This is a long story (hopefully you will find it interesting) to deliver a short and very important coaching message.
Since I retired in 2002 as the head coach for the BYU men’s NCAA volleyball team I have been fortunate to find several other opportunities to continue coaching (we at GMS love to coach). Doug Beal took me as an assistant coach with him (and Hugh McCutcheon) to the 2004 Athens Olympics. After Athens, Mike Wilton let me spend two different fall semesters (2005 and 2006) as his assistant coach in Hawaii, and finally in 2007-2008 I coached in the Swiss professional league for a team in Lausanne (LUC).
After Lausanne I thought I was through coaching but to my surprise I was contacted by email on July 5, 2010 by Philippe Saxer, the director of the Swiss Men’s National team, inquiring about my interest in coaching the 2011 Swiss Universiade team. After several Skype conversations, further email correspondence, and meetings in Spain and Lausanne I signed a contract in Lausanne on January 21, 2011 to coach again in Switzerland. I was in the saddle again!!!
On February 15th I received an email from Philippe Saxer telling me that he and another member of Swiss Volley were working on organizing the summer’s training. He reminded me that their budget would not allow more than six weeks of training, and because of work, school, and other player commitments they would have to spread the training our over the summer, starting on May 30th and ending on August 5th when we would go to China for the Universiade.
Eventually I received these plans:
Our first week of training would be from May 30 to June 3 in Magglingen (a beautiful Swiss village high in the Jura that overlooks a scenic lake in Biel, and far in the distance are the Alps with the Eiger and the Jungfrau).
I would be assisted by Johan Verstappen and Michel Dufaux, and there would be 18 boys in camp (this is a good number and one that I had asked for).
The second week of training would be in Leysin (a little ski town not far from Lausanne) from June 6 to June 10, and once again there would be 18 boys in camp.
The third week of training would be in Fiesch (another ski town in the Alps) from June 14 to June 18with 16 boys in camp.
After a week off we would train in Nafels (near Zurich) from June 28 to July 1 with 16 boys in camp.
Then after two weeks off we would go to Val Camonica, Italy to train from July 17 to July 23 with 14 boys in camp.
The next week of training would again be in Fiesch from July 25 to July 29 where we would host Denmark (Fred Sturm, a former two-time USA Olympic coach is now the head coach of Denmark) with 14 boys in camp.
Finally there would be a final preparation in Nafels with 14 boys from August 2 to August 4.
The University games were to be in Shenszen, China from August 10 to August 22.
Here is what actually happened (Swiss Volley and the boys did everything they could, but Switzerland does not have anything close to the resources that the USA has):
May 30 to June 3. The first week in Magglingen as scheduled, but on the first day of training only 12 boys were there, with only 1 middle blocker, and no liberos. On Friday, the last training day of the week, there were 14 players as we had added an outside hitter and a libero.
It is not easy to organize practices under these conditions, especially when you are teaching many new things to your players.
June 6 to June 10. The second week in Leysin as scheduled, but on the first day of training only 8 boys are there, including 1 middle blocker and two liberos. We finish the week on Saturday with a demonstration practice in Montreux, at the Montreux Volley Masters tournament, with 9 players.
June 14 to June 18 (Tuesday through Saturday). The third week as scheduled, but in Andermatt not Fiesch (Andermatt is another Swiss Ski town in the middle of the Alps not very far from two of the highest mountain passes in Switzerland). This week we have 14 players in camp, with three middle blockers (two brand new middles who have to be taught everything from the beginning) and three liberos (two brand new liberos who have to be taught everything from the beginning). On Thursday we have 13, and on Friday and Saturday we have 11 players in practice.
These three weeks are terribly disjointed. As a whole the team has learned very little, some boys have learned almost nothing, and we could have easily saved the time and money from these three weeks to spend later.
I am really learning how to coach (I hope).
June 28 to July 1 (Tuesday through Friday after a week off) in Nafels. We begin Tuesday with 16 players, so we have new boys to teach, then on Wednesday we have 17 (another new boy to teach), then on Thursday we lose a middle for the rest of the summer (we wasted teaching time on him).
July 17 to July 23. After two weeks off we travel 12 hours to Val Camonica, Italy.
In Italy we have 15 players with, finally, 4 middle blockers and two liberos, and three setters. At the end of the week a setter we have been training all summer, tells us he cannot go to China, because an accident at his work requires him to fill in at work. This hurts quite a bit as he probably would have been our starting setter. We did have a good week of training in Italy, and the food was good.
July 25 to July 28. In Fiesch, but we will not train on Friday as we have to go to Zurich to be outfitted for the Universiade. We host Denmark this week. We have 14 players, and we get to scrimmage Denmark for three days, learning about several weaknesses our team has. This week was one of our most successful weeks.
August 2 to August 4. We manage to find 3 days in Nafels . They are productive days.
On August 7 we fly from Zurich to Hong Kong and bus to Shenszen (about an hour). Our final roster is:
In our opening pool we beat Australia 3-0 (probably our best match), lose to Canada 3-1, beat China 3-1, and struggle from behind 0-2 to beat Norway 3-2 (a very courageous win). We finish second in our pool (which qualifies us for the top 8), then in the finals we lose (all 3-0) to Brazil, Thailand, and the Czech Republic. We end up in 8th place in the tournament, the best finish in Swiss history.
We played with two liberos, one on offense and one on defense (current international rules allow this and it is an interesting way to play).
A short and very important coaching message.
After all the weeks and all the travel and all the work trying to get better this fact remains: we could not/did not pass and serve at a high level.
What the whole tournament said to me is: If you want to play with the big boys you better be able to pass and serve with the big boys (I should know this by now). If you can do those two things then very interesting other things can happen. It turns out that I didn’t spend nearly enough time on serving and receiving (there were so many other new things to teach these boys). The problem was I thought I did because we passed OK in practice. But because our serving was not so good we couldn’t expose our passing weakness in practice. It was not until we got to the tournament that really good servers hurt us.
I am not sure how you get better against really good servers when you can’t practice against really good servers. It must have something to do with scheduling and experience against better-than-you teams
Next summer when I return to coach I have to be way better at allocating the time and doing the repetition-to-repetition coaching (with video analysis) that is required to be better at those two skills. Hopefully I will have figured it out (The definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result)
One last thought:
Swiss volley needs youth development that follows the principles found here (everyone needs youth development that follows the principles found here):
It was a pleasure to coach for Switzerland. Someday (maybe next summer) I hope for great success for Swiss men’s volleyball.