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Jun 14 International Guest Blog - Power Cup & 10 000 Hours of Making Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

June 14, 2011, 4:37 p.m. (ET)

This special international edition guest blog comes to us from Lauri Aatos Hakala.  As a collegiate men’s player at BYU under the great Carl McGown, he was a great student of the game. Now he is naturally moving into being an equally skilled coach, and, after several years playing professionally back in his native Finland, he is now assisting Marv Dunphy at Pepperdine. We send many late nite emails back and forth on how to become a better teacher and include the facts and science of motor learning and all aspects of coaching volleyball. This story he wrote special for the junior coaches and leaders of USA Volleyball, sharing what they do well in Finland and weaving in the 10,000 hours and Goethe...We also wanted to invite USAV Junior clubs to consider adventuring to the Power Cup next summer!

As a volleyball enthusiast and a fan of USA Volleyball, I approached John Kessel in hopes of growing the game in my native Finland. Besides still being a volleyball player myself, I also write a coaching blog and hold a position at the Finnish Volleyball Federation... And like many national federations, we have two primary goals:  1. To get more people to play the sport. 2. To get more players and coaches get better and understand what getting better really is, and how it is done.

We are nation of just 5 million people (or about the size of Minnesota) but our volleyball community faces many of the same challenges as our American friends.  Both national federations want to increase the numbers kids who play this wonderful sport, and both are competing with a number of other sports for them. In Finland we are losing this battle to ice hockey and floor ball mainly because we lack something that USA Volleyball has: A science based system for developing better coaches, and thus taking better care of our young.

Over here in the great white north of Europe, we aren't very good at letting the game teach the game (yet.) Many of the coaches from around the world are just parents who understandibly have little time to prepare for practices, so not every one can be highly educated teacher or student of the game. Still, it is astonishing how by doing things the hard way most parents don't even let their kids simply enjoy the sport and play. I know this is a problem in many places in the U.S. also, but trust me, we have got you beat in traditional non-gamelike drills.

We dont even have to go into detail with the science of motor learning or exercise physiology to understand, that the best way to learn how to play volleyball is by playing. In Finland most coaches like their players to hit balls off of tables too, or pepper for hours on end, but there is one exception. There is a short period of time- four days long- when not a single kid in the country has to do a drill which doesnt help him or her much as a volleyball player. This is called the Power Cup, the world's largest youth volleyball tournament.

Believe it or not, a volleyball midget such as Finland actually organizes such an annual event, bringing together about 1000 teams (boys, girls, mixed), 10 000 young players (ages 6-18) from countries all over the world. (The vast majority of teams still come from Finland.) It is an inspiring sight to see around 300 volleyballs simultaneously up in the air, on just as many courts on a large sand/grass field, where the event is usually held at. The tournament rotates in Finland every year, so that within the past 25 years it has been organized in 19 different cities around the country.

The most important thing, of course, is this: Everyone gets to play (they even have rules that state this in certain categories) and everyone loves to play. No drills, just games. Some teams dont even have coaches (they are not required), just the right number of players (min. 4 or 6 depending on the level) and a guardian if they are under 18 years of age. It is also the best possible marketing opportunity for our sport. What kind of mayor wouldnt want over 10 000 people in his or her city ? Besides bringing in revenue, the participants promote the coolest sport on the planet, along with the fairplay spirit, and comradery.

You can find more info on the tournament (in english) under

Under the news section there is also on article on Ron Larsen and Rob Browning visiting the event last summer -they were in a near by city helping USA beat Finland in a pair of Men's World League matches, which also took place in June of 2010 (a patriot, I am not going to go any deeper into those defeats, but will note that we also beat USA once in an away match.) 

Power Cup is our best effort to fulfill federation's first goal, and to market the sport of volleyball to more and more people. The second goal I mentioned (producing better players and coaches) is something that the latter half of this post deals with.

How do people get better at anything, and in our case, volleyball?

A while back I ran into a collection of quotes which sparked up an interesting discussion with John. 

A particular quote, that I was surprised to see in that pamphlet of coaching ideas, came from one of my big heroes, Johan Wolfgang von Goethe. We are used to seeing Michael Jordan, John Wooden, and Vince Lombardi on different lists... But a 18th century German Polymath? Not too many coaches even know who he is, let alone quote such a person. His featured citation was this:

”Talent develops in solitude, character in the stormy billows of the world”

This is one of the many interpretations of the original, which I hung up on my wall a few years ago. It goes as follows:

”Es bildet ein Talent sich in der Stille, sich ein Character in dem Strom der Welt.”

What initiated the conversation was the fact that Goethe, widely considered a natural genious, talks about developing one's skills. Goethe has been one of my favorite writers for a long time, but I recently developed a growing interest in his life.

When I played volleyball for coach Carl McGown (to whom a great many USA coaches and players owe the greatest Thank You) in Hawai'i and Switzerland, he urged me to read more about Anders K. Ericsson's research on 10 000 hours of making an expert, the so-called 10 year rule. In the recent years Ericsson's research has been made more popular by authors such as Geoff Colvin (Talent is Overrated), Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers), and Dan Coyle (The Talent Code) which both Carl and  John have recommended every coach to read. Well, after reading them, so do I.

Anyhow, we know that practice makes permanent, and that deliberate practice makes you... Well, better. We say better, as it is silly to think anything can ever be ”perfect”... As the best things are just in constant flux, in Kaizen, in continuous improvement. But, Japanese aside, what made Goethe so great? And is there something to be learned from our volleyball perspective?

