Is it easier to play better teams?

Here’s a story from my days coaching in Sweden. On the train ride back from Stockholm, a group of my players talked about the prior evening’s match. We played the team second from bottom in the league. It was a team that only managed wins over the team last in the standings.

During the exchange, one of the players commented on how it can actually be harder to play weaker teams.

Now, as coaches I’m sure the first thing which comes to mind in a situation like that is motivation. For sure, it can be hard to get yourself up for a match you’re expected to dominate. Moreover, it can be hard to maintain your focus when you’re winning comfortably.

That’s not what this player was talking about, though.

She was actually looking at things in terms of predictability. The general thrust of it was that with better teams you basically know what they’re going to do. The ball comes over the net at predictable times and in predictable ways. With weaker teams, though, you are less sure of when and how the ball will come across the net. That makes things tougher.

One of my middles actually commented that during a certain stretch we had put them under so much pressure with our serve that for several points in a row she didn’t have to block at all. When they finally were able to run a good attack, she forgot she needed to block! 🙂

In situations like this, along with trying to keep the team focused on that things we want to work on, I also talk about the need to be constantly ready. You never can be sure when or how the ball will cross the net, so you have to be alert and in a position to make whatever move is required.

It’s important that we coaches also maintain our focus in matches like this.

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John Forman
About the Author: John Forman
John currently coaches for an NCAA Division II women's team. This follows a stint as head coach for a women's professional team in Sweden. Prior to that he was the head coach for the University of Exeter Volleyball Club BUCS teams (roughly the UK version of the NCAA) while working toward a PhD. He previously coached in Division I of NCAA Women's Volleyball in the US, with additional experience at the Juniors club level, both coaching and managing, among numerous other volleyball adventures. Learn more on his bio page.

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