Thursday, March 30, 2006

Team of the Year

By now it seems like everyone has a feeling one way or the other about the new team of the year voting. I’m no exception and I think it is fairly ridiculous. First though, let me just say that I think it reveals a larger problem in Danish volleyball: Namely, the tendency to change the way things work all the time, regardless of whether they work well or not. Since I’ve been in Denmark, I’ve played three different formats for the finals, I’ve seen the grundspil change, I’ve seen the team of the year voting change twice, etc… I admit, some of the changes have been positive (taking points from the grundspil over to the slutspil for example) but generally, it seems to just be change for change’s sake. I’ve also heard from a lot of people that there have been constant changes throughout the history of Danish volley. I do understand that change is necessary and that the DVBF is doing these things in the name of progress, but it just seems like overkill sometimes.

As for the new team of the year selection process, I’m fairly skeptical. For most of the same reasons as everyone else, who are these people on the committee? Have they seen any of us play? What was wrong with the old system, etc…

And while I agree that some players voted “tactically” or not seriously, the majority took it seriously. Who is to say that the new system isn’t going to be more political than the old? Now you have a small group of people deciding the outcome of the team, if only one or two have a stronger connection to one team or one player than another then you have a major problem. Say they haven’t seen two of the teams play this season? No matter how objective they want to be, they are naturally going to vote for what they know. I think that is a shame. Let’s look at the board: One person doesn’t even live in Denmark, so that’s interesting. A couple of the others, I admit, I don’t know who they are so they could have been at some of the games and I wouldn’t know. I know that at least two live in Copenhagen so they would have seen most of their games in Copenhagen, where most teams would be playing away.

I realize that the coaches are going to be making a lot of these decisions, with the nominations, etc… And the board will kind of be settling any disputes that come along, but to me that is backward. You’re giving the power to a select few instead of the masses. It’s kind of an oligarchic Greek step back in time, where we need Rome and the republic. I just think the old system worked well, had a few small flaws and satisfied everyone while the new system may work well, may have big flaws and leaves many people unsatisfied.

I think the people that get left off the list will have more to complain about this year than before. No one ever got edged out by someone’s joke vote, generally there were two or three legitimate candidates that got most of the votes and then there were a few dumb votes down the line. But, at least a player could see where he stood. If they missed by a couple of votes, they missed by a couple votes, not much to do about it, the votes weren’t there. Now, if you come in second, you have to wonder, who was it that didn’t vote for me? Did they see me play one bad game? Did they see the other guy play one good game? Did they see me play at all? I think in general the process is losing credibility by switching.

I can say personally, as a player, it felt good to have the other players in the league vote for me. I trust the people that I play against every day more than anyone else, they know who gives them the most problems during a match, they know about the little things that affect the outcome of the match that you can’t really pick up from the stands.

Who says that people voted tactically anyways? Coordinating votes as a team? Who are the teams that do this? I’ll happily state here in full view that if your team discussed this and coordinated your votes so that someone on your team made it, then you all are ridiculous people. You can have my player of the year award if it means that much to you. I have a hard time believing that this happens.

In the end, I think there is space for this committee, if it necessary. But I would like to see a system that takes everything into account. We could keep the committee and the coaches, and still have the players vote. Then we could assign a certain weight to each of the results. More information usually equals more accuracy and the players would still get to have a say. Simple.

Ok, enough about that, I’m not really in favor of the new system. But I love all of you on the committee! And the coaches too! I’m sure you’ll all make the right decisions for nominations…

I am actually glad that they brought back the “player of the year” category, that was always kind of a mystery that they stopped naming a best player. So, that is positive. Now they just have to start giving money again to the people who make the team, that was also nice.

I’m not so sure about the referee of the year category. I think that it probably should be recognized, but it would help if they would have told us about this earlier so I could have been thinking about it during the season. It’s fairly hard to think back and remember which referees were working each match, with the exception of some of the times I was unsatisfied. It’s kind of like you never really notice a really good ref, as it should be, so it is hard to remember the well refereed matches. But, I’m not voting, so I guess it doesn’t matter.

Last thing, I understand that the team of the year should be unveiled at the finals, and that is fine. But I definitely think that performances in the semi-finals and if possible, the first final match should be taken into account. I mean, those are important matches, I don’t see why they wouldn’t count towards the voting.

