Tag Archive for coaching education

Improving coaching education

This article has some really thought-provoking things to say about coaching education. It’s main thrust is that coaching education must focus much less on sports science, exercise physiology, bio-mechanics, skill acquisition, sports psychology, sports nutrition etc. The author makes the point that this was all necessary years ago, but that’s no long the case. Why? Because so much information is readily available online these days. That just wasn’t true before.

The author actually takes things a step further. He questions the value of spending a lot of time sports science and these other topics from the “what matters” perspective. By that I mean he says if you ask what makes for a great coach, knowledge of these technical elements are way down the list. I read somewhere else that motor learning only accounts for like 5% of what coaches do with their teams. It’s something I talk about here. I don’t take that figure as strictly accurate. It is at least indicative, though.

For me, there are a couple of takeaways from this article.

First, if the more science-oriented stuff represents a small minority of what we actually do, then it should similarly be a small amount of our study and development. Obviously, there’s a basic level of understanding required.That means an initial investment of time. Beyond that, though, it’s just about keeping up with the research.

Second, it makes pretty clear that coaching education needs to spend a lot more time on so-called “soft” skills. Think of this as at least partly related to the idea that, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” I’ve long felt that courses tend to fall well short when it actual comes to teaching how to manage players and teams.

The third thing that comes to mind is how we think about coaching education. A big problem for newer coaches is they don’t know what they don’t know. This idea has come up in many of the Volleyball Coaching Wizards interviews. The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know. I think it would be good for us to help developing coaches understand better what they don’t know – and from there, how they can learn about it.

So how do we develop better coaching education with these things in mind?

If you think coaching is easy, you’re probably doing it wrong

Mark Lebedew wrote a post titled How To Become A Coach. In it he shares a story about a former player relatively new to coaching talking about how hard it is to coach. I’ve heard something similar in my own coaching travels at different times. Players often don’t realize the amount of work that goes into good coaching. As a result, when they attempt to make a shift into coaching after they finish playing they get a major shock.

I’ve long been a proponent of players doing some coaching along the way. Many of the college players I’ve coached over the years have coached juniors. The three Americans on the Svedala team I coached professionally in Sweden were coaches for the club’s youth teams. One the one hand, I thinking coaching makes players better. They learn to look at things differently, and that can have a real positive impact on their play. On the other hand, the experience of being a coach helps them appreciate better the sorts of things their own coaches deal with on a regular basis.

Of course, some of the players are better coaches than others. That’s a function – at least in part – of having the types of skills coaching requires. They aren’t the same as those necessary to play volleyball at a high level.

None of them are really good coaches, though, for a couple of simple reasons. One is lack of experience, and the other is lack of education. The latter is Mark’s primary point in his piece. Paraphrasing, he says go to every course, clinic, practice, and match you can; talk to everyone you can and ask lots of questions; and do all the work you have to do, even if you don’t like. And you have to keep doing it. This is something I wholeheartedly endorse, having done just that sort of thing myself, with examples here, here, and here.

It should be noted that education is not enough, though. One of my early Volleyball Coaching Wizards interviews was with Paulo Cunha. For many years he directed coaching education in his native Portugal. Paulo made the comment during our conversation that just getting a certification doesn’t make you a coach. People may think it does, but in some ways it’s just the beginning of the process.

Coaching is a challenge on many levels. If it isn’t, you’re probably not doing it right. To my mind, that’s a big part of what makes it interesting and compelling.

 

Book Review: The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle

If you’re a coach, or teacher, and haven’t read the The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle, make it the next book on your list.

The book starts of with some serious science about myelin development, which is a major factor in skill acquisition. Don’t worry, though. It’s not hard to follow, and more behavior based concepts quickly come in to play.

Basically, the book talks about how we develop skill (deep practice), what motivates that development (ignition), and how coaching fits into that equation.

There’s a part of Chapter 9 that I think really hits on a major factor in sports coaching. It compares the coaching of Brazilian soccer players with the training of violinists in Japan. In the latter case the teachers are constantly providing specific feedback to the students. In the former case, though, the coaches hardly say anything. Why is this?

