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Thinking Mike Hebert

The literally thousands of posts, comments, tweets, etc. about Mike has been positively overwhelming. The lives Mike touched are obvious and I have really enjoyed reading how deeply and personally impactful Mike was on so many levels. Mike connected with people in his own special way. He had so many witty stories, analogies, and metaphors that he used during practices, team meetings, discussions, etc. that in the moment, he would often lose us. But Mike always knew exactly where he was going. After many years, his unique tangential lessons became apparent.

Through everyone’s words, I hope it brings peace to Sherry, Mike’s wife. Behind every great man, there’s a greater woman. It’s evident in so many posts how impactful Sherry has been to so many athletes, coaches, and fans. So many of these posts deservedly read “Mike and Sherry” and how influential they have both been to the volleyball community.

When I had the opportunity to work with Mike in Minnesota, I was a foolish single man focused solely on coaching volleyball. I wasn’t even ‘Thinking Volleyball’ yet (although I thought I was). Even in Mike’s passing, he is still teaching me. Teaching me how important it is to have a strong spouse that not only supports me in this crazy profession, but how impactful she is and can be with the team, program, and volleyball community. I try to draw a line between home and work, for my own sanity as well as my family, but we all influence lives in our own ways. When it is my time, I hope posts read “Chuck and Lori”.

My experience with Mike at the University of Minnesota was invaluable. Little did I realize how much one year with Mike would influence my coaching career. To this day, Mike’s words, plans, philosophies, and strategies live on through the teams I coach. When I was at the U (as Minnesotans call the University of Minnesota), I diligently journaled all I learned. Following are excerpts from my journal (please note – its not grammatically sound and random order):

