I documented in my coaching log my work with the University of Exeter’s women’s during the 2014-15 season. I also coached the men. Unfortunately, conflicting schedules saw me only coach the first team guys in matches twice. It was decided by the club for me to prioritize the women in those cases. One of those matches was a loss to the top team in the league. The other was a comfortable win over a team about on our competitive level. The guys played four additional matches. One was against the second best team in the league, one against the team they beat, and two against one of the other teams of about the same competitive level. All four were losses, though well-fought in the latter three cases.

After hearing at one stage about how they lost one 0-3, but with very tight scores, I couldn’t help but wonder whether we could have flipped things around and come out with a win if I were there for that match. That made me wonder how much impact a coach has on a match between two reasonably closely matched teams.

Obviously, as coaches our biggest impact comes in how we train our teams and prepare them beforehand (see the two biggest jobs of a coach). What impact, though, do we have come game day? Some suggest we can have a lot, but with a big bias to the negative.

The captain of the university men’s team two seasons prior once told me after a come-from-behind match victory that they wouldn’t have won without me. That sort of thing warms a coach’s heart. I don’t recall the specifics of the match to be able to say what particular influence I might have had on the outcome, though. We’ll never know if he was right or not.

The most direct influence we have is in the form of line-up decisions and substitutions. We also call timeouts. Those are overt interventions. Less obvious is the style and content of communication with the team and individual players during breaks. There are also tactical/strategic adjustments during the match.

I would venture to say that the more experienced the players and the higher the level of play the less influence the coach has during the match. This is especially true given all the scouting and game planning that gets done in advance. It’s different at lower levels. There’s a considerable amount of teaching happening. Also, less scouting information is available. I’d suggest there are more opportunities for the coach to influence things in different ways with those sorts of teams.

The closest thing I can offer up as a potential indication of the influence of a coach on match outcomes is the record of the teams coached during my time in England. They played a total of 189 matches, of which I was on the bench for 130. The win percentage for those matches is 6% higher when I coached than when I wasn’t. I’m not sure how valid that comparison is, though. We’re talking about effectively eight different teams. That’s the university men and women over three seasons and a local women’s team over parts of two seasons. It’s across five or six different league and cup competitions. Also, in some cases someone else coached the team (admittedly someone much less experienced).

For the purposes of this discussion it would be better if I dropped the clearly lopsided match-ups from the tally. I was definitely on both sides of those! We could also look at set and point differential comparisons. Unfortunately, I don’t have that level of granularity in my records. Even if I did, the comparison might still not have the right composition to be truly valid.

Any thoughts?

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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.

    4 replies to "How many points is a coach worth?"

    • David Samuels

      I feel a coach influences the momentum of a game and allows a release of tension within a team when things get tight taking those thought processes from the team/captain and supplying objective input into time outs, serving and defensive strategy changes etc. After all the team is an extension of your coaching and team ethos.. Even if the team sticks to a game plan a coach is still a big part of the team. So thinking about it a coach is probably worth ~20% of a set score.

    • Kelly Daniels

      Great article. I think, well in my experience, coaches makes a lot points for the team. Only at the very highest levels do teams have the ability to adjust to scenarios. This is because they play the same teams time after time in my opinion. At the lower levels teams rely on coaches to make adjustments as you stated. Most athletes do not have the experience to direct a team when it comes to adjustments.
      I also believe certain coaches can add points to the score other than the head coach. My experience revolves around a head coach who coached two teams. Somewhat like yourself. Well in the league the team wasn’t as competitive as the other. When there was a conflict with both teams playing on the same day I was asked to take the lesser team, since my team wasn’t playing. Well the team out performed what was expected by not only their coach, but the team and families. Especially the opponents. Where we should have finished sixth we finished 2nd in the finals. The parents and the team expressed the coaching was the difference. My director wasn’t too happy with me out doing him with his own team. hehehehehe. Yet, I was glad I had to opportunity to coach this team. I created friends for life!

    • MP

      Another perspective would be games where the Coaches messed up. Maybe sending the “wrong” starting-six on the court. Or keep a player although he is commiting to many mistakes, or make substitutions for the “wrong” reasons… And then in the end the question might be: what’s his net effect?

    • Mason Chew HL

      Novice, intermediate or expert team all requires coaching from sideline for different reason. I always tell player that volleyball is a game of “preparation, execution and adjustment”. We designed a plan, we train to execute the plan, and execute it on gameday. But there is also certain degree of randomness in the game and it’s what makes the game interesting! If we can always execute exactly as how we plan, there will be much less fun, won’t it? Novice needed to be reminded on the plan (they are new and not familiar with what the plan is), intermediate needed to be reminded on the execution (they are less stable yet) and the expert needed to be reminded on the adjustment (player might not see the whole game or picture). I recall Coach Alekno of Russia have called for a substitution and was believed to change the outcome of the game. Just some of my thought.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.