I had a conversation with an adult volleyball player whose team got a new coach for the season. I mention the “adult” part to provide some context. In the US, adult volleyball isn’t nearly as big as it is (proportionally speaking) in other countries – at least if you exclude collegiate teams. That might lead American readers to tune this out, but don’t. What I’m going to talk about is universal.

The team in question was in a middling division with more middle-aged players where the focus is usually more tilted toward participation than high level performance. That doesn’t mean teams don’t want to win, or that teams don’t have ambitions to be promoted to the next higher division. It’s just that they were there for the love of playing, not with high ambitions. And they only trained 1-2 times per week.

This new coach came into a team and immediately set about working on their mechanics. He wasn’t meant to coach them in matches, but at one point showed up for a home fixture. He then continued to coach them on technique, which I was told caused problems. It had the players so flustered they made loads of errors.

This brings up two different types of disconnects between coaching and situation.

Training vs. Performance

The first disconnect is one I see lots of coaches get wrong. Matches and practices are different situations. We can’t treat them the same. Practice is about exploring, taking risks, and accepting the innevitable mistakes as part of learning. Match time is about performance – doing what it takes to win. A coach who talks technique during matches takes the players’ minds away from performing. It’s a distraction that can lead to a drop in performance – like the one mentioned above. Similarly, a coach who treats practice reps like match reps will likely stunt player development. They will tend to create an atmosphere less conducive to exploration and experiementation, and thus learning.

Not matching player priorities

The second disconnect is a less frequent one, but is perhaps more problematic when it does happen. If the players have one priority and the coach works toward a different priority, it usually doesn’t go well (and the split can happen midseason). Both sides end up frustrated. In the particular case above, you have players who want to perform well in matches, but who llikely see themselves as beyond the point of changing much technically. The player I spoke with was explicit about that, saying this might be their last season. So you have a coach trying to coach things in which the players have no real investment.

The bottom line is that each coach should know their situation and coach to it – not to what they want or think it should be. This may require having meaningful conversations with the players to understand their motivations.

6 Steps to Better Practices - Free Guide

Subscribe to my weekly newsletter today and get this free guide to making your practices the best, along with loads more coaching tips and information.

No spam ever. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

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.