Tag Archive for Coaching skills

Sometimes old ideas are the best ideas

A lot of good ideas have been around in the world for a long time, getting recycled periodically. They pop up in different forms. New perspectives are applied based on whatever the current generation needs. The packaging may change, but the underlying idea remains.

I wrote about one of these ideas a while ago. It’s the concept of becoming progressively unnecessary as a coach. I don’t take credit for that. It came from John Kessel. He himself picked it up at a USA Hockey seminar. There it was presented as coming from teaching.

Let’s really wind things back, though.

Here’s a quote attributed to Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu:

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

Lao Tzu lived during about the 5th century BC. That means this concept is around 2500 years old. I don’t think it’s very likely Lao Tzu thought of it all by himself, though. Leadership in human endeavors goes back much further than that. No doubt someone else before him in ancient history thought the same.

Consider this when you come across a shiny new idea in coaching. Training ugly, the game teaches the game, mindset, and all of these related things are tossed around in our discussions.I’m not knocking any of them. Instead I’m saying they’ve been around for a long time. They maybe had different terms associated with them, but the concepts are nothing new.

My point in all this is that we don’t need to look for some new concept to become better coaches. Most of the best ones have been around for a while. We should definitely keep up with the research, but we should also not brush aside “old” ideas. There’s a good chance tomorrow’s new latest thing will be a repacking of a well-worn idea of the past.

Just look at the movie business! 🙂

The influence of culturally diverse players

The world has unfortunately experienced a number of traumatic recent experiences as I write this. Last week there was another major incident in France, and a coup attempt in Turkey. Not long before that was the attack on police officers in Dallas. Of a less violent nature – though perhaps no less traumatic for some – was the UK vote to leave the European Union.

Those are just a few in a long string of news items in the world over the last year.

Most volleyball coaches work almost exclusively with players from their own region. Yes, if you coach at a professional club, or at a major college or university, you get players from a wider area. The vast majority of youth teams, though, comprise of kids from the same general area as the coach. Even at the higher levels, all the players may be from the same country, so are culturally effected largely by the same things.

Gaining a broader perspective

Thanks to my experiences in England and Sweden, and my time with professional teams in Germany, I’ve had the fortune to work with volleyball people from many different countries and cultures. In England alone I coached players from about 25 different nations.

Perhaps thanks to my background in the financial markets, I probably have a broader interest and observation of world events than most. Granted, it’s not what it used to be. Still, I am more likely to watch Sky News than CNN.

A greater sense of empathy

Even with that broader global awareness, though, events in distant countries didn’t used to have much of a personal feeling about them. That’s no longer the case.

  • For most of three years I lived in the UK and coached UK players.
  • I coached French players
  • I coached Turkish players
  • In Sweden there have been a number of issue with migrants. Even before I lived there to coach Svedala, I coached two Swedish players. We have also interviewed two Swedish coaches for Volleyball Coaching Wizards.
  • I have not coached any Belgians, but two of the coaches we interviewed for the Wizards project are from Belgium.
  • Now I coach about 2 hours from Dallas.
  • Back in 2001 I was at Brown during 9/11. One of our players then was from Long Island, and had a parent who worked in NYC.

Of course not everything is a negative. There were plenty of positive things along the way. Talking with players after I visited their homeland is one example which stands out in my mind.

Either way, links like that can’t help but increase cultural awareness. I have talked before about my feeling that working with players from so many different volleyball backgrounds – and with many for whom English is not their first language – has had a very positive influence of my ability to communicate. I think the cultural exposure is a positive as well. That’s both as a coach and as a human being. Even if it brings considerable sadness at times

If you think you’re a great coach, you’re probably a poor one

People Who Think They’re Great Coaches Often Aren’t. That’s the title of a recent article from the Harvard Business Review. Got you thinking about whether you’re a good coach? 🙂

The scenario at the very beginning of the article I found really funny.

Basically, a person describes themselves a pretty good coach. When asked why, the response is they “…attended a coaching course and learned many of the techniques of good coaching.”

