Thanks to Volleyball Coaching Wizard interviewee Simon Loftus – head coach of the England Men’s National Team at this writing – I came across a very good article about coaching. It comes from the world of English soccer, but the points are broadly applicable. The interviewee quoted in the article is a Technical Director type of person. He oversees and directs all of the coaching for a professional club below the first team.

Let me hit the highlights.

Playing systems

The playing philosophy should be fixed, the system variable.

This comes in reference to playing systems. Specifically it relates to the idea that some coaches want to play a fixed system. They try to fit the players into the system rather than looking to develop a system that fits the players.

Feedback to players

Everyone knows the kind of coaches, who tell their players: ‘Focus more, play a clean pass, don’t get caught offside.’ But none of these coaches come up and tell you how to improve it.

Here the focus is on coaches who tell players they’re doing something wrong, but don’t explain how to do it correctly. In other words, the coach doesn’t help the player solve the problem they face or improve their performance.

Coach involvement in matches

In training, I have the possibility to interrupt situations and to explain. An outstanding coach manages that players coach each other during games.

In other words, the coach’s work is largely in practice. Once the match starts it’s primarily about the players working with each other.

Yes, soccer as a continuous action sport is structurally different than volleyball. In our sport we can communicate between plays. That’s limited, though. Sometime very limited. And we can’t tell players what to do when the ball is flying. We have to rely on them working it out together.

Basically, it’s our job in training to help the players be autonomous in competition.

Having a specific training focus

A week of training should be designed with a single focus.

The idea here is that you have something specific you want to work on for some multi-session period of time. It could be based on the upcoming opponent. Or it could simply be a part of the game you want to improve. Either way, focus everything on that priority. You don’t want to bounce around from concept to concept in your practices during that span.

Player experimentation

In another part of the article the interviewee talks about how coaches react to players trying new things. The example he provides is very soccer specific, so I won’t share it here.

Basically, it’s about a player trying something, but failing, and how we as coaches can react. Do we focus on the failure, and in doing so make the player less likely try things in the future? Or do we help the player understand if it was the right or wrong choice, why it failed, etc.?

Clear philosophy top to bottom

This one is for the club coaches, and especially the club directors out there. One of the early points made in the article is that a club should have a clear philosophy top to bottom. Every coach should know it, and should be able to explain it.

This doesn’t need to mean every coach does exactly the same things with their team. What it does mean is that they should have shared values, common terminology, and consistent ways of working across all teams. That way, as players progress through the system things are consistent. They don’t need to learn a whole new way each year.

The article isn’t all that long, so I encourage you to give it a read.

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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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