It’s not cultural. It’s about the requirements of the skills to be developed. Playing violin is about consistency of very specific execution. Playing soccer is dynamic. Situations constantly change. As a result, the player has to continuously adapt to stimuli and find the right solution for their current situation. The games the Brazilian coaches have the kids play both create the situations they want them in and provide the feedback.

To quote Coyle, “The lessons the players teach themselves are more powerful than anything the coach might say.” This relates close to what I wrote about in Teaching or facilitating? It is also part of our need to think more broadly about feedback.

The book’s epilogue provides a bunch of real-life examples of the ignitition/deep practice/coaching link. They are from a bunch of different parts of life and society. You definitely want to give this book a read. It could change how you think about your coaching.

That said, there are a couple of little things worth mentioning.

First, while the book clearly presents a path toward creating skill in just about everything, it doesn’t really address constraining factors. In the case of volleyball, height is an obvious example. A short player can develop maximum skill as an attacker. That simply won’t be enough, though to make the national team roster.

Second, Coyle walks a line with respect to whole vs. part training. He talks at a couple of points about breaking skills down into their parts. That may be fine when you’re learning to play a specific note on a violin. As the late Carl McGown preached for years, though, in terms of the science of motor learning in our arena, training in parts is not as effective. This also ties in with block vs. random training.

So, as much as this book has some really great information, realize it’s just one part of the whole set of factors.

Book Review: Legacy by James Kerr

Legacy, by James Kerr, is a book that often comes up when discussing coaching book recommendations. I want to stress up front that this in not a coaching book. Amazon at this writing has it listed in Sports Psychology, but that doesn’t fit either, to my mind. I think the book description does a pretty good job of saying what it’s really about.

In Legacy, best-selling author James Kerr goes deep into the heart of the world’s most successful sporting team, the legendary All Blacks of New Zealand, to reveal 15 powerful and practical lessons for leadership and business.

Focus on that last part about lessons for leadership and business. That is most definitely what the author provides.

As for the rest of it, I have my issues. The description makes it sound like the story of the All Blacks is the core material. In particular, the team’s transformation after a period of uncharacteristic under-performance is meant to be the main focus. While that story provides a framework, that’s about all. You can perhaps work out the time line of that transition, but it’s presented piecemeal. One of my problems with the book was that at points I didn’t know where the author was in the All Blacks history when he shared certain stories. It was rather annoying.

Also, the All Blacks are not the only references the author makes. He includes ideas from the likes of Phil Jackson and Bill Walsh as well, in terms of sports. There are a number of non-sports references too.

Obviously, I have no problem with references to all-time great coaches. Sometimes the language of the text is a little too stereotypical of leadership books, and there is too much repetition of certain elements for my taste. Overall, though, the “lessons”, concepts, and explanations are quite worthwhile.

Overall, I’d say this is a book worth reading if you go into it with the right set of expectations.

Are we trying to solve the wrong problems?

A member of the Volleyball Coaches and Trainers Facebook group posted something I think is worth a broad share. Here’s the snippet that really hits on the main point.

“…how far back do we coaches look for the fundamental and underlying errors in our coaching philosophies that make it difficult to find effective solutions? Are we, in fact, trying to solve the wrong problems.”

The volleyball angle

There are a couple of different angles on this. One of them relates to how we work with our teams and players. Are we trying to fix the last contact? Or are we trying to look at why there was a problem with the last contact?

For example, our libero in Position 5 shanks a ball attacked in their direction. Are we trying to fix what we perceive as the reason the libero shanked the ball (usually something mechanical)? Or are we looking to our block and realizing that it was badly placed or formed? Maybe we’re going back even further to see that our blocker’s footwork and/or initial positioning weren’t right.

You see where I’m going with this?

