During the American Volleyball Coaches Association convention in 2013, I attended a session titled Creating a Culture of Success on the second day. It was a panel talk featuring the staff of the UCLA men’s volleyball program. You may know head coach John Speraw as also being the USA men’s national team coach. One of the more interesting features of that staff was the presence of Andrea Becker. She is actually a sports psychologist rather than a proper volleyball coach. I jotted down a few specific comments and ideas from the talk I thought worth sharing.

The first idea of the talk was the culture of the coaching staff and how that influences team culture. The point was how the coaching staff operates trickles down into how the team trains, plays, and performs. This was linked in with the idea of knowing yourself as a coach and being yourself consistently. Also, being who you want the team to be. I wrote about this idea in the post Players and teams reflect their coaches.

At one point they mentioned the idea of accountability between and among players. Coaches often think that having players accountable to each other is a good thing. Andrea suggested, though, that this isn’t necessarily the best way to go. I think the idea was when you put players in a position to be critical of each other, rather than leaving it to the coach, it doesn’t develop the type of positive team dynamic you’re after. To my mind, this feeds into the setting of expectations idea I talked about a bit in the Priorities for coaching a new team post.

Another key point made was that treatment of players should be equitable rather than equal. It is a question of fairness. Equal treatment implies that we treat all individuals the same way. On the face of it, that may seem like the right thing, but equal doesn’t necessarily mean fair. What is right for one player in a given circumstance may not be right for another player, or even the same player in a different circumstance. Thus the idea of equitable treatment. If I remember correctly, the idea of team rules came up in conjunction with these thoughts. Someone shared a saying by John Wooden which was something along the lines of, “When I started coaching I had lots of rules and a few guidelines, but over time that turned into a few rules and lots of guidelines.”

I think the rules and equitable treatment ideas role up into the kind of overarching thought of the session, which was being focused on meeting the needs of the athletes. This is something particularly relevant in a school volleyball setting where the lives of the athletes are about much more than just playing the sport. Their time with the team is a part of their overall personal developmental experience – potentially a very influential one. We coaches need to have that in mind to do right by them.

If you’re interested in team culture, check out The Culture System by JP Nerbun.

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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.