The picture at left comes from the 2014 beach season. To say that the Swedish pair dominated the duo from Ireland in this set is an understatement. You don’t see many 21-0 score lines at international level events. You also don’t see a set of abs like #2 has either, but that’s a totally different conversation. 🙂

I present this photo as a lead in a subject that I’ve had conversations about over the years. That is the idea to respect your opposition enough to give full effort, and probably thrash them as a result.

Simon Loftus discussed it during his Volleyball Coaching Wizards interview. His view was that you should respect the other team enough to beat them 25-0 if you can. The Swedish ladies seemingly did just that. Listen to Simon’s thoughts on the subject of respect and how you approach lower caliber opposition in the following excerpt.

I agree with Simon in basically all he says in that snippet. From the perspective of lopsided scores, volleyball is different from other major sports. There is a point objective to finish a set. That contrasts with a proscribed time limit as in football, basketball, and soccer – or being open-ended like baseball. A 25-0 score line in soccer is definitely running up the score. University of North Carolina women’s soccer coach Anson Dorrance famously told his teams not to win by double digits. In volleyball, though, that is just being as efficient as possible.

During a conversation I had once with another coach, however, he had a thought on the subject. He said it may be true that for some players/teams being beaten 25-0 would see them concede they were soundly beaten by a superior team. He also said, though, it’s perhaps just as likely to be completely demoralizing. I coached on the wrong side of a couple of 0-15 score lines in NCAA Division I volleyball back in the pre-rally days. I can tell you the players weren’t thinking about how much the other team respected them.

Which way the response goes, though, depends. I think it has to do with how the losing team perceives the quality of their own performance.

In our 0-15 case, we definitely played strong opposition, but we also did not play well at all. When I coached the Exeter women against Northumbria in the 2014 BUCS semifinals we were WAY over-matched. Aside from the initial shock of just how strong the other team was, though, I think the team largely handled getting pounded pretty well. Our focus wasn’t on winning, but on enjoying smaller victories. It was similar for the Exeter men playing Northumbria in the 2013 version of Final 8s. The competitive gap was fractionally narrower in that case, but it was still a big one. We went into the match knowing the reality and enjoyed the experience of going up against a far superior opponent.

That all speaks to the psychology of being on the weaker side of the court and the sorts of things we as coaches need to think about to prepare our teams for those types of matches. The thought I had during the conversation I mentioned, though, related to being the dominating team. Basically, I said as a coach if your team won 25-0, or by a similar type of score, then you made a mistake.

I know that might sound counter-intuitive, but stay with me.

In the interview excerpt above, Simon talks about having non-score related objectives for matches where you face a lower level team. The idea in cases like that is basically to use the opportunity to help the team and players to continue their development. I tie that in with the idea expressed by Karch Kiraly at the HP Coaches clinic that if you’re not making some amount of errors you’re not pushing the envelope enough. As such, you are losing a chance to learn and grow.

If a team wins a set 25-0 it basically means they didn’t make any errors – at least no significant ones. No doubt there will have been less than perfect execution at points along the way. That’s it, though. If we use Karch’s benchmark of about 2 good against 1 bad, then in 25 rallies you should be thinking to drop about 8 points due to failed execution (missed serve, hitting error, etc.). That is not precisely what he means, but I think you get the point.

Of course I’m not suggesting we tell our player that we expect to lose 1 point out of each 3. Rather, what we should do is create a scenario where that is the outcome because the things we have the players focus on push them. They are working on new or more precise serves. They are trying new offensive plays. You are using non-starters. That sort of thing. The players are still trying to win each rally. It’s just that you’ve introduced factors which are likely to result in more mistakes.

Obviously, you can take it too far. If the players are taking too many risks things will get ugly fast and the score might get uncomfortably tight. And if the players get silly about it, that’s just disrespectful. Best to keep the focus on 1-2 objectives, though each player could have something of their own to work on.

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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.

    10 replies to "Show respect by dominating, but not too much"

    • Kelly Daniels

      My thoughts on this is pretty fresh. We played a team in our pre-national tournament that had beaten us four times during season. The first set they beat us 25-11. The second set we beat them 25-6. Then the third set we beat them 15-1 (1 server). Now I don’t know why the opponents decided to not compete against us, but my focus was to pile it on. After the first T.O. (7-0) I told the team to get as many points as you can because the opponents are going to come back and try to kick your butts. At 11-1 T.O. I told the setters to run a spread offense with RS swing around hitting from the middle. We only got to run the play once, but they were trying each and every time the opponents attacked the ball.
      Bottom line philosophy of mine is play every point to the fullest. If it causes us to dominate an opponent so be it. It is not our fault they are not at the level to compete with us. What I will not allow my team to say, ‘our goal to to keep them under x amount of points’. I view that as disrespect toward our opponents even though the opponents do not know that is the team’s goal. It’s not just being outwardly disrespectful, it’s being disrespectful intrinsically as well that I do not want my team’s focus. Respect all and you’ll get respect.

