Here’s an example of something I see a lot when I observe coaches in action.

I watched a coach set up a fairly simple serving and passing drill. The focus was on reception, and there were 3 players on court to do so, with a target, plus a couple servers on the other side. No doubt, you’ve done something similar yourself many times.

In setting up the drill, the coach spent a couple of minutes talking about the need for the players to move as a unit. By that I mean, for example, on a deep serve, all three should track back toward the end line. The two who weren’t going to pass were doing so to provide support to the passer and help with a line call.

You may be inclined to comment on this coordinated movement. Put that aside for now. It’s not the point.

The drill gets going. The coach periodically offers player feedback or instruction on their passing mechanics, as you’d probably expect.

What’s wrong with this situation?

If you spotted the fact that I didn’t mention the coach providing feedback on the passers moving as a unit, good catch! Did you also notice that I didn’t mention them talking at all in the instructions about passing mechanics? If so, excellent!

Make sure the instructions and the feedback focus match!

I should note, this was an extremely experienced and successful coach. In fact, they’re one of the Volleyball Coaching Wizards. I won’t rat out which one. 🙂

The reason I bring that up is because it’s an easy mistake to make. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee we’ve all made it. Probably many times. I know I have!

If you’re not really seeing the mistake I’m talking about, let me explain.

The instructions you provide when setting up an exercise should put the attention on the thing you want the players focusing on. You then want to coach them during the exercise based on that focus area.

If you instruct one thing, then feedback on something else, you have a couple of potential problems.

  • If you’re ignoring something, the players probably will too.
  • Feedback on something other than what you instructed means you’re not working as well on that focus as you should be – if you’re really working on it at all.
  • If you’re feeding-back on something different than your instructions, maybe you picked the wrong focus

I’ve written before on the need for coaches to stay on-task when it comes to their feedback and instruction. It’s an on-going battle for all of us.

Having said all this, it is totally fine – and even advised – for a coach to change things up if they recognize an issue and want to address it. That’s an intentional change of focus. The error described above is an unconscious change, which we don’t want.

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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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