Avoiding playing down to the opposition’s level

Playing down to the level of weaker opposition is one brought up on the At Home on the Court blog. Mark makes the observation in terms of trying to avoid this happening:

“Ultimately a situation is created in which teams and players measure themselves not against their opponent but against themselves.”

This speaks to the idea that a team – players and coach – expects a certain level of commitment and performance at all times. That level is not just for when the competition is challenging. You do this by setting the standards early and keeping everyone focused on them throughout. Players I’ve coached will tell you I don’t hesitate to call a timeout to scold a team if I see them playing below their capability. This happens even – perhaps especially – when they are winning easily.

But I don’t want to be in that situation. I avoid it by having specific plans and objectives for those types of matches. That could mean using non-starters. It could mean working on specific skills or strategies. Find something specific – and ideally objective – you can have the team or individual players work on. That lets you take the focus away from the scoreboard. Instead, it puts it on things that will help the team’s development. Alexis at Coaches Corner would probably put this in the category of “process over outcome”, which is probably reasonable, though I would still frame it within the context of kicking the other team’s tail all over the court.

For example, during the 2013-14 season my Exeter women’s team played quite a few matches against significantly weaker teams. We needed to be able to get something out of those matches to help us prepare to play the tougher teams in key matches. I was able to play a lot of different players and line-ups. I was able to focus them on things like serving, and on thinking about how to identify and take advantage of opposition weaknesses. This all paid dividends down the line.

John Forman
About the Author: John Forman
John currently coaches for an NCAA Division II women's team. This follows a stint as head coach for a women's professional team in Sweden. Prior to that he was the head coach for the University of Exeter Volleyball Club BUCS teams (roughly the UK version of the NCAA) while working toward a PhD. He previously coached in Division I of NCAA Women's Volleyball in the US, with additional experience at the Juniors club level, both coaching and managing, among numerous other volleyball adventures. Learn more on his bio page.

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