A few years ago, I volunteered to coach a second and third grade volleyball team through my local parts and recreation department. I’d never coached before and went into the experience a little blindly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a pretty serious volleyball player for 10 years, but I’d never coached before, and definitely not such a young group!
I checked out coaching books from the library, looked up drills online and tried to prepare myself the best I could, but in the end, I just had to go with the flow. I found that second and third graders were much smaller than I remembered, so many of the drills I had thought of were just physically impossible. Then there was the added emotional elements of having all these beginner players together. They got sad when their teammates had a triumph and they did not. At some times it seemed like my job was a mix of coaching and babysitting.
As I got used to coaching these girls, I got better and better. I realized that I had to listen to them more and adapt to their skill levels and I couldn’t come into a practice with everything planned. They absolutely hated some of my favorite drills, so I completely scrapped those and adapted their favorite drill to teach them almost every skill. (If you need a good drill, they loved “dead fish” – originally designed for a serving drill, but it can teach accuracy for passing, setting and hitting).
The season progressed and I started to notice things. During the first game, all the points were scored from serving, there were no rallies. Then eventually, they were able to return the ball to the other team. Finally, a real rally got going. I literally jumped up and down and gave out so many high-fives at that moment! They were looking like a real team and I was so proud.
By the end of the season, they had visibly improved and seemed to genuinely enjoy playing the game. I can only hope that I was able to instill a passion for the game in my team and hope that they will continue to play in the future.
I did learn some major lessons that were not in any of the coaching books I checked out from the library. Hopefully they will help you out if you are going to be coaching a team this fall.
Attitude – A good attitude can be very undervalued. Volleyball is a team sport, so teammates feed off each other. If one player pollutes the waters, you can b e sure the others will follow. The same goes for the coach. Positive reinforcements, the ability to laugh at your own mistakes and the ability to have fun will create a good team atmosphere. Yelling, getting angry and overreacting will fuel a negative environment and can cause your team to lose respect.
Be Vocal – this tip is twofold. First, any team sport requires communication, so make sure your players are talking on and off the court. Second, ask for input. Find out which drills are your players favorites, what drills they don’t like and be willing to adapt. They will learn better if they are doing things they like.
Plan – It is always a good idea to have a plan in place before a practice or game. Once you read my next point, you’ll see that I don’t mean a strict, minute-to-minute plan, but rather, have an idea of the skills you want to work on. For example, plan to spend X amount of time warming up, X amount on serving, X amount on passing and X amount on their choice. Then you can be flexible with each activity, but you will not have to spend time trying to decide what to do next.
Adapt – Your players will come to you with different skill levels, expectations and commitment levels. This can make it difficult to plan initially, but be prepared to tweak drills and practice schedules so they are effective.
Make Mistakes – This goes for players and coaches, you get better by learning from your mistakes. Beginning players make mistakes all the time, so constructively help them see how to correct them. Coaches make mistakes sometimes too, maybe a drill you had planned was totally ineffective. This goes back to adapting, learn something and move on.
Have Fun – Don’t work your players so hard that they are not enjoying themselves. I found that younger kids just like to play around, but at a more competitive lever, the players like challenging workouts and conditioning exercises. Make sure you are giving them drills and activities that match their playing level. Find the balance between working hard and having fun.
I also think back to the best coaches I had and they were they ones that truly enjoyed the game and made it fun. The most memorable are the coaches that we could laugh with, joke with, but still totally respect and learn from.
And in the end, remember it really is just a game. After 10 years of playing, the games I remember are not the losses or the mistakes, but are the challenging ones, the hard-earned wins and my individual bests.
How to play “Dead fish”: