Why do I coach volleyball?
That’s a question I think about from time to time, especially when pondering my future. All of us should know what motivates us to coach, and to keep coaching. The moment we struggle to come up with a good motivation is probably the signal it’s close to the end, or at least time for a break.
Note, I’m not talking about coaching philosophy (you can see mine here).
So why do I coach? Or probably better stated…
What do I get out of coaching beyond a salary and benefits?
I am a builder. I like taking things from nothing to something, or from something to something better. It’s a big reason why I took the MSU job. We did it at the University of Exeter when I was there, going from basically an average regional program to one with a national reputation. It’s why I built the biggest Juniors club in my home state of Rhode Island. It was even part of what we did at Dean College, my first college coaching job. I’m motivated to constantly look for ways to make improvements.
This is where I had an issue in my time at Svedala. I wasn’t involved in the management side of the club. I was just the coach. As such, I couldn’t influence the club’s path forward. That grated on me, and no doubt was part of my overall feeling of discontent there.
My time at Svedala may not have gone the way I wanted, but it definitely taught me some things. One of those is that in any coaching job I take moving forward I need to have an influence on things off the court. Just coaching won’t be enough.
I really get into the problem solving aspect of coaching – answering the “How do we …?” questions. In some ways that overlaps with what I just talked about above in terms of building. Here, though, I’m more specifically talking about the immediate situation with the team in the current season.
Think of this as the nitty-gritty of getting the most out of a group of players. That’s stuff like trying to figure out the best starting 6 and playing a system that maximizes their collective potential. It’s figuring out training priorities to move the team forward in the areas we’ve identified as key. Maybe it’s improving specific technical skills.
Many people who coach are inherently competitive. Coaching for them is a way they can continue to compete once their playing career has wound down. I’m not really motivated that way.
Don’t get me wrong. I like to win, and I’m competitive in my own kind of way. I just don’t put as much weight on winning and losing as others do. I’ve heard coaches say they would be very difficult to live with if they had a losing record. When I interviewed Mick Haley for Volleyball Coaching Wizards he talked about really having a problem if his team won less than 80% of its matches.
That sort of thing isn’t an issue for me in and of itself. Good thing too! I’ve coached some teams that didn’t win very much. The difference in whether I was happy with those teams or not is if they achieved. Some teams had the talent to be winners, but weren’t because they didn’t achieve. Other teams definitely achieved, but didn’t win much because they lacked the talent. And sometimes you have teams that win despite not really achieving.
That all said, I definitely acknowledge that winning is necessary for achievement beyond a certain point. You can’t take home your program’s first ever league championship without winning. You can’t reach your first national championship tournament without winning. There comes a time when the sort of building I talked about above requires win-related achievement. I acknowledge that wholeheartedly. It’s just that for me the achievement is more important than the winning.
Here’s an example. The Exeter University women’s team had a league record of 4-6 the first year I coached them. Somehow we still managed to qualify for the championship tournament as the third place team in our league (lost in the first round). We had a losing record, but the achievement was massive for us. It set the table for the following year, which I’ll talk about in a minute.
The sense of shared direction and commitment
As much as a lot of what I’ve done over the years could be viewed as individual accomplishment – like writing books, and completing my PhD – I get even more out of achieving things as part of a team. When everyone is on the same page and pulling in the same direction, and you achieve something great, it’s the best feeling in the world.
The Exeter women’s team in my second year was a great example of this. From the beginning of the season we had one objective – reach Final 8s. Everything we did was with that goal in mind. This was a direct carryover from the prior year’s experience of losing the first round playoff match.
We didn’t actually win any titles that season, and when we reached Final 8s we won just a single match out of four. We got there, though, and managed to find our way into the semifinals thanks to a tiebreak after pool play. It was an amazing thing because we again achieved something significant. I would have done just about anything for that team because we were all in it together.
You’ll notice I didn’t actually talk about teaching in any of the above discussion. A lot of coaches bring that up as one of their big motivators. They love the teaching element. Once upon a time I probably would have said the same thing. These days I tend to think of myself more as a facilitator of learning than a teacher, per se.
There is another part to this, however. I figured out a while ago that my coaching niche is in the young adult age group. I’ve coached everything from U12s to middle aged adults, but I feel I am at my best with the 18-25 year olds. That means less need to teach basic skills. It’s usually more about refining technique and improving volleyball IQ at the individual level. That said, it’s definitely enjoyable to work with younger players in their technical development.
Not the thanks?
Gratitude is in relatively short supply in the coaching game. If that was something I needed to keep me going I’d have quit years ago. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. Every once in a while you receive an expression of gratitude. They’re nice to receive, for sure. It’s always good to know you are appreciated. I just don’t expect it.
What about you?
I’ve shared my own coaching motivations. What about you? Why do you coach? What keeps you coming back year in and year out?
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