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What does it mean to be an elite coach?

Volleyball Coach

I came across an interesting topic in a coaching group. The original poster asked the following question.

What characteristics or skills do you think are an absolute necessity to be an elite coach or coaching staff?

Sadly, only a handful of people answered the question. Their answers were pretty good ones, though. Here’s a summary list, in no particular order.

  • Always strive to improve
  • Being coachable and humble
  • Trust the process
  • Strive to be your best
  • Communication skills
  • Explain they Why
  • High level understanding of the game
  • Clear objectives
  • Knowledge of your athletes
  • Well-planned practices
  • Being a listener
  • Consistent feedback
  • Creator of a strong, winning culture

I’m going to address the subject of a coaching staff separately. I think it’s a separate discussion. The above list focuses mainly on the individual coach, so I’m going to concentrate on that here.

Here are the things I think are probably key in being an elite coach.

Knowledge of the game

This is a pretty obvious thing for a coach to have, but it’s an area where new coaches can come up short. Many of us – perhaps most – started out as players at some level. Playing the game for sure develops a knowledge of the game, but it’s not the same as that required of a coach. Players tend to focus on parts, while the coach has to be aware of how those parts link together. This sort of thing tends to come primarily from watching a lot of volleyball, but not as a spectator. You have to do it with an analytic eye, watching all the various moving parts.

Up-to-date understanding of training methods

I’m not talking about know the latest drills here (see my post on Fancy New Drill Syndrome). Rather, I’m talking about the science of motor learning. It’s very easy to think you know how it works because it’s intuitive stuff. Really, though, it isn’t. See Going beyond maximizing player contacts for an idea of what I’m talking about here. The point is you need to stay on top of this stuff, not just persist in doing stuff you’ve always done or your coaches before you did.

This applies to stuff like strength and conditioning as well. Things are changing on a fairly steady basis there.

Communication skills

To put it simply, you can have all the knowledge in the world, but if you can’t communicate it to your players, it’s useless.This isn’t just about teaching skills and tactics. It’s also about communicating your vision and getting others to buy in. It’s learning about your players and letting them get to know you as well. As coaches, communication is at the very core of what we do, and you will never become an elite coach without good skills in this area.

Drive

What are you trying to accomplish? Where are you trying to go with your coaching? Your team has its goals, but no doubt you have your own as well. It’s the thing that pushes you to keep moving forward and encourages you to be better, or to make things better.

In the Why I Coach post I shared some of my drive in the “Building something” section. I’m motivated to take a program to a higher level. That isn’t just about winning as that isn’t really in your control. Instead, it’s about reaching new milestones and generally pushing things forward. If I reach a point where I don’t see the potential to keep doing that, then I know it’s probably time for me to move on.

A vision

This is somewhat related to drive above, but is more focused in the present on the current team. In order to lead others you need to know where you’re trying to go. And going to back to another prior section, it needs to be something you can communicate in a way that gets others to have the same vision and to be willing to follow you in that direction.

Organizational skills

This can cover a fairly wide array of things. For some coaches it’s at the level of organizing practices and generally managing the affairs immediately related to the team and players. Think of a club situation where there is someone (or several someones) higher up taking care of the larger administration.

In some coaching roles – a college coach, for example – there’s a lot more to it. There’s a whole lot more overhead. Much of what is handled by a club director, a manager, or a board is on your shoulders. You need to deal with budgets, scheduling, facilities, and interacting and coordinating with any number of on-campus and off-campus constituencies. If you don’t have good organizational skills in that context it can really hamper your on-court efforts.

An unquenchable thirst for knowledge

One of the very clear things to come out of the Volleyball Coaching Wizards interviews we’ve done is that those great coaches all have the mentality of constantly looking to learn and improve. They take every opportunity they can to gain more knowledge and insight.

So those are some of my thoughts on what it takes to be an elite coach. Do you have thoughts of your own? I’d love to hear them. Just leave a comment below.

Coaching Log – August 4, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

Preseason is underway!

