The following is an email from a reader. I’m confident this coach isn’t the only one to have a situation like this!

I coach a small group of 7th/8th grade girls. It is evident that there is not much natural athleticism in this group. What I’m frustrated with is that they keep making the same errors over and over. Passing with incorrect form, not calling the ball, letting balls drop, not moving their feet. We are over halfway through the season and they are playing just as they did on day one. I have been coaching for 5 years and I’ve NEVER had such a group! I also coach a fully 8th grade team, and they are undefeated. They listen so well and apply everything they learn. Do you have any advice for what to do with this group who will not apply anything? I’ve tried rewards and “punishments” (mountain climbers, laps, etc.) Nothing seems to help. Thank you!

We can offer up all sorts of advice on the topics of calling the ball, proper passing technique, and all that. Ultimately, though, I think the issue is one of motivation. The “not much natural athleticism” comment leads me in this direction. It suggests – to me, at least – a group that hasn’t played other sports before. Or only in a limited fashion. As such, there might be more of a social aspect to why they’re playing. Or worse. Someone is making them do it.

Of course, without knowing these kids myself I can’t really be sure of this. I think it’s at least something worth taking a close look at, though. I say that because kids who are there to be with their friends aren’t motivated the same as kids who are there because they love volleyball. You have to treat them differently. And kids forced to be there are likely to be completely unmotivated. They need their own kind of handling to try to give them a reason to care.

In the social case I would consider linking skill development to that social aspect. They probably aren’t worried about getting better at something for the sake of being better at it. If you can frame it in terms of the betterment of the group, however, you might get some traction. And over time you may be able to get at least some of them to a point where they individually want to be better volleyball players.

At the same time, you probably need to adjust your expectations. These kids likely won’t progress as quickly as more sport-motivated ones. They just don’t have the same type of drive toward individual improvement at this stage. It may develop later, though.

What are your thoughts? Have you been in this kind of situation? If so, what worked for you?

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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.