Congratulations! You just accepted your first coaching gig! This is an exciting time for you, I'm sure. There are some surprises around the corner that I’d like to share with you. I don't want to spoil everything for you, but you're going to want to take some notes. Your players don't care how good you were as a player.
They don't. They really, really don't. You will quickly learn a harsh lesson: It's not about you any longer. If your athletes can’t pass a free ball, it doesn’t matter that you’re a former pro player. The best thing you can do is check your ego at the door and approach everything from here on out as a learning experience.
You are responsible for every loss, and your team is responsible for every win.
Again, it's not about you. If your team fails to perform a skill, and you suffer the loss because of it, it's because they haven't learned that skill yet. Whose shoulders does that fall on? I'm going to say you, Coach. If your team pulls out the victory, you take zero credit. You touched zero volleyballs during the course of play. Give credit where credit is due. Keep humility in mind, it will serve you well.
No, seriously. Do it. Now. Do you have rosters ready to be submitted? Do you have lineup sheets? Get extra ones. Do you have the insurance papers? Do you have them scanned into a Google Drive folder as a backup, so you can’t lose them? Do you have the “In Case of Emergency” (ICE) cards for all of your athletes? Do you have a list of any special medical needs for your players? Do you know where it is? Do you have protocol set for medical situations? When something goes really wrong (which it will) you are in charge. Coaching may be “just a hobby” for you, but you are responsible for the well being of young people. You cannot approach that responsibility casually.
Even beyond the doomsday scenarios, you need to be prepared. Start right now by planning out your season. Begin with the end in mind. What do you want to work on, week to week? How far will you take your team? What is the end product you are looking for? You will have to find the balance of teaching new materials, and reviewing old material. Your players will make errors, and that’s good! It’s part of the learning process. Don’t worry, we’ll go over this later. Write your practice plans out, every day.
Go into matches and tournaments prepared. Write out ideas for rotations and subs. Know your tournament schedule ahead of time. Write notes during tournaments about what you need to work on at practice. There are hundreds of good ideas that you will forget before you get home.
Your athletes know the difference between someone who is prepared and someone who is making it up as they go along.
Set yourself up for success.
A detailed parent/team meeting at the beginning of the year can save your bacon for the whole year. A shoddy parent/team meeting may haunt you all year. Come up with protocol, lay it out simply, and make sure it's understood by everybody involved. The more up front you can be, the better. Consider a team handbook.
Explain what is considered “on time” for practice, explain how you expect your athletes to behave, how playing time is earned, the proper channels for parents to contact you and how information about the season will be distributed. The biggest thing about this parent/team meeting is that you need to be firm with your expectations. For example, don’t ask them to be on time; tell them they are expected to be on time. More than anything else, explain what the goal of the team is. Everything you do will be measured against the team goal. The better you can deliver this talk, the better off you’ll be. Future-You will love Present-Day-You for doing a good job of this.
Remember that set of rules you just made? Follow them. Religiously.
If you tell your team that everyone needs to be at the tournament by a certain time, they need to be there at that time. Say the star outside hitter shows up late, and you play them anyway "because you need them in the game." That's going to grind the gears of the backup who would have been playing. Bottom line; your athletes are going to remember the precedents you set. The more exceptions you make to the rules, the less the rules will be followed.
There is a ton of stuff you don't know about.
Oh sure, you had a legendary high school coach, and then you played in college. Almost none of that directly applies to coaching. Do you know the difference between block and random training? How about process vs. outcome; any thoughts on that debate? Do you want to run drills, or do you want to run grills? Where do you stand on winning versus development? Do you understand the difference between punishment and consequences? There are considerable scientific findings regarding intrinsic vs. extrinsic feedback; have you paid it any mind?
Look, I get it. That is a daunting amount of information. Great coaching will not be automatic. Your playing career will have taught you a few key points about volleyball. The ball should be touched three times and it needs to go over the net. After that, you are essentially a rookie all over again. You are at the stage of your coaching career where you don’t know what you don’t know. Let’s start professionally developing ourselves, shall we?
Let’s learn about John Kessel and all the blogs he’s written. He's only got a couple hundred up; that should keep you occupied for a while. Let’s take a gander at the website “Train Ugly”; watch Trevor and the gang’s videos. The growth mindset, the jungle tiger, specificity... You’re going to want to know that stuff. The “Coach Your Brains Out” podcast; have you downloaded their content? It’s free, and they deal with everything under the sun in volleyball. You should probably find the Facebook group “Volleyball Coaches and Trainers,” and apply to be in it. They have a resource list of 500+ items just waiting to be used. How about getting CAP I and CAP II certified; did you do that yet? You might want to get your IMPACT certification and SafeSport taken care of first.