I’ve often told the story of my own development as a newer coach. I can remember an almost physical sensation of feeling my awareness of the court and the play expand. Like so many, I’d been fixated on each individual element. I wasn’t seeing the whole. As a result, I didn’t see root causality for the errors made on the last contact. At some point, though, my vision expanded.

I’m not saying that all at once I went from just seeing individual contacts to seeing the whole volleyball ballet. It was a progressive thing as I gained better understanding of how elements linked together. Watching a lot of volleyball with a critical eye helped a great deal too. I believe that was all part of my shift away from being very technically oriented as a coach to putting more emphasis on the mentality and structure of play.

The coaching angle

Let’s return to the piece that started this whole discussion. The bigger picture of our coaching is the other angle to consider. That’s the more direct focus of the quote above.

We see something “wrong” with our team or our coaching. Naturally, we want to fix it. As with the issue of only seeing the final outcome, though, are we only seeing the end result rather than the whole chain of causality getting there?

To once more quote the post, “If we were able to move back in the chain of events that have lead us to this point in our coaching and fix that one errant assumption, would coaching suddenly become much easier and more effective?”

So are you doing that? Do you try to work backwards from where you are at with a series of “Why?” or “How?” questions to figure out how you reached your current point? If not, it’s definitely something worth considering.

What is wanted when hiring a head coach

Volleyball Coach

A while back Terry Pettit (who I interviewed for Volleyball Coaching Wizards), wrote an article outlining what he looks for in a head coach candidate, which is also included in his second book, A Fresh Season. Terry mostly works with colleges and universities, so that is the focus perspective. I think the points he makes are pretty universal, though.

Top of the list, head coach experience

The very first thing Terry mentions on his list of what he looks for is prior experience as a head coach. His point is that until you are head coach you don’t really have final decision-making responsibility. That is a very different sort of thing that being an assistant coach. It is really the difference between being the leader and a follower.

Fellow Wizards interviewee Mick Haley has a very similar point of view. When I asked him in his interview what his career advice would be for developing coaches he specifically recommended getting some kind of head coach experience. He called the experience of having the decision-making responsibility key to a coach’s development.

By the way, what Mick said applies even to those aiming for assistant coaching positions. You will be a much more effectively assistant if you know what it’s like to be head coach. You are better able to anticipate the head coach’s needs.

Make sure it’s a good fit

The second big thing Terry talks about is the need for there to be a good fit for both sides. This is crucial. If the fit isn’t there, things simply aren’t going to work out well. I can tell you that from personal experience. It was pretty clear to me relatively early on in my time coaching at Svedala that it wasn’t a great long-term fit. Predictably, things didn’t work out there.

Of course, judging fit is not always the easiest thing in the world. You for sure should do your research about the school or club. That will at least give you a basic sense for whether the broad structure is a fit. That means the type of institution and its philosophy, the location, the academic standards, and the other things you can judge at least to a degree from outside.

The trickier part is trying to gauge the more internal aspects of fit. What are the ambitions of the organization. What is the management style of the Athletic Director? How is the administrative and financial support? Is it a collegial staff? These, and other fit type questions are only likely to come to light during the interview process. You’ll probably have to ask some questions of your own to get the best sense for it.

Good character

Terry’s third factor is the coach’s character. To quote, “I will not forward a candidate who has a history of bending rules, physically or mentally abusing athletes, or not interacting with peers in a professional manner.” I don’t think I need to add much to that, really.

A collaborative leader

Fourth on the list is that a head coach should work well with others. Terry focuses on assistant coaches, but I would add in anyone else associated with the program. There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to running a team. Just as they would with a starting lineup, a good coach looks to use their staff in a way that highlights their strengths.

Curiosity above all else

While Terry puts curiosity last on his list, he calls it the most important trait he looks for in head coaching candidates. I might have used the word “reflective” instead, based on what he seems to be getting at here. It’s all about evaluating things, positively and negatively, and using your assessments to further yourself and your program. He describes someone who is basically always looking for ways to learn.

