s like dude, if you haven’t even perfected this exercise on yourself and know 100% that it really helped your hip pain, why the heck are you telling the world about it? The guy might as well be writing a fake news article or something.
Anyway, I think A LOT, and I test, and research, and I think, and I test and I think about the opposing argument, and I research and test that. I am driven by what is the best most optimal solution to a problem whether that is the best strategy for a match or the most effective technique to swing at a volleyball, or the best communication style for athletes. It needs to work with minimal negative externalities and I am never ever going to present something to the world that doesn’t meet that criteria.
But just like I knew to shut that dude bro with the hip issue off within a few seconds, please do not take what I say as bible. We cannot afford to do that in this day and age. There is way too much info out there that is flat out wrong. Be critical about what people tell you, what I tell you. If it makes sense, do a little more research, test it out. If it works for you, I’d love to know. If not, I’d love to know even more!