This story reminds me of a very early Volleyball Coaching Wizards interview I conducted. In it, Portuguese coach Paolo Cunha talked about people thinking they were coaches just because they’d done a course or gotten a certification as we discussed issues with coaching education.

Getting to the main point of the article, researchers did a test. They had people assess their own skills. Then they had others assess them. About a quarter of the folks involved overrated themselves. Not only were they not as good as they thought, but they actually ended up in the bottom third based on the external assessments. This is pretty classic overconfidence, which is something l looked at a lot while doing my PhD.

To summarize the findings, “…if you think you’re a good coach but you actually aren’t, this data suggests you may be a good deal worse than you imagined.”

The article continues on, suggesting…

“Bursting the bubble of your illusion of superiority could be highly advantageous to your continued development as a leader. In fact, this is the best reason to find a way to obtain honest feedback about your coaching skills.”

So what are the problem areas? The article provides a list I encourage you to read. Not surprisingly, communication and working with others rank high. Integrity is in there as well.

Interestingly, the people who underrated their own abilities scored above average in their assessed ability (57% percentile). What do you make of that?

I think it speaks to an attitude of continuous development. Coaches who do not think they are great are more likely to keep learning. They look at their weaknesses and seek to improve upon them. Sounds like a good mindset to me!

Why coaching education fails

Volleyball Coach

Mark from At Home on the Court a while back flagged a really interesting article which criticizes common practices in coaching education and development. In particular, it lists the “ten really dumb things we do and call it Coach Education.”

That list is:

  1. Basing coaching education on sports science
  2. Failing to align coach development with athlete development pathways
  3. Believing competency based training is the new messiah
  4. Running workshops and conferences largely based on sports science, gimmicks, fads, and short cuts
  5. Giving token attention to mentoring programs
  6. Teaching outdated periodization processes
  7. Focusing more on teaching “what” and not “how” and “why”
  8. Creating courses based on the past, not the future
  9. Allowing course presenters who lack high level teaching, education, and communications skills
  10. Too much classroom-based coursework

I’m going to speak to a couple of points of particular focus for me. I encourage you, though, to read the full article.

I’ll just quickly touch on the sports science bit from #1. The main idea to that point is that as coaches we spend only a very small proportion of our time on this area of our work (the author suggests about 5%). In other words, it’s not a developmental area that is likely to have the biggest impact on our overall ability to do a good job as coaches. This is particularly true if you are – or intend to be – a full-time coach (or at least run your own program).

I especially like #4. It’s something that as a key part of Episode 3 of the Volleyball Coaching Wizards Podcast. We had a trio of interviewees share their views about the importance of how you react to presentations at conferences and clinics, and what you see other coaches do with their teams. I would add to that the fixation in those educational venues on games and drills and other technical/tactical elements. Think “How do I fix ….?” (see You don’t need a new drill).

The mentoring point of #5 is something that was among the first subjects I took on in this blog. I think it’s a major area in need to development in volleyball coaching circles, as too many of us don’t get that kind of guidance. Instead, we are thrown into things without much in the way of direction, advice, etc.

The idea of shifting from “what” in #7 is something which very much hits home to me. I used to be a very technically focused as a coach. At some point, though, my mentality started shifting. I began to realize that what’s going on between a player’s ears was the bigger issue which definitely gets into the “why” of things.

Coaches making excuses

A while back, Mark Lebedew challenged coaches to realize something. While they are happy to point out excuse-making among their players, they are oftentimes just as likely to do the same thing. We may not be as obvious about it, but we do it.

Once upon a time I wrote about a conversation with a fellow US college coach who complained about the attitudes of modern players. My instinctual reaction was to think to myself that I hope lots of other coaches think that way. If so, I’ll have loads of coaching success by being more adaptive.

I’ve had similar reactions on reading about or hearing other coaches comment about entitled players or whatever. Mark cited the example of the SMU women’s basketball coach. The women’s basketball coach at Wisconsin took a similar view in a video that went viral through the coaching ranks.

