Posted in Coaching

Simple “rules” are often the best

After looking through some old blogs and searching around for something to procrastinate from study, I came upon Setter’s Rules by Mark Lebedew. It discusses some basic rules for executing setting in volleyball. I have previously had discussions with a number of people about these rules and found it interesting to read over it again.

These “Setter’s Rules” came from Harlan Cohen, an American volleyball coach who had been involved with various level, including the US National Womens Team.








It got me thinking about another conversation I previously had with Alexis Lebedew (Mark’s brother) about why should we limit junior athletes because we think something is too difficult for them? If we limit them how can they ever be expected to improve?

These setters rules are simple, and specific, but still provide scope for vast differences in technique and style. What they do however is say the responsibility (rule #1), and a minimum standard (rules #2 and #3). Other than this the rest is up to the coach and athlete to work out for themselves.

Why shouldn’t all technical “rules” and directions be simple and specific? I am regularly in discussions (and arguements) with coaches about how something should be done, or what the best way to do it is, and undoubtably these conversations talk about tiny little technical aspects that at the end of the day are probably not the most important part anyway.

Maybe the best way to teach a skill is to keep it as simple as possible, and let the athlete develop their own individual tendencies around that. The only issue then is that if a different coach comes along to work with the athelte, are they going to have the same philosophy? Or will they want to force a particular style on the athlete that will then alter what they have done with you? Often coaches want to do something spectacular to show how clever they are, and what a good coach they are, when in reality it takes away from what they are trying to teach.

In the Australian Junior Womens Program, the technical skill of passing has documents with up to 20 skill keys, when in reality, the main one that is focussed on and really the only one needed is “platform to target”. This is the simplest of keys, but very clear and has a minimum standard, if the reult is different to what you want, chances are it can be corrected with this. You can always be further develop and progress the skill, explaining the way the platform should be held and the footwork involved and the way you aim and move the platform etc. but at the end of the day, if the platform is pointing at the target, then the ball will go that way. This simple instruction will also allow for the athlete to add their own characteristics and be able to best use their natural physicality and movement patters, without taking away from what is needed to perform the skill with technical accuracy.

If you allow for greater and more difficult things to happen they may just do that, if the environment is controlled so that only the desired task can be completed, then the athlete will never achieve more that is required.



This blog was started for a Uni subject, and has since evolved into a place where I can voice my thoughts, typically about coaching and sport. I grew up in Sydney, then moved to Canberra for some further study in 2011 and when I finished in 2014 I moved up to Brisbane. I have played, coached and generally been involved with volleyball since 2013. As of 2017 I am now the QAS Volleyball Assistant Coach.

6 thoughts on “Simple “rules” are often the best

  1. I’m not sure about the etiquette of commenting on a post which references me but I will anyway.

    The one thing that needs clarification is the idea of letting athletes develop their own individual tendencies. This assumes that an athlete’s tendencies will ultimately lead them to be successful at the highest level. While it is absolutely true that the best players in the world all execute skills slightly differently, the danger is when we assume this means that all tendencies can ultimately be successful. If there are 10 million players playing volleyball its possible to assume there are 10 million tendencies for any given skill. The problem is that there are only 10 different tendencies that can be successful. So variation is fine, but there are millions of different tendencies which will absolutely not lead to elite success. Coaches need to know what can be successful and lead towards that.

    (And yes, I’m aware that the numbers I’m using are huge generalisations!)

  2. Regarding allowing athletes to ‘explore’ to find success……

    I remember hearing a story about a coach who banned any feedback to a particular player who kept hitting the ball out over and over again, in order for them to ‘find a way to be successul’. The rationale given was, do you teach a baby how to walk, or do they work it out over time.

    While this makes sense superficially, there is a pretty big difference. The baby is surrounded by ‘expert’ walkers, so they can model their behaviour accordingly. But when working with developing athletes its unlikely that anyone in the group is sufficiently ‘expert’ for others to model their skills on. Which is, of course, an argument for developing athletes to be training and playing with ‘expert’ players as often as possible.

  3. I would add to this that individual variation is not technique. Technique is the underlying principle and this is not negotiable. All great players have great technique. All of them.
    There should be an element of exploration but this is a process guided by the coach following the underlying principles. The coach is active in this process not an interested spectator.
    Perhaps this post could be a companion to the ‘Setter’s Rules’ post.

  4. I completely agree that there are some tendencies that will not be successful, however I do think that trying to cut out everything at the same time is futile and allowing one thing to happen so that you can correct a larger more significant technical flaw is more important.

    With regards to teaching a baby etc, do you think that in a national/professional team that the coach should limit their feeedback then? That the players they are surrounded by provided sufficient expertise that these athletes future development can simply be done by playing?

    1. I have a different interpretation of the childhood development case. Children learn to walk a) because it is a simple skill that is (more or less) independent of the enivronment and b) because they receive perfect feedback. They are trying to get somewhere and they either get there or they don’t. There are no other alternatives. I think the feedback explanation is more applicabe than the modellling one.
      The coach in question believed (or professed to believe) that repetitions alone were the determinant of success. You just need to perform enough repetitions and eventually you figure it out for yourself. This is plainly ludicrous (as well as totally impratical) and in direct contradiction with every single piece of actual learning literature that there is. Learning does not occur without specific, direct, timely, quality feedback.
      Great players have GREAT technique. Every single one of them. You cannot reach the highest level without great technique. Great technique doesn’t consist of 20 keys, There are not 20 things that all great receivers/setters/spikers do but there are 3 or 4 principles that they all follow. The art of coaching is to determine which are the principles and which are aesthetics and then to apply that knowledge to your players.
      Learning is a guided process. The coach should always be giving feedback. Modelling is an important part of the learning process, but it is not all of learning and it is definitely not teaching.
      You don’t get better just by playing.

  5. The skill of setting is crucial to every team’s success. Your team’s setter must be able to set effectively. The ability to attack and score points effectively corresponds to a player’s ability to deliver a ball that is expected and located at the point the attacker wants it. Generating consistency in setting begins with creating many opportunities in practice for players to gain confidence using their hands. When players begin to learn and practice the skill of setting, the main objective for the coach should be developing their confidence in touching the ball with open hands. A second objective should be the quality of the contact. A third objective should be developing skills in deception

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