As much as we wish it wasn’t the case, sometimes practices don’t go as well as we want. On that topic, a coach in a Facebook group asked the following question.

Coaches who can successfully rescue a bad or below average practice, my question is threefold:

  1. How
  2. Have you considered the possibility that your intervention perpetuates their reliance on you for awareness of when things do drop below average?
  3. If this phenomenon does in fact exist, what is the best course of action to not only empower the athletes but sustain productive practices?
Developing awareness

A theme of the coach’s query is player/team awareness. This is definitely important, and not something we can just assume. Our players don’t automatically come with a sense of when practice is going well or not. This is especially true when dealing with younger and/or less experienced athletes and teams. We have to help them with that. The question is how.

To my mind, the main way to do this is to stop play at different times and point out what’s happening. I doubt most of us have a hard time doing that when things are going poorly. It’s easy to get on them when the intensity and focus are low. What’s equally important, though, is highlighting the good stuff.

Just as telling a player their doing something wrong doesn’t really help if they don’t know what doing it right looks like, the same goes for the mental side of things. If the team doesn’t have a reference point for good energy, effort, attitude, etc. they will probably struggle to meet that standard consistently. So point out both sides.

I prefer to make this an “asking” rather than “telling” exercise. We’re trying to make them more self-aware. Asking forces them to reflect. “Where’s our level of focus right now?” If it’s not good and they acknowledge that, ask how they can fix it. If it’s good and that’s what they say, agree and encourage them to keep it up.

It might not be the players

In all this, keep in mind sometimes the lack of focus is your fault. This can come about in two ways. The one I see most often is running something that’s too simple. Consider what I talk about in the post about the percentage of successful reps. If you have players doing things they can execute just about automatically, they simply won’t be fully focused. Push up the challenge level to get more engagement.

The other end of that spectrum is making things too difficult. When you do this, frustration and/or confusion can lead players to withdraw.

Upping the intensity

Sometimes the pace of things is just too slow. I often feel this way with standard serve-initiated games. Adding one or more additional balls after the initial rally can definitely increase focus and intensity. See Washing to increase scrimmage intensity for more on that subject.

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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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