After some weeks of planning, organising and re-organising we are finally kicking-off our interview series. The goal of the series will be to speak with coaches from different countries, backgrounds and with different ideas of how the game should be played.
Personally, I am really curious to see how the different coaches react and answers to some of my questions. I am sure they have all found success and failure with their systems over the years, making that copy, edit, paste approach to development, like in „How to build your system“.
So we kick-off the series in our own back garden as we get to know Tom Schroffenegger who was quite modest in our talk. A former professional beach player, who has coached in the Olympics, and works tirelessly to help as many Austrian athletes across a range of sports reach their sporting potential. Apart from his experience as ex-player and coach, a big asset for his players are his background as a sports psychologist. You can check our his sports psychology website here.
After building his own DIY court with his brother, they started chasing the goal of becoming professional beach volleyball players. Looking outwards for guidance on making the next steps, he arrived in Vienna but soon realised to progress further in the bigger world of volleyball, outside of Austria is where he had to go. Even in modern sports, there is a massive advantage to be gained by thinking about the multiculturalism of sport. In its true form multiculturalism means seeing what is being done better from other places and countries and wanting those advantages for yourself.
How did you learn to play volleyball?
A good point on how big a difference your first coach makes. You could argue that having a good coach can help players improve quicker and achieve higher levels. So, having a good coach reminds me of a quote from Sir Issac Newton, „By standing on the shoulders of those came before us, we can see further and achieve more.“
But obviously a person’s character has a lot to do with it also. You hear of Tom’s own desires to search for better ways to play volleyball and to imitate it and even combine it with other ideologies. This is a wonderful phase of learning and excitement that only happens when someone is truly passionate about something. I find that this period is strongest in people between 16-21 years old, they are full of energy to find and create an identity and passion for themselves. It is an age were the unlimited potential starts to get focused to specialise on something that creates meaning in your life.
Describe your volleyball ideas
They always say if you understand something well, you can explain it simply. I think Tom definitely understands the demands of volleyball really well, as he could not have summed it up any better. „Serve good, control the ball and enjoy the game.“
Of the three, he does admit to the last being the hardest to do. We chase perfection and are critical when we make errors, and sometimes even more so when for example, we make a horrible contact with the ball but get lucky and come away with the point. These are defining moments in matches and if you find a way to enjoy them, and to get excited in difficult moments, I am positive it is a sure-fire way to get better results.
Are some things more important than others?
In Tom’s eyes the technique that gives your team the best bang for buck is serve-receive. Over the next weeks we are sure to get many different answers on this but variety is what makes life interesting.
Tom explains his thoughts in the video, that serve-receive is more about keeping your platform away from your body, with the priority of getting your platform to the ball first, not your body first. For serves that are faster to the player often, the passers are required to open their hips and bodies so that the platform stays to the ball and the body moves away.
My thoughts on valuing serve-receive, as always start by taking a backwards approach, so what do we want?
- A good side-out quota.
- How do we get a good side-out quota? by being able to attack the ball well.
- How can we attack good? by having good sets.
- Which, brings us to being able to set good.
- How do we help increase our odds of making good sets?
- By passing well.
Others might stop earlier in the chain and say as long as you are not getting aced and the ball stays in the court that the set is more important. Potentially because it has a more direct link to attacking. However, for the attacker to have their full range of attacking options, the ball needs to be travelling parallel and closer to the net. Once the ball is being set further away from the net; then the approach of the attacker is changing to meet the ball better. At best case this results is some angels becoming more difficult to hit and at worst case, the set comes from over the shoulder of the attacker limiting the options and power of the attacker.
How to build with a new team?
With new teams Tom’s view is firstly, a fact-finding mission. I interpret this as his way of finding out exactly where the performers are (ability wise), their strengths and weaknesses in all categories of technical, tatical, physical and mental. All of this as spoken about it in our „How to build your system“ blog. Once you know where your current abilities are then you can make the overarching goal and set out the road-map to success.
Ofcourse, we then see some of Tom’s expertise as a psychologist kick-in. He mentions that a transfer of knowledge cannot be passed without a bond better teacher and learner. Whether it is, battle to bond or bond to battle, you cannot escape the necessity of a bond between a coach and their athletes‘. Bonding opens a channel of dialogue that is there not just to talk about problems but to speak about solutions. For me it verges on the ideas of mutual respect and mutual benefit. If the system is working, the player is improving (player benefit) and the teams are getting results (coach benefit). Then both parties feel good after helping each other succeed and this causes a positive feedback loop based on trust. Meaning that both sides are invested on helping each other succeed at their sub-goals so they can achieve their top goal together.
I hope you all enjoyed listing to Tom and myself. It was a great having Tom to kick-off our people behind the X’s and O’s segment and I am sure you are already excited to see who is with me next week.