Updates for AVP’s 2020 season and the COVID-19 implications.

Strategy Chat: Billy Allen

Billy Allen is equal parts intelligent and funny. So it didn’t surprise me that his volleyball strategy synopsis was also equal parts intelligent and funny.

Originally from Fallbrook, California, Billy grew up playing indoor as a setter. After graduating from CSUN, he made his AVP debut in 2004. Since then – he’s won two AVPs, married Janelle Allen, became a father to Ketch Allen, and written three books, one of which spun off into a podcast called Coach your Brains Out that Billy hosts with his good friend and coach John Mayer. 

Pretty impressive resume, but Billy isn’t one to brag. I asked him to give me a bio about himself, and this is literally what he sent me – “Billy Allen. From Fallbrook, California. Played first AVP tournament in 2004. Married to Janelle, writes books, podcasts, blah, blah, blah.” I find it endearing that he’s accomplished so much, but you’d never know by him telling you. 

I found out through the volleyball community that everyone loves his podcast, and I’ve seen multiple players reading Coach your Brains Out in the athletes’ tent at AVPs, pens in hand poised to highlight meaningful text. Billy’s also really funny and expertly sarcastic. Check out the legendary Danny Kinda spoof videos that Billy wrote and helped produce with friends over a decade ago. They’re ridiculous and still hilarious. 

Knowing how well Billy communicates his knowledge of the game through his books, videos, and podcast, I thought he’d be the perfect candidate for our next Strategy Chat.

How has your strategy changed from when you started to what it is now?

When it comes to strategy, it’s helpful to know your opponents’ tendencies and strengths—what are their favorite shots? How much do they see the defender when they attack? Are they better at defending hits or shots? But I can fall into the trap of over-thinking. At this level, everyone can make adjustments. So I try to familiarize myself with anything that makes this team or player unique and dial the game plan accordingly, then step in and play free. But we don’t do anything drastically different from team to team. It’s important to play to your own strengths rather than chase your opponent.

Also, I may be misremembering but when I started playing, the game felt a lot easier. I played hard, tried to win, and had fun. Defense was a little more “see ball, get ball.” Now, part of my strategy is to let go of expectations and over-thinking and just get back to that feeling of freedom and excitement to play.

I agree! Remembering how much we love the sport and playing with joy is one of my focuses, too. But of course, we need to treat it seriously, as well. How do you prepare yourself for the game in warmups? 

For me, warm-ups are not just about getting the body loose and touching the ball. I try to push to that game-level intensity before the match starts. I don’t want to wait until the first point and expect my body (and brain) to suddenly jump from a 6 to a 10. So warm-ups don’t need to “feel good.” I don’t need to pass controlled serves and bounce 50/50 sets. I want to be challenged by tough serves and hit off the out-of-system passes I’m going to subject my partner to in the game. In other words, warm up in reality!

Note: According to Billy’s AVP Player page, one of his pregame rituals is visiting the port-o-potty. Smart man. Check out his page for a few more nuggets of wisdom from Billy. 

You seem like a pretty even-keeled player.  How do you keep emotions in check? Is that something that comes easily to you or have you honed that skill over time?

If you could hear what is going on in my head, you might not think I’m so even-keeled. But I think it comes down to personality and usefulness. It’s not in my personality to yell and pound my chest after a point. It usually feels like the opposite – like I did my job. Or even relief!

And the second part: is it useful? Sometimes it is. When we’re flat, some cheering can spark energy and fire me and my partner up. But trust me, if celebrating led to winning, I’d be doing cartwheels. If throwing tantrums got my name on the pier, I’d jump-kick the ref stand. But most of the time the most useful thing for me is to move my focus to the next play.

Do you ever try to get in an opponent’s head? Especially if you know they’re emotional? If so, what’s your method of doing so?

Yes, and I’ll give you my method if you don’t tell anyone. Some players play better fired up or angry. Even I have my list of guys I want to beat more than others. So my strategy is to defuse their aggressiveness. Usually by being polite and forgettable. This helps put out their fire—it’s like breakdancing to The Beatles’ Yesterday. And a well-timed compliment during the match really sticks it to them.

-Compliment Jake Gibb’s block and he loses a layer of nastiness.

-Praise Jeremy Casebeer’s serve and it’s like you planted a tree in the Lorax’s forest.

-Marvel that John Hyden still has such luscious hair at his age and the H-Bomb is now the H-Water Balloon.

-And don’t get me started on the refs! Saints, one and all.