If you’re looking for a book to make you think about your coaching rather than just something that presents you with a bunch of drills and systems, then look no further than Thinking Volleyball by Mike Hebert. A 50-year volleyball veteran, the recently retired Hebert offers his latest book as something he sees as at least attempting to fill the gap he perceives in the coaching literature when it comes to learning how to think about volleyball and coaching.
The broad theme of the book is being ready, willing, and able to think beyond the conventional. That’s not as simple as being OK with taking risks in how you do things, though obviously that’s a requirement (Hebert considers himself something of a coaching maverick). It first and foremost requires actually understanding what that conventional wisdom is, why it’s conventional, and its strengths and weaknesses.
There are 10 chapters. One each is dedicated to offensive and defensive philosophy. These are the only two which could be classified as technical/tactical in nature, and even then it’s not the main point. The other eight, in various ways, look at different aspects of coaching – things like running a program, developing a style of play, gym culture, team trust, and match coaching.
Personal anecdotes are a common feature of Hebert’s writing, and he’s got loads of material from which to work. They come from his own playing days and all the major programs he’s coached. My one little criticism is that the stories are strongly biased toward the positive and maybe a few failures could have been mixed in for balance. Let’s face it. Not everything works as intended and we coaches often find ourselves having to figure out how to recover when that’s the case.
One of the more interesting elements of the book is the author’s views toward the modern focus on statistics. This is both in terms of common stats and things like the competitive cauldron. Hebert is a self-described early-career stats evangelist, but he’s come to question their value relative to the amount of time spent gathering them. Not that he discounts stats completely, but he definitely asks the trade-off question, and suggests a potentially more useful way of looking at things.
Chances are, at least one chapter in Thinking Volleyball will cause you to think critically about what you’re doing as a volleyball coach. Hebert has applied his considerable experience and insight into a discussion of just about every aspect of coaching volleyball you could think of, and from all kinds of angles most of us will never have the opportunity to explore personally. From that perspective, I’d recommend it for coaches at all levels and careers stages.