I previously outlined what I think are the factors which drive coaching success, and how I define success in this discussion. In this post I address one of those factors – player & team management.
What is this?
Player and team management is about your ability as a coach to get the most out of your players – individually and collectively. I’m not talking here about how you organize them. Rather, it’s about how you motivate, inspire, and otherwise lead them. It’s about the relationship aspect of coaching.
There are a few angles to consider here.
The relationship between a coach and each of their players is an obvious area of consideration here. Do you understand how the player reacts to criticism? What motivates them? What sort of feedback do they find most useful? Are they the sort who wants to understand why, or do they just want to get on with things?
A lot of coaches use things like Myers-Briggs or DISC assessments to try to help them understand their players better (and for them to know each other). While they may have some value, it’s important to understand their limitations before diving in.
Beyond all that, just the effort to get to know a player one-on-one and to show interest in their life can make all the difference. You want them to be willing to be open and honest with you, and you want to know when things are happening away from volleyball that might impact them in the gym and with the team.
A coach can have really good player relationships, but if they can’t engage with the group as a whole they will have problems. The ability to communicate in a group setting is critical. You want to ensure that each individual gets the point and everyone is on the same page. You need to be conscious of attention span. The impact of your tone and body language are important to understand as well.
Aside from communication, the objective of your work at the team level is to foster a collective mentality rather than an individualistic or clique-oriented one. That means understanding the internal dynamics of the group. For example, how does a certain kind of interaction with one player or group of players impact the others.
Knowledge of how leadership works in the team can be extremely important. With it you can use that leadership advantageously. Without it you could lose the confidence and trust of the group.
I mentioned above how you need to understand team dynamics – the relationships between and among the players – to facilitate your work with the group collectively. Here I’m talking about how you manage those relationships. This might be the trickiest part of coaching, while also being something that can torpedo a season.
Mostly, this comes down to nipping problems in the bud and making sure small issues don’t become big ones. Good relationships with the individual players can certainly help here as you can often pick up on potential problems early, which is critical.
Are team-building activities worthwhile? It probably depends how you define them. In the second Volleyball Coaching Wizards book there’s a section on this subject. The bottom line is that essentially everything you do with the team – including, and especially practice – is a team-building activity.
Chances are, though, you’re thinking about activities outside of volleyball specifically intended to develop teamwork. For example, a ropes course or a trust fall. I would contend – and I know some others who would agree – that these sorts of things are of limited value. They might help players get to know each other better, but the sort of teamwork they involve doesn’t really translate to the court. You could probably just get the team together in a more social way and get the same result in terms of developing player-to-player relationships.
In a lot of circumstances parents are a consideration in the team dynamic. I am not in favor of having an adversarial – or at least a hands-off – relationship with parents that some coaches seem to favor. I think there is much to be gained from being engaged with the parents in a positive way. If nothing else, it can help avoid problems. More than that, parents can be a good source of information.
Your relationship with your players – both individually and collectively – can be a massive influence on your success as a coach. That means you need good communication skills. This includes knowing how to teach lessons that stick. You also need to be very observant to pick up on the cues players give you, especially in terms of how they want to be coached. And keep in mind that sometimes you’ll experience addition by subtraction.
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