Additional thoughts

Terry has outlined the broad framework for what he considers a good head coaching position candidate. I generally agree with it. These are the higher level things you’ll want to get right. Of course, there are also finer details that become more or less relevant based on the position(s) you’re pursuing. Some of this relates to fit, as note above.

Some of it, though, is just technical and managerial skills you can develop. For example, most university head coach jobs require a master’s degree. High school jobs very often require first aid certification. Some jobs involve a fair bit of fund raising. Many positions require you to regularly interact with the media. You’ll want to do research into the requirements of the sorts of job you’re after to find out exactly what you need on your resume to make yourself a legitimate candidate.

Coaching for aggressiveness, reduced errors, and other stuff

There’s an interesting article at Volleyball Toolbox from long-time high school coach Tom Houser. Nominally, it is the response to a question about helping create more aggressive teams that make fewer errors. It covers a few different ideas, though. I think they are worth reviewing.

There’s no replacement for experience.

Just about the first thing Tom talks about in the article is how he struggled early in his career to help players. He compared his knowledge of what his players needed to “Swiss cheese” because there were so many holes in it. The first reason for this is his lack of experience, and it’s a very legitimate point.

I mentioned in my coaching stages post how early-career coaches often think they know a lot, but really don’t. Sure, they might know a whole bunch about playing volleyball, but coaching is a different skill set. And tied in with that is the amount of volleyball you watch, particularly from a coaching perspective.

Learn from others, but understand context

Another thing Tom talks about is his learning process as a developing coach. He says he was never an assistant coach, thus didn’t have a mentorship experience from that perspective. Obviously, that’s a disadvantage.

As with many of us, Tom turned to books and videos to increase his knowledge and grow is toolkit. He notes, though, that much of what he saw was presented by national team and NCAA Division I coaches. He struggled to relate those drills and such to his high school players’ level. Tom called them “nearly useless”. I respect that he was thinking of the context differences. I think, though, that was probably a bit harsh. Most drills and games are adaptable to different levels. Not all, but most. But then doing so usually requires some experience, so see above.

Much coaching communication you hear is useless

Tom talks in his article about coaches saying things like “get low,” or “snap,” or “move your feet,” or “call the ball”. We hear phrases like that all the time. We’ve probably said them ourselves.

The point is in most cases those things don’t actually address the root cause of the problem, so they don’t actually address anything useful. Just like when parents yell them from the sidelines. 🙂

Coaching for aggressiveness

Moving on to addressing the question that inspired the post, Tom provides a relatively simple way to coach it. “All you have to do is ask your players to perform the drill WITHOUT punishment/consequences/eye-rolls for making a mistake performing the skill.”

This definitely matches my own philosophy. Aggressiveness will result in errors at times. You cannot encourage the one without accepting the fact of the other.

Also, Tom said he basically sets up games that require certain types of aggressiveness to win. Pretty simple, really.

Reducing errors

Having said that about the errors, Tom also shares his thoughts on keeping them to a minimum. One is the understand their source. Are they bad decisions, or are they bad execution? See what I wrote related to this breakdown in Coaching from a solutions perspective.

For the first type of error, it’s our job as coaches to teach better decision-making. In terms of the second type, Tom credits his teams making fewer mistakes on encouraging players toward simple, efficient mechanics.

Those are the major points. Definitely give the article a read and see what you takeaway for yourself.

Report on my Europe trip

This is a little more delayed than I’d intended, but here goes.

As previously reported, I spent a week in Poland observing the Australian Men’s National Team training camp. My friend – and Volleyball Coaching Wizards partner – Mark Lebedew was named head coach of the Aussie team in the latter part of 2016. This was his first camp and it’s focus is on prep for World League. Their first round of play will be in Slovakia. That being the case, and with many of the Aussie guys playing on club teams in Europe, it made sense to have camp there. Mark arranged for his club in Poland, Jastrzębski Węgiel, to host.

I’ve never been to a national team training. Also, I’ve only ever seen Mark coaching in the latter parts of a season when things were pretty well established. I was curious to see what he’d be doing with a new team from the start. So off I went to Poland!

