What percentage of reps should be good?

One of the common themes in the presentations of the USA Women’s National Team coaching staff at the HP Coaches Clinic in 2015 was the idea of 2-out-of-3. I’m talking not just the senior team, but also the younger squads. What they were suggesting is that as coaches we should be aiming to see our players be successful two out of every three attempts, on average. This is for whatever aspect of the game we’re working on in training. I’ll give it a moment to let that sink in and see what kind of immediate reaction that stimulates in your mind. 😉

Here’s what Karch & Co. meant by this.

They want the team and the players in a constant developmental state. When a player is learning, they are making mistakes. It’s a natural part of the process. If mistakes aren’t being made then the players aren’t pushing beyond their current capabilities. That means either they aren’t taking chances or we as coaches aren’t stressing them properly. They aren’t getting out of their comfort zone.

Does a 33% failure rate sound high to you? If so, why? Are you the sort of coach who likes to have practices that look good? Lots of clean reps and all that. If so, then realize what you’re probably developing is good practice players, and not necessarily good match players. This is something I talked about after a fashion in Going beyond maximizing player contacts.

Personally, I find getting players to accept that making mistakes is part of the process is often the real challenge. This is especially true of younger female athletes. It takes a lot of encouragement to get them over that particular hump. If you can do it, though, their development can really accelerate.

The flip side to the encouragement of making mistakes is when there are too many errors. If you find your team executing properly on fewer than 2 good reps out of every 3 then you need to reconsider what you’re doing. Maybe the players are being overly aggressive (common of young male athletes). Maybe they don’t yet have the level of skill or tactical understanding required for what you’re attempting to do with them. Whatever it is, you need to ease things off a bit to try to get back into that 2-of-3 sweet spot, not just for the sake of skill development but also for their confidence.

That said, I do personally find value in introducing frustration into the mix from time to time. By that I mean having drill or a game, or even a whole practice session, which I know will give the players considerable trouble on one level or another. These tend to be less about individual skill execution and more about team problem-solving (developing solutions as a unit). I use them to give the team the chance to try to learn how to deal with adversity so when they inevitably face it in a match they have the mental toughness to do what needs to be done.

The bottom line is as a coach we need to embrace mistakes and get our players to do the same.

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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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