Convincing players random is better than block

John Kessel is a major advocate of making things as game-like as possible where volleyball training is concerned. In one of his blog posts he talks about the “false confidence” block training (simply doing reps) can create in players – and coaches. No doubt, John will continue to bang that drum. It’s a major feature of the USA Volleyball training philosophy, and shows through in the CAP program. It definitely showed through when I did my CAP III course.

I’ve done my fair share of that as well. Going beyond maximizing player contacts is one example. As game-like as possible is another. Episode #17 of the Volleyball Coaching Wizards podcast also has block vs. random training as its theme.

Here’s the question, though.

How do we convince players that more game-like training is better?

Once, during a serving and passing drill, the Midwestern State setters took turns setting off of the pass. One asked why they did not just do one setter at a time. She wanted more repetition “to develop a rhythm”. My response was she never set two balls in a row in a game. She started to push back, but I told her she always does something in between. There’s hitter coverage and blocking and defense, among other things.

That mollified this particular player. I’ve had others on different teams, though, who felt like block reps were better than game-like ones. One of them once told me they let her pass without having to think about anything else. She was an OH who obviously had to think about attacking as well in actual game play. Plus, there’s that pesky issue of dealing with seam responsibility when passing next to another player.

Like in anything else, we have a mixture of personalities among our players. Some are open-minded and accept what you say. They are at least willing to try. At the other end is the close-minded group. They fight you on things. They say stuff like, “We’ve always done it like this,” or “This way works for me.”

It’s fine if those players aren’t key performers or team leaders. You can marginalize them if they persist with the negative attitude. If they are leaders, though, it creates a major problem. They say things like “This is stupid.” That has serious negative consequences for both team chemistry and coach authority. It cannot be tolerated.

So, how do we convince the more resistant players that more game-like training is superior to blocked training? Please leave a comment below with your thoughts or experience.

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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.

2 comments

  1. I like this post and I interpret the question to be one of ‘persuasion’. How can we as coaches be persuasive. The question also goes to the notion of ‘judgment’. How are judgments formed or derived either by Coaches or Players and what is the anatomy of the process of forming a judgment. If we were to look at the professional world of where ‘judgments’ are the full time vocation such as the “Legal Profession” we would find there are literally thousands of years of evolution and refinement in this process of forming judgments. There is the concept of the ‘ratio’ or the ‘reason’ for a line of thinking, and then there is the concept of ‘precedent’ which is a historic or ‘thread’ of decision making that has been followed based on the ‘reason’ but adapted to different facts and circumstances. Then there is the notion of ‘evidence’ and a whole world of concepts surround evidence such as what is a ‘fact’ as opposed to a mere ‘assertion’ and if it is a fact is it ‘relevant’ and if relevant how much ‘weight’ should be placed on this fact when coming to a judgment. The beauty of the process here is that it is in a constant state of evolution and development as norms, customs, social rules and science develops.
    Precedent is seen not as binding but it is helpful in being ‘persuasive’ and allows the person making the judgment to have the benefit of past decisions by others so that your own deliberations can have some base or reference to work from. If we were to overlay this framework on the judgments that Coaches and Players make in the context of this question, then both Coaches and Players often refer to the precedents they are aware of and make assertions based on that information. But when science or other changes or revelations or developments shine a ‘brighter’ light on our knowledge or insights or understanding of phenomena, then the ‘weight’ to be attached to the former precedent may begin to shift and diminish. The effectiveness of how persuasive we are in affecting our own and others judgments becomes an interplay of considering with proper due respect the precedents and “authorities” others are drawing on. The onus shifts to us to present relevant facts that can form an enlightened view on what ought to be the formulation of a new line of thinking that in itself becomes the new “precedent” and new authority. That framework encourages and requires debate, argument and even an ‘adversarial’ approach which demands the robust ‘testing’ of the proposed concepts and ideas. Beyond this framework, my personal approach has been to place substantial ‘weight’ on facts and propositions that have been tested in the cauldron of Olympic competition. The outcomes achieved by proponents of the ‘game-like’ training proposition have successfully contested against alternate training systems and then gone on to win Olympic Gold Medals. That achievement is ‘proof’ and presented as ‘evidence’ that the proposition of the game-like training approach succeeds at the highest level of empirical testing environments. That fact, is the basis of the persuasive argument I put to my learners.

    • John Forman John Forman says:

      Hi Ovid. That’s certainly a very intellectual way of looking at it? 🙂

      I do agree that persuasion is definitely aided by evidence. Whether pointing to national team level success provides that to many of those we address about this issue (which includes parents), I’m not sure. It’s very easy to push back with “Yeah, but those are elite players. We’re just (insert whatever level they’re at).”

Please share your own ideas and opinions.

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