A reader asked this question, “How can a coach help girls with the mental part if the game?” The term “mental” can relate to a lot of different things. That being the case, I asked for specifics. In response, the reader said, “Not being able to let go of a mistake.”

Except at perhaps the upper levels, volleyball is a game of errors. As such, it’s a game which can be very tough to handle emotionally. This is especially true when so often a mistake leads directly to an opponent point. The ability to overcome errors is therefore a major part of any player’s development. There are two ways I approach helping players do that.

Training Environment

If you want your players to accept that mistakes are part of the game and be able to overcome them, then they need to be in a training environment which encourages this in a couple of ways. The first is to make sure it is understood that errors are part of the learning process. As I discussed in my post about the target number of good vs. bad repetitions, it isn’t actually desirable to have a very low error rate. If that’s the case then you’re not pushing enough. You’re not taking enough chances or trying new things. That’s what training is for. You have to be accepting of the fact that errors will be the natural result.

The other aspect of having the right training environment is ensuring the reaction to errors is never negative. No player should be made to feel bad about making a mistake – either from a coach or from a teammate. This is easier to do if everyone has bought into the learning mentality mentioned above.

Focus on “What’s next?”

The other way I approach things in terms of encouraging players to get over mistakes is to force them to be constantly thinking about their next responsibility. I do this by reducing the amount of time a player has to fixate on their last play. That can serve to short-circuit the self-recrimination that would otherwise happen.

This “overspeed” idea can be accomplished by immediately putting in a new ball after the error was made. That could be in the form of something like Second Chance where the player repeats what they just failed at. There is the chance this sort of thing could result in a player going further into the tank as the result of repeated errors. If your overall environment is a good one and you maintain a positive demeanor through it all, though, you may find that players are actually eager to “fix” their mistake in this fashion.

An alternative form of this is a wash drill or game where rallies happen because the group plays one or more additional balls in quick succession after the initial rally before there’s a chance for players to think about things. Another option is a game like Scramble where a new ball is fed in at the end of each rally for some set period of time. Either way, the idea is to force players to immediately shift focus on the next play.

On an individual basis, drills where players have to execute a sequence of actions can serve a similar role. For example, a drill which requires an outside hitter to passer, attack, block, attack, cover a tip, and attack one final time forces the player always to be thinking about what they have to do next.

Consider what you are saying, and how

On top of all the “game” elements featured in these suggestions is your communication as coach. You should constantly have your players think about what they should do next, whether errors occur or not. This has the benefit of improving focus on things like hitter coverage which notoriously suffer from a lack of focus. 🙂

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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.

    4 replies to "Ways to help players put errors behind them"

    • Teresa

      Volleyball was started 5 years ago and it is my 4th year as the coach. My first 2 years forced me to make drastic changes because we are a 1A school and a couple of parents would not only yell at their daughters but other girls as well about every mistake. I had enough and made a constitution that stated as 1 of my rules that parents could only yell encouraging words and both parents/guardians had to sign and they could be removed from the gym if they started because both parents’ girls were best on the team and it would just stress them out. The 3rd year, we doubled our wins and won our area. Although this has helped, the one daughter is like a whipped dog because when she messes up, she chastises herself because her dad lets her know in all of her sports. I don’t know what else to do for her and another girl just can’t let go of a mistake even when I explain it is a game of errors. Any specific suggestions?

      • John Forman

        Teresa – I’d say you’re going to have a hard time dealing with things that happen outside your program, so you just have to do the best you can inside it. That means realizing developing the kind of mental resilience we’re after takes time and patience. Just keep the positive team culture and interaction with the player. It will gradually chip away at the problem.

    • Christina

      We have a player on our high school varsity team that breaks down in tears, and sometimes cries so hard she can barley catch her breath. I’m the assistant coach and believe that she should be taken out of the game, at least long enough to compose herself. When I suggest taking her out, the head coach tells me that she likes the girls to try to “work through it”. I think it’s a huge distraction for the rest of the team. They are trying to “cover” for her and play their own positions. It also makes her a target for the other team. How do I deal with it?

      • John Forman

        There are definitely situations where having the player work through things on the court make sense. Crying “so hard she can barley catch her breath” is probably not one of them.

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