Tag Archives: Competitive Cauldron

Improvement by use of the Competitive Cauldron

Another great article found on Coach Rey’s website.  The article focuses on using the competitive cauldron and ways to possibly increase its use for your team.

For those of you just beginning on the Cauldron, there are two main focuses I consider the reasons behind the methods.  First the goal is to instill competition.  Year after year, I watch the teams that COMPETE better, win when it comes to crunch time.  I don’t always see it during regular season.  Secondly I think the lesson is that we are coaches not computers.  We can only pay attention and calculate so many things in our heads.  As the article will mention, as a coach, the difference between a .250 hitter and a .275 hitter is near impossible to distinguish without actual statistics.

Tom Black – Women’s Head Coach, UCSD Tritons (now Head Coach, Loyola Marymount University)

Explaining the Cauldron

There is no improvement without intensity. This is what draws us to the cauldron. If we want our players to improve, they have to play hard. If we want them to play hard, we have to get them to compete. If we want to create a competitive culture, then we need to measure things, record them, praise successes, and hold ourselves accountable for results. The cauldron, as created by University of North Carolina’s soccer coach, Anson Dorrance, gives us a foundation.

The cauldron records statistics for skills and competitive play, weighs each score, and assigns a subsequent ranking to each player. Would it be effective? I believed it would be. My assistant coach, Tom Haight, and myself would spend the next four years experimenting.

Early Failures, One Success

I had implemented the cauldron for about two years before becoming the Head Women’s Coach at UCSD. Before then, as an assistant at USC, I had instituted the cauldron into our men’s program. I was intrigued by it for two related reasons. First, was my exposure to it in a Gold Medal Squared Clinic, and Carl McGown’s claim that the competitiveness created in practice, via the cauldron, was largely responsible for their two national championship runs. The second was the statement made by the cauldron’s inventor, UNC Women’s Soccer Coach Anson Dorrance, who claimed that a naturally competitive player would be instinctively motivated to find ways to ensure they rise to the top of the list. This made sense to me on a fundamental level, I pitched it to our head coach, and we instituted it.

I consider the two years we had it at SC to be a lackluster success to moderate failure. The success was in the accountability it created. The guys were well aware stats were being kept, and they eagerly checked the door every 11 days to see the rankings. I considered this to be a tangible improvement. There was something pushing them to work hard in practice, to realize every day mattered.

But, there were several aspects that left me disappointed. The first was, the coaching staff wasn’t using it to make any decisions, nor as a teaching tool. We were never acknowledging when people excelled or surged ahead, and we were never calling people in when their numbers dropped. I was aware Dorrance said he never talked about the cauldron or addressed it specifically, but this didn’t sit well with me. We were taking very specific statistics that directly impacted the outcome of our matches. To not acknowledge improvement, or to seek to fix dips, seemed a ridiculous waste of information to me.

There was one instance that stuck with me. We had an Opposite complain about his lack of playing time to one of our assistant coaches. The coach asked if he had seen the cauldron lately, his hitting efficiency was well towards the bottom. The player replied he didn’t see how this was possible since his errors were relatively low. The coach, in turn, pointed out how he had nearly double the amount of neutral swings as any other outside hitter.

His kills skyrocketed. There was no other coaching involved. He was just more focused every time he attacked, and intent on scoring. There was accountability, and he was responding positively to it. This lonely example stayed with me. Here, the cauldron had been successful. The player was unhappy with his situation. He addressed the coach. The coach provided an objective, non-personal statement, along with information the player could see and understand. The player responded.

LMU volleyball 300x169 The Competitive Cauldron: The Goal is Improvement by Tom Black volleyballBut there were negatives. The guys were obsessed on personal statistics, to the point of making sure their block was recorded, while their team was losing in the drill. The losing carried greater weight, and the whining and complaining escalated as a result. The best player on our team would have been the best, and played just as hard without it. The cauldron was doing nothing for him. The worst players also received little from the cauldron aside from the validation they were, in fact, the worst on the team. I didn’t consider any of these things positive, and I wasn’t surprised in the least to hear off-hand the players were relieved when a new assistant coach came in, and the cauldron was gone. I left SC, still feeling I needed a cauldron with me for the women’s program at UCSD, but that it would not work unless the coaching staff actively made it a part of the training environment, and closely monitored its behavioral effects on the team.

