Friday, January 29, 2016

Coach Your Brains Out!

by Andrew Fuller, USA Volleyball Beach Coach

My good pals have been churning out coaching gold since they started the volleyball coaching podcast, Coach Your Brains Out (@coachyourbrain). Hosts John Mayer (MVP of the AVP, head coach for LMU Beach Volleyball), Billy Allen (AVP Pro, head coach for Mizuno Beach Volleyball Club) and Nils Nielsen (Indoor and AVP Pro, head coach for Windward High School in Los Angeles) have pulled in some phenomenal guests - Phil Dalhausser, Joe Trinsey, April Ross, Trevor Ragan, and Ryan Doherty. The episodes are quick (less than 30 minutes), you can find it all on iTunes, and without further ado heres a sampling of five of their favorite episodes:

1. DON'T MAKE EXCUSES - A Tribute to Kerri Walsh and April Ross

After watching April Ross and an injured Kerri Walsh-Jennings's run through the Long Beach World Series of Beach Volleyball, in which Kerri was serving underhand and hitting left-handed, we were inspired to do an episode on Excuses. Why we make them and how they limit us. April's Full Interview:

Danny Kinda Teaches Heart


2. DESIGNING PRACTICE Parts 1 + 2 - with Trevor Ragan

Preparing a great practice plan is hard. So to point us in the right direction we brought in the big gun, Trevor Ragan (@train_ugly and, to share his philosophies on practice and of course some Growth Mindset and Tiger Talk. R.E.F.F. = Reps, Engagement, Focus, Feedback

3. STATISTICAL ANALYSIS - with Joe Trinsey

We talked numbers with the technical coordinator for the women's national team, Joe Trinsey. Joe brings a lot of experience as a volleyball coach and also a podcast host of the VolleyCast ( Joe's articles we discuss:

4. FEAR OF FAILURE - with Ty Tramblie

We talk with special guest, AVP star Ty Tramblie about fear of failure and getting in your own head. Remember, mistakes are how we learn so enjoy the process. Talent Code Article -


Are you ball watching or are you reading? Get a glimpse into the future by listening to this episode. Ronaldo Test (We discuss what happens at 6:40)...

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The VPI Does Not Lie: Should I Come Back?

Another installment in an ongoing series written for avcaVPI™ users. 

A common question for players/parents who have a VPI score is: Should I get tested again and how soon?

Our general answer is: get with your club coach and work on the areas where your ‘college readiness’ scores are low and come back next year and show you have improved in these areas.  

A poster child for this method of dogged improvement is Gillian who came to the San Jose AVCA College Prep Combine for the first time in 2014 as a 5’8” ninth grader, playing right side.  You can see from her profile below that she was not college ready; with an avcaVPI™ of 483.3, she was undersize, and her swing mechanics, agility and blocking all needed work.  Her standing vertical showed decent power and her acceleration indicated good first-step quickness, but she needed to make herself more valuable to her club team and prospective colleges.

 So, what did she do? 
1. She improved her mechanics
2. She positioned herself for college by switching into a role where her size was not a liability, and 
3. She came back and showed off her improved athleticism.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  
Click to expand
At this point if you are not saying, “But, can she set?” we are worried about your coaching and recruiting ability.  The free video upload was specifically included to answer this question, and Gillian used it to show her ability as a setter

In 2015, Gillian participated in the Combine as a sophomore setter.  She had grown a half inch, worked on her arm swing mechanics, and improved her blocking height to almost 9 feet.  Her avcaVPI™ increased  from 483.3 to 504.5. The improvement  and position change moved her to 57% when compared with college setters. But there was more work to be done.

Click to expand

In 2016, Gillian added another 36 points to her performance index, scoring a 540.2.  How? Her standing vertical, a measure of her power, increased by almost two inches to 21.8, and her attack mechanics improved markedly in both swing speed (33 mph to 37 mph) and height of attack (8’7.5” to 9’0.5”).   All in all, Gillian has made herself into a more athletic volleyball player over the course of three years!  So, can she set?  Her avcaVPI™ score does not tell you that.  Watch her video and watch her play.  What the score does tell you is that she can or can be taught to spank the ball when serving and while likely not an elite blocker, she can hold her own at the net.  

