Once upon a time I worked with Denise Austin at a clinic for a group of local P.E. teachers from Exeter in England. It was on the subject of teaching volleyball to their students.

By the way, this is something every experienced coach should stand ready to do to help grow and develop the sport.

The things we talked about in terms of what to do to introduce volleyball to beginners is the subject of other posts. For the moment, I want to focus on something which happened at the clinic. A comment made by one of the teachers irked me.

It went something like this.

“They will never be able to do that.”

I don’t remember specifically what we were looking at when that was said. It doesn’t really matter, though. Statements such as this are self-fulfilling. So long as you think that, the player(s) will not be able to do whatever it is because you won’t allow it to happen. You will probably not provide sufficient opportunity to properly attempt development of that skill. Alternatively, you will actively (though perhaps subconsciously) sabotage it to prove you’re right. That leaves the players to develop the skill themselves (if they are so motivated). If they succeed, they make you look like an ass.

Our job as coaches is to push players to achieve more than they think themselves capable. We’re there to keep them growing and developing. We are not there to put limits on them.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.

I once had a conversation with a high school coach on developing a quick attack with her team. This woman was generally a pretty good coach, at least by the measure of others in that state. In this area, though, she was extremely hesitant. Her excuse for not working on middle quicks was one you may have heard or thought yourself:

We don’t pass well enough.

I could be a little more colorful with my language here. Let’s just say that excuse is complete crap. It’s not that her team consistently put the ball on target. Rather, I think the excuse is a total cop out.

Here’s why I say that.

That thinking is completely the wrong way around. A team will never pass every single ball well enough to run the quick. As I noted in my post about scoring serve receive passing, good teams target an average of 2.00 or better on the 3-point scale. That means their average pass isn’t good enough to run the middle quick. Yet those teams still train the quick attack and use it in games when the opportunity presents itself.

The goal of passing is to run the quick offense by producing as many 3 passes as possible. If you give your players that kind of focus it motivates them to pass better. If all you do is run a 2-ball (second tempo or meter ball) in the middle, then the passers have no particular motivation. All they need to do is get the ball inside the 3-meter line and around the middle of the court. The higher, slower 2-ball offense just doesn’t require that much precision.

Think of a successful quick attack as the reward for perhaps the ultimate expression of teamwork in volleyball. It requires three very precise coordinated movements. There must be a good pass. A hitter needs to attack at the right time. Finally, a precise set is required. If any of those things fail, the play fails. Players at basically all levels get excited when a quick attack is well executed, and for good reason. That is way more motivation for the team to pass well. It’s much more concrete than, “So the setter doesn’t have to chase all over the court.”

And it need not be something that complex.

I helped coach 12-and-under girls once upon a time. These were kids with no playing experience coming in to that season. Some were as young as 8 years old. Nevertheless, we taught them pass-set-hit. It did not happen in games very often, of course. As the season progressed, though, we gave them the goal of N pass-set-hits per game. Even if they didn’t actually get the three contacts right most of the time, at least they thought proactively about something more than just, “Get the ball back over the net.” And when they did get it right they were very excited. The end result was our two teams finished as regional champs and runners-up.

Heck, Denise’s daughter could jump serve with an adult ball on an adult net from behind the end line as an 11-year old. If that doesn’t tell you can players can achieve a lot if we just encourage them, given them the right motivation, and allow them the space to explore, I don’t know what will.

So stop thinking that you can’t get a player or a team to a level of development or skill. Start thinking instead about how you can get them there.

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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 "Don’t limit your players with negative thinking"

    • Jose

      Love this article as this is one of the things I talk to our coaches about. Too often we hear excuses instead of finding ways to motivate and teach kids how to appreciate something done well. 🙂

    • jose fotia

      In psychology these concepts are the igmalion effect.

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