Here’s a question from a relatively young coach that I suspect some readers can relate to.

I’m young (21) and introverted, so I’ve consistently had a hard time establishing authority over my players. I started coaching when I was 17 and the girls were 15, and they walked all over me. Since then, I’ve been working on being firmer, but things haven’t really gotten much better. I’m quiet and awkward by nature, and in any situation where I have to manage a group of kids (teaching a classroom or coaching) I always find that it gets out of my control. I am great with 1-1 teaching and coaching, but I’m too passive when it comes to working with and disciplining a group of kids. I’m deeply anxious and tend to panic and retreat into myself when I make a mistake, which makes me make more mistakes, which (as you can imagine) is quite unhelpful both as a player and a coach.

I have previously written about the potential benefits of being introverted in coaching. It does, however, also have its challenges.

I consider myself an introvert. I didn’t have the age issue this person has had when I first became a head coach, but I can relate to the issues with firmness. Early in my career I had broad issues with what I, at the time, called “being mean” to the players. I was a 2-year college assistant coach at the time. Sadly, physical punishments did feature in our practices (they were quite old school in hindsight). I struggled to call for those punishments, or to otherwise be firm with the players when required.

Eventually, I learned to be sharp with a team when required. I’m not a yeller, and never will be. Yelling is quite contrary to the whole introvert vibe in a lot of ways. My players know, however, when I’m displeased. It’s funny. My players will comment that I yelled at them for something when I might not even have raised my voice. It’s about the tone (something coaches should always be aware of).

Anyway, it’s not just about volume and/or tone. It’s mainly about holding them (and yourself) to a standard. If you can’t do so, that’s when the players walk all over you. It won’t happen right away. Your position as coach will automatically engender a certain level of respect. What you do from there determines whether you keep it.

And players can respect you in one way, but not in another. They might respect your knowledge of the game, but not respect that you’ll call them out for messing around when they should be focused. You have to work to maintain the respect across the board.

These days, my introversion tends to express itself more in being quicker to observe and absorb and slower to talk. That has certain benefits to be sure, but there are negatives as well.

This was made quite clear to me at the end of my first season coaching in England. The captain of the Exeter men’s team told me he thought I didn’t want to coach them early in the season because I didn’t talk very much. That was a “Whoops!” moment. Legitimately, I was trying to get my feet under me coaching in an entirely new environment after a few years away from the game. That’s not an excuse for lack of player/team engagement, though.

I’m much more conscious and aware of my tendency these days. It doesn’t mean I talk all the time. No one changes their nature completely. I make sure to keep it in check, however.

Ultimately, it’s about the players. We have to do what’s best for them. If we take that mentality, we can step outside our base personality and act in the manner the situation requires. With practice, it becomes easier. And this applies equally to more extroverted coaches.

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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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