I came across the following from a coach in an online forum.

I have a talented team that is struggling mentally to push through long practices in the doldrums of the season. They’re not putting in the hustle I expect from them, and they’re short with each other and me. I’m planning a 30m talk session today to try and work through these issues but I don’t want to turn it into a ‘sit n bitch’ session. Any suggestions or lesson plans on how to have a productive team therapy session? 6 weeks left till AAUs and I don’t know if I’m going to make it lol.

Its been a great season in that we have won more than we lost, but we have been bitten by injuries and haven’t made much progress in the past 2 months. I gave them a week off to deal with school open gyms/homework/finals and it doesn’t seem to have helped. We play in 2 weeks so I don’t want to give them more time off, but I could if necessary.

I’m not going to address the team meeting element of this. I see that as more of a team-specific consideration and I want this to be a more generally useful post. Instead, I’ll just focus on things you can do to keep the players engaged during a part of the season that can be challenging.

When are the doldrums?

I see the doldrums as a combination of being in the middle or latter part of your season – at about the time when it’s becoming clear where the team is in the pecking order, which can de-motivate if it’s not where you were expecting or hoping to be – and also having non-volleyball distractions. When exactly is that? Depends on the team.

In college volleyball the doldrums are often around the time of midterms. High school teams also face this. Players are under a lot of academic pressure. That can mean they aren’t getting enough sleep, and obviously they have other things on their mind.

For many Juniors teams (at least in the US) the transition to Spring and warmer weather can fall into this category. Players are thinking more about being outside, and it often coincides with prom season.

I’m thinking for pro teams in Europe it’s early in the new year. You’re probably coming off a holiday break and it can be a struggle to get fired back up again. I’m happy to hear other views on this, though.

What can we do about it?

Despite memes you might see out there placing motivation firmly as the responsibility of the players, coaches play a big part in this. We have a strong influence on the psychology of what happens in practice, and matches. That means we can do things to help players push through a mid-season lull.

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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.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.