Be honest. You’ve watched a team play and come away sure you could do better coaching them than their current coach. Haven’t you? I’d venture to say most of us who have coached for any length of time have had that thought run through their head at least once along the way. Ironically, these thoughts tend to happen more in the earlier stages of our coaching careers. That’s when we’re still rather ignorant. They come less later on when we actually know what we’re doing to some degree. 🙂

I think as we mature we come to realize that there could be any number of things going on behind the scenes to explain what’s happening on the court. As a result, we tend to give our fellow volleyball coaches – and those in other sports for that matter – a bit of a break when watching their teams play. Granted, sometimes it is painfully clear that a coach is out of their depth. In those cases it’s perfectly acceptable to feel like you could do a better job.

When I watch a match these days I tend to focus more on what the players are doing. In contrast, I tend not to give the coaching a lot of thought for exactly the reason I mentioned above. I don’t know what’s happening in training and/or off the court to shape the coach’s decision regarding line-ups, strategy, etc. I can see what the players are or are not doing, though. That provides some sense of the underlying coaching in broad strokes. It also will give you some comfort in that you’ll see even high level players making the same type of mistakes your lower levels ones do. Once, when I was coaching in England, I watched some of the German professional women’s championship finals. I saw stuff I’d be frustrated at seeing in my Exeter university team, which was obviously at a much lower level!

To truly get a proper feel for a coach, though, you need to see them in training. Ideally you also have the opportunity to ask questions so you can understand their intentions and motivations.This wasn’t the specific intention of my 2013 summer trip, or my initial visit to Berlin in 2014 where I got to attend a couple of training sessions for BR Volleys. Seeing the different styles and methods of coaching was a definite side benefit, though.

You don’t want to assume coaching at a higher or lower level of play is directly indicative of coaching mastery.  This is something I mentioned in The phases of volleyball coach development. While it may be true that there is less disparity of coaching talent at the higher levels of play, there are also different demands. A professional coach has different considerations in their job than does a collegiate coach. A collegiate coach has different considerations than a Juniors coach. Even in the Juniors ranks, it’s different coaching U18s than U12s or U14s. As a result, success at one level does not necessarily translate to success at another. Just ask football or basketball coaches in the States who try to make the jump from college to the pros.

Finding our own coaching niche from that perspective is actually part of the path toward coaching mastery we each must follow. It’s also part of feeling the rewards of coaching which keep us coming back.

Getting back to the idea of “I could coach better”, it’s fine to think that at times. Just make sure you do so from an informed position. Otherwise you just sound like that parent who’s never played the sport but is sure they could run the team better because they aren’t getting the expected results. Nobody likes that guy.

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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.

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