My three principles for how my teams play

A fellow coach presented a question in a Facebook group. It was couched in the context of a job interview question, but I think it’s something worth thinking about much more broadly. I see it as a component piece to our general coaching philosophy.

Please tell me up to 3 of the PRINCIPLES you believe in that best describes your approach to the game/ how your teams play.

Here’s what I came up with for myself. I interpret the above as focusing on what our team does on the court, so I am concentrating on that rather than on training methods.

Players are not robots

I don’t want my players to be volleyball robots. By that I mean I don’t want to tell them how to play and I don’t want them to play by rigid rules. Certainly, there are some foundational elements I seek to have in place (e.g. establishing seam responsibilities). Beyond that, though, I want the players to be free to read and respond to the game. That means not telling them exactly where to be on defense, for example. It also means not requiring them to execute a skill in one certain way.

Does this mean I just put them on the court, then stand back and watch? Of course not! I provide information and feedback. I guide them in the direction of possible solutions to the problems they face. This is something I do, though, in the knowledge that they may come up with an effective solution on their own that’s different from mine.

My belief is when you trust players to do things themselves and show them that faith they are more relaxed. The result is more joy in their play, which generally produces better performances. Also, lessons players learn for themselves tend to take hold quicker and more firmly than those provided to them.

Focus on the mental aspects

There are two parts to the mental side of the game. One is reading the play. That isn’t just about what’s happening on the other side of the net. It also comes into play on your own side as players need to make note of what their teammates are doing to be prepared for what may come next. If you aren’t constantly reading and anticipating you won’t be ready to make plays.

The other part is decision-making. Each time a ball is played the player is doing two things. They are deciding on a solution to the problem they face – the skill they must employ and how – then attempting to execute based on that decision. If the player makes bad choices with the ball, they might get lucky and succeed. Chances are, though, things won’t work out well.

Relentless pressure

Something I constantly preach to my teams is that we should always make life hard for the other team. We should make them earn every point they get. In the case of inferior teams, I want them to feel like we’ve got them pinned to the mat with no chance of getting up. Superior teams should come away with respect for the way we challenged them from start to finish.

All of this comes from a positive mentality combined with intelligent play. We look to get a psychological edge and keep it.

Can you outline your own top three principles?

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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