Don’t teach what you don’t want learned

I’ve written before on the subject of body language and being conscious of the fact that we as coaches are constantly being observed (here, here). A while back I saw an example of this. A coach was not conscious of how they acted on the sideline, and by extension the potential impact it had on their team. This happened when I was coaching in Sweden. I meant to write about it a while back.

This observation happened during a 2nd division match. One team was favored. It was the coach of the other team that is the subject of this story.

During the first set the underdog team was doing well. They even got out to a lead and were in a good position into the middle of game. During that time their coach was pretty animated. They were moving around on the sideline and talking to the players in a really positive fashion.

Then the score started to turn. The favored team went on a run and you could see the psychology shifting. After their team had given up several points in a row, the coach in question actually went and sat on the bench. They spent much of the rest of the set there. Instead of talking with the team on the court, as they had been doing, they were now talking with their assistants. It wasn’t that they’d stopped paying attention. They definitely weren’t as engaged with what was happening in the play, though.

What sort of message do you think that sent to their players? I can’t imagine it was anything positive. I’m not going to say I know what they were thinking, but it wouldn’t surprise me if on some level at least a few of them were feeling like, “Coach has given up on us.”

Anyone who coaches long enough will have an experience where a player brings up something you might not even recall saying or doing. It is amazing the things they pick up on at times.

Similarly, sometimes players receive a message you never intended to send. I remember one of the players at Brown saying I’d said something to her that I would never have said. It was completely counter to my nature. Somehow, though, she interpreted something I said or did in that way – no doubt with the influence of her own internal biases and expectations (we see/hear what we expect to see/hear).

This is all part of the communication side of coaching which is SO important. It comes up often as a key skill in the Volleyball Coaching Wizards interviews. There’s the saying, “You haven’t taught it until they’ve learned it.” You can flip that around as well to say, “If they’ve learned it, you’ve taught it.”

Don’t teach things you don’t want learned because you weren’t paying attention to the message you were sending.

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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.

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