Let them figure it out on the court

Keeping the theme from this post, I came across another article from the non-volleyball world (unfortunately, no longer available online). Football (American) in particular. This news story was about the turnaround experienced by the Houston Texans during the 2015-16 season. They started the year 2-5 and were 8-7 at the time of its writing. Head coach Bill O’Brien attributed the turnaround to a change in training philosophy.

“When it’s 11-on-11, it’s the players’ practice,” O’Brien explained on Monday. “The coaches, George and RAC, they’re on the side and they just signal the play in and the players practice. I think we made a decision to do that, so that we could help everybody understand what we were trying to do better because let the players figure it out.”

He was further quoted:

“We’re not going to be out there on the game field to figure it out for them, so let’s let them figure it out on the practice field,” O’Brien said. “I think the players have done a great job of that. Our leaders have done a good job of that.”

Anyone who’s ever been in my gym for training will notice that I’m not a big talker. A feature of my coaching philosophy is the more I talk, the less they train. By extension, the less they learn. Also, the more I talk the less I can gather information and make assessments for future use. Further, if I constantly tell players what to do, they won’t learn to develop their own solutions (to use a phrase from Julio Velasco). This is something I wrote about before in Let them figure it out for themselves.

Less instructing, more facilitating

I think the result of this mentality – at least for me – is that one becomes a facilitator of learning rather than being a teacher. By that I mean I set up situations related to things I believe we need to work on. Then I let the players come up with their own solutions to the problems posed rather than providing my own.

Does that mean I never offer any input into the process? Of course not!

If I see something I think should be addressed or I believe I can give the solution development process a push, I step in. Most of the time that’s to talk with a specific player. Sometimes, though, I must address the whole group. Either way, it’s quick and I get them right back to work.

Related to this is something from the Jan De Brandt interview for Volleyball Coaching Wizards. Jan made the observation that women’s teams tend not be be as creative in their play as men’s teams. I can understand where this comes from. In my experience female athletes tend to be more literal than their male counterparts. They do what they’re told! 🙂

The downside of that is they sometimes just do what they’re told, not some variation on it. I chafed a bit at Jan’s comments in that regard because my team at Svedala was the exact opposite. They constantly worked with each other to come up with new ways to do things. I’d like to think at least some of that was down to my coaching style of letting them work things out for themselves, as Coach O’Brien started doing.

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John Forman
About the Author: John Forman
John most recently coached for an NCAA Division II women's team. That followed 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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