Tag Archive for coaching certification

If you think coaching is easy, you’re probably doing it wrong

Mark Lebedew wrote a post titled How To Become A Coach. In it he shares a story about a former player relatively new to coaching talking about how hard it is to coach. I’ve heard something similar in my own coaching travels at different times. Players often don’t realize the amount of work that goes into good coaching. As a result, when they attempt to make a shift into coaching after they finish playing they get a major shock.

I’ve long been a proponent of players doing some coaching along the way. Many of the college players I’ve coached over the years have coached juniors. The three Americans on the Svedala team I coached professionally in Sweden were coaches for the club’s youth teams. One the one hand, I thinking coaching makes players better. They learn to look at things differently, and that can have a real positive impact on their play. On the other hand, the experience of being a coach helps them appreciate better the sorts of things their own coaches deal with on a regular basis.

Of course, some of the players are better coaches than others. That’s a function – at least in part – of having the types of skills coaching requires. They aren’t the same as those necessary to play volleyball at a high level.

None of them are really good coaches, though, for a couple of simple reasons. One is lack of experience, and the other is lack of education. The latter is Mark’s primary point in his piece. Paraphrasing, he says go to every course, clinic, practice, and match you can; talk to everyone you can and ask lots of questions; and do all the work you have to do, even if you don’t like. And you have to keep doing it. This is something I wholeheartedly endorse, having done just that sort of thing myself, with examples here, here, and here.

It should be noted that education is not enough, though. One of my early Volleyball Coaching Wizards interviews was with Paulo Cunha. For many years he directed coaching education in his native Portugal. Paulo made the comment during our conversation that just getting a certification doesn’t make you a coach. People may think it does, but in some ways it’s just the beginning of the process.

Coaching is a challenge on many levels. If it isn’t, you’re probably not doing it right. To my mind, that’s a big part of what makes it interesting and compelling.


USA Volleyball CAP III

Each year USA Volleyball runs the High Performance Coaches Clinic (HPCC). In conjunction with it, they run all three of the Coaches Accreditation Program (CAP) courses. While the CAP I and II courses are run multiple times each year in different locations, CAP III is only run alongside the HP clinic (at least that was the case until 2018).

I attended the 2017 edition. Here is the schedule for the course.

As you can see, the course ran Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday. They were all very full days. The days in between were HPCC sessions, which were also quite packed.

Cadre (in order of presentations)

Bill Hamiter: Director of USA Sitting Volleyball and Head Coach of the women’s sitting team (gold medal at the 2016 Paralympics).

Rob Browning: Head Coach at Saint Mary’s College.

Marouane Jafir: Club Director at Delaware United.

Todd Dagenais: Head Coach at Central Florida.

Sue Gozansky: Volleyball Coaching Wizard.

Joan Powell: Coordinator of Officials for PAC-12 Conference.

John Kessel: USA Volleyball Director of Sport Development.

Bill Neville: Volleyball Coaching Wizard.

Dan Mickle: Former professional beach player and current sports psychology specialist.

Day 1

We began with an initial all-levels introduction encompassing CAP I, II, and III groups. After that, though, we split off into our own cohorts. Our first session was on prioritization. Bill Hamiter was the presenter. He shared his very detailed 52-week program for the national sitting team with us. We were also given a copy of Periodization Training for Sports-3rd Edition. After that Rob Browning spoke with us about mindset work. It was largely based on the Carol Dweck book. I’ve read it, so not a lot of new material there.

Our first on-court session was lead by Todd Dagenais. We were put into groups and told to develop a serve reception organization for a 3-Middle line-up based on a given situation. We presented them to the group and had to work through variations based on changing issues. For example, “What if your OH can’t hit on the right?”. Basically it was an exercise in critical thinking and creativity.

After lunch we went back into the classroom. Sue Gozansky led a discussion of gender related issues in coaching, with Bill Hamiter adding his thoughts. John Kessel then talked with us about a variety of false beliefs and failures in conceptual understanding in volleyball. Those included the myth of the wrist snap and realizing how little time players actually spend touching the ball (one study calculated it was about 27 seconds during the 2012 Olympics).

