One of the most common everyday challenges for a coach is his / her team playing at the level of the opponent. Against a better opponent it is rarely a problem, except that the coach often wistfully wishes the team always played like that. Against weaker teams it is a huge frustration, as ‘unnecessary’ sets or even matches are lost. To complicate matters further, in some places (mostly the United States) ethical pressures are placed on the coach to restrict the team’s performance so as not to risk ‘running up the score’ and therefore ‘disrespecting’ an opponent. In extreme cases coaches can be censured, suspended or even fired for winning by too much.
This is not a mindset that I can easily comprehend. As a competitor the most disrespected I have ever felt was when an opponent did not take my team seriously and therefore gave less than their best effort. Big losses never discouraged me, rather they inspired me to work harder, to work smarter, to get better. As a coach I have felt the disappointment from our opponents when they realised we would not be playing our strongest lineup in that match, and I understood their point of view. We were not taking them as seriously as they felt they deserved to be. These matches always make me much more nervous than any championship playoff.
Recently the topic has come up twice in a volleyball context. During a Volleyball Coaching Wizards interview, top Scottish coach Simon Loftus stated that “the best thing you can do to a team is beat them 25-0”. In other words, you don’t mess about, or ‘take the mickey, but play with as much concentration and focus as you would for a championship match (see below for the clip). At the currently being held FIVB Women’s World Cup in Japan, USA defeated Algeria by the set scores of 25-7, 25-2, 25-5. While such a score would lead to many of his colleagues fearing for his job, USA coach Karch Kiraly, as a player one of the greatest competitors of all time in any sport, put it in into perspective in the post match press conference.
“It doesn’t matter who’s across the net; we honour our opponents, we honour our sport, and we honour our programme and team. I like what we did today.”
I agree wholeheartedly. Honour and respect means playing at the maximum of your ability.