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Tag Archive for coach psychology

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?

 

Being an emotionally intelligent coach

Apparently, being on vacation gives Mark from At Home on the Court time to find all kinds of interesting stuff, like the one I spoke about in a prior post. Here’s another one he came across on the subject of emotional intelligence, this time from the New York Times.

Basically, we’re talking here about four primary areas of focus: self-awareness, self-management, empathy, and relationship skills. Let me take on each individually.

Self-Awareness

This is about understanding your own strengths and weaknesses. In a team context – being as a player or as a member of a coaching staff – that factors in to knowing how to work with others to maximize collective effectiveness.

Also in this category is having a good emotional insight. In other words, you understand your feelings and know what can trigger them – anger being a prime example.

Self-Management

This includes resilience, emotional balance, and self-motivation. A lot of this has to do with handling adversity and overcoming setbacks. These are things we hope to see (or develop) in our players. We must be good models for them. Emotional balance in particular speaks to not allowing negative outcomes to cause negative emotional reactions – like yelling at your team for losing a match.

Empathy

Here the focus is on being a good listener and being able to view things from other people’s perspectives. Part of this relates to being able to deal with people as they are, which was the topic of Episode 18 of the Volleyball Coaching Wizards Podcast. Another part is being able to read someone’s feelings for more effective communication. A third is taking in what others are saying and not trying to make things about you or your views.

Relationships Skills

This covers two main concepts. One is being able to be persuasive and clear in your communications. Legendary coach Julio Velsasco has described coaching as selling. You are trying to sell the players on what you want them to do and where you want them to go. In order to do that, you need to communicate with them clearing and persuasively.

The other primary concept in this area is being able to work with others. In this instance, however, the focus is on how people feel around you. Are they relaxed? If so, it’s more likely you’ll be able to work effectively with them.

How’s your emotional intelligence?

I know mine has gotten much better over the years. Could still use some work in places, though.

 

Volleyball coaching a distraction

Does this sound like you during the volleyball season?

Am I the only one that can’t get any work done during the day because I continually get distracted by thoughts of today’s drill schedule?

I know I certainly struggled keeping my focus on things that were supposed to have my attention (work, studies, etc.) at various points and times. While I coached at Exeter my days were frequently sidetracked by volleyball issues. That was true even when I wasn’t coaching that evening. I remember in my early days of coaching college volleyball spending time developing practice plans while at my day job.

Needless to say, for the sake of our employment, grades, relationships, or whatever, this is probably not something we should be in the habit of allowing to happen. 🙂

Here’s a possible way to tackle this issue. Set aside some specific time during the day when you permit yourself the volleyball distraction. I suspect it’s not a good idea to just cut it out cold turkey.

On a related subject, I realized planning practice takes basically all the time I allow myself to do it. By that I mean if I start working on it 2 hours before training it takes 2 hours. If I give it 30 minutes it takes 30 minutes. To address this situation I don’t start putting together the actual training plan until a certain time each day.

That isn’t to say I don’t think about what I wanted to accomplish that session beforehand. That process begins pretty much as soon as my last contact with the team ended. It’s just that I am more efficient writing up the actual plan itself.

You help fill in perception gaps, but you also have them

A little while back Mark Lebedew presented a quote by the Duke of Wellington by way of making the case that no matter the situation we never fully remember nor are even aware of all the events of a match (or any other event, for that matter). Nor does anyone else. As a result, it’s important to gather information from as many different perspectives as possible, and from objective sources like video and stats (keeping in mind that they too have their limits).

Think of this from the perspective of your role as coach. We volleyball coaches are largely external viewers of events. Yes, we are active participants in some ways, but our influence on actual play once the whistle blows is relatively limited. That means we are mainly in the role of being supposed objective examiners who are there to provide feedback and guidance to the athletes. A big part of that is to provide our players with information from outside their scope of view and recall. We can do that by sharing what we see, showing them video, providing them with the relevant stats, etc.

An important part of this process is understanding each individual. They all have their own scope of vision, primary methods of information acquisition, and filters. For example, some players fixate on their errors. One of our coaching roles in that kind of situation is the make sure they also acknowledge their successes. You could say we help them with awareness of their blind spots and the important information they may not be either collecting or weighting properly.

We need to be thinking about things for ourselves along a similar line. Unfortunately, coaches often don’t have coaches of their own to help in the process.