Former NBA star Steve Nash got some attention a while back for a post (unfortunately, the blog has since been closed down). It was on the subject of high-5s, and physical contact between players in general. In it he made the point that such contact helps to connect the players. It indicates approval and congratulations for something well-done. It also provides support after a miscue. Steve made some excellent points on the impact of this sort of behavior on team chemistry and cohesion. It’s something which we can definitely see evidence for, and should be encouraged in volleyball.
I want to shift the focus, though, to coach-player contact as I think there are some related ideas. Obviously, there are a number of potential pitfalls in the area of coach-on-player physical contact. This is especially true when crossing gender lines and in adult-child relationships. I’m not going to get into a discussion here on where lines should be drawn and what should be considered appropriate or inappropriate. That’s an involved conversation with considerable cultural considerations. Let’s just stick to clearly non-controversial elements.
A very basic example of this is something I saw a lot coaching outside the US. At the start of a men’s team’s training you almost always see players shaking hands with the coach(es) – as well as each other. I even received handshakes myself as a visiting coach during my times with the professional teams at BR Volleys and TV Bühl in Germany.
In my experience working with both genders, these handshakes serve a similar purpose for men as the conversational exchanges you see with women’s teams before training. It’s a simple person-to-person and group connection. It’s an indication of respect which helps reinforce the full team dynamic.
Returning to the high 5s, as a coach I personally use them and their like to communicate three main things:
You’ll get ’em next time
One quick bit of physical contact with more than one use! And sometimes one high 5 actually serves multiple purposes. For example, “Good job” and “Let’s go” often get combined in one hand slap.
And you don’t even need actual contact to transmit something to a player through physical means.
Body language is a whole subject in itself. What I’m thinking of here are specific gestures with meaning to given individuals, though. Sally Kus talks about this a bit in her book Coaching Volleyball Successfully. She used a specific 2-part gesture to express the idea of “key dig” to one of her players on the court. Giving a player a clap after a good play, or giving them a “chin up” signal, or any of a number of similar types of things are all non-verbal ways we coaches can get things across to our players and express a connection with them – just as players do between and among themselves.
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