We started our preseason training on Monday, after doing compliance and team meetings on Sunday. Technically, this isn’t preseason, actually. Rather, it’s pre-trip training. The NCAA allows 10 days of practice before an overseas trip. We leave on the 12th, so starting on Monday gave us 10 days plus two days off before we leave.

Today is actually one of those days off. We’ll take the second one on Tuesday. We’re hosting a high school tournament of sorts that day, which I get more into below.

We’ve done four days of split sessions. In the mornings we’ve done group sessions. Three of the players are attending Summer classes, each at different times. That mandated splitting things up in the morning, but we did full-team sessions in the afternoon. Morning sessions were no more than 90 minutes, while the afternoon ones went two hours.

For the first couple of days we had two focal points for the morning sessions. The first group comprised the middles and setters. They were largely about getting the timing of the middle attacks down, though that included a fair bit of work on footwork and movement patterns. We also worked on blocking. The second group was made up of the pin hitters and defensive specialists. They focused a lot on ball control and out-of-system play.

The afternoon sessions were of a different sort. For one, they featured a lot of competition. I’ll speak more on that in a moment. As you might expect, they were also our chance to see what the team looked like playing together in different ways so we could see where we needed to prioritize our work.

Some of what we did was cooperative, especially early in the sessions as part of ball-control oriented warm-ups. The competitive stuff was often less than 6 v 6. That allowed us to look at different elements of play.

On Wednesday and Thursday we turned our attention mainly to the defensive side of play. Our morning groups focused a lot on offense vs. defense, working through the structure of our play. We then carried that over into more full-team action in the afternoons. It definitely paid dividends.

Thursday was a tough one for the players. They were very obviously feeling the effects of the three previous days. As a result, we made things a bit lower intensity in the morning sessions. In the afternoon we kept things slower by playing regular games. This was the first time doing so – and playing on our main center court – so it let us see things in new ways.

Competition leader board

I mentioned doing a lot of competition in our team sessions this week. A big focus for us this year is really developing a winning mentality and generally competing harder. In support of that, we decided to keep track of wins among the players. By that I mean every time a player is part of the winning group in a competitive exercise, be it a point based game or a goal-oriented activity, they get a tick mark next to their name on our white board. We want to see who the winners are, and to incentivize a winning mentality.

Admittedly, it’s not always easy to keep track of winners and losers. We have three MBs and oftentimes we have them rotate around so they don’t get overly fatigued. This is especially so in the faster paced games. Unfortunately, that means they aren’t part of any single team. I think we’ve decided to keep track of how many points are won by the team they are currently in and see who has the most at the end.

Missing one

We actually haven’t had our full squad up to this point. Our transfer RS is away this week on a family trip. We knew about it when we signed her. It’s not the greatest situation in the world, but there you have it. She’ll be back with us on Sunday or Monday and we’re including her in the team meeting type stuff remotely.

Speaking event

Saturday was the speaking event I’ve been working on putting together for the last couple of months. We had a number of no-shows, so the attendance could have been higher, but it was still a very positive event. The city’s mayor attended with his family. The university’s president had some very positive words to say about the work we’re doing, as did the Athletic Director. Danielle Scott’s speech was very well received, and she was featured in an interview on local TV.

High school event

As I noted briefly above, next week we host an event for local area high school teams. They come to our gym to play their first matches of the year. This is the second time running the event. Last year it was a 1-day affair featuring I believe 8 teams. This year we have I think 14 teams and the event is spread out over two days.

Recruiting

We got some good news on Tuesday. Our #1 OH target for 2018 verbally committed. That makes it two of our top choices. The other was a setter. Unfortunately, a couple weeks ago one recruit let us know she will go elsewhere, but we soldier on.

Book Review: Living on the Volcano by Michael Calvin

We can’t only read books about volleyball and volleyball coaches. Heck, there just aren’t that many books about volleyball coaches! Sad, but true. That’s one of the reasons I developed Volleyball Coaching Wizards.