Bill Neville took us back on-court after that. We presented favorite drills and games for analysis by the group and cadre. From there it was back into the classroom for a sports psychology session led by Sue Gozansky. After the dinner break there was some sitting volleyball play with the CAP II and III groups mixed together.

Day 2

The whole morning was in the classroom. A group of the cadre talked with us first about developing team culture. After that there was about an hour of open Q&A with Todd and Rob. That was supposed to be about talent identification, but the guys figured we probably knew enough about that already. Recruiting was a big focus of the questions.

Next up was a really interesting session on nutrition given by Dr. Jackie Berning. It focused mainly on the timing of athlete meals and their nutritional content. She shot down a number of common public concepts (think paleo diets and the like).

After nutrition we did a DISC small-group exercise led by Dan Mickle. As I have been through a few of these sessions before, there wasn’t a lot new in this one. Maybe there was more new material for others, however.

Once more to the classroom after lunch. This time conflict resolution was the focus, with Bill Hamiter in the lead. From there we went back out on the court for more sharing of favorite games and drills and constructive criticism of them. We were also assigned into groups of 2-3 to develop practice segment plans for presentation on Day 3.

The last session was presented by Aaron Brock. He is the lead strength coach for the USA men’s team. He talked with us about strength and conditioning, with a heavy emphasis on rest and recovery.

Day 3

This day was largely spent on-court. It began, though, with Todd presenting on stats. He shared his findings on where teams needed to be in certain areas from his own research. For example, in the women’s game you should target a sideout rate of about 63%. He also shared some methods for collecting key stats when you’re by yourself.

Most of the rest of the day we presented and critiqued a variety of games and drills for warm-up, skills work, systems training, competitive play, and cool down. After that wrapped up we went back into the classroom. John Kessel and a lacrosse coach who works with USOC talked about Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD). The last session was a presentation of everyone’s ideas for their outreach projects. More on that below.

Post-Course requirements

The single biggest thing we need to do following the in-person portion of the CAP III course is our outreach project. This is basically something with a focus on growing the game in some fashion. That could be bringing more participants into the sport, expanding coaching education, and stuff like that. We met with members of the cadre during meal breaks to talk about our ideas to help get them refined. Then, as noted above, we shared them with the entire group to get additional thoughts, ideas, etc.

The other post- course requirement we were told about was to develop a set of questions from the periodization book I mentioned above. They will be used for future CAP exams, presumably.


Inevitably, I compare doing CAP III with going through the Volleyball England Level 3 certification. Their main focus is very similar, namely working with teams over time. The V.E. course ran 5 days total, which is longer on the face of it, but when you add in the HPCC mixed in here (everyone attended both), they are comparable from that perspective. The V.E. post-course requirements were a bit more involved, though. Nominally, there was a CAP III requirement to video yourself coaching for review and discussion, but that never actually happened in this course. We also don’t have to do a coaching log. The outreach project is something V.E. doesn’t have, however, nor is there an ongoing education requirement in order to retain your certification.

I think I’ve written elsewhere of my dislike for the participants in these sorts of courses also being demonstrators. Some people love getting out on the court, but I’m well past those days myself. More meaningfully, however, if most of the attendees are on-court they tend to be more focused on playing than on learning the concepts being presented. Also, the level of play of the attendees can be quite variable. Further, when you don’t know what you’re going to have for demonstrators it can be hard to come up with appropriate games and drills to run the group through.

My only other bit of feedback would be to watch out for overlapping content between CAP III and HPCC. There were a couple of sessions during the latter we’d already gotten from our CAP presentations.


I submitted my outreach project report in late November or December 2017. That completed my requirements. There were some staffing issues at USA Volleyball along the way, so I didn’t get my final certification until early March. From what I heard, my classmates received theirs at basically the same time.

If you think you’re a great coach, you’re probably a poor one

People Who Think They’re Great Coaches Often Aren’t. That’s the title of a recent article from the Harvard Business Review. Got you thinking about whether you’re a good coach? 🙂

The scenario at the very beginning of the article I found really funny.

