In his book Talent and the Secret Life of Teams, Terry Pettit outlines what he considers the three primary phases of a coaching career. I think it’s a pretty fair segmentation of the way we move through our coaching career.

The first phase is the beginning volleyball coach. This is quite often a former player (or a current one, for that matter). Passion is the hallmark of coaches at this stage in their careers. So too is the fact that they generally don’t know what they don’t know. Particularly, they tend to be under the illusion that what happens on the court is what coaching is all about. They don’t realize all the organizational and operational aspects involved.

The second phase is the developing volleyball coach. This is where most coaches rank. At this point the beginner’s ignorance has been replaced by now knowing enough to know what you don’t know. Coaches in this stage are the ones who have made (or are making) a concerted effort to gain knowledge through reading books, attending conferences, going to clinics, and the like (which makes them subject to Fancy New Drill Syndrome). As a result, they know a lot. Pettit suggests, however, that developing coaches lack insight into their own talent and mindset. They need to learn about themselves and how to work with others in a way to complement their own skills and strengths in order to progress to the next level.

At the top of the ladder is the master volleyball coach. This is probably not what you think, though. The master coach is not a master of everything, nor are they necessarily coaching at the top level. Rather, a master coach is one competent in most areas, but with real expertise in one or two aspects. At the same time, they know how to involve others to cover areas which aren’t their strengths. They could just as easily be coaching a Juniors team as a professional one. The potential pitfall for master coaches is change. They can become fixated on what has worked in the past and fail to adapt as things evolve.

I’m not so arrogant as to consider myself a master coach, but I do think I’m making good progress in that direction. My return to coaching in 2012 after a 6 year break forced me to reacquaint myself with technical and tactical things, and get up to speed with recent developments in the game. More importantly for my future in coaching, though, it has seen me focus a lot on who I am as a coach, which isn’t something I spent a lot of time doing before when I was primarily an assistant.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Assistant Volleyball Coach at Radford University, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His previous 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. Learn more on his bio page.

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