I mentioned in my report about the third day of the 2013 American Volleyball Coaches Association convention that one of the seminars I attended was a panel discussion titled “Why We Win”. The panelists were Karch Kiraly (USA women’s national team coach), Mike Sealy (UCLA women), Cathy George (Michigan State), Nina Matthies (Pepperdine women), and Bill Ferguson (USC men), with Mike Hebert (Minnesota, retired). There were a few different topics discussed, they included:

  • Understanding the wider culture of the school/club in which you coach
  • The pattern of young women in coaching dropping out along the way
  • Coach-centric vs. Game-play centric training

There were two talking points I think worth sharing and expanding upon.

What happens when you lose?

Mike Sealy had a really honest moment talking about his own position on the panel. Mike’s UCLA team won the national championship two seasons prior. They struggled badly that next season, though, and didn’t even qualify for the NCAA tournament. He talked about how easy it is to not really analyze things very much when you’re winning. You start looking at every little detail when you start losing, however. The question asked was “What happens when you lose?” and “Would you change something?”

My personal view is that we should always examine what we do. That’s as a coach, as a team, and as a broader program if that’s applicable. I don’t mean every single day all the time. There needs to be regular reflection on things, though. Basically, it’s asking yourself “Can I/we do this better?”

I think it’s worth also making the point that we coaches tend to internally take credit for winning, but to find excuses for losing. This isn’t exclusive to coaching, of course. It happens in all walks of life. Being reflective helps work against this bias.

Too much structure

The other idea put forth was that modern volleyball (at least in US terms) involves too much structure. I don’t remember which panelist brought this up. I think this was especially related to the women’s game. Systems of play and structure are more inherent there than on the men’s side. There was a comment about how infrequently female players are involved in non-coached training sessions (very, very infrequent). The complaint about this situation is that players don’t develop the ability to sort things out for themselves.

Related to this is the idea that coaches are active in terms of calling plays from the bench. I’m not a big fan of it for exactly the reasons mentioned above. It stunts player developmentally. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t talk with them about plays, share what we’re seeing, and get them focused on what we think is important. For example, if I’m not pleased with the set distribution of my setter, I might say something like “Think about who’s your most effective hitter” or “Make sure to take a look at your blocking match-ups.” I don’t like telling them to run a specific play or set a specific player.

That said, sometimes you have to do that either from a competitive perspective or from a developmental angle. An example of this was a match a number of years ago when we had a good match up in our OH vs the other team’s Setter. Not that the setter was small, but she was a weak block and could be used at will. I got on our setter when she didn’t just keep pumping the ball to the OH.

So I think the point is that we need to allow our players to learn from experience, with the occasional bits of guidance.

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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.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.