During my August 2013 tour of US collegiate volleyball programs, one of the conversations I had with a fellow coach was about how teams and players can reflect the mental and emotional state of their coach. In this particular case, I was watching the team training and noticed that defensively the players were exhibiting a lack of poise.

That probably requires a bit of explanation.

Coaches often look to instill intense defensive commitment in their teams. You’ll see players throwing themselves at the ball to keep the other team from scoring a point. Sometimes that results in scramble plays with bodies flying everywhere. Good teams handle these scrambles calmly and are able to recover fairly quickly. In other words, players are able to “better the ball” and get an attack out of the dig (the purpose of defense). Lesser teams and players tend slip into panic mode during these scrambles, though. That leads them to just flail around trying to keep the ball up and/or just to get the ball over the net. This, in turn, leads to mistakes.

That’s what I mean when I say there’s a lack of poise.

The team I was watching in this particular case was quite often slipping into panic mode during scramble plays in scrimmage situations. It’s something I talked about with the coach after training, and the assistant coach acknowledged that he saw it too. To her credit, the head coach recognized the situation for what it probably was. She had really focused a lot of attention during that session on the commitment to keep the ball off the floor (and probably had done it previously as well), and she is naturally a very energetic and intense type of person in the gym. As a result, an intensity of the desired commitment was no doubt coming through loud and clear to the team.

Of course that sort of thing can be quite useful at times. In this particular situation, though, the players were too eager to not let a ball drop. They so wanted to please the coach that everything else kind of slipped away. The scrambles became panicky. The players were overplaying the ball. As a result, they made the types of little errors that they wouldn’t probably make if they were more calm.

Hearing this feedback, the head coach could be more conscious of the vibe she was giving off to try to see the players calm things down a bit. This is an example of how it’s sometimes quite worthwhile to have an external view of your coaching. An outside observer can see things you may not because your focus is on so many other areas.

By the way, it’s worth noting that even experienced teams can lose poise. I saw it happening with the Devon team I coached at the 2013 South West Championships. In the final there was a point where players were doing things like just putting the ball over on two during a scramble. When I saw that I called a time out to calm them down. I think we were down 9-5 in the deciding set at that point. The more relaxed team after the timeout went on to win 15-10.

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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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