Tag Archive for Coaching skills

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. 🙂

I later had a conversation with my OPP about her blocking technique. She commented 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. 😉

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

Are you a 1000-different-drills coach?

A while back I jokingly coined the phrase Fancy new drill syndrome. It’s a condition which seems to afflict most of us early in our coaching careers. Basically, it’s where we always seem to be looking for a new, better drill. We think we need them to get our players to learn some aspect of the game. As a result, we constantly look for them. Call it our drill collection phase.

This is something discussed in an article posted on LinkedIn. In it, the author bemoans the 1000-different-drills coach who thinks they need to constantly mix things up for to keep players focused. He talks about how that kind of approach can actually be detrimental to development. His main argument it doesn’t allow players to really go through the pattern recognition acquisition process.

The author also talks about how players will play one game for hours, given the opportunity. They don’t feel the need to change things up. Why? Because they’re having fun!

I think that’s an important point right there. Players play volleyball because they enjoy playing volleyball. They don’t do it because – for the most part – they love training repetitions. It makes for a really simple solution. Make training as game-like as possible. The players will get more out of it developmentally and they’ll be less likely to get bored.

There’s a reason many top coaches only have a handful of drills and games they use. They just make little modifications to focus them on where they want work done.

That’s why you don’t need a new drill.

New coach advice

Matt over at The College Volleyball Coach, my partner on the Inside College Volleyball book, recently responded to a question from a reader about transitioning from long-time player to coach. While he offers up a couple of other little bits and pieces, Matt’s primary response is to be consistent. To quote:

Players will be a myriad of challenges, but the coach absolutely must be consistent in their program parameters.

This is very similar to the advice offered by Volleyball Coaching Wizard Stelio DeRocco in his interview. Here’s that excerpt.

I know I shared that clip before, but it’s worth repeating. It is very easy to fall into the trap of being a reactionary coach and letting things influence how we project ourselves outwardly. We need to remember that people are watching basically at all times. As I wrote about in Watching yourself coaching, these days you always have people looking when you coach. And thanks to online video, people can look at you well after the fact as well!

I had that lesson reinforced on me over the while coaching in Sweden when I spotted myself in video from the Gran Prix.

That’s my O1 from Svedala, Mo Simmons (Clemson) being interviewed.

By the way, one of my former players from Exeter – a Swedish one – spotted me in the video. She didn’t realize I coached in her homeland.

The point is, you’re always on display. And who do you think watches you the most? Your players. You will be amazed at times the things they pick up and remember.

So give a bit of thought to what you project to your team.

Rules for coaching volleyball from John Kessel

John Kessel has developed and posted what he’s calling his “10 New Commandments of Volleyball”. It’s actually commandments for coaching, not something more broad in terms of the overall sport or anything like that, despite the inclusive title. They are worth reviewing in full. Here they are in brief:

  1. Be demanding, but not demeaning
  2. Use the net
  3. Include back row hitting in each training
  4. Develop 2-side players (can play left or right side of the court)
  5. Catch them doing things right
  6. Train more in terms of reading than technique
  7. Ask questions, don’t tell them the answer
  8. Train the mentality of “good errors”
  9. Teach players to use both sides of their body
  10. Make things as game like as possible.

I’ve definitely written before about making things as game like as possible, which I think ties in with using the net (here, here, here). I’ve also talked about the question of good vs. bad errors and encouraging the mentality of being accepting of mistakes (here, here). The idea of increasing the amount of reading is something I posted on earlier as well.

Including back row attacking in training is something I do a lot of myself with my teams, and have done for years. In fact, I had my Svedala team do back row swings for the pin hitters in the first minute of warm-ups. I go that route to get players to reach and focus on hitting deep before hitting on the net.

Two of the more thought-provoking commandments, to my mind, are the ones related to players training both sides of the court and both sides of the body. I regularly make use of small-sided games. They feature players playing both sides of the court. I’m not sure if I have really thought much about that from an intentional perspective, though.

How is your coaching prioritized?

Alexis at Coaches Corner pondered how different aspects of coaching should be prioritized on the basis of what is cake – the core, what is icing – meaningful, but not key, and what is sprinkles – the nice to have stuff. This is how he broke it down in his own view.

Cake

• Quality Coaching
• Strength and Conditioning
• Skill/Technical training
• Group culture

Icing

• Group Dynamics
• Recovery
• Video review
• Training Diaries
• Healthy nutrition

Sprinkles

• Nutritional supplements
• Training gear

I’m not sure how Alexis differentiates between Group Culture and Group Dynamics. I think, depending on one’s situation, strength & conditioning can be moved to icing. For example, when I was coaching at Exeter – and this applies to many club programs – we only trained twice a week for 3.5 hours total. No time in there to work specifically on S&C. Similarly, for some video analysis might fall into the Sprinkles category.

Here’s how I prioritized things with my Svedala at the time Alexis wrote his post.

