Tag Archive for technical training

Technical vs Mental Training

Once upon a time I considered myself a highly technically oriented coach. I focused a lot on how players executed skills. I came up from a highly block oriented training background (meaning skill repetition), and I think the two kind of went together. Somewhere along the way, though, I started to shift to a more mental view of training.

I don’t recall a specific moment when the light bulb went off. I think it was more of a gradual realization that the teams I was involved in coaching were just not playing the game as well as required. They could execute the skills, but that simply wasn’t enough.

What do I mean by a more mental focus?

Basically, I mean focusing more on the structure of play and the decision-making process. The latter relates to choices individual players make while they play. For example, should I attack the ball aggressively here? Do I need to make sure I keep my serve in this time? Who’s my best set choice at this moment? And so on down to the level the specific skill the player elects to use. This is the solution side of the solution-execution combo Julio Velsaco talked about when I was at the 2014 HP Coaches Clinic.

The structure of play aspect relates to how players work together. It’s an element of what Mark Lebedew wrote about in his The Key to Volleyball post. Mark has also previously talked about how as soon as you have more than one player on the court it becomes an organizational situation much more so than a technical one.

I should note that when I talk about structure of play I’m not talking about systems. Yes, systems are part of it. For me, though, structure begins with mentality and expectations. How do we train and play as a group? That then feeds into how each individual plays within the scope of their role in the squad.

Is technique important? Of course. But technique is at the end of a chain on things, most of which are not physical. The vast majority of a player’s time is spent not in skill execution, but in preparing for that execution (see Going beyond maximizing player contacts). That is largely mental, and it’s where truly great players and teams excel.

Striking the balance

Clearly, we cannot just coach the mental side of the game. If a player can’t execute the skills, the rest won’t matter much. The question is finding the balance based on where your players are in their development. In my case, I have mostly dealt with players who have at least some base level of skill. Gains from improvements in technical ability at that level are generally less than those from improvements in the mental parts of the game – at least up to a certain point.

As always, it comes down to you as the coach evaluating your situation, setting priorities, and remaining focused on them.

A different approach to training mechanics

John Kessel wrote and article on the subject of coaching feedback. You should definitely take some time to give it a read.

The main thrust of the piece is that the sort of mechanics feedback/coaching I’d venture to say most of us have long engaged in (left foot there, elbow up, arms in this position, etc.) isn’t the best way to go about things. In fact, it may be counter-productive. The better approach is to talk about things from a kind of desired outcome perspective. The former approach is called internal while the latter is external.

I couldn’t help but chuckle at the first example of the difference between the two John provides – elbow high (internal) vs. swing fast (external).

You see, the night before I read that article I overheard my young middle talking about how her last coach had spent two years telling her to get her elbow up. It didn’t really work. 🙂

I later had a conversation with my OPP about her blocking technique. She commented on how it didn’t really help to have people talk about what she should be doing with her arms, feet, hands, etc. It wasn’t useful feedback for her because she couldn’t translate that into something actionable. In part that was because she needed to see what she was doing (advocating video use). It was also because those verbal cues didn’t have any resonance with her in terms of desired outcome.

If nothing else, this discussion of internal vs. external highlights the need to find key words or phrases or cues that work with each individual player. At some point we have to recognize that saying the same thing over and over isn’t working.

Isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same thing repeatedly expecting a different result?

If so, many of us coaches could be said to at least have bouts of insanity. That’s above and beyond our decisions to become coaches. 😉

Anyway, give Kessel’s article a read. I could change how you think about the way you coach the technical elements of the game.

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