All of that, minus IMPACT and SafeSport, is totally optional. There is no requirement to develop professionally. However, failing to educate yourself continually makes you a hypocrite. You expect your athletes to learn and get better, right? You want them to lift weights, eat right, go to camps and clinics, get private lessons, all that good stuff, right? They are well within their rights to expect the same out of you. You want them in the best form possible, and they want the same from their coach. Lead from the front on this, they’ll notice.
Attendance is mandatory, even for you.
Coaching, regardless of the level, is a job. You are expected to be at your job. When you lay out your rules for the season, explain to your families the acceptable reasons to miss practices or tournaments. You need to hold yourself to that level as well. Playing in a co-ed adult league is a terrible reason to miss practice. You are going to miss some things because of coaching, and you should consider it a badge of honor. You can’t ask an athlete to be more committed than you are to the team.
Learn how to control your emotions.
There are going to be highs and lows in your season. Things will never be as good as you think they are, and things will never be as bad as you think they are. Figure out the mid-line of acceptable emotions, and give the team what they need. It’s easier said than done, and you’re going to make a ton of mistakes during this process of learning how to communicate what you need from your athletes.
Your patience will be tested early and often. You will have an athlete who pushes the boundaries. There will be a parent who is cartoonishly unrealistic about their child’s role on the team. You will attend poorly run tournaments. You will have practice slots get bumped off of your practice schedule. There will be entire games, matches and tournaments where your team will horrifically under-perform, despite the top class coaching and training methodologies they received. Athletes are not robots. There will be good days, and other days will be regression towards the mean.
You will quickly realize that volleyball rarely operates in a utopia. You have to manage your emotions, and deal with them privately and responsibly. Every coach you’ve ever met has had “that parent” demanded to have “that talk” for “those reasons.” You have to develop a thick(er) skin to keep your emotions under control. Remember, just because you are holding yourself to professional standards does not mean the other person in the conversation will.
At the end of the day, don’t let one bad apple ruin the bushel. All of the trying times listed above come with the coaching territory. In the words of the late Jimmy Valvano, “Survive and Advance.” You will have a bad year; we all do. If you let yourself get jaded during that down year, you’ll miss the opportunity to enjoy the next season, the next group of athletes, the next best thing to have ever happened to your coaching career. Hang in there, things will get better. Just keep doing what you know to be right. Things usually work themselves out.
You think that you are a class-A talent evaluator. You aren’t. You will say things like, “this kid will never see playing time;” or “this athlete is only a bench warmer. They will never play for a meaningful point.”
These thoughts are how you derail athletes’ careers. Instead of “this kid will never make this team,” say, “this kid needs to fix A, B and C to make this team.” You’ve analyzed this athlete, you know their strengths and weakness. Now you have a blueprint for this athlete and progress can be made. That’s why you took this job, right? To help kids climb the ladder? That’s what coaching should be about. We are opening doors for athletes, not closing them.
Be realistic about what your team is capable of.
Your team is going to shank passes. Your team is going to miss some swings. There will be athletes who don’t learn a skill until the end of the season, especially if you’re coaching younger age groups. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither are volleyball players. Slow and steady will win the race, regardless of how aggravating it may be to you. The athlete is giving it their all, the whole time. You are returning the favor, right ?
Remember how we talked about controlling your emotions? This will get tested every practice. If you have a player who is a 4 out of 10 talent player, they are not going to be a 10 out of 10 in two weeks; it’s just not how things work. Build the athlete into a 5, then into a 6. One step at a time, they will get there.
Figure out your purpose as a coach.
Look, the odds of sending any of your athletes to play in college is relatively low. The odds of them winning a Division I National Championship is even lower. To go play professionally, less than 0.1%. What are the odds in a decade your athletes will need to be quality upstanding adults who are contributing members to society? 100%.
By the time your athletes graduate from college, they are going to remember maybe one or two rallies from their season spent with you. Volleying the ball is secondary in their memories. The lessons that you teach them – how to be a great person, how great people create great teams and how great teams can accomplish great things – will help them much more in life than transition footwork. Remember this tidbit; you don’t coach volleyballs, you coach people.
See, this job is easy. Just 11 things to keep in mind while you go through your season. Sure, there are going to be a million situations you’ll find yourself in that won’t be covered in any coaching manual, so you’ll have to go with your gut. Oh yeah, learn to listen to your gut. You’re going to need guts to coach.