Basically, a person describes themselves a pretty good coach. When asked why, the response is they “…attended a coaching course and learned many of the techniques of good coaching.”

This story reminds me of a very early Volleyball Coaching Wizards interview I conducted. In it, Portuguese coach Paolo Cunha talked about people thinking they were coaches just because they’d done a course or gotten a certification as we discussed issues with coaching education.

Getting to the main point of the article, researchers did a test. They had people assess their own skills. Then they had others assess them. About a quarter of the folks involved overrated themselves. Not only were they not as good as they thought, but they actually ended up in the bottom third based on the external assessments. This is pretty classic overconfidence, which is something l looked at a lot while doing my PhD.

To summarize the findings, “…if you think you’re a good coach but you actually aren’t, this data suggests you may be a good deal worse than you imagined.”

The article continues on, suggesting…

“Bursting the bubble of your illusion of superiority could be highly advantageous to your continued development as a leader. In fact, this is the best reason to find a way to obtain honest feedback about your coaching skills.”

So what are the problem areas? The article provides a list I encourage you to read. Not surprisingly, communication and working with others rank high. Integrity is in there as well.

Interestingly, the people who underrated their own abilities scored above average in their assessed ability (57% percentile). What do you make of that?

I think it speaks to an attitude of continuous development. Coaches who do not think they are great are more likely to keep learning. They look at their weaknesses and seek to improve upon them. Sounds like a good mindset to me!

My 2014 volleyball coaching year in review

It’s that time of year again – time to look back on the 12 months which have gone by. In this post I want to take a more personal view of things. I’ll follow up with a report on how the blog has done for the year.

Team Coaching
This is going to be a year I always look back fondly upon from a coaching perspective because of the run the Exeter University women made to the BUCS national semifinals. I’ve coached league and tournament championship teams, but this one was really special. More than being something no one ever expected, it was also the culmination of a season in which a group of young women committed themselves to a common goal at the start and remained steadfast to it throughout.

More than that, the whole experience of Final 8s in Edinburgh was amazing. The men and women supported each other fantastically. The guys may not have had the best year, or even their best tournament overall, but they pulled off the upset in their final match of the season to make it all worthwhile. It was a very happy bus full of volleyball players for the long ride back to Exeter! The women later went on to have a very respectable South West Championships tournament to round out their season.

The 2014-15 BUCS season has been much more of a struggle. Part of that is a function of playing in a stronger league now that both teams are in the new Premier division. Part of it was my need to concentrate much more on my PhD work to the detriment of volleyball. Part of it on the women’s side was the lack of an experienced setter in the squad. These things happen in sports. Not every season is a good one and it was always going to be hard to follow up on 2013-14.

Coaching Development
A definite on-going theme for me in 2014 was my continued education and development as a volleyball coach. I completed the requirements for my Volleyball England Level 3 coaching certification (in record time, I was told). I also got my USA Volleyball CAP II re-certified. Part of the process for both was attending some general coaching seminars, as well as attending Volleyball England’s annual coaching conference.

Perhaps most significantly, though, I gained quite a bit of exposure to professional volleyball. It started with a visit to Berlin in April to watch BR Volleys, coached by Mark Lebedew of At Home on the Court, train ahead of the German championships (which they went on to win). Then, with Mark’s help, I was able to spend about 10 days each with a pair of teams during their preseason training in August. As I wrote, it was a great experience and really expanded my knowledge of the sport.

Other Stuff
During the summer I helped out at trials for the English girls cadet and juniors national teams. That gave me the opportunity to further develop my contacts at that level and to see how some of the talent pathway designs I’ve heard about were being put into practice. I also consulted with the Volleyball England Technical and Talent Director, Audrey Cooper, on the subject of US collegiate volleyball recruiting for up and coming English players.

In terms of something with more of a forward-looking focus, the latter part of the year saw me start applying for coaching jobs back in the States. No doubt this is something I’ll document more in the weeks ahead as I work my way through the process. At this point it’s still relatively early days.