Will she come back to the San Jose Combine in 2017?  Probably not: 1. Her VPI score of 540.2 and top finish at her position both qualify her for the Phenom Watch List and an invitation to Phenom in December of 2016, if she is still available.  As an 85%er athletically, she has lots of up-side, so, if her setting skills are adequate, she will very likely have made a college choice by January of 2016.  

Well Done, Gillian!!  You have helped us show coaches why we built the avcaVPI™.  

Friday, January 22, 2016

Training to Defend Off-the-Block Balls

by Morgan Thomas, Assistant Coach - Texas A&M Corpus Christi

When weaknesses within your volleyball systems are exposed or when introducing new skills or playsets, the goal as a coach is to recreate situations the best you can and train your players through these situations. The idea is to not only “fix” the areas of weakness or learn the new skill, but also to create an environment where the athletes can gain confidence to execute these skills and tactics in a match. Although we train concepts and scenarios, volleyball is a game of multiple variables and unpredictability, each play and rally is independent of another; the outcome of one rally does not affect the outcome of a rally later in a match. The goal every day is to make our players feel confident in their skills and play the game to win.

Towards the end of our regular season last year, our team really needed to improve on defending the ball off the block. Specifically, our back row players needed to be disciplined in their eye work and make sure they were stopped before they pursued the ball off the block. From a coach’s perspective, this was a very challenging concept to train because we wanted to repeatedly make this as game-like as possible.

The first thought was to stick a coach on a box to control hitting high hands. However, we did not want our blockers to:

1) Train with “loose hands” just to recreate a ball off-the-block for the back row .
2) Break their fingers from a coach hitting as hard as they could.

We also thought of using an offense attacking against the block to make it more game-like, but we didn’t feel that it consistently recreated the moment we wanted to train through. My head coach came across a drill from The Art of Coaching Volleyball on training this concept using a BOSU or fitness ball, so we brought it to practice that day.

Just as Mark Barnard explains in this video, the great thing about using BOSU or fitness balls, is that you can create any type of “touch” you want off-the-block. These “attacks” off the fitness ball replicate the unpredictability of a true off-the-block ball, allowing the concept of defending the ball off-the-block to be trained through repetition. Different variations can also be created by adding multiple coaches and fitness balls as “blockers” on either pins or as the middle blocker. Using a fitness ball to consistently recreate the off-the-block ball allowed our team to train through this concept and gain confidence to execute it in a match.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The VPI Does Not Lie!

In 2011, the American Volleyball Coaches Association embarked on an ambitious research project to validate which physical metrics correlated most highly with success in volleyball.  After four years of testing, which included 872 college players and 2,628 high school players, we found that the most predictive measures are height, reach, standing vertical jump, height of block touch, acceleration, pro-agility, arm swing velocity and attack height.  When combined in an algorithm that grades each test on variance from the maximum score, these eight indicators produce a Volleyball Performance Index, or avcaVPI™ score. 

How do we know the VPI does not lie? We have proof:
1.    In blind tests of college players, i.e. tests where those evaluating the players for volleyball ability worked independently from those taking VPI metrics, the ‘best volleyball players’ had higher avcaVPI™ averages at all positions and across all divisions. 
2.    Tracking high school players with avcaVPI™ scores after they graduated showed that 94% of attackers (middles, outsides & rightsides) with scores that indicated ‘college readiness’ were found on college rosters as freshman.  Of the 6% not playing in college, personal decisions, not lack of opportunity, were the deciding factors. 

Click to expand

Among skill players (setters and liberos) the correlations were 82% and 70% respectively.  These lower correlations are due to the prominence of attack mechanics and block touch in the calculation of the avcaVPI™ and the lack of position-specific skill assessment.  However, these strong correlations show that coaches evaluating these skill players still favor those with volleyball-related athleticism.   

