Blog: Videos, McCutcheon and Lessons, Oh My!

By John Kessel | July 31, 2012, 5:27 p.m. (ET)

A chance to make history is ahead on several levels in this summer’s Olympic Games in London. A young high school player named Hugh McCutcheon came up to me in New Zealand back in the late 1980s when I was there teaching an FIVB Coaching course, and asked for help in coming to play in the USA. “You can’t teach tall, Hugh.” I told him and in the end, the best fit for him was to learn from Carl McGown, professor of Motor Learning Science at Brigham Young University and head coach of their new NCAA men’s varsity team.  The rest of his journey story are quite well told by Hugh by your international federation, the FIVB, and by his soon to be new hometown newspaper, the Star Tribune:,0,1467264.story

The women have won the last THREE Grand Prix annual world competitions, are ranked #1 in the world, and are on a very long win streak at the international level. When you have over 10,000 scholarship athletes in the USA (versus just over 100 for the men), one might wonder why it has taken so long to be ranked at the top going into an Olympics.  Clearly Hugh is core to this climb, but he understands both the randomness of the game, and the work they have done.

Here is what he said on the eve of the Olympics opening "I like that our team is aspiring to be the best it can be with the hopes of the gold medal," McCutcheon said. "I think that is why you should be here. Why come if you want to come in fifth. That doesn't make any sense to us. But that doesn't mean that we will do it. And we are certainly not under any illusion that just because we have this ranking that all of sudden it will come pretty easy. We know it will be a battle. We know there are a lot of good teams here, but we are not going to back down. I don't know who is going to win it, I certainly hope we do. But if we don't, I know we have done everything we could over the last four years to be ready for this moment. Ultimately, it will come down to one or two plays, maybe some luck, maybe someone being healthy or unhealthy."

The University of Washington has the most number of female volleyball players in this year’s Olympics.  Courtney Thompson’s story, a walk on a UW (fellow Olympian Laura Davis was also a walk on at the Univ. of Southern California, for those who follow LTAD in this blog), is one I hope to find time to share, for she has true grit. Here is just a quick look - and a chance to “listen in” daily with Courtney is found here

Jim McLaughlin, UW women’s head coach who has both won NCAA Division I titles in women’s AND men’s volleyball, knows the science of motor learning better than most, but my Univ of Washington interests actually go back to my grandfather, Oliver Lamson. His last name is my middle name, and he rowed varsity crew for UW in the early 1900s. In crew you see the best of tradition in sport, and amazing teamwork, when you row an 8 person scull.  Trust me, you will find it more than worth your time to read this wonderful and little known Olympic story, to your family and your players…

The FIVB also just published their newest edition of their magazine VolleyWorld – featuring none other than Clay Stanley on the cover. You see, USA Volleyball is the National Federation member of the FIVB, which is one of the three core areas USAV must support, assist and adhere to regulations (the other two are the US Olympic Committee and the USAV Regional Volleyball Associations).  Indeed, current CEO of USAV Doug Beal, is in the running for the FIVB presidency, a vote which will happen in the USA during the World Congress late this September. So flip through the most recent magazine that is part of what you, as a USAV member, also assist.

For the record, here also are the indoor pool schedules for the Olympic men’s and women’s events.

Whether history is made or not, Hugh, and his staff which includes none other than Karch Kiraly, Paula Weishoff and Jamie Morrison, have already made a wonderful impact on the training of our highest level of women’s volleyball athletes.  They have followed the principles of motor learning science, including the importance of game play and reading. Al Scates once said something to the effect that UCLA played a 5-1 defense with Karch, as five guys went to their positions and Karch read where the ball was being hit.  Karch has been guiding every member of the program on how to read the game better, both with his insights and technical tools previously mentioned in this Growing the Game Together blog.