Anyway, an interesting book about managers from the world of soccer (football) is  Living on the Volcano, by Michael Calvin. Basically, it’s a series of profiles on coaching in the English professional realm. They run the gamut from the Premier League all the way down, but are mainly in the middling ranks. Many of the coaches have worked across multiple levels, either because of the performance of their teams or through moving clubs. It’s a really interesting set of perspectives. These managers come at things from all different angles. Their backgrounds are diverse. As a result, the way they think about the elements of coaching vary considerably.

I actually shared something I found interesting from one of the managers on the Volleyball Coaching Wizards blog. It had to do with the mentality of allowing others to watch you coach. Unfortunately, I would not call that the most positive of the things you read in the book. It presents the reality of their thought process, though. For better or for worse, it’s not the most positive.

I will admit, the structure of the book did present some challenges. There are a lot of names, and they overlap quite a bit. Moreover, there were different threads of managers mentioned in the same chapter. That made it hard to follow threads at times.

Those issues aside, I think Living on the Volcano is an interesting book and worth a read. The variety of coaches is such that you’re likely to find someone in the mix who has a similar point of view as yourself. At the same time, though, you also get to see how others think about things.

Beyond that, the internal view of what it’s like to be a coach under constant performance pressure (in most cases) is really insightful. The volcano idea is definitely appropriate as even successful managers seem to constantly be on the hot seat because of everything that can happen with a club.

Volleyball games for training and fun

On this blog there’s a whole category of posts dedicated to specific volleyball games. In this post, though, I want to share some ideas for a few different types of volleyball games that have broad use. They are also ones players enjoy!

Win to stay on volleyball games

This group of games is often called King or Queen of the Court, or Winners. The basic idea is that if you win the rally you get to stay on the court. If you lose, you go off and someone else comes on. Usually, the team that stays on gets the first ball to start the next rally.

Because you’re playing just a single rally before teams change, these games are fast-moving. Normally, you use small teams (like 3s). Also, you want to keep the number of teams low so no one sits out for long.

Players like these kinds of games because of the competitiveness and how fast things go. They also like that they can use all different skills and get a lot more contacts than is true when playing 6s.

From a coaching perspective, these types of volleyball games are great because they are very flexible. There are all kinds of ways you can adjust them to focus on what you want to practice.

  • You can start them with a serve, a free ball, or some kind of attacked ball depending on your priorities.
  • If you play 3s, you can require each player touch the ball before it goes over the net to work on communication and coordination.
  • Want to work on your quick offense? Designate a player who must run quick – such as the non-passer who isn’t setting.
  • Want your setters to get lots of reps? Fix them on the court or have them rotate separately from the rest.
  • Looking to work on out-of-system offense? Require a non-setter to take the initial second ball.

Just about anything you want to work on in a game play context can be incorporated into these sorts of games.

By the way, there’s a variation on the Winners idea where the losing team stays instead. The Belly Drill is an example.

Changing court size for volleyball games

Sometimes playing volleyball games on a full court just doesn’t work. This is especially true if you’re playing small-sided games and/or you have younger or less experienced players. If that’s the case, think about making the court smaller.

Here’s an example. When I have taught volleyball as a university P.E. class I always started with a narrow court – even if I had 5 or 6 players on a side. The students were relatively new to the game. They could not cover a lot of space. Putting them on a smaller court let them have more rallies, making things a lot more fun. It let me get them first focused on playing 3 contacts, then getting to the point of attacking the third ball. As their skills improved, I expanded the court.

For more experienced players, using a smaller court is a great way to increase rallies. The players have less area to defend, so they tend to dig more balls. That means more balls going back and forth across the net. Longer rallies tend to mean more fun.

You can also use a narrow court to force more blocking. A lot of times in small-side games like the Winners types games mentioned above, there isn’t a lot of blocking. We want hitters working on attacking against a block. By reducing the width of the net for the game we give the block more opportunity. You can then take things a step further to force players to block by requiring a certain number of them to be at the net.

For example, say you’re play 4 v 4 on a half court. If you require the teams to play with two at the net you increase the chances of attackers facing a decent block.

I should note that in many parts of the world younger players play small-sided volleyball games on smaller courts. For example, in England I saw them have U14s playing 4 v 4 on a badminton court. That way they get a combination of the benefits of having fewer people and less area to cover.