One of these days soon, I’ll write down who I would have voted for and why for this year. I was going to wait until after we voted, but since that isn’t happening, it doesn’t really matter.

Good luck to everyone this weekend!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

No Time.

Reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink” in the past week has been a kind of enlightening experience. The idea behind the book is that as humans, our unconscious has a much stronger effect on our everyday interactions than we realize. Most interestingly, he discusses “quick-splicing”, the idea that our sub-conscious makes quick decisions on our behalf before we really have a chance to think about something. Without going deeply into examples and studies from the book, he essentially theorizes that we are all the time making decisions and judgments that we don’t realize we are making. These decisions and judgments range from seemingly unimportant, understanding what someone means when they point to a painting on the wall, to profoundly significant, hiring a tall person instead of a short person because we respond to taller people in a more positive way. Gladwell states that we are all more racist/sexist/discriminative than we want to believe and that the idea behind the book is realizing this so that we can do something about changing it.

All of this has little to do with volleyball, but as I started thinking about the connection between our “quick-splicing” abilities and sports it became clear that sports are all about fast decision making. It is generally accepted that the best athletes, the ones who reach the highest levels, are the ones that can separate themselves out mentally. To me, “quick-splicing” plays a huge role in this when someone steps onto the court. If you ask a great player, in the middle of a match, why they decided to step two steps to the left in order to be in position for a dig, I don’t think they will be able to answer that easily. Of course they will say, the position of the block, the tendency of the hitter and other things all came together to help make the decision. But, I would argue that there is more to it than that. Our brain makes calculations all of the time, whether or not we are consciously telling it to, and those calculations play a major role in how we react to stressful situations like the middle of a rally on the volleyball court.

We’ve all experienced standing at the net, saying specifically that the opposing team’s setter is in the front row, and as soon as the play takes place the setter dumps the ball down on our side and no one on our team makes a move for the ball. How can something like this happen? We just said that we should be ready for it. Everyone heard that the setter was front row, but no one registered the information. I think a lot can be explained by understanding that our brain is thinking without us realizing it. When the play gets underway, our brain begins to run automatically, we have little or no time to think about what is happening, the things we do are decided by a new part of our brain.

What about beach volleyball? I think many of us have experienced having the other team make a short cut shot, a shot that in the moment, seems impossible to get to. So, we don’t run after it because we have already decided it isn’t reachable. Yet, we all know that in reality, if we did try as hard as possible to get to that ball, we would reach it a certain percentage of the time. It is this negative reaction, deciding that we can’t, that is the challenge for us as volleyball players. How do we overcome the bad “quick-splice” where our brain gives us poor information?

Through experience mainly. In the book, Gladwell references a company that trains body guards. The guards are forced to undergo several severely emotional tests in order to be able to eventually have better control over their body in these stressful situations. They must fight with rabid attack dogs, more than once, until they are able to deal with the situation in a calm and rational manner. They go into a dark house where they are shot with rubber bullets at different intervals, they can feel the bullets and the experience is just like being shot for real, until their body can cope with the shock of the situation. Eventually, they are able to function and maintain a normal level of decision making because of the heavy testing. I’m not recommending that a volleyball player go to these extremes, but if you want to break these bad habits, these bad quick-decisions your brain is making for you, you have to force yourself to go beyond your normal comfort zone.

The idea behind the book is incredibly interesting to me. I’m not positive there is any real connection between sports and Gladwell’s thoughts but I feel strongly somewhere in my brain that there is something there that athletes can use. And I guess there isn’t anything wrong with trusting my intuition.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Catch 3-2

Just a few quick notes on our final match of the regular season.

I didn't really know what to expect from a match that had no real meaning for either team. Of course you want to win, there is no doubt about that, but the way that both teams played yesterday was fairly unremarkable. The match itself wasn't pretty to look at and I think it was fairly obvious that everyone was kind of holding back a little bit. We ended up pulling it out 3-2 but it didn't seem like they were too upset on the other side of the net... One more week and things get interesting!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Number 1

Kind of out of nowhere, but with Middelfart losing last night, the slutspil is done. We finish first no matter what happens in Gentofte and we play them in the semi-finals starting next weekend. I was skeptical that Middelfart would lose again to HIK but clearly, they have their issues with the team from up north. I guess it will be interesting to see what happens in their semi-final as well, especially considering that HIK was the only team this year to have an overall winning record against Middelfart... I guess in the end it doesn't really matter who plays who, anyone can win.

