Making yourself progressively unnecessary

A while back, John Kessel from USA Volleyball tweeted out a photo from a presentation he did.

TeacherUnnecessary

Replace “teacher” with “coach” and you have what I basically believe should be the mission of every volleyball coach. I wrote on the subject of play-calling in volleyball. In some sports, like football and baseball, there are discreet plays. They allow coaches to call plays directly. In other sports, like soccer and hockey, the more continuous flow minimizes a coach’s impact during play. Volleyball slides somewhere in the middle, albeit more toward the continuous sports. Yes, it has discreet stoppages for play-calling. First ball unpredictability is a major wrinkle, however. As such, our players are mostly left to decide for themselves the best course of action in the heat of battle.

There’s a Phil Jackson quote from his book Sacred Hoops describing the final play of a championship winning game that goes:

“In that split-second all the pieces came together and my role as leader was just as it should be: invisible.”

Basically, we have to train our athletes to think and act for themselves. We must teach them to make the best possible decisions in every possible circumstance. And we have to develop in them (and ourselves) the understanding that we will trust them to do so.

I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but at some point I shifted from being primarily a technical coach to being much more focused on decision-making. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped coaching technique (ask my Exeter women’s players how much work I had them do on serving!). Now, however, I do a lot more of putting things in context. I do that to get them problem-solving and thinking from a solutions perspective. That way, we can address the thought processes behind their actions.

Not that a coach can ever completely become superfluous – at least if they are doing their job properly. A major part of what we do is to act as objective observer to provide players external feedback with regards to their development and play. Of course we also handle managerial duties which free players up to focus on being players and provide an outside perspective during play to help develop strategy.

So go ahead and train your players not to need you on the court. You’ll still have plenty to do. 🙂

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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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