Varying the scoring for volleyball games

One final way you can mix things up and make games more interesting is by changing up how they are scored. There are two main ways you can do this. One is to use bonus points or to otherwise set rules for what counts as a point. For example, you could say scoring on a quick attack is worth two points rather than one. Or your could allow teams to only score on earned points – kills, blocks, and aces.

The other way is to use a wash type of scoring system. This way of scoring requires a team to win multiple rallies in order to get a point. One example of this would be if a team wins the first ball, they then get a free ball. If they also win that they earn a point. You could require 3 in a row, or 2-out-of-3, or whatever makes sense for what you want to do. Lots of different ways to do it.

Vollis

If you’re looking for a fun volleyball related game, you should consider vollis, to use John Kessel’s term for it. In Europe and some other places it’s referred to as bagherone or baggar tennis. Basically, it’s a volleyball form of tennis where you play 1-touch.

There are several different variations of Vollis. One is to play just inside the 3m lines, so short court. The most common way that is done is with one team on each side playing on a rotating basis. It’s a 1 v 1 game, but after a player touches the ball they go to the back of their team’s line and the next player steps in. You can also play the same way full court, and even add players to make it 2 v 2.

The variation of the game my teams seem to like a lot is what’s called Brazilian 2-ball. In this variation there are two players on each side and the initial balls are underhand served in, one from each side. They play until both balls are dead, then both teams rotate out. In order to win a point, one team needs to win both balls. It gets really competitive!

Be creative with your volleyball games

I’ve offered up a few different ways you can mix things up to play different types of volleyball games. Really, you’re only limited by your imagination. Think about what you want to work on and how you can mix things up to keep it fresh, fun, and exciting.

Got a favorite type of volleyball game? I’d love to hear it. Tell us about it in the comment section below!

Coaching Log – July 21, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

It’s been a busy couple of weeks!

Player stuff

Most of the team is in town at this point. Some are taking Summer classes and some are working. They are all working out with our Strength Coach to a greater or lesser degree depending on their schedule. We’re trying to get their Fall schedules set up so we can nail down reasonable practice times, but it isn’t easy.

Actually, it’s not just about practices. It’s also about keeping them away from situations where they will miss a lot of classes. For example, we play six Tuesday evening matches. That means anyone taking a Tuesday evening class will miss about half the sessions. In some cases, that may be fine. In others, though, it presents a major problem.

Oh, and we’ve already had a couple of the freshmen get into trouble. They were late for a workout session with our Strength Coach. That got them locked out of the weight room and given punishment exercises. I suppose it’s better to get that kind of thing out of the way now rather than later!

Scheduling

This week we finally nailed down our Fall schedule. We thought we finished that months ago, but a tournament we’d committed to attending fell apart. After weeks of trying to figure something out, an opening developed that we filled. There may still be a couple of match time changes. At least we know all our dates and opponents, though.

The first tournament we will play in features two teams ranked in the Top 25 last year. The other two teams we play were not that strong, but overall it should make for a very competitive event. The one drawback is that while one of the strong teams we play is in our NCAA region, the rest are not. We try to schedule Regional teams because they impact our region ranking. That factors into NCAA tournament selection. In Division II the first three rounds of the championship tournament are regional brackets. The winners of the 8 regions then advance to the national quarterfinals.

Our second tournament will not be nearly so strong. The host is a team from our region we played last year – and lost two disappointingly in our home tournament. One of the other teams finished low in the standings of one of the other conferences in our tournament. The remaining team, though, is one that was not very strong in a conference outside our region.

The third week of the season we start our conference schedule, but we added in a non-conference match on the first day. It’s against the team that was #5 in the rankings at the end of 2016. They aren’t a region team, but we’re happy to play someone that strong. Two of the teams from our conference were Top 25 last year as well, so all together that makes 5 teams on the 2017 schedule against top-ranked programs from last season.

We have three other non-conference matches scattered through the rest of the season. They are all regional competition.