Tomorrow's match is interesting to me because it means nothing whatsoever. Absolutely nothing. I don't know if I have ever played in that kind of match before, frankly, I don't know how to feel about it. I mean, we learn that it is important to win when we play sports, that wins and losses add up to eventually mean something overall. But in this case, our fate is decided, we have no role to play, winning is irrelevant and losing is irrelevant. One could make the case that it is a kind of test for the semi-finals, to see where both teams stand in comparison to each other, but that only really means something if both teams are trying their hardest to win. And I'm not sure that we both will be.

This subject gets debated quite a bit in the US, especially around NFL playoff time, because most of the time the best teams are guaranteed their position in the playoffs. People spend lots of time debating whether it is better to rest their starters and not "give anything away" for the playoffs or if it is better to just keep playing like they have all season. Can a team interrupt their rhythm by taking out all of their normal starters? Is it really important in volleyball to rest and be fresh for the playoffs? In our specific case, will Gentofte have a better read on our players if we play like we normally do this weekend? Will they be able to use that to their advantage when we play in the semis?

I personally think it doesn't really matter. There is plenty of tape out there from us playing this season, we've already played Gentofte three times, so I don't think there are a whole lot of surprises left, but who knows? I guess we'll see what happens tomorrow and figure it out from there.

Monday, March 20, 2006


I don't have a whole lot to say about the Middelfart match in particular. We played well and they didn't, in many ways it was the exact opposite of when we played them earlier in Middelfart. Our passing was extremely good which made it easy for me to stand at the net and distribute. Their passing wasn't as good and it made it easier for us to get some reads and block some balls. But, I'm not putting too much weight into this one, both teams have now gotten a bad game out of their system against each other and if we get the chance to play against each other again I would expect a whole different scenario.

What I do think is interesing is the way that each of the top four teams have put a solid beating on each other (with the exception of HIK vs Us) at different times this year. Does that mean that any team can win on any day? Is it all about form? Or did one or two teams just slip at the wrong time? In other words, was it poor play from one of the teams? Or was it good play from the winning teams? Can we really characterize a favorite based on consistecy throughout the season? I guess the semi-finals will give us some answers. In any case, I don't think I have seen a season where there has been such a huge variance between individual matches, it's exciting to see how it all turns out.

On another note, and this has been covered, SK has unfortunately dropped out of the top four and will not be in the semis this year. I wonder what the team will look like next year. Is there anyone from Aarhus that can shed some light on that? And does anyone know if Sasha can play in their last match? Just wondering about the rules and what happens if you get kicked out of a game. I know that if it was Villadsen who did that he would have been probably kicked out of the league... Anyways, congratulations to the four teams left, I'm looking forward to getting things started.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Weekend 18*3*06

A pretty quick turn around from our match on Wednesday against HIK to playing Middelfart on Sunday. But hopefully we'll be ready, I know it took me a little extra time to get the old body ready yesterday for practice. That also reminds me, since we weren't allowed to practice at Marienlyst all of last week, we trained in Odense Idrœtshal instead, and my knees weren't particularly happy with switching back. I'm still not sure whether the floor in Marienlyst is especially bad for players, my legs and knees seem to adapt after a short time, but it's funny how much of a difference I notice after a week playing on wood. A lot of people say we have a big home court advantage there in Marienlystcentret, and I have to agree, but is it because of the floor? Or just the gym in general? I personally think it is one of the best home courts in the league, I like the small setting (because we don't usually have a thousand people) and I like the setup. No matter what, it is a different experience playing there than anywhere else and I think that is important. The worst place I have ever played in was PVC, there is no doubt about that, but I would also list Hvidovre and Spentrup as unremarkable places to play. Aarhus gets a pass because Hal 4 has sentimental value for me. But, isn't it kind of funny? The best teams all have a nice home court, besides SK which is questionable in other ways as well, is that a reflection of them having more money? Better management? Better organization? Is it just luck?

Anyways, back to the volley, I'm looking forward to this one, we've got a lot to prove to everyone, including ourselves after the beating we took last time. Hopefully the aformentioned home court advantage will make a difference. But there is no doubt that we'll have to do quite a bit to beat them, as we haven't really been able to win against them all year.