Beyond volleyball
The main focus of my life aside from volleyball the last year has been, of course, my PhD. It was a pretty productive year from that perspective. I got a lot accomplished, especially in the latter Spring and over the summer, that set me up to be able to (hopefully) be able to submit my thesis in the next few weeks or so. By the end of 2015 you’ll have to call me Dr. Forman. 🙂

Wrapped up Volleyball England Level 3!

I’m done!

The long journey to Volleyball England Level 3 coaching certification is over. I started it back in October last year. On Tuesday evening I attended a “How to Deliver Engaging Sessions for Young People” workshop in London. It was near famous Wembley Stadium, actually. That was the last of three required continuing professional development (CPD) workshops I needed to complete my certification requirements. This is after sitting the 5-day course and going through a practical coaching assessment.

Actually, Volleyball England already has me listed as a “Level III Theory” coach officially. They did that after I completed the course portion of things and passed the exam at the end. It’s now just a question of doing all the paperwork to complete the full certification process.

I’m glad to finish this process. The next step is to reactivate my USA Volleyball CAP certification. Unfortunately, I let that lapse during my time away from coaching. I hope they will let me at least back in at CAP I. I really am not keen on having to start all over again.

Insights from a coaches survey

Sports Coach UK did a general coaching survey earlier this year and the results were recently reported. Volleyball coaches represented 140 of the responders, so they were able to break out their responses and compare them to the overall figures across all sports. You can see the results here (PDF – courtesy SWVA).

A bunch of the questions were demographic in nature. Probably unsurprisingly, there are way more males than females coaching (78% vs 22%). Interestingly, though, that’s a more male-biased ratio than the all-sports figure, even though volleyball participation in England is seems to be quite balanced.

In the category of “We need to work on this!” is the distribution of paid vs. volunteer coaches. In volleyball 76% of coaches are voluntary compared to 59% across all sports, and only 1% are full-time coaches vs. 9% in general. (I’d be really interested to see how this compares to the numbers in the US.)

Perhaps tied to the income-making prospects just noted, the motivation for coaching certification progression is not very good among volleyball coaches. Only 35% expressed an intention to gain another qualification in the next 12 months compared to 52% across all sports. I know motivating the progression through certification levels has been a topic of discussion at Volleyball England.

What is even more troubling is the general educational effort among volleyball coaches. The survey asked respondents about the use of 12 different educational options over the last year and volleyball coaches were behind the general average in every single category. In particular, three categories stand out as problematic – workshops, conferences, and online courses. All three have double-digit % gaps between volleyball and the all sports average. In the case of workshops it’s 33.1% vs. 66.4%!

The results of a “have you sought to gain this type of information” set of options shows very similar results. Volleyball is behind the broad average in all but two categories.

I think opportunity and availability is a factor in this, though. There just aren’t that many volleyball events of this sort available, which is something that came up at the Volleyball England coaching conference I attended earlier this month. For my own part, I have some plans to maybe address at least the online course element.

Coaching assessment for certification done

At the end of May 2014 I had a call. It was for the assessment aspect of my Volleyball England Level 3 certification. Before the call, I had my assistant video me in action. This was during a training session for the Exeter university women’s team as they prepared for South West Championships. I also had to turn in a couple of individual player assessments and a 10-week training plan. You can have a look at what I wrote up here (PDF). The player assessments were for actual players, though with the names changed. I based the 10-week plan on the current team moving forward as if we had just gone through tryouts and were starting a new season.

The phone call came after the assessor reviewed the video and the written material. In part it was to judge things not seen in the recording, as well as to encourage a critical look at my coaching, both on a micro (single session) and a macro (coaching improvement needs) perspective. I was left to consider the question of what I want to/should do next in terms of personal development.

I think these sorts of conversations are always worthwhile. They are probably something most coaches don’t do enough of – especially in terms of having someone external to your team or program involved in the review. I rather enjoyed the process. It had me thinking of ways I could make it more of a regular feature of my coaching.

