Originally published in 2011

OK coach, hopefully this title has made you click through to this blog to see what the heck I could be thinking here. Please take the time to read and chew on what I am asking you to consider. I will take them in order as each need their own points of consideration.

No More Drills

Lately in teaching IMPACT, I have come to the drill development chapter and asked those listening, who are of a growth and not fixed mindset, to simply stop saying the word drill, and start saying the word game, for any exercise they have opted to teach their athletes. It comes from children and my childhood. We played tag games - we did not do movement drills. We learned to ride our bikes and skateboards by simply doing them - we did not do bike riding drills, get a bike riding coach hired to train with or get sent to bike riding camp (even though learning to ride a skateboard or bike is hundreds of times more dangerous than playing volleyball). We created games and scoring like exponential scoring for ways to race, or chase or conquer. We played dozens of board games, kept track of who won - even gambling to say losers did dishes or laundry, and never once did a board game drill.  I would put my name on the sheet of paper on the doubles court railroad tie net post, and when my turn to play came up, I would battle with all my skill and cunning, then sit down to wait to play again, losing to better players and seeking to be the winners who stayed on.  That desire to stay on, which is all any state or national tournament is like this Final Four I am at right now, brought the best form of deliberate practice that can be found. I never ran lines or did pushups or burpees. I simply wanted to stay on, and while off, watched and learned from those who were king of that court.

When you ask any kid - "Do you want to do a drill for passing, or do you want to do a game for passing?" you know what any sane player will desire - that you create a game - for whatever skill you seek to improve, with scoring of some sort so they know who wins. We seek to teach in our precious 120 minutes on the court, players who deliberately practice and intently train for each and every one of those minutes. The best way to do this is to simply listen to your kids, and stop doing drills and start doing games. There is a mind shift you will have to make when you step in front of your athletes and say "OK this is a game with a focus on 'insert skill/skill combo here' and the scoring is...."  Give it a novel name, as Bill Neville is so adept at creating, and you will even more intensity. Just refrain from giving it a name that you would NOT want to be on the witness stand, telling an opposing counsel in response to the question "My client was injured doing a game/drill you were making him/her do, called what?"

To help you, I have posted my list of game titles into the coaching section of the USAV Grassroots button. I also have included hundreds upon hundreds of games in my new Minivolley (PDF) book which can be download from the same button, under the best practices section.

And to make sure you all understand clearly. Deliberate practice is important. Many of you then should continue to do drills, and not make the change - but you still must make them more gamelike, with more scoring and competitive cauldron tracking, and follow the principles of motor learning....so keep saying drills if you want, just do them better so the kids have success in competition.

No More Feedback

In these same IMPACT, FIVB, CAP and soon Gold Medal clinics, I have been pressing to help coaches stop reacting and start teaching. Coaches spend way too much time talking about what cannot be controlled at all - a past skill performance - and nowhere near enough time focusing on the only thing that athlete can control - the point being played right now. This change I am asking in your teaching to take place, is working to guide your players to focus on what is ahead, mentally and physically. To look beyond the ball flight and contact and to see what is happening BEFORE the contact. To focus on the only thing that they can control - not the past (gone), not the future (life and this game is random), but THIS POINT, in what we call "Right here, Right now" focus. Karch was the best at this, and my bet is he is doing a great job of teaching our women's national team members to start down this important path, and he is doing it by focusing on Feedforward cues, ideas and insights.

 Going back to our shared collective of learning to ride a bike....you wobbled and fought to stay upright, thinking about THAT moment of riding, learning the KEY skill of LOOKING AHEAD to see what was too soon to come, and you adjusted and...you fell down too. When you fell, if your friend or family member was there teaching you the best they could to stay on that damn contraption, they did not run up to you and yell at you to drop and give me twenty...They counseled you and consoled you and got you back up on that bike and told you what to focus on this time...  They likely erred some by telling you "Don't ::___" and err in feedforward as  you cannot teach a negative. Please, think about this. You can't teach negatively, as the brain does not NOT register what you are saying - let alone my poor English teacher Mrs. Vest who is turning over in her grave seeing that double negative - things ALL register. So what we want to focus on is what we SHOULD do, and what we DID do right, never ever on what we should not do. This is a key part of feedforward, to be thinking of what should happen ahead.

Let me explain ahead a bit more. Why can you, the coach, walk out and get the tip, from your spot sitting on the team bench, yet your players who are much closer right there on the court, cannot save the ball? You are seeing the opponent's actions BEFORE contact, better than your players can is why. You are reading the CONTEXT of the developing play, in part by remember all the things that player has done and, with little or no time to consciously think about what is unfolding, your expertise starts to shout "SHE IS TIPPING THE BALL" well before the contact. It was the repeated blocks your team put on that player before, and the fact that she is running in less quickly and/or has underrun the ball. Maybe it is because she is running in with BOTH hands up above her head? Yet kids, trained by just "tipping drills" with a coach standing on a box, never get the incredibly important prelim information in real time - they just see a coach tipping over and over... So we must get better at teaching the game between contacts, teaching them why you KNEW that was coming, and teaching them to look wider, through the net, and see the flow of the game. Then give them feedforward when appropriate, so they can learn from you experience and make it their own. Oh, and one last thing...you still can give feedback....just make sure it is educational and not punitive or demeaning. Ever.

