I’m guessing you’ve seen plenty of memes and the like about how players should be – how much effort they should give, how they should be great teammates, how they should be self-motivated, how they should listen to their coaches. They tend to come from coach quotes.

What about quotes of players telling coaches how they should be?

Don’t see many of those, do you? Why is that?

No doubt, there’s a bunch of reasons. Some of it is a long culture of players not challenging coaches. Some of it is coaches placing blame externally rather than looking in the mirror. There’s definitely a big element of coaches thinking they understand playing better than players thinking they understand coaching.

I’m not placing any value judgments here, but it does all contribute to a situation where coaches, broadly speaking, are not sufficiently self-critical.

Enter this article from a recently former college athlete. It offers up a set of ways coaches can do a better job interacting with their athletes. They are as follows.

Mostly Positivity to Players

The basic idea here is that you should start with a positive approach as your foundation. There may be players you can yell at, but you need to know your players before you can make that kind of judgement. If you’re fall back is yelling, be prepared for it to fail.

Telling Your Athletes Their Role

This is basically about being honest with players and letting them know where they are at. If a player is a bench player, let them know, while also telling them how to increase their chances for playing time. And don’t leave it until right before the match starts to do so.

Avoid Showing Negative Emotions

In other words, be conscious of your body language. You might be doing a really good job of using positive language, as per above, but your posture, facial expressions, and movements might be screaming all kinds of negative things. We’re always saying something to our athletes. Best to make that what we intend.

Trusting Them on Game Day

This boils down to not being a “joystick” coach. You cannot, and should not, try to tell them what to do all the time. If you’ve done your job well during practice, you’ve taught them what they need to know. Let them get on with it. You wouldn’t want someone sitting next to you telling you how to coach, would you? They feel the same way.

Being Respectful to the Refs

How you interact with refs speaks to your character. Players look to their coach as a kind of role model. If you act in a way contrary to their views on good sportsmanship, they will lose respect for you. And if they don’t already have a well-formed sense of sportsmanship, your bad behavior could guide them in a direction it shouldn’t go.

A final observation

At the end of the piece, the author makes this suggestion.

If you struggle with some of these but have great program success and your athletes want to stay in touch with you years later, then you’ve done something that works.

While there’s value in this comment, especially the part about staying in touch, be cautious. As I wrote about in my series on drivers of success, sometimes coaches can be successful despite their coaching, not because of it. Also, the coaching landscape is strewn with the corpses of the careers of long-time successful coaches who simply failed to adapt to changing times.

By the way, it’s also good to know what motivates and demotivates your players.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

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