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Volleyball Court No-No’s

#2 is definitely we should all remember!

This article was originally published in VolleyballUSA, Spring 2012 issue.

Here you go…

1. Don’t just watch your teammates play volleyball.

There is never a time when you should stop working. When the ball is set to another player, do you just stop your route and watch them swing or do you immediately work hard at getting into hitter coverage? After setting a ball, do you just stand there watching the result of your set? When you are on the bench, are you just standing there or are you intently watching the game, giving your teammates pointers or supporting them when they are on the court? The little things you do when you are NOT playing the ball can make a huge difference in the outcome of the match.

– John Speraw, Head coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team

2. Don’t shy away from taking risks, especially in tight games or on match point.

Practice will only get you so far; developing confidence means performing a skill in tough situations when you are truly tested. Face your opponent head on and play without fear, leaving nothing on the floor but your best. Remember, taking risks sometimes results in failure, but experiencing failure leads to improvement. You can go hard or go home. There’s nothing in between!

– Jordan Burgess, 2010 and 11 Girls’ Youth National Team member

3. Don’t follow the set when you’re playing defense behind the block.

This is a pet peeve of mine and I see college level defenders do it all the time. The setter will set a back slide or a ‘three’ up front and the defenders will take their first step in the direction of the set and move with their blockers. And then what happens? The hitter cuts the ball back to the exact spot where the defender was supposed to be. As a defender, you need to hold your position and then read the set and the block and the hitter before making your move. That keeps you from wasting steps and allows you to be in position to make more digs.

– Nina Matthies, former head women’s indoor and current head sand coach, Pepperdine University

4. Don’t give up on your teammates, even in the slightest of ways.

Giving up on a teammate isn’t an option. It comes in all different shapes and forms, from the blatant ‘no effort’ on a play to less obvious actions like lack of mental focus, poor physical preparation or spiritually not being in tune to teammates. Elite athletes never give up, and they don’t allow giving up to happen on their side of the court. They will say and do the right things to bring the best effort and performance out of their teammates.

– Scott Wong, Associate women’s indoor and head sand coach, University of Hawaii

5. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes in practice.

Understand that making mistakes is the best way to learn. Push yourself to try new things and possibly fail and then pride yourself on never making the same mistake twice. Work to repeat this process over and over again and you will be a better volleyball player.

– Jamie Morrison, Assistant coach U.S. Women’s National Team


image: FIVB


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  1. I hope coaches read #5 and apply the advice to how they run practices. Some coaches I’ve seen over the years (and I’ve had girls playing high school, club, and college ball for 12 years now) implement punishments for messing up in practices. For example, players are back at the line in service drills, and they’re told if they don’t get a certain number of perfect serves in a row, then they’re going to have consequences (punishments) such as running. How does that teach a player to serve like Micha Hancock? How does that mentality from a coach teach a hitter to attack the set when her team is down 14 – 15 in the last set of the match? It never has, and it never will. I have always respected those coaches I’ve seen who use mistakes as moments where they are able to teach a player to improve the technical and mental aspects of his or her game. Punishments for errors don’t improve a player’s technique; corrections and proper reps do.

    • I try to separate physical errors from mental errors. I also try to distinguish between punishment and discipline. First, there are NEVER any adverse consequences for physical errors on my teams. For example, if a team is picking on one of my passers, instead of subbing out an already dejected kid, I insist that the other passers move in to protect her by ‘squeezing’ her out so she can’t be picked on anymore. This is what good teammates do for each other. This philosophy is hard for some kids and parents to understand because most coaches are too quick to sub out for physical mistakes. No kid makes physical mistakes on purpose. Now if the athlete is mentally ‘gone’ then I’ll sub them out temporarily so they can get themselves together. When they tell me that they’re ready to go back in, I sub them back in at the earliest possible moment. When I walk into a gym and see a new team playing, I can tell what kind of coaching they have as soon as the first error occurs. If every time a ball drops, all the kid’s heads turn to the coach, I know there’s a culture of fear and blame. If the kids swarm each other in support of their ‘fallen soldier’ then I know the opposite is true.

      In my view, there’s a big difference between ‘punishment’ and ‘discipline’. It’s subtle but important. If the negative consequences of ‘failure’ are well known in advance then I call that ‘discipline’. If the negative consequences of ‘failure’ are random and unpredictable then I call that ‘punishment’. (see my definition of ‘failure’ above). I try not to use punishment under any circumstances because on every occasion when I have resorted to punishment, I have been racked with guilt. My job is not to make my kids feel crappy about themselves and punishment always make them feel embarrassed and humiliated. On the other hand, I have found that discipline does not have the same detrimental effect because it’s no longer personal. It’s the known ‘rules of engagement’ which apply equally to all athletes and (usually) agreed upon by the rest of the athletes. So, using the example of the serving drill that has some negative consequences, I would need to know if the kids in the drill were already capable of serving well and were missing serves due to a lack of concentration and effort or if they were missing serves because they were physically unable to repeat a successful serve. If it’s a lack of effort then I see no problem with applying a known discipline to a known ‘failure’ but if it’s a physical thing then I need to step in an help that kid build their skill set by building a team culture where physical risk-taking is encouraged and never punished.

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