Common coaching mistakes

There’s an article on Volleyball Toolbox which lists out eight coaching mistakes. I thought I’d take some time to address them myself. Here’s the list.

  1. Focused on Outcomes (Instead of Learning)
  2. Focused on Being Serious (Instead of Enjoyment)
  3. Tried to Inspire by Demeaning (Instead of Being Demanding)
  4. Took Credit for the Good and Blamed Others for the Bad (Instead of the Opposite)
  5. Did Lots of Talking (Instead of Listening)
  6. Acted Like a General (Instead of a Teacher)
  7. Used Fear as a Motivator (Instead of Love)
  8. Knew it All (Instead of being Humble)

Let me take these mistakes one by one.

Outcome focus

While I agree with the motivation behind #1, there’s a bit of nuance required in the thinking. Yes, there can be a tendency to focus too much on winning and losing as the outcome. We cannot, however, say we are just going to focus on the learning side of things, though. Why? Because the outcomes are – at least partly – why we are training. My point is that what our players are learning needs move them towards the outcome we seek. We are not just teaching them a set of skills.

Too serious

In terms of #2, there is a difference between being serious and being focused. You can have fun and be focused. Practice doesn’t have to be a serious thing. I know I personally prefer a bit of levity. Otherwise, it can be kind of dull. That’s not to say it’s all laughing and joking. It’s about allowing them – and us as coaches – to enjoy themselves. Allowing that while maintaining focus is part of our coaching role.

Demeaning

I think #3 probably doesn’t require much comment. Belittling has no place in coaching in my view. If we cannot get our point across without demeaning our players we have serious short-comings as teachers and leaders.

Credit and blame

There are a couple of factors that can contribute to #4. One is overconfidence – specifically, something referred to as misattribution or self-attribution. That means we think a given positive outcome (e.g. winning) is thanks to our own talent, knowledge, skill, etc. At the same time, we attribute negative outcomes (e.g. losing) to things outside ourselves (refs, players, court conditions, etc.). In other words, we don’t see correctly our contribution to the outcome, and also we fail to realize that sometimes random chance plays a major part.

The other factor in this is Mindset. If we have a fixed mindset, then our view of ourselves and our personal self-worth is closely tied with outcomes. That means we are going to favor things which tend to support that view (we’re a good coach). At the same time, we’re going to tend to discount things which don’t support this view.

Talking too much

Related to #5, I wrote previously in The more you talk, the less they train that especially newer coaches can easily fall into a trap of talking way too much. My main point in that post is that if we’re talking then they aren’t actually practicing. Beyond that, though, we aren’t giving them a chance to figure things out for themselves, which is much more powerful than being told what to do. Further, if all you’re doing is talking then you’re not paying attention to what’s happening. That means you could miss important things.

Playing general

The focus of #6 is on making all the decisions as coach rather than letting the players get on with it themselves. Basically, your trying to control everything. Think of it as micromanaging.

This is something I wrote about in Calling plays from the bench. We have to accept that we cannot dictate everything. Even more, if we make all the decisions we are short-changing the players’ development. In other words, we’re failing as teachers. This might be fine if you’re playing for gold in the Olympics. If you’re coaching a bunch of 14 year-olds, though, it’s a problem.

I should note that good generals know that they need to let those below them just get on with doing what needs to be done without constant oversight and interference.

Fear and intimidation

My thinking for #7 is similar to #3. If you require fear and/or intimidation to motivate your players, you’re failing as a coach. You need to find a better way. Coaching is about convincing – getting players to buy in to your perspective and sense of direction. Legendary coach Julio Velasco spoke about this very thing at the 2015 High Performance Coaches Clinic.

Know it all

One of the common themes from the Volleyball Coaching Wizards interviews is that as young coaches we don’t realize how little we really know. As the saying goes, the older we get, the less we know. This should both make one humble as a coach and motivate an attitude of life-long learning.

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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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