Interview with Marco Solustri – Part II

Marco Solustri is one of the most experienced Coaches of the World Tour. After playing in Italy and on the AVP he was among the first coaches to work on a professional level. In the meantime he has almost 30 years of experience under his belt. Here is the second part of his interview…

Let us continue by taking a closer look at the role of the coach within the team. What is the role of a coach in beachvolleyball today?

We are a team sport. BUT: in the other team sports, there is usually a club involved. The club chooses the coach, the players, the assistants, the physio etc.. This is very different in Beachvolleyball. I believe that in many cases, the coach him/herself is the “motor”, the “engine” of the team! In some cases, the coach is the one who has the idea, who starts the project, he sees two players, he thinks they could make a good team together, the coach brings them together, they try to find sponsors, they try to get the support of the Federation…In these cases the coach is the “promoter”, the “catalyser” of the team! This is a huge difference to other sports.

Even when it’s the players asking the coach to join their team, then after in many cases it’s again the coach who is organizing the team, showing the way, leading the team somewhere. This is my opinion something unique about Beachvolleyball and the role of the coach. Of course there are some exceptions, when it is for example very experienced and successful players, asking a young coach to support them.
Of course it doesn’t stop there. There is the game part. How to teach the techniques, to understand the different parts of the game, the strategy, so to say the “Beachvolleyball competence”.
Especially with young players at the beginning, it’s the work on technique, and then with high level teams, there is the huge part of planification: planning the year – micro-cycle, meso-cycle, macro-cylce (or even the quadrennial). Organizing the training schedule, decide which tournaments to play. This part – in my opinion – has to always be discussed with the players.

How much should the players be involved into decision-making in general?

We are not football, with 24 players. We have only two players, so as coaches, we have to be very open and include the players, even when it is about personal matters. The coach should always listen to the opinion of the players. The final decision of course should be by the coach. But you have to “take the players with you”. It’s very democratic and in the end it’s the job of the coach to convince the players that his path is the right one. This is in my opinion something that is really crucial in being a Beachvolleyball coach. You have to be open-minded, sensitive, willing to listen to other people.
It’s important to involve the player into the decision-making process, to establish and support critical thinking. A good coach has to implement this into the player because in the game, the player is on his own and needs these skills.
The coach is the leader but with low hierarchy, so to say building a “flat” triangle in the relationship with the two players.

Are these roles within a team set or is there kind of a constant development?

It’s important to understand that this has to be a process: with the young player, the coach is still in a stronger leadership role but the ultimate goal for the coach has to be that the player is able to “fly with his own wings”, leaving the player completely independent, even leaving the player/team by themselves or with another team structure and coach. The relationship has to change and develop. It is like with children! Have a different relation and thereby remain in a good relationship with my player(s). It is something very important for me and I’m very proud that I have achieved this almost always in my career!
When I see that this evolution in a team is not possible, it’s better to stop! Then I loose my motivation. I like to use the “picture” of a circle. If you keep on going back to beginning, it is not good. The work and relationship with the players has to be a “spiral”: you keep circulating but you grow, you go up!

If you have to sum up what is the essence of coaching?

Describing the role and work of the coach, I like a lot to use the term “educate” the players. It comes from the latin word “e-ducere” = to bring out something. A good coach must be a good educator because he brings out any kind of skills of the player in the fastest time possible. A coach cannot “create” something, it’s about “bringing out” the best from the player!

One “game changer” was the growing involvement of National Federations in Beachvolleyball and the FIVB World Tour: what changed through this – for Beachvolleyball in general but also for coaches in particular? Do you see any dangers or risks?

I don’t see any general problem or danger when a National Federation is involved. For me it’s all about quality: if a Federation is well organized, is really do the right things for the sport or not. Is there quality or not in the Federation’s programs? For example from what I can see, National Federations like Switzerland or Netherlands are really investing into the sport, they are really havng quality in their structure and in what they are offering to the players. In case they bring know how and investment to the sport, National Federations are very welcome! In my opinion it is very important that a National Federation has a Technical Director for beachvolleyball, coordinating all the teams and issues: men, women, juniors.
As I mentioned before, the involvement of more and more National Federations in the Beachvolleyball and especially the World Tour was a big factor: more money, more structure, more staff in the sport! This led to better players involved and more professional work and training. The result are: more competitive countries and teams.

You worked for National Federations and you worked for “private” teams: which is the ideal set up/organization to be successful in international Beachvolleyball?

Yes, in my career I worked for private teams and for National Federations. The advantage with a National Federation is that the job is more secure and usually they have more budget for the project. But sometimes also the private team might have a good sponsor. In my case right now I am working for a private team (Carambula/Rossi (ITA)), with almost no funding from the Federation which is a problem.

In general, working with a National Federation it lets you work with less financial stress. On the other hand, if a private team has good sponsors, the “pro” is that you can work more independently than with a National Federation. Additionally as a private team, you don’t have to share budget and coach with another team.
So as in everything, you have “pros” and “cons”, depending on the specific situation and the circumstances.

At the end of this interview, let’s take a little bit wider perspective. How will Beachvolleyball have changed in ten years ‘when’ we meet again?

As I said before, of course players continue to become more physical, being even better athletes. But ball control will always be crucial. For tall and for shorter players. So there will still be shorter players around who will have great ball control and vision of the court.
I could imagine that the first touch becomes even more crucial. Once you are able to pass so perfectly that you can play on “2”, play with jump set (keep the block with the setter – have the option to play “fast” then) and run combinations – the game will totally change and things become even more difficult for the opponent!
Some people might say “the big block”, “the jump serve”, I say – a bit provocative – “the first touch”!

One thing which has obviously changed – and the process seems to continue – is the average height and physical abilities of the players (men and women). Is it just the way things go with evolution, professionalization and optimization? Or is that something regrettable and negative (in terms of “exclusion”)? Would it be better for our sport if volleyball players with a more “average height” had better chances to make it to the top?

One Idea could be a “positive handicap”: for each centimeter under 190cm or so for example, a player is starting with more points than the taller opponents.

In the old days, games of “short” ball control players were great to watch and everyone was looking forward to them because long ralleys and great defense plays were guaranteed (for example: Child/Heese vs Baracetti/Conde)!!!
Games of shorter players are usually spectacular so maybe it is worth it to think about how to have more of these
.

Beachvolleyball is a success story and went through a huge development over the last decades but is still looking to become a major TV/Media sport (exception: Olympic Games). Do we have to think about changing the character/structure (and rules) of the game or the formats of competition to make it more attractive for TV broadcasting? Or do the solutions lay in other areas?

For sure one issue is the style of the game: playing faster, with more combinations, play on “two”, to avoid big blockers. For short players like mine (Carambula/Rossi) it’s necessary, but it’s also important to realize that we can create a more attractive and fascinating game like that!
Thinking in a totally free, creative, utopic way…one idea would be to change the rules and play with maximum two touches. Whenever this drill is used in a practice, there are great and very entertaining ralleys coming up! The set (first contact) becomes more difficult, the attack becomes a lot more difficult, the defense has good chances to get the ball: ralleys are a lot longer and players have to be more creative! These are things we don’t consider possible or real, but maybe we should really open our mind more. The same goes for points, ranking or seeding. Or if men have to wear tanktops. Just because things have been in a certain way for the last 25-30 years, doesn’t mean they have to stay like this. Generally we have to be open to new ways and solutions. The first reaction is usually resistance (as with the introduction of ralley point system and smaller court) but in order to improve and get better, an open mind is absolutely necessary!