Tag Archive for player feedback

Player-to-coach feedback from a team exercise

At the beginning of 2017 the Midwestern State (MSU) head coach gave everyone on the program – players and coaches – a task. Based on the book One Word that will Change Your Life, we each had to come up with a word that represented something in our life that we wanted to improve or otherwise focus on. The was about both volleyball and life. I chose the word consistency. For me that was mainly a personal thing.

The year 2016 was a big transitional one for me. I started the year in Sweden coaching profession, but then rather abruptly left. After spending about a month in Long Beach, CA, I then moved to Texas to coach at MSU in a very new locale, with new people, and in a new situation. I never felt like I settled things down into a good routine for myself personally. That is what motivated my word choice.

I was not thinking about volleyball when I picked my word – at least not directly. I believe I do a good job of being consistent with my teams (see this Volleyball Coaching Wizards podcast). It’s a focus point for me, and my prior teams gave me positive feedback about it. More consistency in my personal life, though, would no doubt have positive knock-on effects to my coaching work

Fast forward to the early part of the 2017 volleyball season. The head coach brought us all together one day for an exercise. We were all given a sheet of paper and told to put our name and our word at the top. We then passed everyone’s papers around the room. One by one we wrote positive comments on each person’s paper about how they were doing with respect to their word – and perhaps more broadly.

Below you can see the front and back of my sheet. You’ll also notice that someone decided to give me a new title, and several smiley faces were added. Not sure who did that, but “Papa” has now stuck. :-/

Naturally, the comments focus on consistency. After all, that’s my word. I was glad to see that they also appreciated other things I try to bring with me, though. Knowledge is obviously one of those, as you’d hope if you’re coaching! The other is a sense of humor. Volleyball is a game. Being part of a team should be fun. We shouldn’t take things – or ourselves – so seriously that we forget that.

I hesitate to call this proper feedback. After all, it was specifically intended to be positive. That makes it pretty one-sided. Still, it at least helps one to see if certain things are getting across.

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Fixing bad passing mechanics

A reader of the blog has a problem with one of their players. Specifically, it relates to bad passing mechanics. Here’s the note I received:

“I am a relatively new coach and this is my first season coaching boys. I have one boy on the team in particular that I’m having a hard time with his passing skills. He is doing what I call butterfly arms (Looks like he’s swimming the butterfly stroke) and delayed foot movement during passing. He waits until the ball is almost on him, then swings his arms backwards and around to get them into his hitting stance then leans forward instead of shuffling to get under the ball.

I’ve tried all kinds of passing and footwork drills with him (rolling the ball and having him shuffle to get it between his legs, having him hold his arms out, shoulder width apart and tossing him the ball without requiring foot movement, etc.) and I haven’t been able to cure this extra movement. Needless to say, he shanks a LOT of passes. Do you have any suggestions for drills or repetitions to help this?”

I’m having a hard time visualizing exactly what the problem is with the arms. I think I’ve got a general idea, though. In a case like this my first thought is the player needs to see himself to be able to understand what’s happening.

What I would start by doing is having the player watch some good passers in action. That could potentially be someone on his own team. It could be someone that they play against. Of course, it could also be some prominent high level players that could potentially be bigger role models for them. That stuff should be easy enough to find on YouTube, etc.

Once the player knows what good passing mechanics looks like, I would get them watching themselves pass. You could use one of the apps like Coach’s Eye (I think) that allow you to do side-by-side comparison of video. More than that, though, I’d want to be able to give the lad persistent feedback by using video delay, if you can (ideas for a set-up are here and here). That would let him see himself basically every repetition. He can then compare what he’s doing with what he’s seen is good mechanics. No better feedback than that!

Beyond the video, I don’t think it’s the actual drill or game that really matters. It’s more about finding the right cues to use with him. Those are the things that carry through across all activities, so you can include them throughout practice, which is important. The player needs to learn to pass in game situations, so you need to be able to have those cues established and ready for use.

Be careful, though, and don’t overload the kid. Try to only focus on one or two things at a time. If you have too many points of emphasis it’s not going to work.

A different approach to training mechanics

John Kessel wrote and article on the subject of coaching feedback. You should definitely take some time to give it a read.

The main thrust of the piece is that the sort of mechanics feedback/coaching I’d venture to say most of us have long engaged in (left foot there, elbow up, arms in this position, etc.) isn’t the best way to go about things. In fact, it may be counter-productive. The better approach is to talk about things from a kind of desired outcome perspective. The former approach is called internal while the latter is external.

I couldn’t help but chuckle at the first example of the difference between the two John provides – elbow high (internal) vs. swing fast (external).

You see, the night before I read that article I overheard my young middle talking about how her last coach had spent two years telling her to get her elbow up. It didn’t really work. πŸ™‚

I later had a conversation with my OPP about her blocking technique. She comment on how it didn’t really help to have people talk about what she should be doing with her arms, feet, hands, etc. It wasn’t useful feedback for her because she couldn’t translate that into something actionable. In part that was because she needed to see what she was doing (advocating video use). It was also because those verbal cues didn’t have any resonance with her in terms of desired outcome.

If nothing else, this discussion of internal vs. external highlights the need to find key words or phrases or cues that work with each individual player. At some point we have to recognize that saying the same thing over and over isn’t working.

Isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same thing repeatedly expecting a different result?

If so, many of us coaches could be said to at least have bouts of insanity. That’s above and beyond our decisions to become coaches. πŸ˜‰

Anyway, give Kessel’s article a read. I could change how you think about the way you coach the technical elements of the game.

Go ahead and yell at me coach

Spend time talking to athletes about what they want from their interactions with their coach an you’ll inevitably hear something to the effect of “I want you to yell at me.” I once had a player say, “I don’t care if you scream at me…”

You’ve heard that sort of thing, right? Maybe you thought it yourself in your days as a player.

To use some British phraseology, it’s rubbish!

Don’t believe a word of it. I’m not saying the players aren’t sincere when they say that. The issue is they’re not really being honest with themselves or with you about the yelling. They are, instead, telling you something about what the yelling represents to them.

No player wants you to yell at them.Β It may be effective at times. Some may have a thick enough skin that they can take it. They don’t actually want their coach yelling at them, though, and they do care if you do it. At its perhaps least upsetting level, it means in the coach’s eyes they’ve messed up. Obviously, no player is looking to do that. Above and beyond that, I’m sure any number of progressively more negative emotional responses come to mind. Think humiliation, anger, depression, etc.

Dig a little deeper with the players and you’ll find that what they are actually saying when they give you permission to yell at them. They really want ongoing feedback. Yelling – as much as it’s uncomfortable being on the receiving end – is at least a form of much desired information about their development and performance.

I have separate comments on the general idea of yelling in the Does yelling at the team accomplish anything positive? post. For this discussion, though, I hope you realize as a coach that even if you feel as though yelling at a player can be useful at times, it is only one potential form of feedback – and generally one with a strong negative focus. As coaches we need to be able to use the broad spectrum of feedback mechanisms and operate in both the positive and negative realms in reasonable measure.

So the next time you have a player tell you it’s OK to yell at them, make a little mental note that you need to be more conscious of providing that player with a lot of feedback, and probably in a variety of ways.