Inspire your players, but be yourself

As I mentioned previously, one of the sessions I attended at the American Volleyball Coaches Association convention back in 2013 was titled “If I knew then…”. It featured a panel of some very high profile coaches – specifically Russ Rose of Penn State (just crowned national champions), John Dunning of Stanford, and Terry Liskevych of Oregon State (and formerly the US National team). They answered a series of moderated questions. It was a fun session with a lot of laughs, but there were also some real nuggets worth passing along.

Be yourself

One of the major themes was that coaches need to be themselves. I also wrote about them from the Creating a Culture of Success and When Winning is Your Job panels. In this case, one of the specific points made was that a coach needs to learn within their own personality. I think John Dunning said something to the effect of “Be curious, but be you.” In other words, continuously learn, but make sure you incorporate new things which mesh with your personality and coaching style. Or at least things which can be adapted to it. Don’t try to mix in stuff which goes against the grain. Obviously, this is not meant to tell coaches to be closed-minded. Instead, it cautions against just picking up any new exciting idea that they come across and trying to make it work for them (see fancy new drill syndrome).

Related to “Be you” was the thought that a coach should find a place where they can do that. Basically, you need to find a school or club or whatever where where you can express your personality. This, of course, isn’t just sound advice for coaches, but for the working world as well. We are all much more satisfied when we can be ourselves. We do not work well when forced to operate in a constrained way or against our nature. This does not mean we shouldn’t put ourselves in challenging positions. We just need to do it in a way that is aligned with our values.

Inspire Them

The big theme at the end of the seminar was the idea that a coach must inspire their players. This is a necessary function of non-participant leadership in any organization. By that I mean the coach is not an active participant in the actual work of the team. They do not train or play volleyball, except in player-coach situations. As a result, they cannot take a “lead from the front” or “follow me” kind of approach to team and player motivation. The coach needs to inspire the desire to grow and succeed in their players.

In many ways you can be think of it the same way as a company CEO or president. They don’t do the day-to-day work, but they set the tone. Part of that inspiration, said someone on the panel – I think it was Russ Rose – is teaching the players to see more, to understand more, and to win.

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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