Sunday, 14 Jul 2024

The Game Teaches the Game

Have you ever wondered what the game of volleyball can teach us? When I open coaching courses, I ask participants to fill in the blank: “The game teaches __.” While many answers like “good sportsmanship” or “teamwork” are valid, the correct answer is the game itself. As someone who has worked in beach volleyball, I’ve witnessed its incredible evolution from a simple sport to one that has produced Olympic gold medalists and millions in endorsements. But here’s something interesting to ponder: how many beach volleyball coaches do you know? The answer is usually none. Surprisingly, the players themselves develop and coach one another.

The unique thing about volleyball is the flow of the game, the speed, the choices, and the decisions. Every play is unique and will never be repeated the same way again. So, players learn by training and playing in the game itself. The same concept applies to other sports like riding a bike. How did you learn? Most likely, you simply got on the bike, wobbled, crashed a bit, and eventually learned how to ride.

In contrast, there is an abundance of “experts” in various fields who claim they have the secrets to success. They promise to teach you how to have great abs, improve your golf swing, or achieve incredible vertical jumps. However, the truth is that the best way to become better at anything is through hands-on experience. Just like a doctor becomes a great surgeon through performing operations, coaches become great by coaching and athletes become great by playing the game.

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Now, let’s take a closer look at what’s most important when it comes to coaching. Here are my top ten principles:

  1. You are a teacher first and must follow the laws of learning.
  2. Acknowledge that volleyball is a mental game and coach accordingly.
  3. Understand the four ways to get a lead in rally scoring and how to protect it.
  4. Always focus on what to do, catch players being right, and avoid negative reinforcement.
  5. Teach reading the game and the action between contacts.
  6. Opt for game-like, specific training that incorporates risk management and scoring.
  7. Remember that success is a journey, not a destination.
  8. Emphasize understanding the “why” over just the “how.”
  9. Develop amazing leaders among your players.
  10. Embrace subtle variations of consistent themes.

As a coach, your primary role is that of a teacher. Whether you’re working with kids, parenting, teaching in a classroom, or coaching in the gym, you are imparting knowledge and skills. It’s not just about what you know; it’s about how effectively you can help your students absorb and understand the information. Consistency and specificity are paramount.

When it comes to coaching volleyball, mental preparation is crucial. Many coaches agree that volleyball is 75-90% mental. Yet, how much time do we dedicate to training the mental side of the game? Do we ask our players thought-provoking questions and encourage them to think critically? Building trust and creating a consistent, specific environment are essential to helping them develop confidence and strong mental skills.

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Teaching reading the game and understanding the action between contacts is perhaps the most important skill to impart to players. It’s not just about reacting to the ball; it’s about anticipating and understanding what will happen before the contact. This skill can be honed through intentional practice and game-like situations.

Training should mirror game conditions as closely as possible. By creating a competitive and fun practice environment, players will develop the necessary skills and instincts to excel on the court. Serve, pass, set, spike, and dig should be incorporated into drills and games. The net should always be used to simulate game-like situations.

As a coach, your job is not only to improve your players’ skills but also to develop their character and leadership abilities. Teaching them to be great leaders, both on and off the court, should be a priority. By doing so, you’ll create a positive and cohesive team dynamic.

Ultimately, coaching is a continuous learning journey. Keep reading, keep growing, and always strive to be the best coach you can be. Remember that the process is more important than the destination, and success is measured not only by wins and losses but also by the lessons learned and the growth experienced.