Interview with Alexander Raev: Scouting in Beachvolleyball

Alexander Raev works at the FIVB Tour since 2011. Yet, not even all Coaches know that his job exists. He sits with his laptop behind the court and his fingers move so fast over the keyboard you might think he is the shorthand wizard in a courtroom. Alex is a scout and works for the russian federation in Beachvolleyball. Learn more about his job in this interview.

Hi Sascha, thanks for taking time to answer our questions. You are a scout for Russia, can you tell us some basics about your job, like when and how you started?

Yes, I do scouts for Russian national women’s teams since 2010. My first World Tour was in 2011. I still remember the first tournament in Brasilia! In 2010 Russian federation of volleyball had invited me to take this position. And in the end of 2011 the federation had decided to prolong my contract. I am grateful to all the coaches of our team who always supported me during these years. So, I do scouting for Russia till nowadays.

Sascha, many people don’t even know a job like “Scout” exists and even many coaches have only vague ideas how the job looks like. We would want to shed some light here. How does your collaboration with the coaches look like: For how many coaches do you work? Do you prepare data/information for every game or only on specific request by coaches?

Well, the main purpose of the scout is to find out as much information about the teams as it possible. Usually coaches / scouts use video to watch & analyze the players & teams. But everyone who has ever tried to watch a lot of games confirms that is pretty complicated! The most inconvenient thing is that you have to spend too much time to find something that can be interesting for analyses. Thus, scouts do this job, I mean watching games & video. Normally we use special software that allows to find & analyze useful information, so coaches have more time for their job.

I work mostly for RUS national team, but I help all the players & coaches from Russia. From age groups coaches (under 19 & 23) to single teams that try to play FIVB World Tour. We are talking only about girls -)

Normally I prepare every single game but sometimes the coach decides that it does not make any sense to make a special meeting with the team and just gives information needed in a general talk before the game.

Also, if I have different teams & coaches in different countries, if I have several tournaments at the same time, I help them all.

Do you share also your personal impressions and opinions and discuss with the coaches on opponents’ tendencies and possible tactics or is this something the coach is doing only by himself?

I always try to share my personal impression and opinion with the coach. I think that is the thing that the coach expects from me. An experienced coach knows most of the players and what they used to do on the court. So, the coach expects my personal impression on this particular game in certain conditions.

Do you also work directly with players or is all contact done via coaching staff?

That depends on the circumstances… The best way is to provide the coach with the information needed in order he proceeds with the team himself. Sometimes when we have not enough time to watch & discuss with the coaching staff first, we do it all together with the players.

How much time does it take to provide the coaches with specific information from a game which just took place? What is the process or workflow?

That takes not more that 5-10 minutes. The coach always watches the game of our team while I am on the different court watching the game of potential opponents. When both games are finished, we meet and discuss these games. I tell the coach my opinion and provide him with the video to watch by himself or together with the players.

Do you tape the games yourself or do you use existing videos and tag them after? What are advantages of the one or the other?

Before OG in London and Rio all scouts had to tape the video themselves. Everyone had their own cameras & taped the games needed. Now there is a video database and every top-level event like 4-5 stars has the video sharing platform that can be used by coaches & players. This is certainly a step forward. Especially, for coaches that do not have much time to put/take out cameras and process the video. I wish FIVB would keep this service for next years and would not stop but improve it.

There are few points that are different if you use your own camera. For instance, if I tape myself, I have got the video immediately after the game finished. When I use the sharing platform sometimes it takes time to get the video.  I would prefer if I could keep the opportunity to tape the video myself in order not to rely on “common” video service in important moments.

I understand that the problems of the rights of the TV or internet broadcasting exist. I believe that no scout would pirate the video! That is for sure not the aim of professionals that work at FIVB World Tour.

How much live tagging do you do (games/tournament, hours/week)? How many hours are you working during a “normal” tournament day?

That’s a good question) – the perfect way to get proper information is to watch the games live…So if it was possible, I would watch & scout all games live during the whole day.  But unfortunately it is not possible. I have to watch particular games and also need time to process the video and give the information to the coach. So it’s luck when I find time for both. So, returning to your question more or less there are 10-15 games every day, 6-10 of them live.

Can you describe one of your typical days during a tournament?

Shortly: “A long, long day in the office”.

Every day I wake up early and either have a meeting with the coach or prepare some games according to the day plan. A breakfast is an important meal for me because you never know if you have lunch -). That is why I am always grateful when there is an opportunity to eat at the venue. Women’s schedule is usually tight, the games start at 8 am and we have at least 2 games a day for one team. I mostly have 3 teams. While moving from one court to another watching & scouting games I spend the whole day until the dusk on the courts communicating with the coach & players. It takes longer if there are lights on the courts.

During the evening I stay at the hotel and prepare the video for the athletes and the information for the coach for the next day. Sometimes I miss my dinner… In that case I usually say: the sleep is my meal.

What are scouts like you doing during the “off-season”?

The longest off-season period was about 5 years ago. The season started in April and ended in October (the latest). Last few years we had tournaments the whole year around. The first tournament started in early January in the Netherlands, February – USA, and then from April till November. Anyway, we have off-season of course. Fortunately, I have some stuff to do: I usually over check the results of the season, compare the data between seasons. Also we analyze the data with the coaches and use it for the season preparation in our training camps.

