Being a joke is not something that I handle very well. That being said, I have no idea why I would sign on to coach a sport that I have limited tactical understanding of. That sport is volleyball and I am coaching my school’s junior varsity for the first time. It’s also the first time I’ve ever coached girls. It’s been a crazy few weeks, but I’m starting to find my groove as I have learned a couple of things about volleyball and coaching in general.
1. Sports are sports and once you understand a few basic principles for each sport, there are only complications. The KISS principle works for coaching as well as it does for most of life. For volleyball, “read, move, and hit the ball into the air.” Volleyball Einsteins might question my elementary approach to the game, but since I don’t know what I don’t know, I must rely on keeping the game simple. I want the girls to become better players and that is more about improving their self-efficacy (the belief that they can create success) than it is about some crazy formation that has the team running all over the court and me wondering if they are in the right rotation.
We practice skills much more than we do strategy, although, I do have a bit of a basketball background, and I see zone defense principles as being applicable to our strategy. In hoops, a zone defense allows a player to guard a space. Different zones take different spaces away from an offensive team, but a player should always be ready to move wherever they are most needed. Volleyball is no different, players must cover an area. The trick is getting them into the area and the less offensive movement that is inflicted on a team, the less they have to worry about the transition from offense to defense.
I don’t know, I’m just saying…
2. Players have to play. My job is to prepare the students with the skills to be successful and give them a plan that fosters their success. Ultimately, though, the game is up to them. My goal as a volleyball coach is continuing to get the girls to believe that they can make the necessary plays. I really want to win, but a wise fellow told me that his experience with girls volleyball was that it was more about the experience than the winning and losing. His advice allowed me to continue to believe that keeping our practices simple is important. We spend very little time powering through skills or strategies that are not working. Instead, I have short periods of time that allow the girls to be mentally focused, but the drills stop before boredom sets in and any mentally drift allows for physical errors that might negatively affect their confidence.
Again, I want to focus on their believing that they are creating success.
3. Hustle is as hustlers do…I apologize for the cheap Forrest Gump rip-off, but every sport is based on hustle. Hustle is moving at the speed that is appropriate for the play. Being on time is the most important thing an athlete can do. It’s more than just being to practice on time. It’s getting to the ready position on time, contacting the ball at the right time, cheering on a teammate at the right time. Being on time is what hustle is. I joke with a colleague that I’m trying to turn my volleyball team into a pickup basketball team. We are trying to scramble to spots, get our feet into solid position, and sending the ball to a spot where the next hitter can make a play (unless it’s the third ball, duh, as we don’t want the other team to hit it). I chose to talk about playground basketball because it’s a game of hustle, hustlers win and winners get to keep playing. Not only that because often playground basketball teams are made on the fly and a player better know how to play any position and guard every spot. The general understanding of the game is a real plus for any player wanting a long run on a blacktop.
Maybe I’m overstretching my coaching analogy or just acting from ignorance, but over the last two weeks, the girls are starting to move more. We are starting to expect players to get to spots and even starting skills work 30-minutes before the “real” practice starts. I “freaking” love that.
These are a few thoughts from a guy who has little volleyball coaching experience, but this I know, self-efficacy is an important component of success. I mean, I wrote a dissertation on self-efficacy… Finding what works for the talent that a coach has is way more important than the tactical knowledge that a coach has. The relationship that the coach has with his/her players is probably more important than that. Meshing all of that together into a simple plan that promotes success is the lofty goal for getting a team to reach its potential. I think the girls on our team are on the right track and I believe that my continued understanding of volleyball can only help them get better as long as the new knowledge doesn’t create coaching clutter.
We won our second match today. We’ve dropped four or five, so our record is not what some would consider successful. Yet we are sticking together and working hard in practice. We are getting more competitive in the games we lose and getting more consistent with our hustle so that we play better in most points. What more could I ask for? The girls are creating an atmosphere that makes me want to come back each day. It’s been fun so far and even though tomorrow is an off day at school, we will be working on our footwork and maybe even housing some Munchkins…