This is an entry in my Technical Director’s log for the 2018-19 season.

It was a fairly busy few weeks after my last update leading up to our break for Christmas and New Year’s. The team practiced three evenings each week on their normal schedule. We hosted a Gold Medal Squared coaching clinic.

I was supposed to go to the AVCA Convention, but fell ill right before the trip, so I missed out. That was really disappointing. Our 15s coach did go, though, so at least one of us was there. His place at practice that week was covered by the coach I mentioned last week who will focus on outreach and developing our youth pipeline. He coached 15s teams in the North Texas region, so it was definitely not new territory. In any case, all the coaches help out with the 15s practices, so they were familiar with him.

Working with the coaches

There are two main areas where I gave the coaches feedback the last couple weeks. Both relate to their own player feedback. The first has to do with it’s length. Basically, individual player feedback in the middle of a game took too long at times. Coaches were providing paragraphs when phrases or sentences were better. It slowed things down.

The second feedback issue was in terms of area of focus. By that I mean coaches gave feedback – or had players repeat reps by way of second chance – on things that were not the main focus on the exercise. For example, once the players were playing a 6 v 6 game where the main coaching focus was meant to be defense. At one point, though, a coach had a player repeat a faulty back row attack.

This latter kind of loss of focus is insidious. You see it a lot, even among experienced coaches. It’s our natural inclination to want to fix things we see going wrong. The problem is when we do that on things not meant to be the concentration on we necessarily shift our focus away from where we do want to concentrate. Presumably, that focus point is something we’ve prioritized as more important – at least for that session. This inherently means you are not being as efficient and effective as you could be.

Working with players

While my main job as Technical Director is to oversee the coaches, and thus I don’t have a team of my own, that doesn’t mean I just sit back and watch while practice is going on. I actually take part in the player feedback process. Usually that means I have a quick word here or there with a player, or help one of the coaches explain something they’re working on.

A more broad spectrum thing I did last week, though, was to address the whole group about something I saw constantly. That’s the “Sorry” thing after a mistake – or some variation. I remember addressing this with the Exeter women. As you might expect from an English team, they were exceedingly polite – to a fault. I had to break them of the “sorry” habit so they could be more accepting of errors and better at looking ahead toward improved future repetitions/decisions.

So basically I told the players that “Sorry” and it’s related phrases, noises, and whatnot was no longer allowed in the gym. They were to say something along the lines of “I’ll get you a better ____ next time” if they felt the need to say something. This sort of change goes back to my days at Brown. We had a setter who really struggled with her confidence and apologized a lot. Breaking that habit may not have by itself turned the corner for her, but it certainly contributed.

Looking ahead

After the holidays things start ramping up quickly. We’ll have two practices, then our first tournament the first weekend of January. That is a 2-day event here in Charleston. Our second tournament will be just a week later – a one day event in Columbia. I believe the team plays in Atlanta the weekend after, so the season will be off to the races!

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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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