Why does this matter?
1.    You may be able to find out your college-readiness score (avcaVPI™). While dates and testing opportunities are still limited, six AVCA partner organizations host testing events the evening before their junior tournaments.  These events, called AVCA College Prep Combines, are the only places to get a validated avcaVPI™ score.  2016 Combines will take place San Jose, CA, Tampa, FL, Denver, CO, Nashville, TN, Kansas City, MO, and Grand Rapids, MI.  Parents and club directors get a full college readiness report, similar to an ACT/SAT assessment, which highlights areas of strength and weakness in a player’s athleticism when compared to those playing her position in college.
2.    College coaches can use the information on college readiness as a way to presort and target players for recruitment. The database, avcaVPI, is searchable by VPI score, position, graduation year and state. Reports are easily downloadable to Excel spreadsheets to assist with more focused outreach.

Click to expand

3.    Those not able to attend an AVCA College Prep Combine can still get a sample VPI score by downloading the free avcaVPI app. This sample score, while not validated or published in the database, gives coaches and parents a window into a player’s athleticism and can show her how small gains in speed, jump and attack mechanics can improve her score.

More information on the avcaVPI™ and the AVCA College Prep Combines is available at, or by contacting or Kyle Norris, M.S. ATC, 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Five Factors to Consider when Preparing for a Presentation

by Jeffrey Aucoin, Assistant Coach - Harvard University

Communication is one of the most important parts of our job as a coach.  We are constantly called upon to speak in front of small and large groups.  Some examples include explaining a drill or strategy to our team, discussing benefits of our program to recruits and their families, interviewing for a job and presenting at the AVCA convention.   As coaches, we are constantly asked to communicate in different ways, in front of different audiences and for many different reasons.  As a result, public speaking skills are essential in becoming an effective coach and allowing ourselves to develop professionally.

Public speaking is not only used as an extrinsic motivator but, public speaking is also beneficial for us intrinsically.  Public speaking allows an individual to boost their self-esteem, share their passion with others, and network with other professionals.  With the amount of influence public speaking has on our careers, it is important that we prepare for each speech the same way we do for each match!

There are five important factors to consider when preparing a presentation:


Rehearse: It is important to have a strong grasp on the material you will be speaking about.  Memorizing the material is not enough to be an effective speaker.  Throughout a speech, it is easy to get distracted.  For this reason, it is important to rehearse the information and practicing presenting 5-7 times in order to refine your speech and allow the information to flow smoothly.

Chunk information:  For those longer presentations, break it down by chunking each topic of the speech into its own category.  You are more likely to remember your information on a broader spectrum based on a category rather than memorizing each word of a speech. 

Rest: It is important to get a good night sleep before your presentation or interview.  A good night’s rest will help you not only remember the information for your speech but will help keep you on your toes when questions arise.

Instead of nervously rehearsing your speech another seven times immediately before you step in front of your audience, do something that will help you relax.  This could include reading, playing a game or talking to a friend.  Another confidence booster includes power posing.  Amy Cuddy, a professor in the Harvard Business school, did a TED talk on power posing and how it relates to confidence.  I have met with her a number of times to discuss this topic and how it relates to athletics.  I would highly recommend this video to those of you interested in building confidence!

Power Poses:

TED Talk:

One of the biggest issues of public speaking for people is nervousness.  As a result, it is important to stay hydrated before and during your speech because those nerves cause your mouth to dry up and for your voice to become raspy.   This makes it difficult to deliver the speech you have been preparing for!

Dress to Impress
Look good, feel good!”  This is a common phrased used by many when it comes to appearance.  It is important to have a favorite outfit or a superstitious outfit you wear during any significant event because this allows your confidence to go up.  When confidence goes up, you allow yourself to feel more comfortable to deliver your speech or presentation.

Be Heard
You must capture the attention of your audience!  One way to make sure you have their attention is to be certain they can hear you!  Articulate what you are saying and confirm the back of the room can hear you clearly.  One easy way to practice this is by having a friend stand in the back of the room you will be presenting in to make sure they can not only hear you but, hear you clearly!
Are you taking the proper steps and putting the necessary time in to public speaking in order to grow as a professional and make yourself a more effective coach?