I had some paperwork to sign-off at the Volleyball England coaching conference which followed shortly thereafter to wrap up the coaching assessment part of my Level 3 certification. That just left the three Continuous Professional Development (CPD) workshops I needed to attend. These CPD elements were not volleyball-specific, but rather broader coaching themes (analyzing your coaching, coaching children & young people, etc.). Each ran about three hours.

Rust, coaching pains, and getting assessed

Oh, yeah. That’s what it feels like after a training session!

Yup, the aches and pains were back after last night’s practice. Shoulder was tweaked after hitting balls during a digging drill and my lower back was tight as so often is the case at the end of a coaching session. This morning I can also feel a bit of hamstring stiffness (again from the hitting). It’s a good kind of pain, though. 🙂

The university women’s team I coached this year has entered into the South West Championships being played this weekend. It’s a club competition for teams of all levels across the south west region of England. Last year I coached the tournament champions on the women’s side, Devon Ladies. This team isn’t as strong as that one (which was one of the best teams in NVL Division 1), particularly on the offensive side. It will be interesting to see how they end up doing, though. The field this year doesn’t feature either of last year’s finalists, nor does it include the two weakest teams from last time around, so I’m expecting it to generally be a more competitive event across the board. I think making the semifinals would be a pretty good result. Should be fun for the players regardless of the outcome, though.

Last night’s training was the first since the latter part of March. The players were off school all of April and are now in the middle of exams. Needless to say, things were rather ugly at the outset. Lots of rust in need of being shaken off. Feet weren’t moving as well. Concentration and reactions weren’t where they’d been. As you’d expect, though, things got better as the session progressed. After we ran through some skill drills, we got into game play. I was pretty happy with that, all things considered. Some balls dropped that wouldn’t have before, and the serve receive passing was off, but serving, hitting, and blocking were all quite good, as was the general level of defense. We’ll have another practice this week to hopefully tighten things up on the ball-control and focus side of things.

During the session I actually had to video myself in action as part of my Volleyball England Level 3 certification process. You may recall that I sat the course back in October last year. At that time I fulfilled the theoretical requirement for certification. I have to take three 2-hour general coaching workshops as a second part of the requirements. The third is an assessment of my coaching in a practice session by a senior coach.

Normally, that assessment is done in person, but it’s been a major struggle getting an assessor out to observe me, so instead I’m submitting a video. I had my assistant coach record me running the Second Chance game since it fulfilled the requirements and generally reflects pretty well the way I like to coach. I need to add to that video my specific assessment of two players, along with a 10-week program addressing their training needs. May post that plan later when I have it done.

Keeping a Coaching Log

As part of the Volleyball England level 3 coaching certification process I have to maintain a volleyball coaching log. The log will be part of a final practical evaluation process which will also include an on-sight visit from a coaching tutor to observe a training session.I figured since I have to do it I might as well keep it here on the blog as a way to further the volleyball coaching conversation and exchange that is the main idea driving the website.

I’ve decided that I am going to concentrate my log on the Exeter University women’s team. I also coach the men, but split responsibility there a bit, and in the case of scheduling conflict I prioritize the women, so the log will be more consistent if it focus is on them. The team will play in at least three different competitions this year. They are BUCS, the Volleyball England Student Cup, and the South West regional league. BUCS is the top priority, with the SW league viewed largely as a way to get players extra playing time.

In terms of BUCS, we are actually running Division 1 and 2 teams. They all train together in a squad of 17. There are challenges to that, but the level of play throughout the squad is consistent enough to make for reasonable training sessions. We look at the Div2 squad as largely developmental – and a way for the school to pick up additional BUCS points, so the Div1 team is the main focus and will be where I concentrate my log entries.

The general idea of the log is to document my analysis of the team’s performance – collectively and individually – and how I turn that into specific training plans. Definitely feel free to chime in with comments, thoughts, etc. on any of the entries along the way. That’s exactly why I’m doing it on the blog rather than just keeping it on the side.

Volleyball coaching log (reverse chronological order)

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