Speaker event

As I write this, one week from tomorrow we will have 5-time Olympian Danielle Scott speaking on campus at a fundraising event. That’s mean we’ve been working hard on selling tables and finding people to fill the ones we’ve gotten sponsored. It also means organizing the facilities requirements, the catering, and lots of other details.

Buenos Aires planning

The clock is counting down fast!

We start pre-season – technically pre-trip – training on July 31st. We are allowed 10 days of practice before we go. Our departure date is August 12th, so we’ll have two days off. One of them will be the day we host a big event for the local high school teams to kick-off their new season. We’ll mix in one more along the way.

Because players will still be taking Summer classes, and there are still basketball camps going on, we have to schedule practices around things. It’s not too onerous, though.

For the trip itself I think we have all the back-end stuff worked out. One contract awaits signature. Aside from that, the big thing left is finalizing the schedule in terms of who and when we play, and what we do when we’re not doing volleyball stuff.

Why I coach

Why do I coach volleyball?

That’s a question I think about from time to time, especially when pondering my future. All of us should know what motivates us to coach, and to keep coaching. The moment we struggle to come up with a good motivation is probably the signal it’s close to the end, or at least time for a break.

Note, I’m not talking about coaching philosophy (you can see mine here).

So why do I coach? Or probably better stated…

What do I get out of coaching beyond a salary and benefits?

Building something

I am a builder. I like taking things from nothing to something, or from something to something better. It’s a big reason why I took the MSU job. We did it at the University of Exeter when I was there, going from basically an average regional program to one with a national reputation. It’s why I built the biggest Juniors club in my home state of Rhode Island. It was even part of what we did at Dean College, my first college coaching job. I’m motivated to constantly look for ways to make improvements.

This is where I had an issue in my time at Svedala. I wasn’t involved in the management side of the club. I was just the coach. As such, I couldn’t influence the club’s path forward. That grated on me, and no doubt was part of my overall feeling of discontent there.

My time at Svedala may not have gone the way I wanted, but it definitely taught me some things. One of those is that in any coaching job I take moving forward I need to have an influence on things off the court. Just coaching won’t be enough.

Problem solving

I really get into the problem solving aspect of coaching – answering the “How do we …?” questions. In some ways that overlaps with what I just talked about above in terms of building. Here, though, I’m more specifically talking about the immediate situation with the team in the current season.

Think of this as the nitty-gritty of getting the most out of a group of players. That’s stuff like trying to figure out the best starting 6 and playing a system that maximizes their collective potential. It’s figuring out training priorities to move the team forward in the areas we’ve prioritized. Maybe it’s improving specific technical skills.

Achievement

Many people who coach are inherently competitive. Coaching for them is a way they can continue to compete once their playing career has wound down. I’m not really motivated that way.

Don’t get me wrong. I like to win, and I’m competitive in my own kind of way. I just don’t put as much weight on winning and losing as others do. I’ve heard coaches say they would be very difficult to live with if they had a losing record. When I interviewed Mick Haley for Wizards, he talked about really having a problem if his team won less than 80% of its matches.

That sort of thing isn’t an issue for me in and of itself. Good thing too! I’ve coached some teams that didn’t win very much. The difference in whether I was happy with those teams or not is if they achieved. Some teams had the talent to be winners, but weren’t because they didn’t achieve. Other teams definitely achieved, but didn’t win much because they lacked the talent. And sometimes you have teams that win despite not really achieving.

That all said, I definitely acknowledge that winning is necessary for achievement beyond a certain point. You can’t take home your program’s first ever league championship without winning. You can reach your first national championship tournament without winning. There comes a time when the sort of building I talked about above requires win-related achievement. I acknowledge that wholeheartedly. It’s just that for me the achievement is more important than the winning.

Here’s an example. The Exeter University women’s team had a league record of 4-6 the first year I coached them. Somehow we still managed to qualify for the championship tournament as the third place team in our league (lost in the first round). We had a losing record, but the achievement was massive for us. It set the table for the following year, which I’ll talk about in a minute.

