Q & A with Alan Knipe

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Knipe on Taking the Job and the First Year
Knipe on the Starting Setter Battle and the Future

What would you say has been the biggest transition from college to international?
I think it is you’re managing guys that are 21 years old to mid-thirties. You have guys that just graduated from college and are still sort of in that mode. They’re living in a dorm room type apartment and then at the other end of the spectrum there are guys with a wife and kids.

There are all sorts of different issues in between that spectrum, whether they are going to Europe, when they’re coming back, when they report to us, whether it be families involved and having kids. You’re dealing with agents and pro contracts.

These guys they play year-round. They don’t really get any time off. They play with their club teams and then they are back with us. Once they’re done with us they’ll be off to Europe again. So you’re dealing with lots of different schedules and individual planning for guys. Physically how do you keep the guys cohesive or how do you keep them from getting burned out or physically broken down? How do you get reps for young guys but keep the veterans interested and around?

And then you’re also doing this for the first time. You’re not necessarily teaching a different style or away from what you believe in, but how do you manage a World League? How do you manage going to a World Championships? All these different tournaments for the first time and so I think the best way to handle that has been not to re-invent the wheel.

Talk to Carl McGown, talk to Marv Dunphy, talk to Hugh who is right upstairs it has been great.

Making sure that our planning is accurate and there is not a big error being made by overtraining or undertraining or whatever it might be. So running some things by some guys and using this incredible web that USA volleyball has created. We get lots of positive comments around the world when we show up and Jeff Stork is sitting on our bench or Carl McGown is going. Former coaches and players want to be involved and help. We have this incredible resource of people who are invested in this program and have built it to be what it is and they want to stay involved.

But it is a balance. It is a lot. You don’t get to master it because you get one crack at most things. World League you get to better at because you get it year after year. But we get the World Championships once in this quad, We get the World Cup once in this quad. We’re going to get a chance to qualify for the Olympics once in this quad. So making sure that you’re not constantly learning by your mistakes, you try to avoid that as much as possible and be proactive which is what I think we’re doing much better this year where last year it felt like it was a completely reactive summer to everything that was happening. We were all just reacting from week to week to try to get by.

I think it is much better this year being proactive, knowing what we’re about to get into with World League, better prepared for the opponents we’re playing because we had months to prepare during the winter getting video on teams and having a better understanding of what we are trying to do in our own system.

It would have been nice if we had more of a set group because I think that would show a bit more, but being the positive guy that I’d like to be it is going to pay off and I think we’ll get a really nice training block after World League before the World Championships where we’ll have the same guys in the gym for an extended period of time about a five week block and get to go to the tournament with that group.

And for the first time since I’ve taken over be able to go and hopefully have a more cohesive, more synergy with the group. Everybody on the same page on what we’re trying to do. What our own system rules are, what our goals are for the tournament and what our line up is, who our starters are, what our roles are, who is coming off the bench. I look forward to that opportunity.

In my opinion, it is maybe the most important training block of the quad for us because we’re coming out of all this moving in and out of people and staff and it gives us one big block to say this is what we do, this is who we are, this is how we play, this is our group, we train like this, we play like this. Hopefully that will give us a springboard after this when we go to the World Championships. We’re not the team in ’08, we’re a completely different group and we’re starting over in a lot of ways.

So you are OK with the guys going overseas to play?
Yes. Add up all the time that we’re going to have these guys prior to 2012 and it is actually daunting because it is not a lot of time. There is only so much training you’re getting in between World League. When you start adding it up, yeah it is concerning that they go off to their club teams you almost kind of want the other where they stay and they are with us for 11 months and the team is super cohesive and they know who the group is and you’re going to train and you’re going to get better.

But on the flip side of that these are the best volleyball players we have to offer in our country and some of them are the very best volleyball players in the world. So you want to see them rewarded for that just like you would like to see in any sport. We can’t provide that for them. USA Volleyball can’t provide that and we don’t have a pro league. So they have to go, it is a necessary evil.

If they had to stay like the guys back in '84 and '88 when the players couldn’t go, a lot of them played one or two Olympics and then they were gone. So this system allows guys to play in two, three, four Olympics. So I think it gives us an opportunity to keep our guys around longer because they are getting paid the money and they’re getting to play on the national team.

You hate to have something dominate their lives as much as their pro teams when a lot of them aren’t even playing in a system that is conducive to what we try to do. And they are getting lots of wear and tear on their bodies. But at the same time if they had to pick, there is only so much time they can make just a little bit of money to play on the national team. I guess I am OK with it because there really is no other option.

How difficult was it for you to get up to speed on the international competition?
I think it is constantly gathering information. I didn’t know the teams. I was aware of the Russian line up or Brazil’s line up. You’re a college coach you’re watching international matches, you’re watching the trends you know the guys but you’re not game planning against them so you’re not really ripping it apart. The best thing to do is to watch as much video as you can. We’ve watched a ton of video on teams.

I think we have a better idea of what we believe teams are trying to do offensively with their block and defense. I have no problem referring to old information and reading old scouting reports. That team is changing, not everything is the same but a lot of the philosophies are the same. Getting their input the guys that have game planned for them, there is no substitute for all that investment in watching video and writing scouting reports.

We are much more up to speed with teams that we’re playing but there is a constant dialogue with what other people on the staff from last time believe so that you can keep putting this together. It will get better as we play each team more and we know what we want to do against them but there is probably a point where you realize that you are never going to get to know everything you want to know as a coach.

The key is to try to gather as much as you can, see how many similarities keep coming up and decide how much information you want to give the guys. They don’t need a notebook on a team, they don’t need six pages per rotation, they need absolutes on volumes of information. This is what we believe they like to do in these situations. This what this guy likes to do, this is who they set for points.

What I don’t like is being real reactive to the last match. Like if I am a blocker and I know that a guy is a cross-court hitter and he hits the line on me, am I going to chase the line the next time because of what happened on the last play or am I going to know the history and the tendency and stay within myself? I try not to get too carried away with our game plans right now that we feel like these are absolutes when I’ve only seen them play the weekend before in World League. That has probably been our approach to it.

Talk about the first week's World League losses to Russia.
You know it was disappointing. no doubt about it. It was a tough draw, we traveled 36 hours and played there. They played well, you’ve got to give them credit. But the disappointing thing for us was probably just the way we got out of the gates. Our full investment physically, emotionally, intellectually into the match I don’t think we gave the effort that is required of this team. And it has gotten better but it is still something we’re working on how we want to start matches.

It has been a little bit of a struggle for us. We’ve lost a lot of Set Ones and then shown great resolve and toughness getting better. We’re a better volleyball team now than when we played in Russia there is no doubt about it.

Some of that is by addition of players but a lot of that is due to training and cohesiveness and the adjustments we’ve made especially transition and our swings in trans. We were taking some really bad swings and maybe not setting the ball very well in trans trying to force feed. We were setting low and getting trapped and swinging low and getting blocked a lot. Our transition number was really low. That number is getting better and better so that has been encouraging.

We have lots of guys playing. Almost every time we’ve used guys off the bench we’ve gotten an upgrade. I can’t remember anybody so far who didn’t come in and play better than the guy that he went in for.

Usually it is not a good thing when you look at your stat sheet and you played all 12 guys. It usually means that you didn’t win the match. But I was impressed that we made those changes and the guys that came in all upgraded and they were fresh and had live arms. We had different looks, we did a few things differently offensively and I thought it was really good.
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