“Running is for animals, football is with brain and ball”

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The expression may not be elegant*, but given that the words were uttered by a Dutchman speaking in German** and translated by an Australian hopefully it can be excused.  I heard it on the German version of the footy show this morning (Sunday isn’t Sunday without a footy show) and it immediately struck a bell.  At the exact moment I heard that quote, I was sorting clips from our match yesterday of situations where we had (or even worse, hadn’t) used our legs instead of our eyes and brains.  It is a constant battle because it seems to me so many coaches place a lot more emphasis on movement and effort. than on doing the right thing.  I know this from observations and experiences and more importantly from trying to change long held habits.  For example, block cover.  In the majority of cases block cover consists of rushing towards the net.  This is regardless of whether two or more players end up standing in the same place or whether all five players end up covering the first few square metres of the court, leaving the whole back of the court free.  As long as the player is close to the net, ie as long as he ‘runs’, he is ‘covering’ the block.  Or for example, diving after the ball.  If a player makes a mad run and dive (or more likely a flopping, dying  fish like sprawl) for the ball then that is great effort.  Regardless of whether he began in the right position or whether he is trying to play a ball that is not his, as long as he ‘runs’, he is making a good play.

To play volleyball correctly the greatest effort needs to be made before the action.  The effort actually required is the effort to read the play, the effort to follow team tactics, the effort to be disciplined, the effort to ‘do the right thing’ rather than ‘do something’.  So many times I’ve seen coaches, up to the highest level, address the effort of ‘effort’ when the real issue is ‘readiness’.  Volleyball, like football, is with the brain.

However, my favourite example of misplaced effort doesn’t include running, it is about using feet to play the ball.  In nearly every situation where the ball is played with the feet, it is because the player is not ready to play the ball.  If you try it out by standing in the ready position and try to kick out, you actually have to stand up and move your arms out of the way.  You can only play the ball with your feet if you are NOT ready.  But unfortunately being lazy and not ready can get you your own youtube clip.  Could Savani have played this ball with his hands?

*  and incomplete.  The complete quote is “Running is for animals.  Football is with brain, ball and resistance”.  Sorry.

** Louis van Gaal during his time as coach of Bayern Munich.


  1. One bit of “misplaced effort” i picked up tonight while i was coaching my High School Girls teams, is before the rally when the blockers call out the hitters. I think it’s worth communicating what you want to do, but sometimes it becomes more theatrical than practical (I had one player on a boys team that hated hearing the blockers “yell” before the rally that he would cover up his number). Probably not quite the same thing as a gratuitous pancake or playing the ball with the foot, but i still put it all under the category of “theatre”. Bad theatre.

    It made me come up of the feedback phrase “more volleyball, less theatre please”


  2. I think you’re being a little tough on Savani there – not sure he had time to get in a ready position after landing from the hit!

    But regarding the ‘right way’ – its funny, I used that expression just last weekend coaching a team. Its apparently Larry Brown’s favourite (favorite?) expression.

    One of my pet hates is liberos who look ‘good’ because they are always diving around, while other liberos stand in the right place and the ball comes straight to them.


    1. Time to get into a ready position, no. But time to turn his head towards the action and to lead with his hands, I think, yes.


      1. But if he used his hands to play the ball the other team would have been aware of what was going on. Pure genious or just a lucky fluke. either way a good youtube clip 🙂


    1. I absolutely think he could have played that first ball with his hands. 100% sure.
      I’ll happily concede the second video though. Nice dig!


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