There is a seminar for Russian beach volley coaches in Anapa organized by Federation of Volleyball once a year. I always prepare information for NT team coaches that they use to make the presentation for young coaches.

I also fill the information for an annual report for the board & sponsors. And definitely some time for my family and kids! They are waiting for my time all summer.

Sascha, can you describe the system you use for scouting and can you describe in a few sentences how your software is working?

My colleagues from different countries use Data Volley scouting software. Russian volleyball federation uses it as well. I find it good enough and useful. The problem is that it usually takes some time to learn it properly. The full professional version (for Windows) is rather complicated. It is absolutely not like click & scout version. It is important that you type fast. I use blind 10 fingers method. But I saw some scouts type even faster than me with less number of fingers.

The concept is that the symbols on the keyboard that correspond to (reflect) actions on the court. So basically I type every action of the players. Serve, pass, set, attack, block, cover, dig, transition. After the game I join the scout file and the video together. Then we watch the game fast (normal 40 minutes game can be watched in 10 mins). Also it is possible to view different parts, segments of the game like particular rallies.

In terms of statistics what are the most important informations the software is providing?

The important thing is that you can analyze many games at the same time. It is possible to make full analyses of all the games of any team. The second important tool is that you can create analyses in advance. I mean that you can use the same parameters for any game/team. So, it goes very fast, you just choose the analyses you need in the menu and can see all the information needed at once. In couple of minutes I can check all the components of a team: serve, pass, set, attack, transition etc.

What do you think are the most important numbers a coach should look at and which patterns should they look for in videos?

I think numbers are important when you know exactly how to deal with them… I suppose that the importance of the particular numbers depends on the possibilities of your own team. For instance, if the coach wants to have a lot of transitions from his own team then he pays attention to sideout numbers of the opponents. And so on.

I think decisions come when you see & analyze the whole picture. Considering all skills & numbers of the team.

If you could have “the perfect scouting system”, how would that look like?

I wish there were the system that could make the scouting automatically and take all the description of the player’s actions from the live video or from the tape. In that case you won’t need to type but only analyze. It would be nice not sit with laptop under the pouring rain -)

How did scouting develop the last 5 years? Which developments in the area of scouting do you expect in the next 3-5 years?

In many sports it developed rather high. If we talk about football or ice hockey they have enough money to invest in modern technologies of face or movements tracing…

I hope that someday they will share these great technologies with us.

Effectiveness of scouting: How often during a game do you have that thought: “the opponent is doing exactly what we analysed!” and how many times does the opposite happen: “uh-ohh, they play completely unexpected?”

Won’t I fail your expectations if I say that in my experience 99% opponents do exactly what we predicted? Since last 5-6 years I can hardly recall 1 game when one team played differently than we could expect from them. I guess your next question actually is the answer -)

Even with the best opponents’ analysis and game plan, your teams still has to execute…how difficult is that? What are your thoughts about that part?

Unfortunately that’s true. That is why the scouting of your own team is so valuable! This information is even more important the scouting the opponents. It allows finding out the details to improve and become stronger as a team. The better way to win is to use your own strong sides than weak sides of your opponents. We always try to do it this way!

Do you see big differences between teams/players in terms of how easy/difficult it is to figure out the main tendencies? Is that what separates the great players from the rest (variability, difficult to predict the next attack etc.)?

The winning path consists not only of the scouting or making the game plan but also of the great will of the athlete!

I can confirm that there is a big difference between young teams, even gifted & talented ones and experienced great players.

While playing with young inexperienced teams it is enough just to play according the simple game plan.

Certainly the difference between great players and the rest in my opinion is the possibility to make the game more flexible and unexpected to the opponent. It is not easy to explain. But I guess every coach could confirm – great patience and confidence is a sign of a really great player.

From your experience: Are there differences between men and women in terms of predictability and execution of game plans?

I think it is complicated to compare men’s & women’s game. On a high level that we see in FIVB  4-5 star events men’s game has more sideouts and in women’s – we always have a lot of transitions.

My wife says that women’s game is always unpredictable -) that you never know who wins even in the end of the game. But I see it differently -)

Do you think there is a danger of “over-analysing” and giving the team too much tactical information/input? Where is the limit?

Oh, Yeah! We had the situations like this … The coaches must be careful it that part. Sometimes it is enough just to give just 2-3 tips to win the game. The limit of the information is quite personal in that case. The coach has to feel and understand his team.

Do you have any tipps for beginning scouts?

Well, as far as I know there are no schools, courses or universities where you could study the art of scouting. Probably you just have to have strong desire to be a scout? I don’t know. If you understand the game it would be definitely easier to start. You will sit a lot, so I would advise to have a small cushion for a cold and wet bench & water protection for the equipment.

If people are interested in scouting, how can they find resources? Is there special education? Any books or article you can recommend?

The best way I can see is to ask some scout to teach you and to show you how it works. And then practice a lot.

Thanks Sascha for sharing your knowledge and give people an idea about the job of a scout in beachvolleyball

Thank you for the opportunity to spotlight the scouting as a part of our sport! I hope my interview will not be too boring for visitors of IBVCA website. J