Jim Stone, who I interviewed for Volleyball Coaching Wizards, authored a post for the JVA blog on the subject of deliberate practice. I wrote about this topic in different ways here and here, which both tie back to this post. Jim also has a good explanation in his piece. As a result, I won’t delve into the subject much here.

What I do want to do, though, is focus on one aspect of things that Jim mentioned. Among his keys to deliberate practice is the following:

Give full attention and conscious action, no activities where the player can go on “autopilot.”

Players on autopilot is something I saw that drove me crazy when I was in Italy in 2019. Juniors team coaches had players doing extremely simple exercises that you could tell the players were going through mechanically. There was no challenge, no need for much in the way of conscious action. It most definitely wasn’t deliberate practice!

I’d actually worked with a high school JV coach a couple months earlier at a College of Charleston team camp. As part of her initial practice phase she had the players doing stuff where they were passing while on one knee and things like that. She gave me the impression it was a standard routine. As with many such standard routines, the players were basically going through the motions. The focus of the on-one-knee thing was for the players to develop platform control. As I pointed out to her, though, it was pretty clear they were demonstrating that. As a result, they needed more of a challenge.

And that’s our job as coaches. As soon as we see the players getting to be comfortable with their skill, it’s time to push them. Make them uncomfortable again. That’s part of the REPS concept.

Of course, this leads to the question of How do we make them uncomfortable?

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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.

    2 replies to "Do not allow players to go on autopilot"

    • Kelly Daniels

      As much as I like this post, I see something I would have added. Examples of ‘How’ to make them uncomfortable.
      A few of our cadre will make athletes uncomfortable by threats, i.e. mess up and do some kind of conditioning.
      Me, I would have stated, “And that’s our job as coaches. As soon as we see the players getting to be comfortable with their skill, it’s time to push them. Make them uncomfortable again by execution in a row, successful execution with X amount of errors, or reps reset to zero before X successful execution.” This way it is clear what you meant in your statement of “Make them uncomfortable again.”

Please share your own ideas and opinions.