There’s an interesting article at Volleyball Toolbox from long-time high school coach Tom Houser. Nominally, it is the response to a question about helping create more aggressive teams that make fewer errors. It covers a few different ideas, though. I think they are worth reviewing.
There’s no replacement for experience.
Just about the first thing Tom talks about in the article is how he struggled early in his career to help players. He compared his knowledge of what his players needed to “Swiss cheese” because there were so many holes in it. The first reason for this is his lack of experience, and it’s a very legitimate point.
I mentioned in my coaching stages post how early-career coaches often think they know a lot, but really don’t (think Dunning-Kruger effect). Sure, they might know a whole bunch about playing volleyball, but coaching is a different skill set. And tied in with that is the amount of volleyball you watch, particularly from a coaching perspective.
Learn from others, but understand context
Another thing Tom talks about is his learning process as a developing coach. He says he was never an assistant coach, thus didn’t have a mentorship experience from that perspective. Obviously, that’s a disadvantage.
As with many of us, Tom turned to books and videos to increase his knowledge and grow his toolkit. He notes, though, that much of what he saw was presented by national team and NCAA Division I coaches. He struggled to relate those drills and such to his high school players’ level. Tom called them “nearly useless”. I respect that he was thinking of the context differences. I think, though, that was probably a bit harsh. Most drills and games are adaptable to different levels. Not all, but most. But then doing so usually requires some experience, so see above.
Much coaching communication you hear is useless
Tom talks in his article about coaches saying things like “get low,” or “snap,” or “move your feet,” or “call the ball”. We hear phrases like that all the time. We’ve probably said them ourselves.
The point is in most cases those things don’t actually address the root cause of the problem, so they don’t actually address anything useful. Just like when parents yell them from the sidelines. 🙂
Coaching for aggressiveness
Moving on to addressing the question that inspired the post, Tom provides a relatively simple way to coach it. “All you have to do is ask your players to perform the drill WITHOUT punishment/consequences/eye-rolls for making a mistake performing the skill.”
This definitely matches my own philosophy. Aggressiveness will result in errors at times. You cannot encourage the one without accepting the fact of the other – even encouraging it.
Also, Tom said he basically sets up games that require certain types of aggressiveness to win. Pretty simple, really.
Having said that about the errors, Tom also shares his thoughts on keeping them to a minimum. One is to understand their source. Are they bad decisions, or are they bad execution? See what I wrote related to this breakdown in Coaching from a solutions perspective.
For the first type of error, it’s our job as coaches to teach better decision-making. In terms of the second type, Tom credits his teams making fewer mistakes on encouraging players toward simple, efficient mechanics.
Those are the major points. Definitely give the article a read and see what you takeaway for yourself.
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