39. Laurent Tillie:'The right attitude is everything'

In this Masterclass we feature Laurent Tillie. Laurent has been the successful head coach of the French national team for a period of nearly 10 years(2012-2021), while accumulating many world class victories.

39. Laurent Tillie:'The right attitude is everything'

For sure winning the Olympic gold medal in 2020 in Tokyo was the pinnacle of his work with the French national team.

After winning the Olympic Gold, Laurent retired from the national team. He is now coaching the Japanese club team, the Panasonic Panthers.

Of course this Masterclass is filled with great insights, what the most important factor for success is for Laurent and his coaching, how he coached a 'new generation' to success, where he based his coaching on while starting out, how his concepts evolved and so, so much more.

There are 19 exclusive video clips in this Masterclass.


Laurent, why did you decide to commit to being a professional volleyball coach? What pushed you towards that decision?

When I started playing volleyball, there wasn't a professional league in France, we were amateurs.

I had a bachelor degree to teach physical education, but I didn't like the actual job. I started to study physiotherapy after that and became a licensed physiotherapist. When I finished my career as a volleyball player, I had a physiotherapy office in my city, on the beach in Cagnes-sur-Mer (South of France) on a very nice location working together with a very good friend of mine.

I played for 20 years - 21 years in pro leagues. I played in Italy and in many places in France. And when I stopped, I stopped because some questionable things had happened with my former club and it felt like time to stop.

While I was on holiday the president of Cannes asked me if I wanted to become a head coach. And I had all my degrees to be a pro coach because I hated wasting my time during my career. So I said, 'Hey, maybe I can try it for one year.'

It would be a nice challenge.

And then and there I decided to start to become a coach. And during that first period of 3 years I was both a coach and a physiotherapist. So it was a really busy time, but very interesting.

And after those 3 years I decided to become a full time coach. But before all that happened, I already had some ideas or things going on in my head about coaching our game.

When I still was a player in Paris, we had played a tournament in Lausanne. Over there I had visited the Olympic museum, the IOC museum. After that visit, I went to the library, looked for volleyball books, I found maybe 2 or 3. I took one of them, it was Carl McGown's 'Science of coaching volleyball'..

I read the first page, then the others...

Damn, I now know why we've always lost against the USA, it was so, so eye-opening.

Their methodology of practicing, the way of thinking about the game and the skills... everything was so different than what we had done for so many years.

So I think that after reading that book I had found a reason to become a coach, to do it better. I think that's why I started or that I had the will to become a volleyball coach one day.

What did those American coaches do differently?

Well, it was Carl McGown and of course Marv Dunphy and Doug Beal.

They changed the game. They changed...volleyball.

As a player many times I had the chance to play against them in 1982, 83, 84, until 88-90.

They changed the concept of the methodology of practice. In France we were practicing a lot...a lot. But we were doing always the same things, skills, skills, skills, physical, skills, physical, skills.

We almost never played the actual game. Only during the friendly games we would play and of course in the official games where we had to. :-)

So when you read Carl McGown's books, he'll say that the best drill for receiving is serving, receiving, pass, set, attack. The best drill for setting is serve, pass, set, attack... I'm exaggerating a little bit here but that's the concept. But it's a really concept. If you commit to this concept you'll find your own way inside of it.

My 'first sport' was swimming. Swimming is a sport where skill is very, very important.

But you don't learn to swim while laying on a table. You learn to swim in the water, in the actual environment. So first you learn to not drown and then to breathe in the water and then to finally actually swim.

Also as physiotherapists, we use some techniques in rehab. When somebody had a stroke, for example. You can't yell to them and say, 'Hey, raise your arm, raise your arm. You are stupid or what? Raise your harm.'

It's not about being stupid. The patient simply can't do it. But I still see many coaches do that, thinking that after they gave a basic instruction their player can simply go out and execute on it.

To help your the patient you put some pressure on his arm, you let him push and so on and in the end, the patient is able to raise his arm. That's the actual concept which will make you ready for playing.

My concept of coaching is putting you in the right situation so that you, the player, will find the right answer.

I don't want that the player thinks too much. So create the right situation with good stimuli to get to the right answer. And skill is important, but skill is not the goal of the practice.

The first thing to do is to play and win.

And if you play and you have some trouble, then we will have to work on the actual skills, but you have to know why you train those skills.

When I was a player we did the exact opposite of that. We were practicing skills. 'Nice pass, nice set', but when we were playing ...mistakes and errors piled up. We weren't prepared to play.

So that's why I had the insight and why I was ready to change my way of coaching and practicing.

In preparing our call I watched a video wherein you describe that the current game of volleyball is a game that's all about implementing a few well trained reactions on the right moment. Because the game doesn't allow you to think.

Yeah. I think this is really important and it's even more common now.

But when I started to coach in 2001, the players or people around me told me. 'What are you doing? You are too American.'

No, I'm not too American. I just have the same opinion as them. I tried to explain why I was convinced of this...

And in fact, there is a French poet and he said the following, which is one of my preferred sentences or quotations...

"Agir en primitif et prévoir en stratège."

You try to be prepared for all kinds of situations, but when the action starts, act like an animal, without thinking.

And I really like that, because I think our players need to be ready to do exactly that. When you are preparing the players or the team, you try to find and define every different or possible situation.

But when the game starts, don't think play, play, play. Because you will only be able to adjust one or two different things at max.

And that's why that is my creed.

Olympic Gold Medal point!

In the same video you mention the importance that you give to 'having the right attitude' on the court. You mentioned having the attitude of a boxer in a ring. You don't care if a player makes a mistake if his attitude and body language is on point.

It's exactly that, it's exactly that. Because attitude is everything. I really think that with your body language, I mean your attitude, you can even change your state of mind.