When I was a young coach, I thought of volleyball solely as techniques and tactics, essentially a problem solving exercise. Take Technical Deficiency A, apply Training Method B, problem solved. Or identify Tactical Weakness X, develop Tactic Y, problem solved. Indeed this two dimensional problem solving idea was one of the things that originally attracted me to volleyball coaching as a profession. (An inability to allow myself to be interested in anything otherwise constructive was the other one). In my case, youth and ignorance were close companions and it was only later and to my great surprise that I discovered a not unimportant third (metaphorical) dimension at play. (There are of course, four actual dimensions at play in the game of volleyball). This is the human dimension. No matter how you look at it, you can’t not notice that at the heart of every volleyball problem lies one common denominator – people. That is not to say that it is not possible, with what I can only presume is great effort, to ignore the people. One club director upon hearing my theory that players were people first, immediately and unequivocally disagreed. It perhaps goes without saying that the on and off court success I had with the team that season was not rewarded with a contract renewal. But I digress… Whatever technical and tactical templates are applied to it, volleyball (and all sport) (and nearly everything really) is a massively complicated outcome of interactions between and among people in a group and between groups. And not just during the game. The game itself is a small part of the overall life of a team. Which in a roundabout way brings me to my point.
I recently read a (mostly) excellent volleyball book (‘Talent and the Secret Life of Teams’ by Terry Pettit) in which the author describes how his journey to coaching wisdom was a rambling journey and included many stops and detours that weren’t literally volleyball related. His point was that in nearly every area we care to look, we can find lessons applicable to volleyball and volleyball coaching and by extension, that we should search widely. Like all people I gravitate towards and best absorb information that tends to confirm that which I already believe and thus instantly recognised his advice as infinitely sage. And so I read ‘Superfreakonomics‘ by Levitt and Dubner. (Actually I read it because the I’d already read and enjoyed ‘Freakonomics‘ but this way is a better story). In the introduction I read that the theme of the book is that “People respond to incentives, although not necessarily in ways that are predictable or manifest. Therefore, one of the most powerful laws in the universe is the law of unintended consequences. This applies to schoolteachers and Realtors and crack dealers as well as expectant mothers, sumo wrestlers, bagel salesmen, and the Ku Klux Klan.” Since I already know that volleyball is about people, and I’d intuitively learnt that the ‘Law of Unintended Consequences’ very early in my career, I knew I was going to learn a lot. Indeed as I read about prostitutes and global warming solutions and monkeys and altruism, the notion kept entering my head that the book itself was an example of the ‘Law of Unintended Consequences’. The authors intended to write an economics book but in the end actually wrote a coaching book. And a good one, too.
And Gladwell? You shouldn’t need a reason to read Gladwell.