A confused observer asked the following question in a discussion group.

What does “play like individuals” mean? Typically said in time outs when losing. I’m always confused by this considering at least 2 different people have to touch the ball in order for a rally to continue, generally.

There’s a difference between a team playing and playing as a team. The first has to do with the comment about 2 different people having to touch the ball. The second is about actually working together.

The latter is the main focus of my post To call the ball or not to call the ball, that is the question. On the face of it, that would seem to be mainly about communication, but taken more broadly it’s about how players work together. You may hear it referred to as the team’s organization. That is a key factor in its success.

So when you hear a coach tell a team they are playing like individuals, they mean the organization has broken down. They aren’t communicating with each other as they should. They aren’t anticipating each other’s actions based on the system and structure they’ve developed. In other words, each player is in their own little bubble.

This sort of thing tends to happen when teams face adversity. The players react by withdrawing into themselves. That’s not to say this only happens when a team is losing in a match, though. Interpersonal conflicts, for example, can lead to this kind of situation in any team or situation.

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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.

    2 replies to "What does playing like individuals mean?"

    • Kyle

      I’m sure you’ve had teams with amazing talent nit come together and play like individuals, but what’s your recommendation on how to correct?

      • John Forman

        My approach is to put them in situations in practice where they have to rely on each other for success. A very simple example of this is the Amoeba serving game(https://coachingvb.com/drill-ameoba-serving/). I’ve seen a group of players who just met learning each others’ names just to be able to cheer their teammates on.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.