Re-Tooling the Cauldron

Ron Larsen, the current men’s national team assistant, pointed me in the direction of a book he had read by Aubrey Daniels entitled “Bringing out the Best in People.” He said it had deeply challenged many of the notions he previously held true regarding the cauldron. This made me excited to read it, as I was wondering a few things myself. The book was all about measuring performance, determining what rewards truly work to motivate people, what type of performance charts are actually effective towards improving productivity, and above all, how that is tied in to actually bringing the best effort out in those around you. I coupled this book with “Moneyball” the famed book about the success of the Oakland Athletics and their innovative, if not savagely Darwinist, method of statistic evaluation to achieve wins.

The central point of “Moneyball” resonated. Dr.McGown hits on it all the time. The naked eye simply cannot be trusted as an impartial observer. Numbers have to be used to see the truth of things. There are patterns we need to be made aware of, and we simply cannot tell the difference between a .250 and .275 hitter, though we know there is a significant difference between the two, especially over time. How many times have we put in a less efficient, but more physical, player in the line-up, only to realize after a few matches the player with the less-impressive package was helping us more, (sometimes just by hurting us less)? If we were able to measure this in practice, we might be able to play the right person sooner, and thereby help the team faster.

The points of Mr. Daniels’ book were more profound. He took exception to the statement “what gets measured, gets improved.” Not so, he comments. “What gets measured, recorded, and rewarded, gets improved.” This made sense. Obviously, a high cauldron ranking should reflect in playing time, if the cauldron is truly measuring things the way we want them to be measured. However, there is a more important point here. Daniels, as well as a number of leadership authors, goes on to explain that the negative compels people to do just enough to avoid punishment. The positive, however, propels people to look ahead and achieve more. This is what the cauldron was for, and was by far the most important “reward” it provided. If we were measuring performance, and did not go absolutely crazy every time a player improved in a key category, we weren’t using it correctly. We weren’t making sure the improvement stuck. We had this great tool in front of us that could really make an impact on a player. Instead of telling Sarah “Hey, Sarah, you’ve done a nice job making that change in your hitting, keep it up.” We can tell her, “Hey Sarah, you made that change we were discussing, and look, you’re hitting efficiency has improved 20 points! That’s a great job, keep it up!” We have measured what was important to us, we have recorded it, and most importantly, we have rewarded it in a meaningful way that will stay with the athlete. This was a profound change for me as a coach.

Can we do the same thing through matches and game stats? Yes, we can, and game stats of course matter more. But, consider holding players accountable for their improvement with the cauldron and then without it. There is a tangible effect occurring by having this objective statistical feedback everyday in our practice gym. Consider how much better our reserves can be now that we have something to show and talk to them about. We can show them, just by taking time to sit down with them, that their improvement and performance matters to us. As Dr. Marv Dunphy explains, every player has the desire to be addressed as an individual. If we measure, record, and reward their improvement, they will get better, and thus our overall quality of play improves, and everyone is being pushed a little harder.

A second point by Mr. Daniels created a dilemma. He stressed that productivity charts must not be competitive. That the point of these charts was to solidify the group to compete against outside organizations, not to create strife within your own. He goes on to explain that every individual within the organization must have a real chance to achieve a top-ranking, provided they do everything expected of them.

My assistant coach, Tom Haight, and myself took to grappling with these issues. Tom had created our cauldron for us at SC, and we held in common our interest of the statistics, and the ability to use them effectively. We had a few central questions:

“What was the ultimate point of the cauldron?”

“How do you reward properly?”

“Will playing time be based solely on the cauldron?”

“How do we post, or present, results?”

Answering the Questions

Of course, finding the answers to the questions is a continual process. There is always a better way out there, somewhere. But after a summer of wrestling with what we wanted the cauldron to do and say, we entered our first season at UCSD with a format we were proud of.

What is the ultimate purpose of the cauldron? Once we answered this fundamental question, the rest became easier. The effect of the cauldron is indeed to stimulate competition, but for us, this is not itspurpose. The purpose of our cauldron is to stimulate constant improvement. An intense, competitive, environment is the necessary impetus for this improvement. Players cannot get better unless they are mindful and invested. Accountability promotes mindfulness, and competition spurs investment.

