As an argument against physical consequences in practice (e.g. sprints after losing a game), someone posted in a coaching group a 2002 paper titled Correlation Between High Rates Of Corporal Punishment In Public Schools And Social Pathologies. Here’s part of one of the comments posted in response:

I know this has been debated thoroughly on this group before, but some of the best coaches in all sports use drills with “consequences.” In one of my previous coaching positions, the team (college women) actually asked for more drills with “consequences” I agree with the premise of not doing things just because “they have always been done this way.” It is healthy to question and re-evaluate coaching methods. By the same token, coaches should not stop doing what works because the latest “science” says so.

That last sentence is what motivated this post.

What works

The argument we most often see in favor of outdated coaching methods is something that leans heavily on the idea of, “It’s working, so why change?” I’d argue, however, that a great many coaches don’t actually know what’s working. Success in coaching involves multiple factors. Oftentimes, a coach is successful because strength in one or more areas offsets weakness elsewhere.

In the above example we have a case where there is a clear body of research (much more than just the attached paper) telling us physical consequences aren’t helpful. We purportedly have a number of examples of successful coaches who use them, however. Don’t we also have loads of examples of “unsuccessful” coaches who use them, though? If so, perhaps the use of physical consequences isn’t actually a driver of success.

So maybe coaches are successful in spite of using physical consequences. Maybe they’re really good in other areas that offset the negatives of physical consequences. If so, imagine how good they’d be if they didn’t have that holding them back.

And this doesn’t just apply to physical consequences. You can insert any number of coaching methods here – like I talked about in this post, and this one as well.

Players wanting consequences

I too have had teams that have asked for consequences. In some ways this can be related to players saying they want to be yelled at. Here, though, I think it’s more about built up expectations. Prior coaches did it, and those teams won. Just like misguided coaches, these players falsely equate good performance with physical consequences in training.

So not only do coaches using physical consequences operate at a disadvantage in the present, they pass that along into their players’ futures by creating a faulty linkage and expectancy.

And this applies elsewhere as well. There’s a lot of research telling us game-like training is better than isolated reps (not that they don’t have value in a limited fashion). See my post about the book How We Learn to Move to learn more. Yet we still have coaches doing lots of isolated reps and ingraining the idea in players that isolated reps is how they get better.

Changing based on the science

Now let me get on to the idea of changing because the latest science says so.

It’s interesting how the commenter put science in quotes. Clearly, there’s a feeling there that at least some of what is reported as science is of dubious merit. This is entirely fair for two reasons. First, quite often things are reported based on only a small amount of research and/or with a bias. I spoke to this is the post Don’t just cite the research, actually read and understand it!

Second, research fully embraces skepticism. We should challenge the findings on all sorts of basis. One of them shouldn’t simply be because we’ve always done it this way and it works (see above), but there are plenty of other reasons. So no, we shouldn’t necessarily change our approach based on one study.

If, however, there’s a consistent pattern of findings that basically say the same thing, we need to be willing to adapt. After all, if there’s a way to do better, we should be all over it. Even being just a fraction better each time can add up to massive improvement.

You’ve evolved to this point. Keep going

Unless you are reading this as someone who has literally never coached before, you’ve already evolved in your coaching. It’s unlikely you use all the same games and drills as you started with. You probably communicate with your players differently. Maybe you use different offensive and/or defensive systems. The point is, you made changes because you realized you could do better.

We should never lose that mentality as coaches. There is SOOOOO much involved in coaching and we’re never going to be perfect at all of it. All we can do is continue to learn and grow in our craft. If you haven’t read the Volleyball Coaching Wizards books yet, definitely do so. Those are some of the most successful coaches in the world and a common theme with them all is continuous development. Be like the Wizards!

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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.

    1 Response to "Coaches doing “what works”"

    • KELLY DANIELS

      I just had to respond to this blog post as it has been a while since I’ve responded. Hahahahaa
      Just kidding, I’m responding due to two points of interest. The first is about, “There’s a lot of research telling us game-like training is better than isolated reps (not that they don’t have value in a limited fashion). See my post about the book How We Learn to Move to learn more. Yet we still have coaches doing lots of isolated reps and ingraining the idea in players that isolated reps is how they get better.”
      I’ve read and listed to Daniel Coyle’s ‘The Little Book of Talent’, where he talks about isolation repetitions to build talent. I tend to agree with him on this premise. I entertain other sports that uses isolation repetitions, such as, boxing, football, tennis, & recently soccer. My experience has shown that both game-like and isolation repetitions build talent. I’ve learned that the younger athletes should be more heavily involved with isolation repetitions. As athletes get older the more game-like works, being that the skills sets are established. If your comment is regarding older ages then I would concur, but it’s not noted, thus it seems age is not a factor in your comment.
      The second point of interest, “Unless you are reading this as someone who has literally never coached before, you’ll already evolved in your coaching. It’s unlikely you use all the same games and drills as you started with. You probably communicate with your players differently. Maybe you use different offensive and/or defensive systems. The point is, you made changes because you realized you could do better.” I’ve don’t think I could have said this any better! I’ve worked with coaches that believe, ‘If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it’ mentality. In the long run it cost our team multiple times. Had I thought of the position, “It’s unlikely you use all the same games and drills as you started with. You probably communicate with your players differently. Maybe you use different offensive and/or defensive systems.” This might had some effect. I now have this in my toolbox and will use it when required.
      Thank you again for your thoughtful insights. It’s great to get different perspectives from others in the sport. I’m all about your statement, “There is SOOOOO much involved in coaching and we’re never going to be perfect at all of it. All we can do is continue to learn and grow in our craft.”

Please share your own ideas and opinions.