Eye Work

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The most recent edition of The Net Live podcast was mostly dedicated to the demise of the AVP.  But not only.  In the first of a regular series about women’s college volleyball they talked to University of Washington coach Jim McLaughlin.  McLaughlin is one of the most well known and respected coaches in the US, having won national championships with both men and women (info here, here, here and an interview here).  One of the questions they asked was what is the difference between coaching men and women.  In his answer he described the two most important aspects of volleyball as mechanics and eye work.

Mechanics is technique.  This was a major theme of a clinic I attended with US coaching guru Carl McGown.  There is one way of performing each skill that is simply better than all the other ways, based on mechanics.  And the quality of the coach is in how he/she teaches the mechanics.  Mechanics is the major limitation in performing skills, whether man or woman.

‘Eye work’ is what you look at.  ‘Eye work’ is what separates good teams from bad teams, whether men or women.  He also mentioned that ‘eye work’ determines timing and that is no different between men and women.

The interesting point to me is firstly the catchphrase ‘eye work’ and equally in the idea of ‘eye work’ being central to volleyball.  I have long thought that a major factor in decision making ability lies in the visual information a player receives, and very specfically what he/she is looking at during the play.  After all logically, information collection proceeds processing in the decision making pathway.  With the exception of blocking, where eye sequences have long been described, my feeling is that this is a point that is under emphasised by coaches and one that I have been working on in other skill areas.

The catchphrase and the description let me think about it a new way.


  1. How much does a volleyball player actually see before he hits/plays the ball? I remember Steve Tutton when setting often deliberately looked to the other court before playing the ball. Was that just a ploy to upset the opposition? Does the player actually have time to see the situation on the other side of the net, eg position of players the court and play accordingly?


    1. I’m pretty sure that the point would be the more you see, the better you are. The setter looking at the blockers is obviously one example of what to look at. I also remember US coaches talking about tests that showed the best receivers were the players with the best peripheral vision. And vision in spiking is absolutely critical.


  2. Now I wear contact lenses, playing volleyball is easy! If players with better peripherals make better passers, would that mean women pass better than men due to their wider field of view?

    An interesting thought came up the other day talking to a driving instructor. Head on collisions happen when people look at the car coming towards them “you shouldn’t look where you don’t want to go” was the quote. Would this relate to attack in that you shouldn’t look for the block when spiking if you are trying to avoid it. perhaps wording from the coach may need to be different in occasions on not tooling the block.


  3. Women do pass better than men. Maybe that is the reason. I just saw a research paper that showed good receivers watch the ball earlier and better than bad receivers.
    There are situations where the spiker definitely looks at the block, because he is not trying to hit the court. For example, spiking a high ball.
    For faster balls the situation is opposite. The spiker is looking partially at an empty space and preparing for a blocker to enter that space at the last second.
    The wording from the coach is always important.


  4. Re: I just saw a research paper that showed good receivers watch the ball earlier and better than bad receivers.

    I’ve always found there’s a big correlation between how early a passer can determine where a serve will end up and their ability to pass well. Some people are able to work this out early out of the setters hand and they can start making preparations with their body much earlier. Other people don’t recognise this until the ball is metres from them. Sounds a bit stupid but when you see a person making a last minute lunge for a ball I usually put it down picking up the flight of the ball too late.

    It’s interesting to watch a team from the side when receiving a serve and watch for the moment they make their first movement in response to the serve.

    If it turns out that someone isn’t watching the ball early, any thoughts on how to help them with this?


    1. As luck would have it, I was actually at USA women’s training last week and saw Karch working one on one with a receiver. He was talking to her about exactly what she should be looking at and when. Starting with the ball in the servers hand before the toss, switching to the hand of server and the flightpath of the ball. I think that’s a pretty good way to go.


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