Here’s a question/rant I came across in a coaching group.

Where have the truly competitive players gone??

Club parents pay thousands of dollars as we all know. Why is a great question especially when their daughters really are not passionate driven players.

Sure everyone says they want to get better and win etc… but when the rubber meets the road – not so much. Can’t we just goof around and have fun.

My struggle is there is more to learn. More to get better at – my team has had a great season and has over achieved in many ways. (Hardware included) They are all very nice girls who get along and all that- but they have chosen to accept where they are because they have seen success and such – but the success they saw was the tip of the iceberg and I want to see more of the iceberg. They won’t get in the dry suit and get in the water with me — they are happy to stay in the warmth of the boat…

Thoughts – encouragement etc is very welcome as I am struggling with them staying on the boat…

Context is very important and we don’t have a lot here. What level of team are we talking about?

Some teams – generally at the lower levels and/or in the younger age groups – are constructed of players whose main priority is enjoyment. They don’t (at least currently) have many aspirations beyond that. This can be a major problem for a coach with a big focus on winning.

We always have to remember, our players aren’t us. We have to deal with them where they are – understanding their priorities, which may not be the same as ours. It’s going to be extremely frustrating, if not downright disastrous, to coach a team against what they want.

That said, there are a couple of things I think are worth addressing.


This may not actually be the case, but the way the coach describes their team’s satisfaction makes me think of something. If you’ve read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset, doesn’t this sound like a fixed mindset? Basically, they don’t want to leave the boat – using the poster’s language – because they fear it will expose them to failure.

Fear of failure is a legit issue. It may not be something each member of the team suffers individually, but it can manifest in the collective mentality. Turning that around is definitely a coaching challenge. Not enough space to take that on here, though (see this post, and this post for related discussions).

Nudging them

A big part of coaching is getting player buy-in. We spend a lot of time being salespeople on different levels. If you want your team to be more competitive – however you define that – you probably can’t just flip the switch. It’ll take moving them in that direction progressively.

If you want the players to do something, you need to sell them on the benefits. Why should they want to get better?

Actually, that’s probably too big a concept. Let’s narrow it down.

Why should they want to pass better? What would motivate that? More accurate passing creates better attacking opportunities. Some of these opportunities might be things that get players excited – excited enough to want to repeat them. The story I told in this post about running quick sets is an example.

Basically, what we’re talking about here is finding something they’re motivated by, then use that as the basis for creating a path toward what you want from/for them. Chances are, this comes from a series of nudges rather than one big push, however.

A really good way to get some nudges in is to expose the players to higher levels of play, different ways of looking at the game, etc.

6 Steps to Better Practices - Free Guide

Subscribe to my weekly newsletter today and get this free guide to making your practices the best, along with loads more coaching tips and information.

No spam ever. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

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.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.