The sense of shared direction and commitment

As much as a lot of what I’ve done over the years could be viewed as individual accomplishment – like writing books, and completing my PhD – I get even more out of achieving things as part of a team. When everyone is on the same page and pulling in the same direction, and you achieve something great, it’s the best feeling in the world.

The Exeter women’s team in my second year was a great example of this. From the beginning of the season we had one objective – reach Final 8s. Everything we did was with that goal in mind. This was a direct carryover from the prior year’s experience of losing the first round playoff match.

We didn’t actually win any titles that season, and when we reached Final 8s we won just a single match out of four. We got there, though, and managed to find our way into the semifinals thanks to a tiebreak after pool play. It was an amazing thing because we again achieved something significant. I would have done just about anything for that team because we were all in it together.

Not teaching?

You’ll notice I didn’t actually talk about teaching in any of the above discussion. A lot of coaches bring that up as one of their big motivators. They love the teaching element. Once upon a time I probably would have said the same thing. These days I tend to think of myself more as a facilitator of learning than a teacher, per se.

There is another part to this, however. I figured out a while ago that my coaching niche is in the young adult age group. I’ve coached everything from U12s to middle aged adults, but I feel I am at my best with the 18-25 year olds. That means less need to teach basic skills. It’s usually more about refining technique and improving volleyball IQ at the individual level.

Not the thanks?

Hahahahahaha!

Gratitude is in relatively short supply in the coaching game. If that was something I needed to keep me going I’d have quit years ago. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. Every once in a while you receive an expression of gratitude. Their nice to receive, for sure. It’s always good to know you are appreciated. I just don’t expect it.

What about you?

I’ve shared my own coaching motivations. What about you? Why do you coach? What keeps you coming back year in and year out?

 

Volleyball tryouts for high school teams – some ideas

Are you thinking about high school volleyball tryouts? For a lot of coaches it’s their least favorite part of each season. I think all the high school coaches I’ve interviewed for Volleyball Coaching Wizards have said that. Still, it’s not something you can probably avoid, so might as well make the most of it!

At the time of this writing, one of my former men’s players from Exeter University was just named head coach for a local high school team. Up to now he’s been a Juniors club coach, so this is his first time coaching high school. As you can imagine, he’s anxious about running his first volleyball tryouts as the boss. He actually sent me a long text describing his plan. Here’s what it looked like.

Tryouts over 3 days. ~2 hours each day.

I want them there at 8:40am to 3 person pepper, but tryouts won’t begin officially until 9. I can start to evaluate their personalities/hustle/passing/overhand sets at this time. I’m thinking around 24-26 girls will be trying out for varsity – All juniors and seniors. Some juniors are electing to try out for JV due to the competition and our sophomores aren’t very developed yet.

Day 1, I’ll split girls randomly into groups. Groups again on day 2 and 3, but these would be based on stats from day 1. Alternate setters between groups for them to set from great and not so great passes. Day 1 – 9am: Focus on physical fitness and basic skills. Capture speed, agility, stationary jump reach, jump approach reach etc. Then move on to the basic skills. Passing and hand sets from free balls, 10 serves, 10 hits off their own toss and then 10 hits each from a setter. Do you think I should evaluate and give jump floats and jump topspin serves a high value when ranking? If we have enough evaluators, we’ll have two courts for day 2 and 3. If only one court, I might increase the tryouts by an hour.

Day 2: Start with serve receive/passing evaluations, using your 3-2-1-0 scoring system. Serve receive. Free ball passes to target, focused on tempo. Down ball passing. Etc. Then transition to hitting evaluations. 10 hits from coach toss. 10 hits to target from setter (toss ball to setter), and then 10 hits from set, this time the pass is from the girls. I’d like to evaluate block somehow (footwork, reading sets etc). We can evaluate setters and hitters at the same time during this. Can also get a feeling for hitting IQ if sets are tight to the net or out of system. If time is left, transition to 4v4/6v6, alternating setters. Evaluate on everything including awareness and athleticism.

Day 3: Warm up drills. Hitting. Serve receive. No more than 30 minutes. 6v6 on two courts. Games to 12. Setters stay. Teams of 5 rotate. Evaluate the “whole package” during this period.

