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Tip for Coaching Volleyball: Watch more volleyball!

How much volleyball do you watch?

Do you only watch the matches your team plays? What about those of your competition? And how about those of prospective players for your team or club? How about matches in which you have no personal stake?

Now imagine you’re a coach for an NCAA Division I team (the top collegiate level in the U.S.).

Your team plays roughly 30 matches during the main competitive season (Spring for men, Autumn for women), and maybe gets in a half-dozen more during the off-season. You watch video of your team’s matches to identify problem points. You watch video of your competition to scout them for upcoming matches. You watch loads of video sent to you by prospective recruits to your program and spend long hours in convention centers and gyms watching Juniors competition (and sometimes high school matches). And if you’re a bit of a junkie (like me), you watch matches on TV as well – time permitting.

Now let’s compare that to you’re average club coach in England, as an example.

Your team plays say 20 matches a year in whatever league you’re in, and that’s spread out over about an 8-month period. You aren’t recording your matches and you certainly aren’t exchanging video with upcoming competitors for scouting purposes, so watching lots of match video is out. Recruitment isn’t a major thing, so you’re not out observing loads of youth matches or highlight videos as a part of your duties.

Which coach do you think is more rapidly growing their understanding of the game and getting the broader perspective on things?

I don’t make this comparison to denigrate volleyball coaching in England, especially since there are plenty of US coaches operating at a similar level. Instead, I’m trying to demonstrate a developmental opportunity.

We learn from both observation and experience. Watching lots of volleyball is part of the process of learning about coaching volleyball.

It’s no good, though, to just watch as a supporter or fan of a team, however. You need to do so with a critical eye. What’s going on in the match and why? What makes this player good or that player poor? What strategies are being employed by the coaches involved? It’s not watching to enjoy the experience of watching, in other words. It’s watching to understand and critique – basically, watching with a coach’s eye rather than a spectator’s.

In fact, it would be a good exercise to watch matches with a paper and pen (perhaps more likely a tablet these days) to take notes and make observations. Think of it like being a reporter. Rather than writing about who won and loss and which players were the stars, though, you’re writing about the strategies, offensive and defensive systems, player mechanics, etc.

Watching lots of volleyball with that critical eye, especially across different levels of play, will definitely accelerate your development as a coach.

John Forman
About the Author: John Forman
John recently compelted a stint as head coach for a women's professional team in Sweden. Prior to that he was the head coach for the University of Exeter Volleyball Club BUCS teams (roughly the UK version of the NCAA) while working toward a PhD. He previously coached in Division I of NCAA Women's Volleyball in the US, with additional experience at the Juniors club level, both coaching and managing, among numerous other volleyball adventures. Learn more on his bio page.

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