As the science of motor learning, as many should have learned from USAV’s IMPACT course, notes that words have little meaning to beginners, and feedback is best if it is immediate and specific, and positive – based on guiding players to discover what they should do, not delivered by a “commentator coach” speaking as to what happened – there are tools we all can use to assist in this process.  I did several High Performance camps this summer, and shared those tools with the staffs. We can all teach better using the Ipad apps below.

The Coach’s Eye – - Record, save, press analyze and in a few seconds you can slow motion replay, both forward and backward by the touch of a finger, the video you just captured. You can also draw lines, circles and other highlights on the image, and even email it.  A GREAT tool to catch your players doing it right and let them watch and rewatch themselves doing just that. Of course you can also let the player discover their errors and guide them to determine what they should do in the future in the same situation.  Ubersense – (formerly known as Excelade) is another app which does the same thing that others like a lot.

Bam Delay Mirror - Displays from the front, as if a mirror, and the coach can set the delay of what is shown to be between 2 seconds to 2 minutes.

Kinovea – An open source sports video editing program.

I was told at Puget Sound by Peter on our coaching staff that the Android version for video replay is in beta by the name of “Cyclops.”

In 1995 the USOC study summary of the 10 Characteristics of Highly Successful Coaches noted that they were:

  1. Profound thinkers who see themselves as educators and

  2. Willing to experiment with new ideas.

This by the way is another factoid I put into the IMPACT manual in 1996 for all new USAV coaches and it remains there in the upcoming 2013 edition of the program.  So I will close this chance to make history with a chance for you all to further your knowledge by taking advantage of the Open Yale Courses initiative.  It fits with the vast material I have tried to share in this blog, following a philosophy of teaching and learning that begins with the aim of training a broadly based, highly disciplined intellect without specifying in advance how that intellect will be used. Complementary syllabi, transcripts, and other resources may also be accessed from the Open Yale Courses website at  Now, with Cody studying and playing volleyball at Princeton, of course I also must let you all know where you can get a list of the free courses they offer online – just head over to  MIT has some great courses too – 2,100 free and counting! Go to

Specific to this blog principle of the randomness of the game, I invite you to take 26 hours of your life, and learn from Yale professor Ben Polak, on “Intro to Game Theory.”  This course is an introduction to game theory and strategic thinking. Ideas such as dominance, backward induction, Nash equilibrium, evolutionary stability, commitment, credibility, asymmetric information, adverse selection, and signaling are discussed and applied to games played in class and to examples drawn from economics, politics, the movies, and elsewhere.

Of course there is also Harvard, and as we watch these teams battle other teams, often you find battles within the team – so make sure to also peruse the Harvard Business Review area for gems like this one -

In closing, what with all the tweets, blogs and stories pouring out of London already, I can say that I have only missed two Olympic/Paralympics since 1980, and am looking forward to my work in London, serving on the Control Committee for the Paralympics.  I love that London is hosting these again, having marveled for years at their taking on the 1948 Olympics, despite all the post-WWII austerity still going on, and made a dang profit of £29,000 in the process.  Our connection to Great Britain is powerful, as are the Olympic connections. Billy Fiske is a name you should know, whether you are in London or not, as he epitomizes those connections

Yes, I will be blogging almost daily from there, as so many know about the Olympics, but so few about the wonderful stories and athletes who are coming just 10 days after the close of the Olympic Games.  We stay in the same village, compete in the same venues, and the USA Sitting Women’s volleyball team has been working the last four years to make their own history. Having won bronze in 2004, silver in 2008, you know what they want in 2012, and, ranked at #2 in the world, they, like all our USA Volleyball teams in London, are prepared to show their mastery of the sport on the world stage.  So here are two motivational videos I think ALL coaches can use to grow the game – finishing with one of the best ones for a nation, our great neighbors to the north, Canada.   Enjoy these and every day of both the Olympics and the Paralympics, as we in the family of volleyball have so much to be thankful for worldwide, regardless of the final champions

No second chances…

Becoming a hero…

Go watch these and please share any thoughts or comments below!