During the HP Coaches Clinic in 2015 I found myself at one point thinking about my own development as a coach. I couldn’t help but wonder if I was a better coach for not getting much coaching as a player.

Let me explain.

I began playing volleyball – beyond gym class – as a senior in high school. That’s when boys’ volleyball was first introduced in my home state (RI). The coach of the girls’ team, Joanne Fitts, was our coach. That was the only time I had any formal volleyball coaching as a player.

When I was a member of the club volleyball team at the University of Rhode Island we occasionally had a visiting coach. Mainly, though, the captain ran our sessions (interestingly, several of my former club teammates are also now coaches). And of course I wasn’t coached while playing outdoors on the beach or grass, or during open gym sessions.

What this means is that I never had the same well of “This is how my coach(es) did it” experience as I began to coach. As a result, I think I came to it with far fewer set views on how things should be done. That may have made me more ready and willing to explore new and different ideas. Or maybe I’m just wired that way to begin with, and it wouldn’t have mattered (I definitely consider myself a student of coaching). Either way, my coaching evolves continuously. This is a competitive advantage in a sport where not everyone is so flexible.

Lots of changes

Consider all the changes in the game in the last couple decades – rally scoring, the libero, players getting more physical, to name a few of the more prominent ones. There were also numerous changes to the environment surrounding the game. Coaches unable to adapt were left by the competitive wayside. I joked about this a bit in Players today!, but it’s a real consideration.

And it’s not just rules and social evolution which factor here. It’s also the concept of how we train, particularly in the area of motor learning. At breakfast one day during the clinic, John Kessel commented on how it took decades for the idea that “the game teaches the game” to take hold among US coaches. The fact that it finally really started to do so in recent years he credited largely to national team coaches Karch Kiraly and Hugh McCutcheon being visible and vocal advocates.

I will definitely admit to having “grown up” in the old block training model system. It featured in much of the coaching I did over the years. Mainly that’s because it’s how the head coaches I worked for did things.

Coaching at Exeter, though, I adopted a much more game-like approach to my training. I can’t help but wonder if that transition was aided by the fact that I was out of coaching for several years. I kind of came at things fresh when I started back at it again after moving to England. Would I have been much more stuck in the block training mentality now if I’d not left coaching? I guess we’ll never know.

In any case, the moral of the story is to remain flexible and willing to accept challenges to how you do things. It can only help you in the long run.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Assistant Volleyball Coach at Radford University, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His previous 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. Learn more on his bio page.

    1 Response to "Avoiding the “This is how I learned” trap"

    • Brett Argall

      Hi John,
      I started playing during my senior year in RI as well. Fall 1986. Coventry High School

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