Volleyball Coaches – Stop talking!

Are you the sort of volleyball coach who talks a lot during your training sessions?

Actually, that’s a bit of a vague question. After all, how much is a lot? So let me restate –

Do you often stop practice to talk to the team or a single player and/or do you take more than 30 seconds or so to make your point before getting the team back to work?

If so, you may be talking too much.

You need to think very hard about the trade-off between the value of what you have to say to the team and the impact a stoppage. A pause to talk – especially a lengthy one – will affect the flow, intensity, and focus of your training. I’ve seen coaches bring practice to a screeching halt because they decided they needed to take 5 or 10 minutes to say something. When that happens the team has to get the intensity ramped back up. That takes time, particularly if the players have cooled down. Even worse is if the coach talk results in players mentally checking out. This is to be avoided.

If you need more than a minute to talk about something, you need to think about when to do it. Generally speaking, the beginning of training when the players haven’t warmed up yet, and the end of training as they are getting ready to cool down (or are doing so) are the best times to give longer talks. Those are non-disruptive points where you can take a several minutes to talk about things.

I’ve also seen many a coach stop a whole team’s training just to talk with one player.

This sometimes cannot be avoided. The setter is particularly problematic because many times when you need to talk with them it forces a drill stoppage. To the extent that you can, though, the best way to work with a single player is to take them out of a drill for a minute (perhaps subbing another player in to keep the drill moving). That lets you provide individual attention without bringing the whole team to a halt without having to do so.

I personally talk infrequently during practice. This is partly a personality thing (I’m more inclined to watch and listen rather than speak). It’s also, however, a function of wanting to let players work things out themselves where possible. I will only stop the team to talk with them if there’s something which needs to be immediately addressed. Often this is about correcting something I’m seeing multiple players do – or the team collectively – or to address the level of effort. I stop them, make my point as quickly as I can, then get them back to work.

Let’s face it. Players learn WAY more by actually doing than by us telling them stuff. Our job is to facilitate that process and provide guidance along the way. So keep in mind that the more you talk, the less they train.

That said, one can talk too little. One of my Exeter University men’s players told me something once. He said during the early part of the first season when, I took over the team, he thought I didn’t want to coach them because I was so quiet in training. In retrospect, I don’t think I needed to talk more in terms of the player/team development. Clearly, though, I could have done more to allow the players the opportunity to more quickly come to know me and how I operate. It is something I’ve kept in mind moving forward.

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John Forman
About the Author: John Forman
John most recently coached for an NCAA Division II women's team. That followed a stint as head coach for a women's professional team in Sweden. Prior to that he was the head coach for the University of Exeter Volleyball Club BUCS teams (roughly the UK version of the NCAA) while working toward a PhD. He previously coached in Division I of NCAA Women's Volleyball in the US, with additional experience at the Juniors club level, both coaching and managing, among numerous other volleyball adventures. Learn more on his bio page.

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