I asked the new coach a question. What is his priority? Is it to pick the best team, or is it to take a more long-term development focus? In this case it about picking the best team. He told me there’s a fair bit of talent in the group.

My immediate response was to suggest some big cuts. Since he’s trying to pick the best team there’s a lot of the plan that can be left out.

The physical assessments are really a waste of time. If you want them for planning weight training work or something like that, get it later when you have the team picked. They don’t help you pick the best team. You can see how high players jump and how fast they move in other activities. Better to free up the time for volleyball activities.

You can toss out a lot of the basic skill assessment as well. These are volleyball tryouts, not volleyball skill tryouts. You want the best players, which isn’t necessarily the same as saying the most skilled players.

My suggestion was to do a lot more game play. Start with small-sided games and progressively work up to full 6 v 6, if you want to see the players in that situation. If you do your ratings in game situations you get a much better quality evaluation than if you do them off very controlled reps. As one of the USA Volleyball technical staff said once, ratings like for serve receive taken from game play are more predictive of how someone will pass in a match then ones from drills.

This isn’t to say you should only play games. If you can, that’s great. But sometimes you have too many numbers or other considerations forcing you to do certain types of things. If so, then you have to do what makes sense for your situation. You do want to make it as close to game-like as possible, though.

If you want some ideas for games and drills you can include in your volleyball tryouts, have a look at these volleyball tryout drills. Also, definitely check out the guide I put together. It should give you some useful ideas.

 

volleyball tryouts guide

Thinking more broadly about feedback

Volleyball Coach

Alexis at Coaches Corner has a post where he talks about feedback. In it he says sometimes not providing feedback is the best choice. I certainly agree that coaches probably should not provide a constant stream of verbal feedback (see The more you talk, the less they train).

This is not a contradiction to what I said in It’s more about the feedback than the drill, however. Feedback is massively important in skill acquisition. It is a key component of deliberate practice.

But feedback is not just what we as coaches tell our players. We have to think MUCH more broadly than that.

There are two primary sources of feedback. One is outcomes. The other is external input. I’ll start with the latter.

External input

Feedback from some external source is what we tend to think of most often when we talk about feedback. It is an outside view of things the player doesn’t have for themselves and is thus provided by someone or something else. From this perspective, we usually think of what we say to our players to help them get better as our feedback. Certainly, that is an important type. There are other sources of external input, though.

Let’s think, for example, of who else provides verbal feedback to a player. Their teammates, right? The block didn’t get closed or wasn’t in the right position. The set was too low or the pass was too tight. Or, to flip things around, the set was perfect, or that was a great pass.

Sometimes players get a bit more technical with each other in terms of mechanics. That’s not always a great thing, but in the right situations is can be very valuable. Think player-to-player mentorship as an example of that.

Another source of external input is video. When players watch themselves they can see what things look like from outside to match it up with their kinesthetic sense. Basically, video is a kind of substitute for a coach’s verbal feedback. It isn’t exactly the same, but it goes in the same direction. Players just need some guidance for its proper use.

Outcome based feedback

Every time a player performs a skill there is an outcome. The pass went where they wanted or didn’t. Their serve went to their target or not. The attack was a kill, or it was a blocked ball, an error, or a dig. I think you probably get the idea.

We coaches cannot possible comment on every time each one of our players touches the ball. That means this outcome source of feedback is far bigger than anything we can provide ourselves. And yet, it probably doesn’t get the focus it requires.

This is a tricky part of the feedback system. One the one hand, it’s outcomes we are after. The player needs to know whether they accomplished what they intended. The challenging part is when the desired outcome happens despite the player making a bad choice or executing the skill poorly. In other words, they were lucky rather than good.

More experienced players generally know when they’ve done something correctly. They know when they got lucky. Outcome-based feedback is more problematic for those with less experience. They don’t know yet if they are doing things correctly. Even with experienced players you sometimes have to look at the decision-making element separate from the outcome so they can think in terms of whether there was a better choice. This means we have to consider outcome feedback when looking at our practice activities.