How do we reward properly? For awhile, I toyed with the ideas of making t-shirts and passing them out every eleventh day, but I believe this was missing the point. The principle comes down to the statement Mr. Daniels repeatedly hit home, that if we want something done, we need to positively acknowledge it every time it happens. Too often as coaches, we criticize often, say “good job” when a player finally gets it right, and then leave it alone, expecting it to be fixed forever. This is not the case. We need to reward good behavior, good technique, constantly in order to reinforce it, and hopefully, have it become ingrained. The objectivity of the cauldron can provide a player with real information they are improving. If bad techniques are being practiced, the cauldron should be reflecting that as well, and we can work to fix them. But when we do so, it’s critical we sit down with the player and objectively show him/her the numbers, with a solution as to how to improve. We never threaten a player with statistics or hang it over their head. We want them to be as enthusiastic as possible to receive this information.

Will our playing time solely be based upon the cauldron? No. It is a very valuable tool in the decision-making process, however, and if a player is ranking top in her position, and I’m not starting her, I better have clear reasons why, and I better communicate them to her. This happened a couple of times. Generally, it was because a particular skill was so low, that our line-up wouldn’t allow us to be that deficient and still be successful (i.e. an outside hitter ranked in the top-6 overall, but was in the lower half in hitting. We already had an L2 who ranked higher than her overall, and the L1 playing ahead of her ranked lower overall, but much higher in hitting. We needed a point-scorer in this position, and the lower-ranked player reflected this, even though her overall score was lower. The cauldron reflected what we knew, that the starter was a worse all-around player, but better hitter. There were clear reasons, therefore, for starting the lower-ranked player and we communicated that to the higher-ranked one. If she wanted to start, she needed to become a better attacker.)

Do we post everybody’s score publicly? This is the one aspect of our cauldron at UCSD, which I believe to be slightly unique. Tom Haight created individual folders for each player that “grab” data from the master sheet, and present each player with only their own information. On their sheets, they will see the following:

1. Statistics in each category: Competition, hitting, serve-receive, serving, blocking, setting, defense

2. Overall team ranking for each category (Provided they are in the top-8, otherwise, this category will appear blank.)

3. Overall position ranking for this category (Provided they are in the top-8, otherwise, this category will appear blank.)

We believe in this format for a few reasons:

1. “Become, don’t compare.” This is a saying of Marv Dunphy’s that we believe in. These sheets are a way to provide a player with their information and ranking, without them seeing anyone else’s. This keeps the player’s focus on themselves and what they need to do. Not on whether or not they are hitting 5 points higher than Sally.

2. Building on #1, we felt this is the best way to prevent the internal “competition” Mr. Daniel’s discussed in regards to productivity charts. We knew the goal was to indeed get our team as strong as possible to compete against the outside competition. However, there is a dilemma here, because we need this internal competition in our daily practice gym to get to the level we want to be. We need our players to get after each other. 6 of our 19 players are going to start, which is a major difference between a sports team and a business, where everyone is performing. The answer, we feel, is to keep each player’s focus on being as good as they possibly can be, and not whether or not they are better than their teammate. Again, the presentation of the folders with personal information only makes this possible.

3. The printouts are much easier to read than the master sheet. The player’s feel like they are getting something out of them.

4. The printouts present me with an opportunity to write notes in the margins, and meet with players in a positive arena to discuss objectively what’s happening with them on the court. This time is invaluable.

The Cauldron in Action

Our first season at UCSD, we inherited a team with no returning starters, and finished with a 19-8 record, tying for the final play-off position before being voted out by committee. This was a successful year in the eyes of our staff and players, and all involved stated there was an intensity in the gym that had never previously been there before.

There were still some of the negative effects I had witnessed at USC, though to a much lesser extent. There was still some obsession over stats at the wrong time. Many of the girls complained at the end of the year meetings that they were so worried about their own position, they never felt able to come together during matches.

While I was very concerned over these two complaints, Tom Haight was much more confidant. He pointed out throughout the season that what the team was experiencing was simply growing pains. Anson Dorrance cites his own freshmen’s unease with the cauldron, every year. He stated how these young players are looking for acceptance, and instead, are being told they will have their brains beat in unless they compete and play to win. In effect, our entire team was a group of freshmen learning how to manage their emotions for the first time in an intense competitive environment, and we would most likely only be hearing these complaints from the incoming freshmen class from now on.