I personally don’t think of players in generational terms. I look to work with each player based on their own personality, learning needs, and the like. It’s my job as their coach to help them get to where they need to be mentally and physically. I will keep working until I find the right way to reach, teach, and motivate them. [Tweet this ]

Mark and I seem to be in agreement on that.

The rest of Mark’s post takes on losing coaches going beyond simple excuses (it was the refs, etc.). They let themselves off the hook by saying things like “They players gave it everything they had.” With the assistance of some notable coaches, he makes the point that success isn’t just about effort and commitment. Rather it is their proper application. It’s our responsibility as coaches to get that application properly targeted.

The one push back I would have on some of that stuff is there are times when your team simply lacks the talent to win. I find it hard to blame the coach for a loss in those circumstances or in them citing lack of talent as the reason for not winning. What I would look at, though, is whether the team played to the maximum of its capability – whatever that might be. Winning and losing may not be in the coach’s control. The manner in which they play is definitely something the coach is responsible for shaping, though.

Don’t teach what you don’t want learned

I’ve written before on the subject of body language and being conscious of the fact that we as coaches are constantly being observed (here, here). A while back I saw an example of this. A coach was not conscious of how they acted on the sideline, and by extension the potential impact it had on their team. This happened when I was coaching in Sweden. I meant to write about it a while back.

This observation happened during a 2nd division match. One team was favored. It was the coach of the other team that is the subject of this story.

During the first set the underdog team was doing well. They even got out to a lead and were in a good position into the middle of game. During that time their coach was pretty animated. They were moving around on the sideline and talking to the players in a really positive fashion.

Then the score started to turn. The favored team went on a run and you could see the psychology shifting. After their team had given up several points in a row, the coach in question actually went and sat on the bench. They spent much of the rest of the set there. Instead of talking with the team on the court, as they had been doing, they were now talking with their assistants. It wasn’t that they’d stopped paying attention. They definitely weren’t as engaged with what was happening in the play, though.

What sort of message do you think that sent to their players? I can’t imagine it was anything positive. I’m not going to say I know what they were thinking, but it wouldn’t surprise me if on some level at least a few of them were feeling like, “Coach has given up on us.”

Anyone who coaches long enough will have an experience where a player brings up something you might not even recall saying or doing. It is amazing the things they pick up on at times.

Similarly, sometimes players receive a message you never intended to send. I remember one of the players at Brown saying I’d said something to her that I would never have said. It was completely counter to my nature. Somehow, though, she interpreted something I said or did in that way – no doubt with the influence of her own internal biases and expectations (we see/hear what we expect to see/hear).

This is all part of the communication side of coaching which is SO important. It comes up often as a key skill in the Volleyball Coaching Wizards interviews. There’s the saying, “You haven’t taught it until they’ve learned it.” You can flip that around as well to say, “If they’ve learned it, you’ve taught it.”

Don’t teach things you don’t want learned because you weren’t paying attention to the message you were sending.

Book Review: Gender and Competition by Kathy DeBoer

I’ve had Gender and Competition  by Kathy DeBoer on my list of coaching books to read for a while now. As a male volleyball coach who has mainly worked with female athletes (though having coached a few male teams along the way), I have long been interested in the differences in how you need to approach coaching the two genders. Kathy’s book has come up many times in the discussions I’ve had with other coaches on the subject. That includes multiple Volleyball Coaching Wizards interviews I’ve conducted.

Bottom line? Read this book!

You’ll find it a pretty quick read. It comprises just four chapters that add up to a little over 150 pages. Kathy’s writing style strongly favors story telling. The book is full of anecdotes from her coaching and athletics administration career. Basically, it’s teaching by way of example.

There’s one key phrase that I’ve heard attributed to Kathy on the basis of this book. It goes something along the lines of, “Men battle to bond and women bond to battle.” While I don’t recall seeing that exact phrase in the book, certainly it is what is expressed when looking at the differences in how the genders approach competition. It’s something that comes out very early in the text.

The first three chapters look to describe the difference in communication style and general approach to life, competition, and cooperation between men and women. It also looks at the challenges they pose. This isn’t true just for cross-gender interactions, but even for same gender ones, as Kathy demonstrates in some examples of her interactions with her own female athletes. The forth chapter focuses on advice for how to deal with the differences from both perspectives.