Here’s photographic proof. 🙂

This was actually my second time in Poland. The first time was back in 2014. I was in Berlin at the time and Mark had a spare ticket to Men’s World Championships. So I tagged along with him to Wroclaw.

The training

I arrived late on Tuesday, so my first day in the gym was Wednesday. The team had the weekend off, and I was there through the following Tuesday, so I sat in on five days of work. The team did 2-a-days. The afternoons were team sessions. The mornings were split, however. How that worked varied a bit.

During the first three days I was there, the receivers started on the court. They worked with legendary coach – and future Wizards interviewee – Andrea Anastasi. After about 45 minutes they went to lift, then it was time for the middles to have the court. They worked on blocking with former German national team player and current Lüneburg head coach Stefan Hübner. Mark gave Andrea and Stefan complete control.

Andrea and Stefan left after Friday, so things were a little different for Monday and Tuesday. Mark took charge of the receivers, and they still worked on passing each morning before lifting. This time, though, the second group was the setters. They worked with an experienced professional setter named Mishkin. The afternoons were still team sessions.

I will follow up with a couple of posts that talk more specifically about stuff I saw. There were some interesting ideas and approaches. As you may have seen, I already posted a warm-up game Stefan used one day.

By the way, Mark told me in advance that I wouldn’t be required to help out at all in practice. He’d have more than enough help, he said. Somehow, though, I still found myself collecting and feeding balls.

The social stuff

Watching Mark and the others run court sessions was, of course, only part of the experience. Along with Andrea, Stefan, and Mishkin, there were a number of other coaches on-hand. One was Mark’s club team assistant from last season, Luke. He actually is the coach who preceded me at Svedala, and was recently named the head coach at Berlin. He’s an Aussie, and a member of Mark’s national team staff.

There were two other Aussies there as part of the staff. Lauren Bertolacci is a former Aussie women’s player. She currently coaches a men’s team in the Swiss league. It’s pretty rare to see a female coach at all, never mind for a men’s team! I’ve known of Lauren for a while, but this was the first time we got to meet.

The other coach was Liam Sketcher. He spent the last couple years coaching at Marienlyst in the Danish men’s professional league.

There was plenty of down time, so I got to speak quite a bit with everyone. And Andrea regaled us with many stories! 🙂

Unfortunately, my friend Ruben from TV Bühl had to cancel his planned visit. I spent time with him during his club’s pre-season in both 2014 and 2015.

The rest of my trip

After I left Poland I spent a week bouncing around. Most of my time was in England, but I also spent a couple days in Germany. In England I mostly did non-volleyball stuff. I spent a day visiting with an old friend in Ipswich and then a day in Exeter with my PhD supervisor talking about our on-going research efforts. While in Exeter I also had lunch with the guy who got me into coaching the university teams.

After Exeter it was off to Husum in Germany where I met up with Oliver Wagner. He is spearheading the effort to bring a team from the area into the German top men’s league – the Bundesliga. That club is WattVolleys. We talked A LOT of volleyball over the two days I was there.

The final part of my trip before returning home was a visit to the University of Essex. Former England national team and professional player Alex Porter runs the volleyball performance program there. Essex is one of the senior academies designated by Volleyball England. Alex showed me around the campus and we talked a lot about the university and coaching.

Report: 2017 USA Volleyball High Performance Coaches Clinic

Back in 2015 I attended my first USA Volleyball High Performance Coaches Clinic. I wrote a report about the experience. I just attended the 2017 edition, along with the Level III Coaches Accreditation Program (CAP). Here’s the report on that one.

Day 1

As per usual, the program began in the evening with a social and USAV presentation. The presentations focused on 2016 developments in the various national programs. We heard about what was happening in the High Performance program from its director. Karch Kiraly took us through things for the Women’s National Team, and Nate Ngo from the Men’s staff did the same for them. We also got to hear from Bill Hamiter on the performance of the sitting teams. The last part featured Kathy DeBoer (AVCA), Jerritt Elliot (Texas), and Alexis Shifflett (women’s sitting team player) sharing short personal stories. After that it was just mingling and socializing.