  • Incoming to the U of MN, I was under the impression that great coaches were rigid, strict, and created an environment that disciplined players to follow ‘the way’. Although there is an underlying coach created paradigm, it is not noticeably evident. Instead, the coaching staff is calm, poised, and empowers players to allow their individualism to shine (within underlying limitations of the team concept). It is through their individualism that enables a player to grow into a great player, thus building unique chemistry of greatness throughout the team.
  • Incoming to the U of MN, my belief in striving for perfection of fundamentals focused on physical skills (passing, setting, serving, hitting, blocking, defense). What I learned, that supersedes these physical building blocks, are the real fundamentals of communication and reading the game. These are true root and core fundamentals that enable a team of six players to work in harmony in a confining 30′ x 30′ space. My philosophy on fundamentals has expanded from the individual to the team.
  • Communication – “Clean Air” – calling “ball” and clarifying. Allow the players to be the voice in the gym and create their own energy.
  • Reading the game – PID (Play ID) – next-generation, SID (Set ID) and HID (Hitter ID) – the great amount of time spent in basic coach toss at net drills and players read and move accordingly.
  • Posture or “Go Posture” – Posture of defenders during a point.
  • Base to Reading Defense – a functional defense based on the opponent.
  • Standard Blocking Package and Commit Blocking. Switching the MB and RF blocker to help block a line hitter
  • Using the block (Laura DeBruler of IL) – how to defend? When should MB release deep? ISU’s middle back started off the court and worked in.
  • Serving – The effectiveness of serves on an opposing offense. How Penn State came after teams with serving and was willing to make more service errors (PSU 337 vs MN 194 service errors on the season)
  • Serving levels – Level 1 = keep ball in play, Level 2 = 80% serve, Level 3 = toughest serve.
  • Setter Training – Punch setting, dynamic posture, quick movements to and from the net, line of force.
  • The effectiveness of particular sets in different situations – Push 1, Q, Rip/Hut, and back-row attack. The disparity of sets vs different teams.
  • Zero tempo sets, especially in low pass, counter-attack situations.
  • Effectiveness of trick plays.
  • Setter Psychology – ‘hot’ hitters, how to read the blockers, splitting the block, how to think your way through a match
  • Experimenting with coach called plays versus the setter running the offense.
  • An audible system for Counter Attack
  • Passing and a player must call the ball before the ball crosses the net. Passing with arms away from the body and opening up on deep serves to create better platform angles.
  • Encourage/expect perfect passes on free ball situation
  • Passing under elastic and 50 short/deep are good touch/feel fundamental disciplines
  • Quarterback drills to teach players to turn and run to play balls
  • Players staying on their feet to play ball first and using a recovery move after contact
  • Line-up to start practice, gather-in for discussion.
  • The 25 Point Set – breakdown of points – 16 points on kills, 6 points on opponent errors, 2 points from a block and 1 from an ace.
  • IPE – In Play Efficiency goal is .870. Achieved IPE of .861 (Penn State IPE = .872) MN lacked Kill % to win more matches. MN K% = .372 (Penn State K% = .517)
  • Outcome goals vs Process Goals
  • Rookies singing to the team as an ice-breaker. Ashley’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, Arianna’s “Barbie Girl”, Pam’s Brazilian number, Laura’s retro song, “The Hebie Bunch”.
  • Campus-wide scavenger hunt for team bonding and competition.
  • Team Championship Standards (stats of what’s needed to accomplish)
  • Recognize player roles – development of extraordinary players.
  • Levels of commitment of each player – Level 1, 2, 3. Players can get a gauge of their own commitment and growth.
  • Preventative maintenance of issues that will arise throughout the season (much in the Championship Manual)
  • Dealing and eliminating the “Silent Chirping”
  • Practice scheduling with injured players
  • Strength Training and tapering off throughout the season
  • When to give players an unscheduled day off
  • Following a nutrition program – Zone Diet – reminding players to stay focused. Coaches are reminders.
  • After a tough loss, the in-depth analysis of the coaches, team, and individual players that took place, especially after the UNC match. This initiated a difficult, yet necessary, truth and judgment of each player’s performance and current status on the team. Did the team become complacent? The team was moving forward comfortably, not confidently (WWII fighter pilot analogy by Laurence Gonzales).
  • Approaching the tournament with a sense of “Heightened Awareness”.
  • Indiscriminately predisposing plans during the tournament
  • Creating a winning environment by focusing on the details, such as the locker room and the history of each player’s number, team room and images on the wall, video system and its use for scouting and motivation, the wall of fame, displays at the entrance of the arena, etc.
  • The confidence of the unknown – (how good are we?)
  • Team chemistry is paramount for a successful season, but players must instill a mission in their soul to achieve their goal (not just talked about, but acted upon daily). Do athletes really know how to work, how to strive for their goal once they face adversity? Do they know how to struggle and work through the struggle? How do you get athletes to work through the struggle? Have they had to struggle before? Is it an issue with passion? Is it that they are not fully focused and working hard every day? Do they know/understand how and/or what it means to work hard every day? How much of this can be taught/coached through a player’s career and how much has to do with life experience? Should a prospective athlete be based more on mental strength/lifetime experience than physical ability? Are extraordinary players just not challenged enough throughout a season? Is there a true way for them to be challenged throughout a season? The balance of coaching the different player types is what makes it fun 🙂
  • Mike was calm and poised during matches. He did not get overcome emotionally by the atmosphere or the situation which enabled him to focus throughout the entire match and provide direction to the team. I found I would get caught up in the emotion of the match and became a cheerleader instead of a coach. I am learning.

This is really just an overview and items I jotted down throughout a season as well as my farewell blog post: http://coachrey.com/blog/farewell-minnesota-winthrop-volleybal/ .
To learn the inner-workings of Mike’s teams, read his book Thinking Volleyball
To learn about volleyball strategies by Mike, read Insights and Strategies for Winning Volleyball
To learn about Mike himself, read The Fire Still Burns

One of my best coaching moments with Mike: was a pre-season match against, at the time, #4 ranked Cal. Yes, the U of MN swept Cal 3 sets to 0, of which is a highlight in itself, but looking back, it isn’t what made that moment great. During the second Cal timeout in set 1, Mike pulled me aside and he said, “Just look at this clipboard as I pretend to write something…” I was a bit bewildered. He then said, “Can you feel it?” I was still confused. “Listen to that crowd. Look at the fans going crazy. Awesome isn’t it? This is what its all about.”

It was an awesome moment, in many respects…

One of the most important lessons Mike taught me was to Respect the Game. In everything you do, don’t do it for self-gain, for your athlete’s gain, for your team’s gain, for your program’s gain, for your university’s gain, but for the gain of the game of volleyball as a whole.

Mike Hebert was not only a great coach, but a better man. I am a better coach and man because of him and grateful for how he has positively impacted my life. The Fire Still Burns through me.

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