A while back a post went up on the At Home on the Court blog. It talks about the necessity to be narrowly focused when working with players in a technical capacity. Mark’s point is that as much as coaches must have complete knowledge of the technical requirements of a skill, it isn’t enough. In order to be most effective developing those skills they must be able to concentrate on the one aspect of the skill which will have the greatest impact on performance for a given player at a specific point in time. I would take that one step further. I’d say it’s also our job to identify the single best way to communicate what we’re after from that player.

Finding just the right method to communicate our message to the players – either singularly or collectively – is that aspect of coaching which strikes me as being most in line with traditional teaching. A good teacher is able to pick out the right word or phrase or visual or technical demonstration. In doing so they make things click in the mind of their student(s). We coaches have the same challenge.

Personally, I have always found that moment when you see something you’ve been working to explain click in a player’s mind one of the most rewarding in coaching. Sometimes it’s as simple as finding the right word. When I coached at Brown one Spring we did individual work with our starting setter on her defense. Specifically, we were getting her to go to the floor effectively. She struggled to grasp what we wanted until we found the word which made it click in her head. That word may not have mattered to another player. Using it with her, though, made everything come together. She immediately started performing at a higher level.

The point of all this is that technical knowledge is useless without the ability to communicate it effectively. If we haven’t experienced it ourselves, we’ve certainly all at least heard of university professors who are absolutely brilliant in their field, but can’t teach their way out of a paper bag. We coaches cannot afford to be like that.

The challenges of communicating effectively were at the forefront of my coaching experience in England. I coached players from something like 25 different nationalities. The majority did not speak English as a first language. They also came from a wide variety of volleyball cultures and systems. As a result, I had to do a lot of work getting everyone on the same page in terms of having a common volleyball language. It forced me to constantly work to make sure I was understood and that the message was getting across the right way.

And I’m not just talking about avoiding the use of “shag” when I wanted them to collect the balls! 😉

I can’t help feel like I’m a better coach for it. I suspect Mark would say the same thing for his own part. He has, after all, worked with players from many different nationalities.

So I guess the lesson is that you should constantly be working to make sure you’re technical feedback communication strategy is right for each situation and player.

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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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