Priorities for coaching a new team

A while back I provided a list of five recommended books. They came from the coaches on the panel discussion “When Winning is Your Job” that I attended while at the 2013 American Volleyball Coaches Association convention. There was another list that came up from that same panel I thought worth sharing as well.

They shared the first thing they would do with a team they coach after the squad has been formed. That means after completing try-outs, bringing in newly recruited players, etc. Here’s what they said. I’ve added a bit of commentary mixing both what they said and my own views, which run along similar lines. I offer them up in the order the panelists mentioned them.

Set Expectations

This is something often overlooked by new coaches in the communication process. You likely have expectations for the team and individual players in any number of areas (style of play, work ethic, attitude, communication, etc.). If they are not communicated, though, it can cause problems. Established expectations – particularly when everyone involved in the team understands and agrees upon them – creates a stable base. Everyone is working from the same sheet of music, making it much easier to create a proper team dynamic. Of course this assumes consistent application of consequences when someone doesn’t meet expectations. If you don’t handle it properly, the whole thing falls apart.

Develop Trust

Lack of trust in a team leads to all kinds of breakdowns. At it’s most basic level this is trusting a teammate to do her job to the best of her ability. It can also come in more complex forms. Such an example is the consistency of the head coach’s communication and attitude toward the team and individual players. Developing trust takes time, and you have to foster it continuously. Coaches sometimes use Outward Bound type experiences toward that end, and they serve a purpose. However, an underlying ongoing process must be at work throughout the whole team structure to create and sustain that trust.

Develop a plan with your coaching staff

Just as all six players on the volleyball court must be working together to succeed, the volleyball coaching staff must also work together with the same objectives and goals in mind. This means having a plan in mind for how to advance the team toward its objectives. That requires clear priorities and defined responsibilities. Just as you must clarify the roles of the players in the team, so too must you set forth the roles of the staff and ensure understanding. The consistency of message this creates helps foster the trust element mentioned above.

Fundamental Skill Mastery

At every level of volleyball it is important to work on and further the fundamental skills of the game. Even national team training has this aspect. Coaches who let their focus on fundamentals slip very often come to regret it down the line.

I think these four ideas go a long way toward addressing what a coach should be thinking about at the start of a season. Got anything else you like to add to the list?

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John Forman
About the Author: John Forman
John most recently coached for an NCAA Division II women's team. That followed 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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