Day 2

The first full day began in the gym. Jerritt Elliot went first. He focused on middle blocker transition. In particular, he concentrated on the transition from the net to attack readiness being as quick and efficient as possible. Keegan Cook (Washington) followed up with a session on transition offense. He shared some interesting heat maps and stats related to passing targets and other things. The third court session was from Beth Launiere (Utah) on serve receive offense.

Following the normal pattern, the court sessions were followed by breakout groups. Attendees are divided into a number of groups (6-8 people) in advance for these. They are then assigned members of the clinic cadre on a rotating basis. This is to allow for follow-on discussion guided by those cadre. Unlike in 2015, I did not get any of the higher profile small group leaders.

The last two morning sessions were in the presentation theatre. Nikki Holmes (North Carolina State/Girls’ Youth National Team) and Jesse Tupac (Denver) talked about data collection and statistics use. The other session was by Jimmy Stitz, the sports psychologist and strength & conditioning coach for the Women’s National Team.

After lunch, Dr. Andrew Gregory (Assistant professor of Orthopedics and Pediatrics, Vanderbilt University) did a good session on injury prevention and supplement use. Bill Hamiter came next with a more detailed exploration of the Women’s Sitting Team’s build up to the Paralympics and performance in them. Wrapping up the trio, Karch did a talk about transitions. Small group breakout sessions followed.

There was a “mic’d up match” that evening featuring Keegan and Beth leading teams that evening. I did not attend, though.

Day 3

It was back in the gym for two sessions to start the day. Beth did her session on blocking. In particular, she talked about differentiating in-system vs. out-of-system schemes. She also talked about how blockers could prepare for transition. Keegan did the second session. It was titled “Practice to Performance”. It looked at ways of doing some basic stats in practice and how those could be applied. Small group break-outs followed.

Back in the lecture theatre, Aaron Brock (USA Men’s Athletic Trainer) did a talk focused largely on recovery. After that, Shelton Collier (Wingate) and Jonah Carson (Mountain View VB Club) did a joint session on coaching mentorship. In particular, they focused on efforts in the High Performance program to develop the coaches there.

After lunch, Matt Fuerbringer (Men’s National Team) did a court session on transition work. Karch came after that doing his own session. It didn’t really seem to focus on any one thing in particular. Karch just coached a practice session with the demonstration players and everyone watched. Again, small group sessions came after.

The final two sessions were once more in the theatre. Kathy DeBoer did a DISC-oriented presentation. The main thrust of it was understanding differences in personality types and how that impacts communication and interaction. Finally, there was a panel discussion. It featured five members of the Women’s Sitting team talking about their experiences.

Thoughts and Observations

The demonstration team was a groups of 14s. Apparently, they were a last minute fill in. This created some challenges for the coaches presenting court sessions. On the one hand it made things less efficient than would have been true with older, better players. On the other hand, many of the attendees were club coaches working with players in similar age groups. That made things more directly translatable for them. Also, they couldn’t say stuff like, “That’s all good, but it doesn’t apply to my level.”

I’m to the point where on-court sessions don’t really do a lot for me anymore. There were a couple of interesting nuggets, but mainly I was waiting for them to be done so I could get out of the uncomfortable bleachers. Some of the theatre sessions were repeats of material from CAP III, but mostly it was interesting.

For me, though, the biggest benefit to the HPCC is the location and what it allows. The event is at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. That means there are dorms available and a common dining hall. I didn’t stay in the dorm this time around (did in 2015), but once more the meals were great. They are excellent opportunities to talk with other coaches – from national team staff all the way down to local area youth coaches. This makes for a different type of event than something like the AVCA Convention.

I’m not saying the HPCC is necessarily better than the AVCA. The latter is much more college oriented, while the former caters more to Juniors coaches. I do think, though, that the single track and common dining help to make it a bit more intimate.