As mentioned, the common misconception is, that he was born a genious. Some German professors (I studied German for a long time) refer to him as ”Der Eine Goethe” or roughly ”The One Goethe” making it clear that he was just the one, the best, the only, and fundamentally different from others. I am not here to claim he wasnt the Shakespeare of Germany, since that is exactly what he was, but how he got there could use a fresh examination.

We know that Goethe was not a mere writer, but a historical figure who is often referred to as the last Renessaince-Man. Although he specialized in writing fictional literature, he excelled in various fields including philosophy, painting and plant homology and morphology (his ideas influenced Darwin a century later.) His work also continues to influence music, poetry, and even movies. Latest example being Nicholas Cage's blockbuster, ”Sourcerer's Apprentice”, the basic idea of which is based on Goethe's ballad ”Zauberlehrling.” Today Goethe's impact is indirect, but during his life time things were different. Even the great Mozart once travelled from Austria to Germany- just to perform a private musical score for the Dichterfürst. So, clearly people held him at high esteem, and clearly Goethe was special.

But where people go wrong, is that he wasnt born with superior innate gifts or talents. Instead, he was lucky, he was in the right place at the right time, and of course, he worked hard. Maybe his motivation to work was his talent?  As John Armstrong describes the genious in his book Love, Life, Goethe, talent had little to do with his success: ”Goethe’s productive genius lay to a very large extent in his capacity for hard work.”  

We already know Tiger Woods was a product of vigorous training that began early, and that Mozart was nurtured in a hard-working,  music-oriented environment that was ideal to the development of the young genious. What makes Goethe interesting though, is the aforementioned multitude of skills. Would the 10 year rule suggest, that he had to work hard in each of his fields to get his expertise? In short, yes, although back then there was less competition in who was the greatest in what. Goethe's main interest, as we shall see, was writing. It is where he spent most of his time, totalling far above the hailed 10 000 hours.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born in August 28th in 1749. His father, Johann Gaspar, was determined that his children would have the opportunities that he didn't. Goethe was homeschooled (by both his father and private teachers), and from early on he studied languages, literature, and theatre. Goethe went to law school at the age of 16 but left three years later as he found it boring. He had already started writing poems and plays in his free time. After falling ill, recovering and terminating a brief legal career, Goethe wrote his first world famous work The Sorrows of Young Werther in 1774. He was only 25 years old at the time.

Clearly this is a young age for writing a master piece, and if you want to calculate any exact hours, things get tricky.  Nobody knows how much of his divided time was dedicated to drama, but we do know, that a full time job as a lawyer takes time (and did so even back then.) So one is surely inclined to think, that such an achievement requieres the touch of a genious... Not everyone writes a book that becomes part of the world literature when they are only 25. But then again, not everyone is devoted to literature from kindergarden.

Later in life (I m making this short) Goethe travelled to Italy among other places, but mostly lived in Weimar, which had become the center of culture in the remains of the Holy Roman Empire. In Weimar he was under the of protection of Charles Augustus, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. The duke was a patron of arts, and summoned many formidable artists and writers to Weimar in a time which made Weimar the most significant ”talent hub” in Europe.  The duke then funded Goethe's work and gave him a formal position at the dutchy.

The details aside: A lot has been written about Goethe's life, but no matter where we look, he was always at work. And, just as importantly, he was often given the opportunity to focus on writing. He came from a wealthy home and started writing early. He worked hard to get money, but didnt always have to, and later in his life he could dedicate all of his time to writing and poetry.  He is quoted talking about insipration, work ethic, and doing what one loves. He lived to be 82 years old (he passed March 22nd in 1832), which still today, let alone then, is a respectably high age, and left behind a remarkably diverse and broad body of literature.

And... Although he was usually working on multiple projects at once,  he wrote his magnum opus, the two-part drama Faust, for over 60 years. YES. He worked on one book for six decades! No wonder it turned out perhaps the greatest book ever written in German. Just imagine all the goals he set for the book, all the redoing, reworking and perfecting that took place in that time. He had inspiration, fellow writers and artists to rely on (and to compete with!) and an environment which was oozing appreciation for literary achievements. Goethe was also very patient.

I wonder how good one would get at volleyball, if the same environment, and the same rigourous and mindful effort would be present?

It has been said, though not verified, that Goethe started working on the first version of Faust  (labelled as the Urfaust) already as a teenager. We know that this project existed on his table around 1772, but nobody knows how actively he worked on it. The first full version of Faust I was published in 1808, and Faust II came out posthumously in 1832, indeed 60 years later.

A widely quoted man, the following line is also credited to him: ”Man cant just always work, he has to have free time for his spirit.” Maybe things like this make us think achieving great things came easy for him. But we've seen that hard work and right opportunities are what came easy to him, not achievements themselves.

I am not making a claim that just anyone can be Mozart, or Tiger, or Goethe. But clearly, everyone can get tons better through deliberate practice, and motivation, which often comes easy to those who do what they love. Personally I have been at times struggling between different occupations and what line of study to take. When I am done playing, I now know that I want to be a volleyball coach and help more kids find the sport and get better at it. Perhaps, and hopefully, I will get better at coaching while I m at it... And that I get to coach for a long time.

Thanks for the opportunity to share some thoughts. Good luck to USA Volleyball in all that you do, and thank you for all the wonderful lessons you bring upon your young.


L.A. Hakala