While at the 2019 AVCA Convention I attended a session on mental training by Dan Mickle. It covered a lot of ground, but there were a couple of interesting comments from Dan on the subject of mental toughness – which he prefers to call mental flexibility. There was also something from Chris McGown’s presentation on the Competitive Cauldron that also brought the idea of developing mental toughness to the fore.
I’ve posted before on the subject of how mental toughness is linked to fatigue. Also about how we can create the sort of pressure situations that help develop mental toughness in our players. As such, I won’t re-cover that ground. I’ll just give you some bits from Dan’s and Chris’ presentations worth sharing.
Where you start the score doesn’t create pressure
A lot of coaches think they can create “end of set” pressure on their team by starting a game in practice at something like 20-20. I used to think this way myself. Unfortunately, as Dan commented during his session – and my Volleyball Coaching Wizards partner Mark Lebedew has also said – it doesn’t work like that. Starting a game at 20-20 is psychologically no different than starting at 0-0 and playing to 5. Since there’s nothing before the start point, you don’t have the game context which feeds the late-set mentality.
Now, I have no issue with starting a game at 20-20 with the idea that we play games to 25. There’s no harm practicing finishing at 25. Just realize that it’s never going to be anything like being at 20-20 in a set that started at 0-0. So don’t think playing a bunch of games in practice starting at 20-20 will prepare your team to finish out close sets.
Make random bad calls
So if messing around with the starting score won’t get the job done, what will? How can we develop mentally tougher players?
Dan offered a very specific suggestion. Make random bad officiating calls during games in practice. Call balls out that were clearly in. Don’t call a net touch when one clearly happened. Make uneven calls on ball-handling.
This creates frustration and distraction. That’s exactly the sort of thing we want our players learning to overcome.
Rethink your wash drills
Another way to work on mental toughness is to rethink how big points happen in wash drills. This is something Chris brought up in his talk.
Consider a game like Bingo-Bango-Bongo. The variation I often use is one where the team that won three rallies in a row has to serve to earn the big point. Normally, winning that service rally is the objective.
As Chris suggested, what if we didn’t make winning the rally the objective? What if, instead, the server had to serve the receiving team out of system? Or what if the team had to get a kill from a specific hitter, with the opposing team knowing who that attacker was?
Do you think that might create pressure?
I do. And that’s exactly the sort of thing we’re looking for to help players develop their mental toughness – or flexibility, as Dan prefers.
Give it some thought.
6 Steps to Better Practices - Free Guide
Join my mailing list today and get this free guide to making your practices the best, along with loads more coaching tips and information.