Tag Archive for coaching mentality

Technical vs Mental Training

Once upon a time I considered myself a highly technically oriented coach. I focused a lot on how players executed skills. I came up from a highly block oriented training background (meaning skill repetition), and I think the two kind of went together. Somewhere along the way, though, I started to shift to a more mental view of training.

I don’t recall a specific moment when the light bulb went off. I think it was more of a gradual realization that the teams I was involved in coaching were just not playing the game as well as required. They could execute the skills, but that simply wasn’t enough.

What do I mean by a more mental focus?

Basically, I mean focusing more on the structure of play and the decision-making process. The latter relates to choices individual players make while they play. For example, should I attack the ball aggressively here? Do I need to make sure I keep my serve in this time? Who’s my best set choice at this moment? And so on down to the level the specific skill the player elects to use. This is the solution side of the solution-execution combo Julio Velsaco talked about when I was at the 2014 HP Coaches Clinic.

The structure of play aspect relates to how players work together. It’s an element of what Mark Lebedew wrote about in his The Key to Volleyball post. Mark has also previously talked about how as soon as you have more than one player on the court it becomes an organizational situation much more so than a technical one.

I should note that when I talk about structure of play I’m not talking about systems. Yes, systems are part of it. For me, though, structure begins with mentality and expectations. How do we train and play as a group? That then feeds into how each individual plays within the scope of their role in the squad.

Is technique important? Of course. But technique is at the end of a chain on things, most of which are not physical. The vast majority of a player’s time is spent not in skill execution, but in preparing for that execution (see Going beyond maximizing player contacts). That is largely mental, and it’s where truly great players and teams excel.

Striking the balance

Clearly, we cannot just coach the mental side of the game. If a player can’t execute the skills, the rest won’t matter much. The question is finding the balance based on where your players are in their development. In my case, I have mostly dealt with players who have at least some base level of skill. Gains from improvements in technical ability at that level are generally less than those from improvements in the mental parts of the game – at least up to a certain point.

As always, it comes down to you as the coach evaluating your situation, setting priorities, and remaining focused on them.

The influence of happiness on coaching

This post definitely falls into the category of coaching introspection.

I had a number of interesting exchanges last week with folks all over the world in the wake of my stint coaching in Sweden coming to an end. Most were of the type you’d expect in that kind of situation. A few, though, actually addressed more specifically my state of mind. They really got me thinking.

More relaxed now

The first of those exchanges happened on Thursday while talking with a volleyball friend. He made the comment that I seemed more relaxed than he could ever remember me being. We’ve known each other for a couple of years and have had the chance to hang out in a number of different circumstances. We’ve also talked online numerous times, so this covers a reasonably large sample.

Now, I wouldn’t have said I felt more relaxed at the time, and I was surprised he made that comment. In thinking about it, though, it occurred to me that maybe this was reflective of somewhat less uncertainty in my life. Obviously, I’m now between jobs. For much of the last couple of years, though, I’ve been in a regular state of wondering where the future was going to take me while also wonder when I’d get my PhD work done. The latter is now finished, which is a big load off my mind to be sure. My employment future is hardly fixed, but maybe eliminating one source of stress is enough for me to seem noticeably more relaxed.

Enjoying myself

Looking at things from a slightly different angle, a non-volleyball friend last week asked me whether I enjoyed coaching in Sweden. That was a tough question. I didn’t have a good response. On the one hand, I couldn’t say “No”. On the other hand, I couldn’t immediately say “Yes” either. There were plenty of frustrations during my stay in Svedala, but plenty of good experiences as well.

Even thinking more about the question, I don’t have a clear-cut response. The only thing I think I can reasonably do is make a comparison. Did I enjoy coaching in Sweden more or less than coaching in England? In response to that question I believe the answer is clear. Definitely less. And that is without considering how my time in Sweden ended. There were plenty of frustrations coaching BUCS volleyball in the UK, but all things considered I enjoyed coaching the Exeter teams. It was really rewarding. Sweden less so, though I don’t regret my Swedish experience by any means. Part of the difference was that at Exeter I was involved in meaningful program development. No such opportunity with Svedala.


Related to the enjoyment thing, my mother offered up her own perspective. She told me her impression from my updates was that I wasn’t as happy in Sweden as I was in England. This has less to do with volleyball than with life in general, but naturally the two are connected.

In thinking about that observation, I had to generally agree. Life in Sweden was quite isolated. I was living away from town, and for the first 3 months or so in a place that wasn’t very comfortable and lacked internet. I didn’t have housemates to interact with on a day-to-day basis, or professors and peers during the day when I was on campus in Exeter. Plus, as much as most folks speak English, the natural first choice is Swedish. It’s very easy to feel isolated when you don’t understand the conversations going on around you.

It’s also possible the climate impacted my over happiness level. Granted, England isn’t exactly full of sunshine and warm weather all the time. In many ways the Swedish weather was very similar. The days are clearly shorter in the Winter, though. I’ve had some seasonal depression issues in the past, which was a concern in taking the Svedala job. I never felt like I was experiencing anything acute from that perspective, but it may have had a low level persistent influence.

Did it influence my coaching?

I have to figure on some level being less happy and enjoying things less must have had some influence on my coaching. Maybe I was less motivated to perform certain types of duties or act in certain ways. Maybe my energy level while coaching was lower than it would have been in another situation.

This would have been an ideal situation to have someone on-hand who could have watched me and compared my coaching psyche this season vs. prior ones. Unfortunately, I was working with all new people, so that option wasn’t available.