Early in my career I attended the Coaches Accreditation Program Level II (CAP II) course run by USA Volleyball. The lead instructor was John Kessel, who has a big reputation in international volleyball circles. John used a teaching technique one session, and it sticks with me to this day. Turns out that was exactly the point.

It was a session on setting. We reached the point of talking about setter penetration from the back row. I don’t recall the motivation, but John talked about the importance of the setter getting to their target spot. That target is at the net. It isn’t five feet off the net, as opposed to what so many setters seem to think it is.

Before I tell you what happened next, I should preface it by saying this was winter. We were in a facility which was not well heated and it was cold!

At a certain point, John stopped and removed one of his shoes. Then he pulled off his sock as well. Standing barefoot on that freezing floor, he tied his sock on the bottom of the net at the setter’s target zone. Then, he turned to the players demonstrating the back row penetration and said, “Go to the smelly sock.”

Making use of the pattern break

With this surprising move John did two things. First, he gave the players a very memorable cue they could reuse in the future, even when there was no sock tied to the net. Second, he showed us coaches the value of doing something out of the ordinary to fix a reference in the minds of our players.

Did I ever tie a sweaty sock to the net? Not so far. That lesson, though, stuck with me over the years and is a constant reminder that I should always work to find ways to connect with my players in unique and memorable ways.

How can you leave a lasting impression on your players and import a key lesson on them at the same time? You don’t necessarily need to remove bits of clothing. It doesn’t even have to be a visual thing. Really, it’s anything that breaks the normal pattern.

Find those pattern break and you have new ways to leave an impression. Leave an impression and you have made an impact.

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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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