As everyone knows, SK and HIK are playing a HUGE game tomorrow, wish I could be there to see it, it almost has to be a classic. Both teams are essentially playing for the playoffs and that match is just always good anyways. Thinking about this one doesn't seem like it will get me anywhere so I'm just going to use the "Blink" strategy and quick splice it...SK wins this one. (Which, so far this year, means that I have absolutely cursed them with my pick. I admit, it is not often that I have been right). So, sorry, SK. If I think about it, I would say that SK is a little hotter, plus they are at home, plus HIK had to play us away on Wednesday, and there is no doubt SK will win if HIK plays the same as they did on Wed. Interesting to see what happens.

Gentofte of course is also playing for their playoff lives. Luckily for them, they're playing a team that has won one slutspil set this year. If they lose this one then they don't deserve to be in the playoffs. But they know that. I expect they will use this one to get themselves back in a winning mode and gear up for our match next weekend. Depending on what happens in Aarhus it could come down to our match whether or not they make it into the playoffs. Now that would be an interesting scenario! And I'm not going to lie, after getting canned in the Pokal semis over there, it would be sweet to be able to knock them out next weekend. BUT, that is next weekend, let's see what happens THIS weekend first. Good luck to everyone!

In case anyone missed it last time: Crikey! Check out Nathan's addition to the blogosphere @

Thursday, March 16, 2006

HIK Weekday

Going into the match last night, none of us were sure how it would turn out. It'd been two weeks since the last time we played a match, including all last week where we were forced out of our gym because of Marienlyst's yearly boligmesse. A messe that I, and some of the others, were lucky enough to have spent three days setting up and taking down. A messe where the booths are all made out of pure iron walls. :)

In any case, we came into the match slightly unsure of what to expect, but fortunately it went about as well as it could have for us. I don't know what happened to Aalborg, could have been the long weekday drive, could have been that they didn't have a good match or it could have been that we played well. Probably a little bit of all. I think that the biggest differences in last night's match were in serve receive, where we passed consistently well and didn't really give anything away for free, and block. Especially in the second set where we ran off about 8 blocks in a row. We've been on the other side of that and it can be pretty demoralizing.

It looks to me like Aalborg is still rounding into form, they didn't start Jeppe although he did play a fair amount, and Flemming came in later in the match. Unfortunately for them they pretty much have to win this weekend to feel comfortable about making the playoffs, there are still so many things that can happen. I'd imagine they will be ready though, those SK - HIK matches are usually pretty intense.

I feel good about the way our team played last night. It was nice to get on a little roll, win the second set big and then still be able to focus our way through the last set. 3-0 could turn out to be real important coming down the home stretch here. Hopefully we can take that good feeling and that momentum and use it against Middelfart this Sunday, it would be great for our confidence to pick off a win against them here before the playoffs...

Crikey! Check out Nathan's addition to the blogosphere @

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Weekend

Unfortunately there has been little going on in the volleyball world as of late. Nothing that I have wanted to write about at least. With that said, let's take a look ahead at this weekend.

Since we've been working all week setting up for "Bo Rigtigt Go Fritid" we've got no game this weekend. Aalborg gets the great pleasure instead of driving down to our gym on wednesday next week for a match that is going to be big for both of us...

Let's start with Holte and Middelfart. Holte has won one set so far in the Slutspil, even though that one set came against Middelfart, that record should stay intact. When we played them last thursday it seemed like they were uninterested, as if they knew they weren't going to the semi-finals and they had kind of packed it in. I don't know if they would say differently, but in any case, they offered little resistance. I don't see why that changes this weekend and Middelfart is obviously interested in ending well so it should be a fairl one-sided affair. Odds are so low though that betting the match is fairly unattractive...

Then we come to SK and Gentofte. The oddsmakers have SK as the favorite in this one, apparently because of home court advantage, but Gentofte has yet to lose to them in this season. If I'm making this line I would put it even and just see what happens. Both teams need the win badly. A loss for SK and they are pretty much done, a loss for Gentofte and all of a sudden they might not even make the playoffs which would be a huge disappointment. But these teams have played big matches before against each other with Gentofte winning the pokalfinal. So, who wins this one? I have no idea, but I would love to see the match. This one has potential to be really exciting, maybe one of the best of the year. If I have to guess, I take Gentofte in a close one, just because they have won all of the previous matches this year. But an SK win wouldn't be a real surprise.

We'll know a whole lot more about the playoffs after this weekend. Should be interesting to see how things unfold. Good luck to everyone!