Tom’s words proved true. Entering our second season, we built upon the previous year, and finished with a record of 26-3 as well as a national ranking of 5th. Every member of our team reported in their end of the year meetings they felt the team bonded, and functioned, very well on the court. Most players said they liked the cauldron, every player, including the freshmen who were uncomfortable with it, said they would rather have it than not. Nearly every returnee thought the team handled the competitive aspects of it better than the previous year. They felt they were able to negotiate the balance between competing like crazy and being a great teammate.

Final Thoughts

I spoke with one coach in our athletic department who felt the cauldron was used as a crutch to “do your coaching for you.” This would be a valid point if it were true, and in some cases it might be. For us, the cauldron doesn’t provide us with answers, it provides us with information to make better decisions and to give better feedback. It allows us to get better faster. Faster than we would without it. It doesn’t save us any time, and in many ways, creates more work for us. When I ask the question, though, will this make us better? I answer with an emphatic yes, so we do it.

The final important question might be, do I think the cauldron was the reason we were able to have success? I think it was a reason. I think the character and commitment of our young ladies was the biggest reason. I think the work ethic of our players and coaches was a very big reason. The importance of our cauldron, in my eyes, was we were able to reflect the values and cultures of our training gym in an objective manner that would spur continual improvement. Better than we could have done without it, and that made it worth it.

**The advent of the folders, and answers to the questions above**

**The result of the past two years. The feedback given, and conclusions**

11 Reasons For The Competitive Cauldron

This is an article from championshipcoachesnetwork.com. I am not a member of that site, but I wanted to give more perspective on the competitive cauldron. Once again, unless you have access to Anson Dorrance or Carl McGown, currently Gold Medal Squared is the foremost leader in teaching HOW to use the cauldron.

See you on the court!

11 Reasons Why You Should Create Your Own Competitive Cauldron
From Jeff’s How to Develop Relentless Competitors

Want to develop your athletes into relentless Competitors? Invest the time to create your own Competitive Cauldron.

Originated by legendary UNC basketball coach Dean Smith and perfected by 20-time National Champion UNC women’s soccer coach Anson Dorrance, the Competitive Cauldron is an unique, intense, and highly competitive training environment. It is one of the most important ingredients you need to transform your athletes into fierce Competitors. Discover 11 reasons why you should look to create your own Competitive Cauldron with your team.

1. Creates a high intensity on the part of your athletes.

By regularly using competitive drills and charting the results of competitions in your practices, you create an intensity and sense of urgency in every workout. Your athletes know that they are being watched and that something is on the line. They go hard and stay focused because they want to win the competitions for the pride, respect, and status – and/or to avoid the punishment and shame of having to run extra sprints or receiving lower rankings.

2. Fosters a high sense of accountability – athletes see that everything counts.

With the Competitive Cauldron, there are not too many opportunities to simply go through the motions. Your athletes quickly learn that most everything counts – so they better focus and give maximum effort all the time. This lesson is a great one to teach them, as they will soon discover that most everything counts in life too.

“Competition is always a fantastic thing, and the computer industry is intensely competitive. Whether it’s Google or Apple or free software, we’ve got some fantastic competitors and it keeps us on our toes.”
Bill Gates, Microsoft Founder

3. Practice times can often be shorter because of the quality workouts.

Because your athletes are consistently going hard, you create a training environment that focuses on quality rather than quantity. You can often get so much more done in 90 minutes of intense practice than you could in 180 minutes of screwing around. Therefore, because your practices are so crisp and competitive, you can often go a shorter amount of time and feel great about it. Dorrance’s workouts never exceed 90 minutes.

4. Works on developing and perfecting skills in a pressurized, game-like environment.

Coaches constantly preach the importance of doing things at game speed. The Competitive Cauldron essentially forces your athletes to go hard at game speed throughout the practice. Thus, decisions are made and skills are mastered in a more realistic and relevant environment.

5. Gets and keeps most athletes engaged as they take part in a variety of challenges.

By implementing the Competitive Cauldron, your athletes are much more likely to be mentally focused and emotionally engaged in practices. The score keeping holds their attention and brings forth their best effort. With each drill and competition, they look to better themselves and their teammates.