No More Technique Training

This one I need you to stay with me through the end, for I am a very technical coach, and technique, biomechanically doing things the most efficient way, is a HUGE part of what I seek to impart to each and every player I coach. However, I think that knowing the technique, and being able to demonstrate it without a ball to show you that the skill technique is known, is VASTLY different from being able to be in the right place and time at contact.

Let me explain. Nearly every coach I see, is too caught up with talking about the skill being done AT contact. I was surprised to see the research being done in other sports - like soccer goalie training - films the action Before Contact (BC) and At Contact (AC) and then stop filming, when providing teaching information to a goalie how to better defend. No flight of ball time is recorded. The Australian Volleyball Federation program in this last quad were even putting a special kind of glasses on their serve receivers which the coach could flip a switch at any time and "blind" the player at any point of serve reception. So the jump server would run in, then hit the ball and before the ball could be tracked, the passers glasses would go opaque. Then the passer would pass the now unseen incoming serve, based on what they saw through the net at the other endline.

The importance of preparation, reading and anticipation over the actual contact can perhaps best be seen with these facts from the Beijing 2008 Olympics. The average USA player contacted the ball 17 times per set in the indoor games (44 times for beach).  Both teams played 8 matches in their runs to the Gold Medal finals, averaging 4 sets per match.  Most coaches do not know the average contact periods per skill - so I will share those now - .10 sec for setting; .05 for passing; .01 seconds for hitting and .03 for blocking. So using an average contact time of .05 seconds - the average total time of CONTACT by a player through the entire Olympic games was - 27.4 seconds. It is not about the contact as much as it is about the preparation for contact that we must get better at teaching.

Volleyball is not like other sports America 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.

In impact this is "seen" even in the webinars, when I ask for the feedforward you would give a player spiking a ball down by their ear, not reaching at all. Clearly bad technique.  The coaches provide these most common feedback comments - "Reach;" "Extend:" "Get on top of the ball:" "Keep your elbow up;" and the negative coaches say "Don't drop your elbow!" They first forget to check for understanding by asking the player to show them the skill without the ball. If they did, my bet is the athlete would show good technique, reaching high, for they understand the technique. The problem is they are not at the right place and time, and simply will not fully extend and hit the ball off their elbow to show the reach you are expecting. The answer is not more technique, it is to come up with ways to guide them to be in the right place and time - in this case earlier and/or faster, which, by making that timing adjustment, will result in the ball being at a higher point in time for contact.

I have taught a 2 year old the "technique" of blocking - they stand there, arms aside their head, and leap up with jackrabbit eared arms and look technically solid. Can they block? Nope, not ready to be in the right place or time. I often ask what is the difference between the amazing jump serve of Clay Stanley and that of my daughter's - technically. The answer is hopefully nothing. They both have simple efficient motion, consistent tosses, biomechanically correct arm swings, and so forth. The difference is...Clay is Citius, Altius, Fortius - as in swiftER, highER and strongER than my daughter, and both are seeking to be more "ER" individually.

When you look at the closed motor programs of music and dance - where performers rehearse towards perfection of playing the score (with their own subtle variations of fundamental technique) or dancing in form of the song or performance - some amazing things happen at those performances, but the "coaches" simply sit and watch and take notes to see what needs to be improved upon next training. They work deliberately towards perfection. The "technique" can be learned by watching in dance, and listening in music. Just look at the amazing dance variations and copies of Thriller being performed around the world in tribute to Michael Jackson on YouTube. Look at the amazing "Covers" on YouTube of complex music pieces being performed on varying instruments by talented musical athletes. All this is basically self taught technique.

In our sport - we perform technique in an OPEN motor program world - competing against an opponent who will in the end ALWAYS win - gravity. In the meantime, we need to spend much more time teaching the game between contacts, not that at the point of contact, so that the players have the right technique at that contact. Simple...while also infinitely complex. For you see, no point every played in our sport in the history of this game, is the same. Not one. So the more you can help your players take the technique they understand already well - so well they could and should teach it to less experienced players of any age - and learn to anticipate, read the before and at contact actions, and remember the flow and tendencies under stress of opponents....and do it at the right place and time, the better we all will be....

Drills, feedback and technical training will be important forever. I just hope you all also realize the importance of the words "game" and "feedforward" in maximizing your impact as a teacher, and in teaching more of the game between contacts than ever before...