Coaching Philosophy

“Love the game”

Some of the best volleyball players in the world grew up playing on the beaches of California. No clubs, no coaches, no structure, no parents. Just balls, nets and a group of friends. They would show up daily after school, play, and continually push each other to become the best volleyball players they could be.

My daughter and I simply love the game of volleyball. Wherever we can find a net, we are playing. We play indoors, on grass, and in sand. I run a grass roots club in Gaston county based off this love. And I have a unique opportunity to create something old school, far as volleyball training and development.

To be good at something, you first have to love doing it – nothing great happens without passion. Once the dedication is there, volleyball is a sport developed through process. And that process starts and ends by simply loving to play the game.

Good coaches call the early stages “Mistake Mountain”, because that is exactly what it is. Kids need all the coaching in the world, and you cannot give it to them because they’ll drown in the information. New players learn thru making mistakes. It is not possible to play a perfect game of volleyball, unless you sit on the bench and make no errors by not being part of the action. So what coaches can do, is understand that errors are good, and part of the learning process.

This process of learning to play the sport is not something you work on until you have learned to play, it is simply woven together. You learn to play volleyball by doing volleyball, over a net. There really is no other way.  As we score games as part of this process, an outcome event, it is really important to understand this quote – “We never lose, we either win, or we learn.”  This learning through failure was well known to Thomas Edison, who showed how he saw his light bulb failures as learning, when he said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Retired NBA basketball player Ray Allen said when writing a letter to his 13 year old son:

“You’ll put up more than 26,000 shots in your professional career. Almost six out of 10 won’t even go in. Don’t worry, though. A successful man is built of 1,000 failures. Or in your case, 14,000 misses.”

Volleyball is not like other sports American parents and players have grown up with. In those traditional games like basketball, football and baseball/softball – the amount of time a player gets to contact and control the ball is huge in comparison to volleyball. These other sport athletes still make countless errors in skill, even with this advantage of holding onto the ball. The rebound sport which volleyball is, with no option to let the ball bounce, or strike it with ever improving devices like tennis or golf can, makes the skill of advance preparation the most important part of our game at every level.

With that being said, volleyball is the ultimate team game, in which cannot be dominated by an individual player. The best thing about the sport is that it is a team game, but the worst thing about the sport is that it is a team game. Some players have great games because of their teammates, some players have terrible games because of their teammates.

Several factors separate great teams from good teams, but perhaps the most important is the ability to adjust, not just to a particular opponent, but to a culture that is changing faster than the players can comprehend..

I am a firm believer that sports define who you can become in the adult world. Sports challenge you mentally, physically and emotionally. The game of volleyball creates an environment where you have no choice but to learn skills such as strong communication, leadership, teamwork, strategic thinking, empathy, drive, motivation….you name it. When you lose, use those failed events to learn, grow confidence, build grit and instill passion in a pursuit to reach your ultimate goals. Outcomes don’t define successful people, they define themselves. Learn from mistakes, challenge the rules, and create your own success.

Promoting False Confidence

“How can we avoid creating false confidence in players? Let’s start by asking yourself this simple set of short questions. How often have you seen anyone teaching the other nets sports NOT using the net? Have you ever played/seen the teaching of table tennis from the same side of the net? Badminton? Tennis or pickleball? In my experience, I have never seen any Olympic level coach on down teach their net sport from in front of the net; except volleyball. Some of you might have seen a rare situation in tennis, which has such a large court surface, but I have not. That includes four years of watching my son in tennis practice. Watch the tennis/table tennis and badminton greats at the Olympics warm up before any match, and you will see them cooperatively hitting, OVER the net.  

This “need” for drills builds into the false confidence as the player can do the drill successfully, but fails when the specificity and reality of the game then return in the match. This past decade, one of our national team head coaches was told by an Olympian: “I need to do work on my setter/hitter timing.” Coach replied “We have been playing for two weeks, if you think if that needs work, what are you waiting for?”

We want to prepare for anything, so we need to limit some things we do. We coach to play not drill. Small-sided games for new players or other ways to contain a whole game are great solutions for building real confidence. This learning in reality does not look pretty at the beginning, and for younger players it is true chaos. The coach’s enthusiasm over progress, not the outcome, is essential. Still, just like you learned to ride a bike, you learn by making mistakes. Want to get a sense of that learning by error and mistakes again? Take this weekend to learn to ride a unicycle, and see how many times you err. You know how to ride, but when things are flipped, well, you simply do not know how to ride a backwards bike is all, and it takes time to learn it.

I love to teach the game to ALL, from 5 years old to 75. We have this wonderful sport for a lifetime with true teamwork that is fun. So when non-elite players join me, I want them to love the game, not some drill. Special Olympians, senior citizens and picnic volleyballers may just play volley-tennis, not three-hit skill development. This one-touch mentality results in a unique situation in our sport, where at the lowest level the worst team (who hits any and every ball over the net on one hit), usually beats the better team (who is working on three contacts). For athletes who get time to practice, and do not want to win on single-hit balls going over the net, they need to play three-hit volleyball by doing three-hit volleyball. We MUST change the Exploratorium of learning that the gym is, to be the most effective in performance enhancement.

We need to build real confidence by training in reality and using regulatory stimuli as much as possible so players habits and skills are valuable to the way they will play the game.”

-John Kessel (Grow the Game Together blog)