Monday, August 12, 2019

What I Did on My Summer (and Spring) "Vacation"

I noticed recently that I had not posted much in the past few months. There is a part of me that feels bad about that but I also realize that I have to keep seeking out new knowledge and experiences if I want to keep having things to think and write about. I have a couple of commonplace books in which I record ideas and I definitely filled plenty of pages this Spring and Summer. With that in mind, here's what I have been up to lately.

First, I was fortunate to appear on The Decoding Excellence Show podcast for a second time. You can listen to it here.

I am nearing the midway point of my Master's program and the class I took this Spring, Adolescent Psychology and Development for Teachers, was very engaging. It moved me to add some important ideas to my personal coaching and teaching framework and philosophy.

My Spring class allowed me to dive deeply into some education research and literature. I spent hours with my nose buried in journals and books without a hint of resentment at the amount of time required. I was able to revisit Carol Dweck's Mindset as well as read her latest paper (Mindsets: A View from Two Eras with David Yeager, another leader in mindset research). She just published a new paper that is expected to open new horizons in the field based on what has been learned since she first introduced the concept. I was exposed to the works of Robert Kegan, Robert Pianta, and Nel Noddings and I am working to incorporate ideas of theirs into how I interact with learners and how I structure learning environments. Most pivotal was reading Parker J. Palmer's The Courage to Teach, which I reviewed here. I have noticed a shift in how I talk to coaches and teachers about what I think is most important and how I think those concepts should be communicated to learners.

I reread Annie Duke's Thinking in Bets because I thought that I should refresh my understanding of her ideas.I think that putting her ideas into daily practice is challenging and I want to give myself the best chance possible to keep them in my conscious mind. I read Charles Wheelan's Naked Statistics, which was a good reminder of how to think about the numbers that I am gathering and thinking about in the course of my job.

I read Tony Wagner, et al.'s Change Leadership, which was a challenging book in terms of the thought and dedication required to read it. It's not that the language was dense or challenging from the standpoint of comprehension. It's that the book is a "practical guide" so it asks that we think deeply about the systems we are part of and how they impact learning and learners. There are exercises to complete and they are worth doing to get the full effect of the book's message. I hope to write a post soon that contains some of the things that I learned about myself and how I view teaching and coaching.

Coding and Statistics
I attended several seminars and completed several courses on coding in R as well as finished R for Dummies and all of these were very helpful in deepening my understanding of the language. I think it will be another year before I am coding anything fun and useful but I at least feel like I can code. I feel that I have much to learn about statistics to start answering the questions I have about aspects of volleyball that are interesting to me and it is likely that I will be able to tie together some of that with my Master's program. It strikes me that we seem to be rather cavalier with the data we collect in volleyball and I want to build on more rigorous foundations.

Volleyball Thoughts
I spent some time this spring exploring an idea I see in baseball, the longer a pitcher remains in the game, the less effective he tends to become. I wanted to see if serving effectiveness decreased as a match went on. After discussing this idea with a friend, I also looked at reception effectiveness as a match went on. While there is still room to refine the way I looked at the data (I looked at entire sets rather than each consecutive reception), I didn't see any clear trends that indicate that either servers or passers change in any significant way as matches go on. This seems to go against the idea that we can "wear down" a player by serving them as frequently as possible. Maybe serving them every ball has an effect on their attack efficiency (I didn't study that) but it doesn't have a meaningful effect on their passing. (With that said, there may be evidence to support the idea that teams become very risk averse in terms on serving in fifth sets.)

Each Spring I take all the data I have accumulated from the previous season and add them to the pile of numbers from earlier seasons and make adjustments to expected side out, expected hitter efficiency, and expected block efficiency. I first learned these calculations from the legendary Joe Trinsey, who originally calculated these based on top-level international play. I think I now have a decent data set to have a better idea of how top-level collegiate play differs so I have adjusted Joe's coefficients accordingly. From the data I have, it appears that, in general, hitters are more efficient internationally (shocking, right?). But that doesn't hold true in all cases. Top college attackers are more efficient in certain situations. NCAA attackers tend to do better than international attackers when sets are wide/high and when sets are tight. This might say more about the skill level and aggressiveness of NCAA blockers than it does about the attackers, but still. It is interesting to note that the largest difference in expected efficiency relative to set location is between perfect sets and low/flat sets. While missing wide, off, or tight definitely have negative impacts on attack efficiency, missing low and/or flat in a tempo offense is likely the largest factor that impacts a team's ability to get a kill mainly because that situation happens far more frequently than the other misses.

Random Thoughts
Here are a couple of elegantly simple ideas that come from soccer that I want to apply to my thinking about offense in volleyball:
"It's not the ball that moves, you want to move the opponent." - John Wall
"The ball is the present, the space is the future." - Kevin Grimes
How do we attempt to create, manipulate, and exploit space in our offense? How does thinking in terms of space differ from thinking in terms of match ups? How might we benefit from thinking about space instead of match ups?

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