6. Makes weight and conditioning workouts more productive.

Many athletes dread conditioning and weight workouts. They either try to avoid them altogether or look to cut corners when they can. Making these workouts competitive is a great way to get your athletes more excited about their workouts. They’ll get more done, get stronger and faster, and perhaps even enjoy them. Several strength and conditioning coaches submitted some great ideas for our companion Develop Relentless Competitors Drillbook so be sure to use them to make your weight and conditioning workouts more productive too.

7. Creates objective data and standards to guide your playing time decisions.

By regularly recording objective data on wins, rankings, and times, you create an objective database on which to guide your starting and playing time decisions. Ultimately you must trust your coaching instincts without being confined by the rankings. But the hard data does provide you with an objective measure to consider and most likely confirm what you are seeing.

If an athlete wonders why she isn’t playing more, you can almost always show her how she ranks in comparison to her peers. The objective results from the Competitive Cauldron are hard to refute. Coaches will play those people who regularly yield the results needed for the team’s success. It’s not about playing favorites; it’s about results and an athlete’s ability to consistently produce them.

8. Teaches athletes how to compete in practice so they can do it in competition.

If you don’t teach your athletes how to consistently and fully compete in practice, they will have a hard time doing it to the level you expect in the game. Thus, your athletes get a chance to understand and practice what it means to really compete every day in practice. So when game time comes around, it simply becomes second nature to them. Says Dorrance, “Competing in practice is the key. We train competitive instinct so constantly that by the time we play a game it comes naturally. You can’t expect to fully develop competitive drive just by calling on it during games& So you have to compete fiercely in practice to be able to do it fully in a game.”

9. Teaches athletes how to win and lose in a practice setting.

Having so many opportunities to compete in practice gives you a great chance to coach your athletes on how to respond to both winning and losing in a competitive yet classy manner. Use these instances to provide them with coaching and feedback on how they handle winning and losing.

10. Builds team chemistry when you have athletes compete in smaller teams.

Depending on how you engineer the environment, you can create cohesion between team members. North Carolina women’s lacrosse coach Jenny Levy splits her roster up into various teams, with members of each class equally distributed among them. These smaller teams compete in a variety of competitive challenges and contests throughout the year. They develop a certain camaraderie and bond as a smaller group as they compete with one another. It is a way to bring athletes from different positions, classes, event groups, etc., who might not normally interact with each other as much, together as one.

11. Challenges low performers to step up and compete!

Finally, by creating your own Competitive Cauldron, your low performers are consistently challenged to step up and compete to earn their way into the top half of the standings. As Carla Overbeck said of her transformation, “I finally got sick of seeing myself at the bottom of the rankings all the time and did something about it.” Hopefully many of your athletes will also be challenged to move up the standings. No matter what their talent level, the Competitive Cauldron encourages them to make a decision to fully commit to work harder, try smarter, persist longer, and get better to compete with their teammates, and ultimately, their opponents.

“The reason for having the Cauldron is simple: we just want people to be as competitive as possible. If they know that scores matter, they’ll compete.”
Tom Black, LMU Women’s Volleyball Coach

5 Critical Competitive Cauldron Calculations

1 – Winning/Losing Percentage

If your club or high school volleyball program doesn’t have a full staff to do statistics, this is probably the easiest stat to keep.  Keep track of wins and losses for all your players.  A simple spreadsheet or chart is enough and the players can even mark their wins and losses on water breaks.  Nothing like going to a water break and seeing where you rank against the rest of your team to motivate you to play better volleyball.

2 – Strongest/Weakest Rotation

There are two halves to this volleyball rotation analysis that I like to keep track of.  The first is the best serve receive or side out rotation.  This best rotation may be the rotation you want to start in if the other team serves first.  The second is best point scoring rotation.  This is easy to track as you just make a note on how many times the server serves before the opposing team sides out.  If you serve first, this will be the best indicator, in my opinion, of where to start your rotation.  This stat alone eliminates a lot of thinking.  It doesn’t matter how good each hitter is, how many blocks you get or your digs in this rotation.  This stat is a combination of all the volleyball statistics you take.  It doesn’t tell you what you need to work on in practice, but it does tell you what you are best at currently.

