Tag Archive for goal setting

What are your playing for when there’s nothing to play for?

At some point most of us have a season where eventually there isn’t anything to play for anymore. For the purposes of this discussion I mean for example you have been mathematically eliminated from post-season contention. There are other “nothing to play for” situations, but this is probably the most acute one. It’s the situation where it’s easiest to lose the team and see motivation levels plummet.

So what do you do? How do you keep the players – and yourself – motivated to continue training and playing at 100%?

Performance goals

One answer it to have other things to play for. Let me use the 2017 Midwestern State University (MSU) team as an example.

Unfortunately, we knew going into the final week of the season that we couldn’t make the conference tournament. We were three wins behind with only two conference matches to play. Yet, we still had three matches left – a Tuesday non-conference match, then Thursday and Friday conference fixtures.

Since we couldn’t focus on reaching the tournament, we shifted our attention to some secondary goals we defined earlier. One of them was to not lose any of the non-conference matches we played against teams outside the Top 25. According to the records I could see, we hadn’t done that in any season at least as far back as 2008. We needed to win the Tuesday match to achieve that objective, which we did.

Another objective was to get to 7+ conference wins, which we hadn’t done since 2013. We got on that in our Thursday match.

Unfortunately, a third goal we couldn’t quite achieve. We wanted to end with a winning season. We went into our last match 15-15, but came out 15-16. Still, that kept us fighting right through the last day of the season.

To have performance goals like this, obviously you need to set them up ahead of time. It’s easier to say, “We still have these goals to work toward” if the players were aware of them before, than if you just pull them out once the main goal is out of reach. Sustaining motivation is easier than trying to create it.

Developmental objectives

There are also non-performance things you can work toward. Stuff on the developmental side of things tends to stand out in this regard. Younger players who haven’t gotten much court time can play. You can work on aspects of the game that you want to see get better for the future. Playing a different type of system is an option.

The one plus to not having anything to play for is that you also don’t have anything to lose. You can take some risks. The important thing, though, is you need buy-in from the team. They need to be convinced that it’s worth putting in the time and effort. If not, the motivation just won’t be there.

Emotional motivations

A third potential area of motivation to get through those final matches is the emotional side of things. They can cover a range of possible thought processes.

  • Bragging rights over our big rival
  • Do it for the seniors
  • Playing spoiler
  • Revenge
  • Have fun!

No doubt you can think of others that might fit in here.

The idea in all of this is that you find a way to always have something to play for or that you’re aiming at. This shouldn’t just be something that comes up at the end of the season. If you can set things up from the beginning of the year, it’s much easier to keep a team’s motivation consistently high all through the campaign.

Creating a platform for a season plan

I had an interesting question come from a volleyball coach in New Zealand named Leanne. Here are the salient points:

I was looking to help ‘shortcut’ in a way, creating a platform for a season plan.

The reason is I coach across a range of age groups and experience. All Men’s teams – high school start up group (first time volleyballers 12-17yr olds); senior high school (playing minimum of 3 years, competitive athletes, a range of schools, clubs, rep players 15-18yr olds); club men (a range in age of 17-50yr, competitive athletes, choosing volleyball as their preferred sport of choice; national team (U17 Men age group). So my time is always stretched. I do place emphasis on my planning season, breaking this down to segments working towards small and large goals – both player and coaching staff initiated.

I am always seeking ways to help be more proficient and efficient and I think in my season planning area I could improve on with a ‘base’ platform that asks questions to remind me on aspects of hard and soft skills.

Is there anything that you have come across?

I can’t think of any specific coaching tool available which deals with this sort of thing (though I’d love to hear it if you have). Something like Microsoft Project in terms of a project management software package might be of use. They can be handy for plotting out when you want to work on certain things during the season time line.┬áThe price tag for those types of packages tend to be high because business types are the target market. I think for practical purposes a spreadsheet should suffice in most cases.

Regardless of the tool being used to lay out the plan, however, there are a couple of important things which need to be in place.


I’ve written before on the importance of knowing your priorities. No season plan is going to be worth anything if you don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish. Leanne is working across a pretty diverse group of players and teams. Each has a different set of priorities to be defined and developed as the foundation of the season plan. For example, the high school start-up group is very likely to be mainly focused on skill development while the other teams probably have a greater focus on competitive performance.

Broad Objectives

Within the context of the defined priorities, then next question is what exactly you’re looking to accomplish, and in what time frame. These should be objective and measurable as much as possible. We aren’t talking about winning and losing here. Yes, that is conveniently easy and precise to measure, but it’s based on outcomes which include a lot of variables outside a coach’s control.

An example of a well-defined objective comes from the US Men’s National Team. It was repeated a number of times during the latter stages of the 2015 World League coverage (see the match videos here) that the team was looking to attack about 35% out of the middle – either quick attacks from the Middle Hitter or Pipe/Bic attacks out of the back row – during match play. This is something clear and measurable.


You can think of milestones as mini objectives. They are the stepping-stone goals you need to achieve along the way which then build into achieving the higher level outcome desired. Consider the 35% middle attack example above. What might the milestones be along the way to that? At the most basic level it would involve developing the ability to run middle quicks and fast back row attacks. It would also involve a certain degree of passing accuracy. Perhaps at the next level comes the ability to execute in both serve reception and transition situations.

Progress and Evaluation

The real value of the milestones is that they give you specific points of reference. They tell you what you should be working on now based on your objectives. They are also the basis for evaluating your progress. Making rapid progress? Maybe you can shift your focus to another priority. Making slow progress? Maybe you need to allocate more time to certain things.

This is a dynamic process. As much as it might be nice to define a specific time frame in which something will happen, allowing you to then move on to the next milestone or objective, it’s rarely that straightforward. Teams and players progress at different rates, so chances are you will find yourself constantly evaluating where you are at relative to where you want to be.

The advantage of having defined objectives and milestones, though, is that no matter where you are you know what you need to be working on. And to Leanne’s point, this applies to both the physical and mental aspects of things.

Actual points of reference

At the end of the day, what I think Leanne is after is something which will provide reminders of key things to focus on relative to the defined objectives and milestones. That’s a tricky one as it strikes me as being potentially quite coach-specific. What I say are the key points of consideration when developing a 35% rate of attack out of the middle may be quite different from what you think, and of course are likely to vary from team to team. I’m going to give the idea of consistent points of focus some thought from my own perspective, though.

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