Tag Archive for mentor

The drill collecting stage

I don’t remember who said it, but a while back I heard someone call the early part of a new volleyball coach’s development “the drill collecting stage” and thought it extremely apropos. It hits the mark very neatly, and I’m guessing it’s not something confined to volleyball coaches.

Basically, what we’re describing here is the phase of a new coach’s development where they are learning different ways to teach skills. They are answering for themselves “How can I train … ?” or “What’s the best way to teach …. ?” It is a necessary period of learning for any coach as it creates the foundation for being able to develop priority driven training plans and to be able to dynamically adapt practices as required.

The eagerness and enthusiasm of this stage in volleyball coaching development can get a little carried away, though, and result in what I referred to early as Fancy New Drill Syndrome. It can also take a coach down the path of just compiling a collection of drills, games, and coaching methods which they don’t necessarily understand as fully as they should.

As members of the volleyball coaching community, and the broader volleyball community in general, we really don’t want to be tamping down the enthusiasm of new coaches. We need all of them we can get and more! This stage, though, is where mentorship can be extremely valuable in helping provide guidance.

Big rewards from seeing fellow volleyball coaches in action

During the course of just over three weeks in 2013 I spent a total of eight days watching various teams go through their training, and two other days taking in matches. It was a fantastic experience. I made some positive new connections. It reinforced some old relationships. And it was great for reconnecting me with US collegiate volleyball after several years away.

As you might expect, sitting in on 13 different training sessions from 5 different collegiate teams (URI, USC, Long Beach State, CSU San Marcos, and UCLA in that order) saw me get some ideas for drills and training methods. I posted several in the Drills and Games categories.

Drills and game ideas can be found in many different sources, though. For me it was more interesting to see a couple of different things. One of them was how certain aspects of the game had changed in the prior few years. In particular, it was clear to me that there had been an evolution in jump float serve mechanics. The changes in the use of the libero was interesting to observe as well, among other things.

The other was seeing the ways the various programs operate and the different types of managerial styles. Teams have different levels of resources allocated to them, and that can play a part. For example, USC has a fantastic training facility and loads of staff on the one end. CSU San Marcos, on the other hand, had to play its home matches at a local high school. They also only had a part-time assistant coach. Some head coaches are more supervisors and big picture overseers. Others are very hands-on in training, either through requirement or personal coaching focus. I also saw variations in the way warm-ups were handled, practice uniforms, and generally the vibe of the teams in training (though that was largely subtle).

Needless to say, I jotted down quite a few notes. I also recorded several bits of video to help me recall things and to provide visual and auditory support to my players of the things I was trying to teach them.

Actually, some of the most rewarding time was getting to talk with the coaches. Some of the coaches were folks I already knew, and we had all sorts of good conversations. Even those I was meeting for the first time, however, were generally quite willing to chat about what they were doing and answer questions. Some even shared things with me on related subjects with no prompting whatsoever.

I definitely recommend this sort of experience from a lot of perspectives, including a mentorship type of angle along the line of I wrote about in Making Mentorship Part of the Process. In fact, it may be something which can lead to finding yourself a good coaching mentor. Even if that’s not the case, seeing other coaches in action – particularly well-experienced ones – can get you seeing things from different perspectives. That’s never a bad thing.

So get out there and do it! You don’t need to make a 3-week trip like I did to learn some new things. Just find a good coach in your area and see if they’d be willing to have you come along and observe. Chances are they’ll say yes.

Making Mentorship Part of the Process

A few weeks ago I attended a coaching conference run by Volleyball England. It wasn’t an educational event so much as an opportunity to hear about where they were looking to take things and to share thoughts and ideas toward that end (though there was a session at the end on passing technique and coaching). For me the objective was to get a big picture view of what’s happening in the English volleyball community where coaching – and youth development, as it turns out – was concerned.

The overarching objective the V.E. folks told us they have is to create a world class volleyball coaching systems (their words, not mine), and we were given handouts diagramming how coaches could progress through the various levels of certification. We talked about all that, looked at examples from other sports like cricket and rugby, and broke up into little groups to generate discussion points for future consideration.

For me there is one glaring issue in the structure of volleyball coach developing in England. Namely the lack of mentorship. An educational structure is valuable, but there is nothing like learning at the side of an experienced individual. Outside of small pockets, that doesn’t seem to exist, and certainly I haven’t seen much evidence of it in the South West.

Learning from those who’ve been there and done that
My own volleyball coaching career started off as an assistant to the head coach of the girls’ team in my high school. Basically, I just helped out running a few drills in varsity team practices, though that later extended to helping out the team’s assistant coach with junior varsity training. After graduation I helped with the boys’ team as well.

Later, after a lengthy break during which I focused on playing and then my professional career, I became a part-time assistant coach at a 2-year Junior College, which was my first collegiate position. From there I moved on to assist on a full-time basis for a pair of Division I universities. I learned a massive amount from the experience.

Don’t get me wrong. I went through USA Volleyball‘s equivalent to VE’s coaching certification program, and I attended conferences and seminars, read books on coaching, and watched videos done by some of the more prominent collegiate coaches. I was a sponge.

That’s not the same as seeing all those things (drills, systems, etc.) put into action by an experienced head coach, though. Even more so when you are involved in doing it yourself as an assistant coach. There’s a lot of nuance to running a team, especially when you add in an organizational structure on top of it.

And importantly, getting to work under multiple head coaches lets you see things from different perspectives. We all coach a bit differently and we all have different coaching situations. A female coach is likely to have a different approach to certain things than a male coach. Coaching for a major university is not the same as coaching for a small local school, which in turn is not the same as coaching a Juniors team.

Learning by coaching
Please be aware, though, that this is not me saying one must just be an assistant or apprentice coach. During my years coaching collegiately I was often also the head coach for a Juniors team. That allowed me to put what I was learning into practice and to start developing my own coaching style. At the same time I could bring that experience and perspective back to my work as an assistant.

And of course my own experience is not the only way one can develop as a coach. There are many examples of P.E. teachers who took on a high school team and became very good coaches with long careers teaching and coaching. Some of them eventually progress into the collegiate ranks and work their way up by demonstrating success.

There are also former players who moved into the coaching ranks at a lower level after their playing careers were over and started working up from there. I actually worked under two coaches who started their careers running high school teams, one of whom had previously been an All-Conference player in her own right.

There is no doubt, though, that it helps to head coach at a given level if you’ve spent some time assisting at that level. And having someone there along the way to help you navigate your way in developing your coaching knowledge and talent can only accelerate one’s development.

Putting it into practice here
All of what I said above is a major motivation for developing this website and its related volleyball coaching group. I want to see a structure develop whereby coaches can learn from each other. Most especially I want to see a system unfold where mentoring of new coaches by experienced ones can take place. It may be some time before we’re there on a formal type of basis, but at least we can start moving in that direction.