Wednesday, 22 May 2024

They Learn by Doing

One of the core principles of motor learning is the importance of practical application. In the world of volleyball, this means increasing the number of opportunities to respond. At Alpinetgheep, we believe that true skill acquisition comes from hands-on experience, not just observation. It’s like the old Chinese proverb says, “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.”

In our USA Volleyball IMPACT course, we emphasize the value of increasing the number of contacts per hour. Coaches who participate in our program are encouraged to get out on the court and experience the drills themselves. This hands-on approach not only enhances their understanding but also boosts their volleyball IQ.

Learning by doing is a concept that applies to various aspects of life. Think about how you learned to walk. Sure, you watched others walk countless times, but you truly learned by taking those first steps and making mistakes along the way. The same goes for riding a bike, which is even riskier than playing volleyball. Did you have a bike riding coach or attend a bike riding summer camp? No, you learned by getting on that bike and giving it a go. Over time, your skills improved, just as they do with driving.

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Unfortunately, many youth programs rob children of this valuable learning experience by placing them in 6 vs. 6 competitions at a young age. In a PE class, you might even see 15 vs. 16 on one court, where most players spend the class watching instead of touching the ball. This approach is akin to trying to teach 24 kids to ride a bike with only one bike available to practice on – it’s simply not effective.

At Alpinetgheep, we advocate for getting more game-like touches in practice. Traditional training methods often involve too much watching and not enough active participation. Coaches tend to control the drills, resulting in them getting ten times more contacts than any individual player. This approach doesn’t maximize meaningful movements and contacts, hindering skill development.

We believe in the power of games to teach the game and increase volleyball IQ. When we ask players whether they prefer a drill or a game, the resounding answer is always “A GAME!” There are three main reasons for this preference. First, drills often result in coaches getting most of the contacts, while games allow players to fully engage. Second, games are more fun and competitive, creating a more enjoyable learning experience. Finally, games provide an opportunity to play against peers, whereas drills can sometimes feel like learning from an “old person.”

One game that stands out in terms of contact efficiency is monarch/king/queen of the court. Players universally love this game because it offers 22 percent more contacts per hour than traditional monarch of the court, thanks to the constant ball movement. The game starts with a serve, following a pattern similar to actual match play, which adds to its appeal.

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To address the issue of limited contacts in 6 vs. 6 games, we recommend incorporating smaller-sided games. In 2 vs. 2 games, players have the chance to touch the ball every net crossing, while in 3 vs. 3 games, they usually get a touch as well. By maximizing meaningful movements and contacts, athletes can develop their skills more effectively.

One challenge coaches face is finding the balance between imparting knowledge and allowing players to learn through practical experience. Sometimes, coaches tend to talk too much, resulting in players standing around instead of actively participating. Studies have shown that lectures and PowerPoints are not the most effective methods of teaching.

At Alpinetgheep, we believe in empowering players and adopting a “flipped” coaching approach. This means letting players take an active role in their learning, with coaches acting as mentors rather than lecturers. Stanford piloted a “flipped” class for Biochemistry, where students watched lectures at home and solved problems in the classroom. The results were astounding, with attendance skyrocketing and test scores almost doubling compared to traditional lectures.

We encourage coaches to embrace the concept of a “flipped” gym. By using smaller groups, setting up stations, dividing the gym with nets or ribbons, and incorporating multiple balls, coaches can create an environment that promotes active learning. It’s important to remember that simply scrimmaging with one ball in the air doesn’t provide the same benefits as structured game play. Playing the game enhances flow, increases volleyball IQ, and prepares players for successful competition.

We also want to highlight an enlightening study by Gary Horvath, a USAV CAP Level I coach and master tennis instructor. Gary examined a club’s practice sessions and found that the session with the most touches had minimal discussion and a higher number of meaningful touches. On the other hand, sessions with more lecturing and standing in line resulted in fewer touches for the team.

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We encourage all coaches to track their coaching practices and analyze how much active learning is happening. By measuring this aspect, coaches can identify opportunities for improvement. Just as you track your players’ stats in competition, take the time to track your coaching stats in practice. This will help ensure that you are providing the best learning experience for your athletes.

At Alpinetgheep, we’re dedicated to growing the game and helping coaches and players reach their full potential. We invite you to join us in flipping your gym and empowering your athletes to learn through active participation. Share your success stories and let us know how you’ve embraced this philosophy. Together, we can make a positive impact on the volleyball community.