Tom Melton, my dad, and I just got back from Winnipeg, Canada after a three-day coaching clinic. Some impressions after the trip:

– Last year when they did a camp in Canada, Mike Wall was pulled aside at customs and grilled after he told them he was coaching volleyball. I got the same treatment this year, and so did Tom. I don’t know what dire security threat volleyball coaches pose to Canada, but apparently it’s enough to warrant extra attention at the border. Maybe it’s just that Tom, Mike, and I look a little shady – they didn’t say a single word to my dad in either direction.

– Winnipeg is the coldest city in the world with a population over 600,000. In somewhat of a paradox, it is also one of Canada’s sunniest cities, with over 317 sunny days each year. So it was no surprise when we got there and it was sunny and REALLY cold (and windy). We left 65 degrees in Utah to go to cold in Canada (in an additionally cruel twist, it was snowing when we got back to Utah). The rest of the trip it was overcast and raining, and the coaches at the clinic kept telling us how it was the warmest weekend of year – if it doesn’t snow, that qualifies as warm in Winnipeg. They don’t make pansies up in Winnipeg. If you grow up there, you can take pretty much anything after enduring a few winters.

– The place for coffee and doughnuts is Tim Horton’s, which is pretty much the Canadian equivalent of Dunkin Doughnuts. They are EVERYWHERE (like a Starbucks in Seattle), and are jam packed at every hour of the day – think In-N-Out in California. Tom, who is a snooty coffee drinker, told me that the coffee at Tim’s was below his lofty standards, but within two days he was addicted to the “double-double” (double cream, double sugar) and we were going out of our way for his fix. Dean, our host, opined that they secretly put something far more insidiously addictive than caffeine in the brew – there wasn’t a reasonable scientific or sociological explanation for it’s popularity.

– Canada is an interesting mix of the metric system and the imperial. They still talk about people’s height in feet and inches, but they couldn’t get a handle on a digging target of 20 x 10 or pulling off the net to 10 x 10. We got so we were referring to the digging targets of 6 x 3 (meters) and I had to start talking about getting your setter 1.5 meters off the net, etc.

– The most confusing thing for a volleyball coach going from the US to anywhere else is that rotations don’t go 1,2,3,4,5,6. They go 1,6,5,4,3,2 (which zone the setter is in). It would have taken me a lot longer than three days to get used to that. The drill “Opposite Volleyball” took on new meaning.

– Canadian people are some of the nicest anywhere in the world. Not only the coaches at the clinic, but pretty much everywhere you went. My American accent gave me away (I was working on my Canadian, eh, hoser?) and they were instantly gracious. When the economy implodes in a fiery mess down here, I am going to seriously consider moving to Canada.

The clinic was fairly well received, but I could tell that many of the concepts were REALLY out there relative to the general Canadian volleyball experience. One of the better questions (and one that coaches frequently have) was “of all this stuff we learned, what should we implement first?”. The question was compounded by the fact that most of the coaches are in the last third of their seasons and changing everything at this point would be a challenge. In thinking about this a little more, here’s how I would proceed if I had to change things on my team deep into my season:

– There are some things that would have an immediate big impact that a coach could easily change without changing mechanics or systems. Practice format seems to be the most obvious. Get a whiteboard, eliminate stretching and non-volleyball warmups, and start writing practices that incorporate the principles: lots of game-like reps with lots of feedback, in an environment that scores the drills and promotes training intensity. Even if the mechanics and systems stayed the same, simply running quality practices would be a big upgrade.

– Next, start changing some defensive systems, or start putting people where balls go. This wouldn’t take much – instead of standing here on defense, stand there. The hard part, of course, is learning to read from those spots, but at least being in the right spot would make a big difference.

– Serving mindfulness. Start talking to our servers about their mindset when serving – the need to serve it in and serve it tough, developing routines and rituals, etc.

– Passing target and setter’s waiting position. Start passing off the net and get the setter to start waiting away from the net.

– Habitual footwork. I would then start working on habitual footwork patterns, specifically for hitters and blockers. Getting the hitters to shuffle outside to hit and to have good transition footwork would be a nice start. Getting blockers to have good footwork would be next.

I think my dad would tell coaches that now is as good a time as any to start making changes in your fundamental skill mechanics. For coaches that lack the confidence to do that in the middle of the season, the above items might be a good place to start. But know that you’ll always be way behind if you don’t eventually have good fundamental mechanics.