      • John Forman

        Your comment about the team wanting to keep the opposition under X points is a good one. Disrespect aside, I think it also puts the team in the wrong mindset. I’ve seen a number of situations where teams have had that mindset and it’s never really worked out well. They may have dominated, but the mentality was off and I don’t recall a single time when they actually did keep the other team from scoring whatever the objective was.

        • Kelly Daniels

          Yes I concur that it’s not the best mindset for the team to be in. I have had a few occasions where the team after a set/match where they announced that they had a keep opponent under X points as a goal. I then at that time address the issues.

    • Michael

      I have been beaten 25-2 in round-robin and then turned around and beat that team in the cross-over so that’s just the way youth sports goes sometimes. Here’s a predicament. I was thin on players going into a tournament and one girl had been chronically late for several practices leading up to this tournament so I told her she was not playing until the afternoon matches. Well our best server starts reeling off aces and it’s getting embarrassing. The coach on the other side is berating his girls and subbing as fast as he can. His girls are in tears. At 20-0 I can’t handle watching these girls get humiliated any more and so I look to sub out my server but the only girl I have on the bench is the one who was told she was not playing that morning. Luckily, the server caught the net and I was off the hook. Do you guys really think that winning at all costs trumps being a decent human being when we’re dealing with kids?

      • Kelly Daniels

        My philosophy is plain and simple. I am not responsible for the other side of the court other than present sportsmanship. If my team beat another 25-0 that is what it is. We did what we were suppose to do and the opponents did not. I make encourage my team to not feel sorry for the opponents. Teams feel bad enough when they are playing poorly, but to now feel bad when we are playing good is not what I want my team mentality to be like.
        I personally would not have subbed in the athlete that had violated team rules. We have to set the example of following through with our decisions. Otherwise this seems to confuse our athletes and some tries to take advantage of the situation. Parents for sure will take advantage of the situation by saying, you didn’t stick with your consequence with so-in-so. How is it fair that you now stick with your decision with my child. They have a valid point in my opinion. There have to be a great extenuating circumstance that I do not follow through with my discipline decisions.
        Winning at all cost in my opinion is when a coach/team play in the grey areas of the game or out right cheat. Anything within the rules of the game is fair. So I cannot say winning at all cost within the rules is negative.

        • Michael

          Well, I kinda think that as a youth coach, I have a responsibility to all the youth on the court not just the ones that happen to be on my team. Pulverizing a weak opponent is not really an effective way to grow the game. At the professional level then I agree with you. Hold nothing back except that if you bunt in baseball when you’re up by 10 runs, someone is going to get hit by a pitch so even the pros don’t agree with you.

          You say that you take responsibility for showing ‘sportsmanship’ to the other team so I guess this just gets back to how our parents taught us to be a good sport. I know what my dear, departed mother would say about your philosophy but what would your mom say?

          I regretted posting ‘win at all costs’ because that’s not what I meant. What I was asking is ‘are we our brother’s keeper?’

      • John Forman

        Michael – Your server situation is exactly the sort of thing I talked about in the post above. An alternative to subbing for the server could have been to have that player do something a bit out of their comfort zone. For example, give them a challenging target.

        • Michael

          Yes, that would have been a good option and when my teams are playing much weaker opponents, we often run new things we have been working on in practice. Something I failed to mention in my server situation is that the second tie-breaker was total points for/against and we had been beaten pretty badly in our first match of the morning so there was also pressure from the tournament structure to ‘run up the points’. I abhor tournaments that use point differencial as a primary tie-breaking mechanism but tournament directors do it because they are lazy. I have been strongly advocating our Provincial administrators to require all youth tournaments to abide by the Volleyball Canada tie-breaking rules that place total point differential way down the list.

    • Kelly Daniels

      To answer your question, no not when one can take care of one self. I think that’s where our philosophy differs. I take care of my a side of the court and the opponent coach their side. As an Official I WOULDN’T let the coach belittle the athletes. I’ve carded and once disqualified a coach for inappropriate behavior towards the athletes. As an official it IS my responsibility to ensure fair play and sportsmanship is adhered. So as an opponent coach I need not to address this issue being it’s actually the officials duty.
      I cannot nor dare not speak for my mom. Sorry that’s how I was raised.

      • Michael

        I truly commend you on your tough stance as an official but in 20 years, I have never seen an official card a coach (or eject a coach in the case of baseball) for belittling their athletes. Sadly, very few officials believe that this is part of their job.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.