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.