Saturday, 20 Jul 2024

Developing the Person, Not the Player

Recently, I had the opportunity to address a group at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center. Our discussion centered around the creation of a new online coach education course aimed at providing more children with great experiences in sports leading up to the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Our philosophy is simple: when it comes to long-term athletic development, we emphasize the importance of taking our time and ensuring that children are kept in a safe and positive learning environment for as long as possible.

Prioritizing Personal Development

One of the key points I emphasized during our conversation is the need for coaches to prioritize the development of the individual, not just the player. Too often, coaches focus solely on technique and skill-building, neglecting the importance of leadership and the mental aspects of the game. When I posed the question to the coaches about the importance of the mental game, they acknowledged that it accounts for about 80 percent of the sport. Surprisingly, though, they admitted to dedicating only about 10 percent of their training to this crucial aspect. Closing this gap is something we all need to work towards.

Creating an Optimal Learning Environment

Recently, I had the privilege of teaching an FIVB Level 1 coaches course for the Jamaican Volleyball Association. While my previous experience in Bonaire involved in-person training, this particular course took place online, with four hours of instruction each evening for two weeks. Our main focus was on creating an optimal learning environment. We stressed the importance of prioritizing the learning experience over competition, recognizing that success in teaching must come before athletic achievement. For some coaches, this can be a challenging concept to grasp, particularly for those who rely heavily on drilling rather than allowing players to engage in actual gameplay. Additionally, there is often a desire to practice in a way that looks good, rather than embracing the chaos and randomness inherent in the game itself.

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The Journey to Success

I wanted to take a moment to share a personal anecdote that exemplifies the power of developing the person, not just the player. I recently had the joy of watching my son as a member of the USA Men’s Volleyball team in the Volleyball Nations League Quarterfinals. Witnessing his growth, both on and off the court, has been a dream come true. It all started with him playing doubles and participating in a variety of sports, which instilled in him a deep love for the game. This experience serves as a reminder of the impact we can have on young athletes when we prioritize their personal growth and development.


Q: Why is it important to prioritize personal development alongside skill-building in sports coaching?
A: Prioritizing personal development alongside skill-building helps create well-rounded athletes who not only excel in their respective sports but also possess the leadership, resilience, and mental fortitude necessary for success both on and off the field.

Q: How can coaches create an optimal learning environment for their athletes?
A: Coaches can create an optimal learning environment by prioritizing the learning experience over competition, encouraging gameplay, and embracing the inherent chaos and randomness of the sport. This approach fosters creativity, adaptability, and problem-solving skills in athletes.


When it comes to coaching and athlete development, we must shift our focus from the player alone to the overall growth of the individual. By prioritizing personal development, fostering a positive and safe learning environment, and recognizing the importance of the mental game, we can truly set our athletes up for success. Let us continue to work together to grow the game and provide young athletes with the experiences they deserve. Thank you for being a part of this journey.

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