I can tell you that a lot of what Kathy talks about in terms of how men and women approach competition and the differences in how the two genders view leadership ring very true to me. I’ve seen them in my own coaching and have heard similar views from fellow coaches.

I can’t recommend Gender and Competition more strongly. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a male or female coach. It doesn’t matter whether you coach male or female players. You will gain insights that will help you do a better job working with your athletes – as well as colleagues, supervisors, and everyone else in your life.

 

Sticking to your training philosophy

A question was posed in a volleyball coaching group on Facebook. It went like this:

“So my team is pushing back on my approach of training ugly and limiting/avoiding singular focus drills. We started out winning our first tournament, but after a series of unfortunate events they don’t believe in it or the process. Any thoughts or helpful advice????”

In case you’re not aware, the “training ugly” concept is one focused on random (game-like) training rather than block (straight reps). It also celebrates making mistakes along the way (think Climbing Mistake Mountain).

As I’ve experienced myself, sometimes the players push back. They say they want more reps. I got it from some of my players at Svedala – mainly with respect to serve reception and defense. To my mind, there are two issues which need addressing.

First, the players probably don’t have an understanding of the benefits of random training over block training. After all, more reps is a good thing, isn’t it? The chart I included in the Going beyond maximizing player contacts post shows a pretty clear advantage to random training. We have a sales job to do in this regard. We need to convince them that one game-like repetition is worth multiple reps that aren’t game-like.

Second, we should be careful that we don’t go too far in terms of creating a high error environment. This is something I addressed in What percentage of reps should be good? The approach in the USA women’s gym is to try to be at about 2 out of 3 reps be successful ones. More than that an you’re not pushing enough. Less than that and you run the risk of leading players into frustration. It’s a balancing act.

Of course at the end of the day being able to show players how much they are improving with your training method would be of considerable value. The problem is this isn’t always very easy to do. And outcomes (like winning tournaments) isn’t really a good measuring stick because of the various influences involved (the competition, player availability, etc.). If you can find a way to do it, though, it will go a long way in helping your credibility with the players, which ultimately is at the core of it all.

You don’t need a new drill

“Are there any drills that you do to help with your blockers timing?”

“Any drills to help my middle not approach too close to the net when she hits?”

“Does anyone have a favorite drill that teaches top spin serving?”

These are just some of the examples of the types of queries you will often find if you spend time in a volleyball coaching forum or discussion group. In some cases you’ve got a coach looking for a new idea to shake things up in their training. Too often, though, they reflect what to me seems like a “give me a pill to cure what ails me” type of mindset.

If you find yourself wanting a new drill to “fix” something a player or a team is having a problem with, stop for a minute and think about things. Chances are, you don’t need a new drill. The ones you have will do just fine.

Let me take the first example above having to do with block timing. Ultimately, the player needs to learn to time their jump to the hitter’s attack. How do you do that? You practice blocking against hitters. There’s really no other way to do it. So how do you get blockers going up against live hitters? Run any game or drill where there’s living hitting and blocking.

More about focus and feedback than activity

It’s not the activity – as long as it has the blockers facing hitters, of course. It’s about the coaching cues and the focus. Any game or drill that features the skill you want to improve can be used, so long as the attention is being given to what you want to work on in that instance.

It’s also about the feedback. In fact, that is probably the biggest consideration. This is part of what I talked about in the Fixing bad passing mechanics post. In some cases the feedback is inherent in the activity – missed hit, service error, bad pass, etc. In many cases specific feedback in the form of video and/or coach observation is required.

When you think in terms of giving a player/team opportunities to execute the skill or tactic you want to develop, with specific focus, and being able to provide meaningful feedback you’ll realize there are lots and lots of options.

Want to work on serving? Do something that includes serving. Want to working on serve reception? Do something that has passers receiving balls from servers. Want to work on hitter transition? Do something that requires players to attack after having blocked, passed, or defended.

It’s really that simple. A new drill or game isn’t going to change the primary needs of focus, cues, and feedback.