Trusting players to take responsibility

There was a piece on Bloomberg (now behind a pay wall) about abusive coaching. The subject coach is a volunteer. The author heard him say some pretty vile stuff to a youth boys team. The author of the article basically called it child abuse. He went on to think about why parents allow that sort of thing. Fear topped the list of likely reasons. “It worked for Coach X,” is a justification.

Rather than focus on the abusive behavior, I want to talk about a quote from the piece:

What I’ve noticed — and yes, this is anecdotal — is that the best teams with the best coaches seem to be have the calmest sidelines. Rather than shouting specific instructions at players — and chastising them for every mistake — these coaches have already taught their players what to do. They trust these kids to take responsibility. Sure, the kids mess up, but there is a lot to be said for playing without fear. They play better, learn to be instinctive, and — gasp — have more fun.

The last couple of sentences really caught my attention. I don’t think a calm sideline is totally necessary. Some coaches are inherently animated in a positive fashion. That’s totally fine with me. Others are not. That’s fine too.

What I really like is players who can make mistakes without fear. If you read my Climbing Mistake Mountain post, or Learning from mistakes rather than fixating on them, you know how I feel about encouraging the willingness to make mistakes. It’s something we must instill in our players.

A parallel conversation is coaches providing specific instructions during play. I wrote my feelings on that in Calling plays from the bench. If we tell them what to do during play, how do they learn to think for themselves? This is especially true for youth players.

What about coaches doing their main work in training? That is an interesting topic for debate. Is training more important than match-day work? That is the subject of the Coaching vs Training Volleyball Coaching Wizards Podcast episode.

Some things to think about as you develop your coaching philosophy.

John Forman
About the Author: John Forman
John currently coaches for an NCAA Division II women's team. This follows 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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