Cake

• Player use optimization (line-ups, subs, etc.)
• Strength and Conditioning
• Skill/Technical training
• Volleyball IQ development
• Group culture
• Statistical analysis

Icing

• Group Dynamics
• Recovery
• Video review
• Training Diaries
• Healthy nutrition

Sprinkles

• Nutritional supplements
• Training gear
• In-training video

These things, for me, change over the course of a season. For example, developing the team culture and dynamic is a big priority early on, but if done right is more about maintenance later. Regardless, knowing your priorities is very important.

How would you break it out?

Too much thinking about the opponent

There was an article a while back about the concept of Big Game Syndrome. It focuses on football, but the idea applies to any sport.

The article describes Big Game Syndrome as a situation where a team or coaching staff feels they must do even more work and be even more uptight than usual when facing a perceived important game or match. The prime example provided was football teams facing the New England Patriots. The view is that they need to do something extra special to outsmart Bill Belichick. The result is decision-making which goes down poor paths.

While coaching in Sweden once, I found myself wondering if I’d succumb to a version of Big Game Syndrome with respect to my team’s matches. We spent the better part of a week talking about that match. In particular, we focused on the other team’s big attacker. The result was that we were probably too focused on the other team and not focused enough on us.

Of course there are times when looking for any possible edge you can find to win is important. To my mind, though, I felt afterwards like I made the mistake of doing that sort of thing at a time when our focus should have been the development of our game.

On the face of it, the fact we went up 2-0 suggests I was wrong. Maybe we spent the right amount of time on scouting and game planning. The fact of the matter is, though, we won those sets despite not playing very well. This was especially in the first set. We didn’t get a kill until our 10th attack. The other team kept us in it by missing a bunch of serves.

The over-thinking element came into play later in the match. We felt the pressure of trying to fend the other team off when we had late leads. It made us hesitant and cautious and led to some poor decisions.

Dealing with perfectionists

Once in training I had my Svedala team doing a defensive drill. It was a very repetitive digging exercise. I’m not a big fan of that block type training, but sometimes I use drills like that to examine things. Or maybe I want to work on some of the mental aspects of being a volleyball player.

This drill featured defenders in positions 1 and 5. They dug first a line attack and then a cross-court hit (or maybe it was the other way around). They had to individually reach a score of 15. For each good dig they earned a point. For an overpass they lost one.

My main motivation for running this particular exercise was to see where the players were at in terms of platform control while digging the ball. In other words, were they able to keep their platform pointed toward the central part of the court when they had to move/reach for a ball or when digging a line hit?

Answer: Not as well as I’d like.

The other thing I observed during this drill was just how much perfectionism there is in the team. I heard players yell and curse at themselves. They made faces. I even saw one slap the floor in frustration. It was quite the spectacle!

This sort of behavior is actually one of the reasons I like to use a lot of up-tempo, quick ball initiation activities. Players who are prone to be hard on themselves for mistakes have that process short-circuited when they immediately have to do something else. It encourages focusing on your next responsibility and on letting go of mistakes.

This, however, must go hand-in-hand with having a training atmosphere which is accepting of errors as part of the developmental process.

The importance of how we as coaches talk about errors

Mark Lebedew once shared a video clip on his Facebook page. If features USA and UCLA men’s coach John Speraw talking about how errors are handled in coaching volleyball. I would embed it here for easy viewing directly. It’s got some privacy settings, though, which don’t allow that. You’ll need to click the link. It’s definitely worth checking out.

The video is only about a minute long, but it summarizes quite nicely my own views on the subject.

Basically, John talks about the importance of addressing the subject of errors with players and the team in a way that avoids them being afraid of making mistakes. Instead, coaches should encourage risk taking as part of the development process. This is something I’ve written about before. It’s one of the first things I talk about with any team I take charge of when we have our first meeting.

A night out with the parents

This past Saturday was the first time since arriving in Svedala that I actually had that particular day of the week off from volleyball. Well, sort of. I did spend about 2 hours with one of my players working on a recruiting video for her to send to US college coaches. This was the first time we didn’t have training, a match, or some other team activity, though.

What I did have was a social evening with some of the players’ parents and others which began with dinner and ended with us all listening to a cover band at a local bar (that’s not actually the right term, but it’s close enough and I don’t feel like taking the time to try to explain how it really works – if I even really understand it myself). I honestly can’t remember doing something like that with any prior group of parents. There is almost never any alcohol associated with social events where college volleyball is concerned in the States. And in terms of my work at the Juniors level, I don’t recall ever being in social situations with the parents.

The experience had me thinking at different points about where I need to place the “professionalism” line in those sorts of situations. We had the conversation at the start of the season with the players about representing the club and living in a small town – how word of public behavior quickly gets around. The same is true for the coach, of course. I cannot hold myself to a different standard than I would the players.

There were any number of interesting conversations during the evening. From a volleyball coaching perspective, though, the most interesting was one I had with the parent of a local girl who is actually at the national academy (RIG). She has apparently attended one or more of my training sessions, and was commenting on how differently I run things than my predecessor. She’s not the first to say so, but might be the first to actually question me on some things. It wasn’t really a challenge so much as an intense questioning.

Basically, it was a discussion of my coaching philosophy. I find that it’s always an interesting experience trying to verbalize things, especially to someone who isn’t a coach. One of the questions she asked was what I thought was my coaching strength. It was kind of like being interviewed. 🙂