Using the different sources of feedback

So the bottom line is that you have multiple forms of feedback to consider how you do things. How you combine them should have a lot to do with the level of your players. In the case of inexperienced ones, you probably want to rely much less (if at all) on outcomes. Instead, you should focus on the external feedback – coach talk and video – related to the particular thing you are aiming to develop. The concentration is on the process rather than the outcome.

As players become more experienced – at least in terms of their training focus for that particular exercise – you can shift more to an outcome type of feedback, with less of the external sort. Here your external feedback likely shifts away from technical elements to more decision-making.

And through it all players should be encouraged to view feedback in a non-judgement fashion (see The Inner Game of Tennis).

Coaching Log – July 7, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

Anyone who thinks college volleyball coaches have Summers off has no idea! This is a particularly intense off-season for me. I’m the lead on all the stuff for the Argentina trip. On top of that, the head coach has mostly been out of pocket the last few weeks. First she was off getting married. Then last week she was running our camps. Now she is away for her honeymoon.

Let’s just say it’s been an intense period.

Here’s what’s been going on.

Recruiting

Not a lot going on here in terms of active recruiting. We are, of course, getting a steady stream of prospect emails to evaluate. We’re just not doing anything off-campus at this stage. We have offers out to four 2018 prospects. One was recently accepted, so the Class of 2022 is already starting to form! Hopefully, we’ll get more commitments in the weeks ahead.

Freshman stuff

There’s always a bunch of stuff for incoming freshmen – and transfers – to do. They have to make sure everything is submitted to the NCAA Eligibility Center. There is Orientation to attend and class registration to do. In our case, most of them will take Summer II classes as a jump start. Doing so gets them on campus early and allows them to work with our strength coach. That’s alongside the other players who are in the area over the Summer, helping them integrate.

Buenos Aires planning

This has been a huge source of stress and sleepless nights!

The biggest issue is that we’ve had to rapidly accelerate our fundraising efforts because of organizational bureaucratic requirements. We thought we had some time, but in order to get the official travel authorization we have to show sufficient funds in our account. That’s meant a scramble to get that lined up in a matter of days rather than weeks. It will happen, but not without some contortions.

We’ve also been trying to work through a contract thing with Boca Juniors, who will host us for our practice sessions. They sent us a contract to sign, which I did. The university, however, needs Boca to sign an addendum. Unfortunately, the people at the club with the authority to sign that addendum are not present, and won’t be until July 16th. Reaching the point of understanding the delay on their end was crazy. Our contact planning things for us is currently on vacation in Europe, so he’s been long-distance middle man. It took having a Spanish speaker here talk to someone at Boca to finally understand what is holding things up.

Of course the organization of things in Buenos Aires isn’t all that is going on. Travel preparations are underway. That means things like passports and immunizations and getting the ticketing done. Plenty of details to finalize on our end as well.

Speaking Event

I mentioned in my last entry that we arranged for 5-time Olympian Danielle Scott to come speak on campus. Here is the graphic we had developed.

That was meant to be a major part of our fundraising efforts, but now it’s looking less important from that perspective. Not that we don’t plan on raising money from it. We definitely do. It’s just that the accelerated fundraising need I mentioned before takes some of that pressure of this event. We can now angle it to be at least as much about community engagement.

As you can see, it’s only a few weeks until the event. That means on top of all the stuff for the Buenos Aires trip, I have organization of this to do as well. We’re doing the event in our coliseum, so I’ve had to arrange for that to be set up. We need food, which means catering. Of course we need bodies to fill all the seats. We’re aiming for 300+, so this is no small production.

Other stuff

We found out as we started our camp that the lines for the courts in our main gym were re-done a little off. The main central court is fine, but we have a 2-court configuration we use for practice and when we’re running tournaments. The court ended up about 2 inches too wide. The folks who redid the floor seem to have used the marker as the inside edge of the sideline rather than the outside edge. Ooops!

I’m not sure if that can be repaired straight away or if we’re just going to have to use tape until it can get fixed later.