So we are in the fourth day of this year's USA Volleyball High Performance Coaches' Clinic and CAP I,II, III sessions here at the Olympic Training Center. Hugh McCutcheon, Tom Hogan and Peter Vint headline a group of our sport's most passionate people in presenting ideas to teach the sport to the athletes and coaches who make up the High Performance indoor pipeline.

I hope some of you get a chance to interact with those coaches who have come here. That which you teach, you learn, so get them to teach you what they thought they picked up, so they can learn it better. Hugh brought a coach into the gym often, who was not here physically - but through what he has taught so many of us - Carl McGown. I was fortunate to first meet and learn from Carl's teachings in the 1970s, and because of him, made motor skill learning part of the first IMPACT manual back in 1988, sharing his research and knowledge to touch first year coaches in this very important area of the science of sport.

So it was a pleasure to see and hear how Hugh continued this sharing, as he too has been powerfully impacted by Dr. McGown's teaching. Hugh brought Nicole Davis, libero for our 2008 Silver medal women's Olympic team, out on the court in front of all the participants to show his ideas on the skill of passing. Working with Nicole, core ideas were stressed, that are important to the future for all USA players of any age or skill level - Repeatability, Variance, and Risk...

Repeatability - at the highest level, every player is a stud - it is the player can perform the skill successfully more often, no matter what the level of competition.

Variance - in order to increase the chance of repeatability, you need to minimize the variance in your movements. Simpler is better, consistency comes with such economy of movement. Don't know until you go - or else you are wasting time and adding movement.

Risk Management - in order to increase your chance for success, we need to get better at risk management options. Traditionally, for example, the setters wait at the net, which makes for half of the errors that are only a meter off of perfect, going into/over the net, vs. the same distance of error from perfect being "safe" and off the net a meter. By positioning the setter target 5-6 feet off the net, you can error by 2 yards, and still have the ball playable in all directions. Tom Hogan noted that vs. Cuba, the toughest serving team in the world with two players ranking in the top servers in the world consistently, their "Error Off" option was used, putting the target eight feet off the net.

Lots of other topics were covered, which will be available from the USA Volleyball office later in 2009, by DVD. While the new men's team coach will likely not be announced until the end of this month, Hugh clearly has a vision for what he will like to see happen in the next quad for the women's program. He spoke often of principles and the science of the game, which does not change between women and men. He noted how "we are salesmen first, and change agents second."

"We want to have a system that is based on principles, not based on who the coaches are. There is nothing I am telling you here, you would not be getting it from CAP or IMPACT which are based in science. Embrace it because it makes sense to you, and so you can do it more often- the result.  You should do it based on principles,  as we know what good passers look like and what they do ALL the time, it is not a coincidence, it is that model that I am coming from."

When asked about the differences between the men's and women's  game, Hugh replied  "What is the difference? Don't we live on planet Earth and the laws of physics apply? I am approaching it as volleyball, whether you are a woman or a man. The idea of ‘women's vs. men's' volleyball is doing nothing but stereotyping. Guys have issues too. We are going to do everything we can to be great, based on science and principles."

Later on Hugh and Peter Vint did a myth buster segment. There was some lively discussion on these, among others, which Peter used the science from the Biomechanics lab studies to dispel these...

Myth: The wrist snap is important in attacking

Myth: An athlete's ability to read the game/make correct decisions is unalterable

Myth: Toed-in base positions are best for passers and defenders (and/or blockers)

Myth: Starting a move on the balls of the feet results in faster movement times than starting flat footed

Myth: Peaking at the instant of ball contact is a good thing to do

and a bunch more....

The closing session Hugh spoke about the need for "generalized specialists" who are good in all areas of the game but really good in 1-2 skill sets. He noted how we are specializing too early in volleyball. There is not rocket science, the way you get good at passing is by passing, and the way you get good at the game is by playing the game. Trying to teach the game from a generalized basis, you will be better at working together as a team, and win more of the little things that are being lost. "When you start teaching the game, the most important thing is to make it fun...for if at the end of the day if the game is not fun, it will be really hard to keep them around."  Our opponents in other volleyball nations can

  1. Execute all of the fundamentals at a very high level
  2. Have correct technique and are biomechanically efficient
  3. Make all the little plays - they cover, can set out of system, can dig, etc.
  4. Make all the right choices about where to stand, who to set, where to block etc.

If I am going to ask my kids to work hard, I need to work hard too. We should connect as best we can to our kids...they should not be berated to get good, we are service providers to facilitate the hours of each players live to something they enjoy, so when we do what we do, we need to ask if this is right by the team and the individuals. Coaching is a valued career in our nation amazingly, but it is something you earn, not something you require. We have to be into best practices from ourselves, making it a good and positive experience (not all rainbows and ponies), and not beating up on the kids, for ultimately we want to grow the game...positive reinforcement has longer effect on players than negative, so I want to catch them doing it right a lot, right Kess? ...

After this philosophical discussion, the first question was...what is your favorite drill? - Hugh's response - "Subtle variations on familiar themes" - and then he continued on how gamelike/over the net they warm up and train.