Coaching Volleyball Successfully by Sally Kus – A Review

I feel an initial warning is in order here. If you are merely thinking about getting into coaching – especially at something like the high school level – you may not want to read Coaching Volleyball Successfully by Sally Kus.. It could scare you right into not coaching, and nobody wants that!

Seriously, though, the author talks at good length about what makes for a good volleyball program (not just a good team) and there are many facets to it. Thinking about it all as someone new to coaching could get a bit overwhelming.

The first section of the book is described as the Coaching Foundation. The two main focal points are coaching philosophy and communication. Coaching philosophy may be something assistant or apprentice volleyball coaches don’t need to worry too much about, as that will come down from the head coach, but for anyone running a team themselves it’s a major consideration. Since a large proportion of lower level coaches don’t have the benefit of starting as an assistant, that is likely going to cover most readers.Not only does Kus talk about developing a philosophy, she shares some tips for implementing it as well.

The second focus is communication – in all its forms. We’re talking player-to-player, coach-to-player, coach-to-coach, coach-to-parents, and any other line of exchange you can think about – verbal, written, and otherwise. Kus leaves no doubt about how important it is for the health of your team, your program, and yourself to make sure there is good, positive communication with and among all parties involved. Player and team motivation is part of that equation.

The second section of the book is Coaching Plans. Again, we’re talking about a very comprehensive look at the planning aspect of being a successful head volleyball coach. A lot of it concentrates on developing effective training plans, which no doubt will interest most readers considerably. There are a number of drills, games, and warm-up ideas included here.

Part III tackles the instruction of individuals skills. This is quite detailed in terms of looking at player mechanics with lots of suggestions for ways to address common issues and bad habits. This section is also supported by a number of drill ideas.

After the skills section, in a natural progression, comes two sections dealing with systems, strategies, and tactics. These feature a comprehensive look at both offensive and defensive systems of play and how to development them, as well as a considerable discussion of how to manage teams in preparation for and during matches.

The book wraps up with a sixth section which goes over evaluations – both players and program. Kus, as with all the other parts of the book, gets quite detailed in terms of both what should be evaluated and how you can do it.

As you may have realized by this point, this book is absolutely loaded. It’s not something you will breeze through in a few hours. That said, though, the writing is very direct well paced. I seriously doubt you’ll find yourself bored anywhere along the way, as can sometimes be the case in coaching books.

The bottom line is Coaching Volleyball Successfully is a fantastic book. It does focus a great deal on high school volleyball, but there are a lot of references to collegiate, Juniors, and youth volleyball as well, and much of the material can be applied across the board. If I were offering suggestions as to what a new or developing coach should read, this one would be right on the top of that list.

Volleyball Systems and Strategies:A Book Review

Volleyball Systems and Strategies is a book put together by USA Volleyball based on the work done in its Coaching Accreditation Program (CAP). It is a very comprehensive look at the next level of volleyball above that of individual skill, namely how a team plays as a unit. To that end I think it has the potential to be very useful for new and developing coaches, and anyone thinking about how they can try to maximize the performance of their team given the types of players at their disposal.

There are six primary sections to the book:

  1. Serve, Transition, and Serve Receive looks at the types of serves available (float, jump topspin, etc.) and team serve receive patterns.
  2. Defensive Systems describes ways a team can be set up in terms of both floor defense positioning and blocking.
  3. Defensive Strategies looks at different ways the systems above may be employed based on the strengths and weaknesses of your team and/or your opponent.
  4. Offensive Systems focuses on the different ways an offense can be configured, such as the 5-1 or 6-2.
  5. Offensive Strategies discusses different ways of employing an offensive system to put your team’s attackers at the advantage.
  6. Systems, Strategies, and the Team concentrates on developing good training plans and handling the team will before, during, and after matches.

Each section of the book is broken down into chapters which focus on one aspect of the bigger subject. These chapters generally feature the following elements:

  • An initial description of the system or strategy
  • Personnel requirements
  • Advantages and disadvantages
  • Options for implementation
  • Coaching points

The final chapter of each section (except for the last) lists a number of drills aimed at working on the system or strategy covered. There are as many as 20 drills listed. That should provide the reader coach plenty to work with to help integrate the system(s) in to their team’s play.

There’s a companion DVD with the book which covers the primary topics listed above, excepting #6. It also shows some of the drills included. It’s about an hour in length.

There’s a lot of material in Volleyball Systems and Strategies, but it’s pretty concisely and clearly presented. I think it’s safe to say that if the reader can grasp it all they will be well on their way to being able to find the right systems and strategies for any team they coach, regardless of competitive level. That’s why I give it a good recommendation.

Thinking Volleyball by Mike Hebert – A Review

If you’re looking for a book to make you think about your coaching rather than just something that presents you with a bunch of drills and systems, then look no further than Thinking Volleyball by Mike Hebert. A 50-year volleyball veteran, the recently retired Hebert offers his latest book as something he sees as at least attempting to fill the gap he perceives in the coaching literature when it comes to learning how to think about volleyball and coaching.

The broad theme of the book is being ready, willing, and able to think beyond the conventional. That’s not as simple as being OK with taking risks in how you do things, though obviously that’s a requirement (Hebert considers himself something of a coaching maverick). It first and foremost requires actually understanding what that conventional wisdom is, why it’s conventional, and its strengths and weaknesses.

There are 10 chapters. One each is dedicated to offensive and defensive philosophy. These are the only two which could be classified as technical/tactical in nature, and even then it’s not the main point. The other eight, in various ways, look at different aspects of coaching – things like running a program, developing a style of play, gym culture, team trust, and match coaching.

Personal anecdotes are a common feature of Hebert’s writing, and he’s got loads of material from which to work. They come from his own playing days and all the major programs he’s coached. My one little criticism is that the stories are strongly biased toward the positive and maybe a few failures could have been mixed in for balance. Let’s face it. Not everything works as intended and we coaches often find ourselves having to figure out how to recover when that’s the case.

One of the more interesting elements of the book is the author’s views toward the modern focus on statistics. This is both in terms of common stats and things like the competitive cauldron. Hebert is a self-described early-career stats evangelist, but he’s come to question their value relative to the amount of time spent gathering them. Not that he discounts stats completely, but he definitely asks the trade-off question, and suggests a potentially more useful way of looking at things.

Chances are, at least one chapter in Thinking Volleyball will cause you to think critically about what you’re doing as a volleyball coach. Hebert has applied his considerable experience and insight into a discussion of just about every aspect of coaching volleyball you could think of, and from all kinds of angles most of us will never have the opportunity to explore personally. From that perspective, I’d recommend it for coaches at all levels and careers stages.