There’s a quote from the book Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better that I think a lot of coaches need to really consider.

“During practices, coaches urge hustle and effort, but they aren’t enough, a fact that is especially challenging because hard work is so easy to see. Like a shiny, bright, and brilliantly distracting object, it draws our attention. We overrate hard work in evaluating the effectiveness of practice. ‘Bustling bodies making noise can be deceptive,’ Wooden wrote. Hustle and bustle can distract us from noticing when we’re not actually that productive.”

Of course, the Wooden quoted in there is legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. He’s also quoted as having said, “Don’t confuse activity with getting something accomplished.”

I’m sure this idea is going to be hard for some coaches to swallow. Many think a great practice features lots of noise and activity. It can, but only if it’s in the service of training. The thing we see too often, however, is games and drills aimed at stimulating that noise and activity as their purpose. The game Ruckus is one I’ve heard about in terms of stimulating talking, though I’ve never used it myself (you can find a description in the comment section of this post). And butterfly drills are commonly used examples of high-activity exercises.

The issue with those types of drills and games is that they involve talking for the sake of talking, and moving for the sake of moving. A loud gym – which I love! – should be the result of intentional, directed communication. It’s not enough to just talk. And a high-activity exercise should feature movement with purpose, not just movement for the sake of movement.

Now, of course you can have movement incorporated into practice for specific reasons. Perhaps you want a physical warm-up. Perhaps you want a conditioning element, though there might be a better way to get that conditioning from your session. Or maybe you want to keep engagement up during something that could otherwise be kind of boring. But then if you’re afraid of things being boring, it’s probably a sign you’re off track. You might need to rethink the core activity to make it more challenging, and thus more engaging.

Circling back to the main point of the quote, however, it’s really easy to lose track of what’s important in a session when noise and action draw one’s attention. Ultimately, a session has one or more developmental or preparatory objectives. We can’t measure the quality of a session by anything other than those objectives. It’s a poor (or perhaps cynical) coach who allows volume and bustling bodies to mask ineffective training.

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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.