Tuesday, 23 Jul 2024

Aha! Moments From Coaches Around the World

At a recent coaches clinic in Denmark, we discussed the idea of liberating all the balls from their cages instead of leaving them locked away all summer. The concept is to distribute them to the next generation of players, allowing them to learn and practice when the sun is still shining. This approach aims to cultivate a culture of play, which is often lacking in many sports programs.

Throughout my visits to coaching clinics around the world this summer, I have witnessed numerous “aha!” moments from coaches in various settings:

  • Teaching a CAP III course alongside Doug Beal in the Great Plains Region at the Women’s Volleyball Nations League.
  • Coaching coaches at a CAP I in Mississippi’s Delta Region, where their “aha!” moments were captured in photographs.
  • Conducting a half-day clinic, attended by 30 USA Men and Women’s National Team members, assisting over 200 Anaheim-area school kids and their coaches in learning new aspects of the game.
  • Traveling to Nederland for two weeks to attend the World ParaVolley Championships.
  • Visiting Canada for the men’s VNL and interacting with 225 top Canadian High Performance coaches.
  • Lastly, the most significant event involved working with Fred Sturm (two-time USA men’s Olympic coach) and Beal, coaching 225 European Volleyball Confederation (CEV) coaches from 17 nations in Denmark. The session was streamed live to an additional 1,000 viewers from 36 nations.
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Now, let’s explore some of the enlightening moments shared by these coaches, highlighting their beliefs and insights.

It is hard to break out of your comfort zone

Just like players, coaches also strive to appear competent during practice sessions. However, beneath the surface, they often face challenges while trying to propel their program forward. Finding time to learn new approaches can be challenging. Therefore, one highly recommended resource for efficiently acquiring new skills is the book “A Thousand Rivers” by Carol Black. It offers valuable insights into becoming a proficient learner.

Understanding the “Why” Behind Coaching

Many coaches haven’t dedicated much thought to the “why” or encouraged their players to ask insightful questions. However, both the coach and players benefit greatly from this approach. When players have a clear purpose and engage in self-organized practice, their learning process extends beyond the limited time spent directly with the coach, resulting in substantial progress. By fostering purposeful practice and encouraging questioning, coaches can optimize the remaining training minutes, ensuring players absorb more knowledge even in the coach’s absence.

Resourcefulness in Training

Coaches are often creative in finding cost-effective solutions. For instance, swim noodles can serve as inexpensive and easily deployable makeshift antennas, enhancing signal reception during training sessions. Additionally, coaches emphasize the importance of creating a culture of play. By incorporating engaging warm-up variations like “Living Net” (loser becomes the net), “Salt & Pepper,” “2v0,” and “1v1+1,” players develop the essential skill of reading their opponents and teammates.

Emphasizing “Good” over Perfection

Coaches advocate for a focus on improvement rather than fixating on errors and pursuing unattainable levels of perfection. Given that even national teams experience out-of-system situations approximately 50% of the time, it becomes crucial to train players to adapt to chaotic scenarios and find solutions. Coaches must discern the difference between players who possess the required skills but make occasional mistakes due to timing or positioning challenges, and those who lack understanding of the technique itself. By integrating resilience training and promoting a growth mindset, coaches can nurture the abilities needed for success in the fast-paced sport of volleyball.

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Individualizing Instruction

To foster an inclusive and stimulating learning environment, coaches employ a technique called “Put their name last.” Instead of singling out a single player during a teachable moment, coaches address the entire team, posing a question and then emphasizing the individual’s name. This strategy ensures that everyone feels accountable and engaged, evoking nostalgic memories from their school years when they hoped not to be singled out.

Strategic Coaching Methods

Proximity plays a significant role in effective coaching. By positioning themselves against a wall, coaches create an environment of focus, allowing players to concentrate solely on the feedback provided. Similarly, using a “Wall as a Station” approach can effectively teach players to initiate positive errors, prioritizing learning experiences rather than discouraging mistakes.

Leveraging Technology and Resources

Coaches often seek additional resources to enhance their coaching techniques. For example, utilizing the Google Translate camera feature can be a game-changer when navigating foreign countries. A lesser-known tool, BAM Video Delay, can also immensely impact coaching during practice sessions. This affordable app replicates the functionality of expensive systems by projecting multiple screens, each displaying delayed footage. This technology creates a virtual assistant coach, facilitating precise and accurate feedback for players.

The Quest for More Resources

Coaches consistently express the need for more resources and drills. However, it is essential to strike a balance. Coaches often find that limiting the number of drills while incorporating gamelike scenarios can be more effective in fostering player development. To meet these resource demands, I have compiled my top recommendations for coaches in a dedicated blog post titled “My Top Things I Must Have as a Coach.”

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I extend my gratitude to all the coaches who have generously shared their wisdom and insights during my summer adventures. Their valuable contributions have undoubtedly enriched the coaching community and inspired fellow coaches around the world.


Q: How can I foster a culture of play in my sports program?

A: Cultivating a culture of play entails incorporating engaging warm-up variations, encouraging purposeful practice, and emphasizing the skill of reading opponents and teammates. By incorporating game-like scenarios and focusing on improvement rather than perfection, players can develop their abilities in a dynamic and enjoyable environment.

Q: What tools and resources can I utilize to enhance coaching effectiveness?

A: Coaches can leverage various tools and resources to optimize coaching sessions. For instance, swim noodles can serve as low-cost antennas, BAM Video Delay can facilitate precise feedback during practice, and the Google Translate camera feature can aid in communication with players from diverse backgrounds. Additionally, the book “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath provides valuable insights for coaches and leaders seeking to drive change effectively.