Coaching lessons from last season

This is a post I wrote approaching the start of my final season coaching at Exeter.

In yesterday’s this post I did a season review for last year from a coaching perspective. It was an exercise in self-evaluation, I’ve wanted to do for a while. My attention, though, was so much on my PhD work (which admittedly suffered while I was coaching) that I just never quite got around to have a proper think about it all. Today I want to sort of formalize some of the coaching lessons I feel like I learned. They come from both the good and bad part of the 2013-14 season experience.

Lesson 1: The common team objective is a powerful force. I’ve known the value of team goals for a long time, of course. The importance of having one everyone agrees with and buys in to fully was really brought home to me last season. This was particularly so in the way the women had a clear one and the men didn’t.

Lesson 2: No matter how often you see the team, and how much informal conversation you have, it’s important to have more formal meetings with players away from the gym. It provides an opportunity to learn things you won’t find out otherwise. You can also make sure there is two-way understanding between player and coach. Plus, they generally let the players know you care about them as individuals. Having it happen away from the gym puts it in an environment clear of some of the overhang of training and immediate team dynamics.

Lesson 3: Not splitting the team into A and B sides (1st and 2nd teams) for in-training game play helps develop all the players better. It forces the better players to take more responsibility for the play of their teammates. It also encourages the weaker ones to try to up their game. Importantly, in a situation where second string players could have a significant part in matches due to absence, illness, or injury you help build familiarity so they can step right in when called upon.

Lesson 4: A very specific standard for attendance and timeliness is a must. And it must come with clear consequences established for breaches. It is OK to have a team punishment for an individual’s transgression in this regard.

Lesson 5: The more play I can get into training, the better. With the women I was able to incorporate lots of 6 vs 6 type play in training. This was especially true as the season progressed. It helped the development of the team game and encouraged intensity. We struggled with this on the men’s side and lost that opportunity.

Lesson 6: Technical development needs to remain a priority. I didn’t do a lot of mechanical coaching with individuals, and probably suffered some for it. On the women’s side it may not have mattered much. It probably would have been beneficial for the men in areas like serve receive, however. If nothing else, some of the players really want that kind of feedback.

Lesson 7: It’s important to incorporate video as much as possible. We barely scratched the surface last season – especially in training. What we were able to do definitely helped, though. The players really took to the opportunity to get instant feedback from seeing themselves in action.

Lesson 8: Being able to plan more than 1 day in advance is very important. I had consistent problems through the year of not being able to do what I’d originally intended in a training session. I didn’t have the players for what I wanted to do and didn’t know until that day of the absence.

Lesson 9: Finding ways to involve the players in keeping in-training stats (and maybe in-match ones too) will make it easier for me to capture more data while still being able to coach. I’ve found the players like the feedback the stats provide, but I’ve struggled to consistently capture them.

You probably look at some of these lessons as being pretty obvious. I won’t disagree. There are any number of things we as coach know we should do, but perhaps don’t because of the situation or priorities or whatever. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of what we already know. In my case, some of these are also reflective of the level and structure I’m dealing with. It is quite a bit different from what I was used to in the States. Additionally, I’m looking at things more from the perspective of a head coach rather than as an assistant, which was my primary role as US collegiate coach.

In my next post I talk about how I plan on applying these lessons to my coaching in the new season.

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John Forman
About the Author: John Forman
John most recently coached for an NCAA Division II women's team. That followed a stint as head coach for a women's professional team in Sweden. Prior to that he was the head coach for the University of Exeter Volleyball Club BUCS teams (roughly the UK version of the NCAA) while working toward a PhD. He previously coached in Division I of NCAA Women's Volleyball in the US, with additional experience at the Juniors club level, both coaching and managing, among numerous other volleyball adventures. Learn more on his bio page.

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