3 – Serving – Aces, Errors and Point Average

You can keep stats on how difficult the serve was to pass and each individuals point average if you have the staff.  For those of you who don’t, the easiest way on this one again is simply aces, errors and attempts.  With the simplified model, I find it most important to keep the stat during matches.  After all, that is who you are trying to beat.  (our Starters vs. their Starters)

4 – Attacking

Once again there are two halves to this pie.  I would recommend starting with half and then move to the whole pie.  The first half is overall attacking percentages, including Kills, Attempts and Unforced Errors.  The next half that I like to keep is transition attacking percentages.  Regular attacking percentages would come from serve receive on the first ball.  Anything else after that would be considered a transition.  If you serve, then everything would be a transition attack.  This statistic can go hand in hand with your “best rotation” statistic.  If you have a hitter with a low transition hitting percentage, you may want to try and make a substitution for another player and see if that increases your “best rotation” scoring percentage.

5 – Total Unforced Errors

I love to keep this stat to help me understand immediately if we are losing because of unforced errors or because we have a flaw in our system.  If we have very few unforced errors, I know that we are playing to the best of our ability.  We may need tactical changes in our strategy to be able to win the next match.  If we have too many unforced errors (more than 10% of points) then I know that substitutions may be needed, our defense or offense is not communicating efficiently or that I as a coach have failed to teach an effective method of performing a skill that they are able perform.

Competitive Cauldron Review

Where did it come from?

The concept of the competitive cauldron is an adaptation made by Anson Dorrance of Deans Smiths record and stat keeping program, both coaches at the University of North Carolina. If you don’t know about UNC soccer, find out about it and read some more material from Anson Dorrance.

Where most people are hearing of it now is from Gold Medal Squared Coaching Clinics. Dr. Carl McGown, former BYU men’s volleyball coach led BYU to become one of the elite volleyball teams in the nation using the competitive cauldron. Since his use there, he has modified and simplified the program and made it more readily available through his Gold Medal Squared Company.

Does it work? Yes. It makes your practices more competitive and teaches young athletes to compete.

What Is The Competitive Cauldron Used For?

It is nothing more than a tool for coaches and athletes to measure improvement and individual and team output. By keeping track of results, it allows volleyball coaches and volleyball players to know how well they perform in a competitive environment. It also allows coaches to understand what needs to be focused on in practices.

Every coach knows an athlete that performs better in games than they do in practice. Sometimes I have had years where all of my players perform better in games than in practice, while other I have had players that perform best in practice and fail when game time comes around.

By using the competitive cauldron in practices, you teach game players to practice hard and practice players to not fail in competitive situations.

One of my favorite parts about the competitive cauldron is that it shows you as a coach how well you are doing. You may have spent 40 to 50% of your practices last week working on serve receive. If your coaching is getting through to your volleyball players, you will see an improvement in the competitive cauldron in that area. Many times as coaches, we say…”we have gone over that so many times.” But if the athletes haven’t learned it yet, we must continue to teach it and likely we need to change the way that we are teaching it so that they players better understand.

I have included a competitive cauldron worksheet in the resources section of the website. The competitive cauldron spreadsheet should make it easier for you to make correct coaching decisions and win more volleyball games. Part 2 of my guide to Fast Results -The Competitive Cauldron.

Volleyball Tryouts – Who to Cut?

A graph from business insider shows us some interesting things about tryouts and cuts.

If you look at the graph above it shows that 27.8% of all NFL athletes were not drafted by anyone on the big day.

While only 49.5% of the players were acquired from the draft (or in our case, volleyball tryouts)

What does this mean to volleyball coaches?  It means that we are wrong sometimes.  It means that as smart as we think we are, we still cannot see into the future.  It means that there may be factors that we can’t compute all at the same time in our own heads. (<– competitive cauldron hint…)

What does this mean to volleyball players?  Don’t give up!  Just because you didn’t make the team on “Club Excellent” doesn’t mean that you don’t stand a chance in the world of volleyball.  You can still tryout for another team, you can still work on your skills and become a great athlete and play in college.

If you are a high school volleyball player and haven’t read my article Get More Playing Time, go check it out.  Sometimes if you don’t have the same initial talent as the other players on the court, you can get overlooked.  As I have stated before, effort and trying harder than everyone else can get your foot in the door.  Continuing with greater effort and a good work ethic can put you ahead of the competition at the end.

Good luck to all volleyballers at tryouts!

See you on the court!