A while back Mark from At Home on the Court offered up a post on the subject of coaching and learning in volleyball (and sports in general). He made the comment:

The way I often put it is that the match is a test or exam of the coach’s work. 

The test/exam idea is one I’ve thought about in different ways over the years. It also comes up often in the Volleyball Coaching Wizards interviews. Mark is absolutely right. Match competition is what we train our players for, after all. We spend countless hours thinking about line-ups and looking at systems. We also scout the opposition to find a competitive edge. Unfortunately, very often a coach’s grade on these exams is strictly based on winning or losing. This is potentially problematic on many levels.

Let’s put aside external expectations for the moment. Instead, let’s think internally. It is quite easy for a coach to equate their record with their self-worth. Wins are an indication of skill. At the same time, losing is a sign of failure. This is true even though outcomes are often determined by factors beyond our control. I personally dreaded coaching in matches sometimes. In the context of Carol Dweck’s book Mindset, I had a fixed coaching mindset. I identified myself as a good volleyball coach. I didn’t want to risk being faced, through losing, with an indication that I wasn’t.

Side note: If you haven’t read Mindset yet, I recommend you do.

Somewhere along the way, though, I developed a more growth oriented match coaching mindset. These days matches are sources of feedback. They indicate the team’s progress and what we need to work on to improve and develop toward our objectives.

Does that mean I don’t experience successes or failures? Does it indicate that I don’t want to win?

Of course not! I just choose not to frame the outcomes in terms of my identity as a volleyball coach. Instead, I use them to help me see what’s working and where I could potentially use some improvement. And that goes WAY beyond just match coaching.

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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 "How do you view your coaching exams?"

    • markleb

      For me personally you are correct in saying that the result of the match is a test of my coaching during the week (and by extension my self worth).
      However, when I make this statement I usually mean it far more generally. In fact, mostly I am referring specifically to transfer and am trying to make the point that the effectiveness of practice, how you are able to teach skill, tactics, concepts etc, is measured by performance in the competition, NOT by performance during practice.
      Simply, if the team is not able to perform during a match, it is a problem of practice, and therefore the coach.

      • John Forman

        I get where you’re coming from and agree. You can work on X for hours on end in training, but if you’re seeing X in training and not in matches (or at least not fully actualized comparatively speaking) then there’s a fault in the training somewhere. This is something which can be masked when dealing with more “gross” issues of development as any gains made will tend to be relatively large and observable, even if the transfer mechanism is inefficient.

        While I couched it in terms of winning and losing, the broader point of the post is how you react to whether you see that performance in matches or not. If you don’t, does it diminish you as a coach (fixed mindset) or does it push you to improve (growth mindset)?

Please share your own ideas and opinions.