In the Fix it or leave it alone post I looked at whether you should change the technique of a player who is successful. Let’s say you decide it’s best for the player that you make changes. How can we do that effectively? I’ll share some thoughts in this post.

First, get buy-in

Any attempt to change a player’s technique is going to be a struggle and probably fail if they don’t buy in to it. That means you need to convince them that it’s the right thing to do. Chances are, this won’t be too hard for a player struggling to have success. They are generally eager to get better.

What about the player who is already successful, though? That’s when things get challenging!

There are two ways I think you’re likely to have success. Which one works may depend on the mentality of the player in question.

The first option is to show them how top players do it, especially someone they respect and admire. This is probably the most positive way to do it, and I’d start here. It’s super easy to give the player a side-by-side comparison.

A tougher way to get your point across is to demonstrate to them how their current technique limits them. I say tougher not because this is harder to do, to it might be a little bit. Instead, I mean it’s mentally harder on the player. Essentially, you’re going to break down their self-confidence.

How? By making them do something they aren’t going to succeed at. For example, you could have a hitter going up against a better block than they normally see, or a passer facing a tougher serve.

Yeah, but…

Inevitably, you’re going to get push back from the player on facing a harder challenge than they normally see. The “It ain’t broke, so don’t fix it” mentality is a strong one when a player doesn’t see how something will become “broke”. You have to show them when that will happen.

How can we do this? Here are a couple of potential ways:

  • Have them watch players at the level above them where you think their success will break down if they stay with the same technique.
  • Even better, having them play in with higher level players – though you do have to be careful how you do this.
  • Show them a team you anticipate facing in the future where their current technique will be problematic. For example, a team you could face in the play-offs.

Of course, showing probably isn’t going to be enough by itself. You’ll likely need to do some explaining and find some motivational triggers to really get the buy-in you need. And help from others – teammates, parents, etc. – is valuable in this effort as well.

Convince them of the value of the new technique

Convincing a player that their current technique needs to change is only one part of the equation, however. You also need to get them to buy in to the specific technique you want them to adopt. In other words, you need to show them why it’s better.

Fortunately, this tends to be a bit easier than getting them to accept making a change in the first place. Demonstrate how the new technique is more efficient, gives them more options, or whatever. Show them video of players successfully using that technique. If you have their respect as a coach it shouldn’t be too hard to get them onboard (if you don’t have their respect, that’s a different issue).

Word of caution, though. Avoid being dogmatic about technique. Bodies differ. One technique doesn’t necessarily suit all of them.

Don’t overload them

Remember that players can only focus on so much at once. If you’re looking to make a fairly substantial change to a player’s mechanics there’s likely to be a lot of moving parts involved. Don’t try to work on all of them at the same time.

Make sure they understand the path

A major challenge when changing a player’s technique is that they will almost certainly suffer a drop in their performance. We refer to that as the J-Curve. First they get worse, but eventually that will turn and they will be better than where they started.

First, you need to make sure the player realizes this is likely how things will go. If they expect to get better right away and they don’t – in fact they get worse – it increases the odds they’ll give up. That’s the worst case scenario.

Second, it helps if you turn the focus on the process. Since the player is unlikely to see early progress in outcomes (e.g. passes to target) they need to see progress in other places. You have to make sure they do.

Technique change is definitely not an easy process. You have to do a lot of work to sustain the player’s motivation.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Men's & Women's Head Volleyball Coach at Medaille College, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy (formerly Charleston Academy). His previous experience includes the college and university level in the US and UK, professional coaching in Sweden, and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. Learn more on his bio page.

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