Tag Archives: Coaching Ethics

Teaching Resilience

Resilience is one of those mythical qualities that is highly sought after for high performance athletes in all sports.  You can often hear coaches talk about the resilience, or lack therefore, of their teams, and about steps they are taking to develop in their teams.

I certainly agree that resilience is highly desirable. There are innumerable situations during the course of a practice / week / match / season which create disappointments both small and large for individual players and teams.  How resilient those players and teams are to those disappointments is an important factor in quality of the team.

So how to develop that resilience?  It was suggested to me recently that coach’s anger (yelling, screaming etc) during practice specifically creates the conditions that allow resilience to develop.

So this is the question… are coaches who resist displays of anger during their work actually doing their players a disservice?

I’m interested in your thoughts.


What Are You Really Angry About?


Coaches are stereotypically prone to outbursts of anger. The image of the red faced coach is so pervasive in our (sporting) culture that every comeback victory is invariably accompanied by some form of the narrative ‘The coach must have really laid into you guys at half time.’ Indeed my most embarrassing moment as a coach involves shouting at my team during a timeout and realising that the spectators behind the bench were applauding me.

I am aware of no research that recommends the use of anger, and that kind of behaviour would not be tolerated, let alone encouraged, in any other workplace.  Despite that, every coach knows that shown judiciously, emphasis on judiciously, it can have a positive effect on a team or individual.

Like everything else, the onus is on the coach to understand it and himself to ensure that it becomes a positive exception rather than a negative rule.  Too often however, the coach is not fully aware of either himself or the actual object of his anger.  The most obvious example is of the coach who shouts at the younger players on the team.  In almost cases he is not really angry at that player.  It is much more likely that he is angry at the older player to whom he ‘can’t’ say anything. So he takes out his frustration on someone else.

With me, I find that my anger is rarely directed at what I am actually angry about (if I am honest this is not only about coaching, but everywhere else in my life too).  Mostly I am aware of my mood before interactions with the team and am able to temper any outbursts.  Sometimes I am not aware of some bottled up frustration until it finds an outlet at practice.  Then I have to go away and search myself to learn what is really bothering me.  Sometimes it takes a while.  Sometimes I am surprised at what I find.

In the end there is almost nothing that happens on a volleyball court that should provoke anger.  After all, it is only a game, and it is played by human beings, in all their fallibility.  If you are angry, maybe the player or referee is not the one you are really angry about.  And in that case he / she certainly doesn’t deserve it.  Like every coaching problem, search yourself for a solution first.


What Is Your Message?

Over the weekend I saw a video posted on a coaching page showing a coach’s reaction to a serving error by his team at match point.  As the, I’m guessing, 14 year old girl served into the net, the coach fell to the ground as if shot and lay there with outstretched arms.  The overall tone of the comments was lighthearted and coach involved justified his actions by saying that it was his way of releasing the pressure on his girls.  Given that they were leading 14-7 in the tie break at the time I am not sure exactly what pressure there was but I digress.

All coaches actions and words are messages he sends to his team and to others. By making such a scene the coach is sending one overriding message.

“It is not MY fault.”

Coaches who jump up and down on the sideline and yell at referees and players and even fall over for effect are simply trying to send the message that it is not their fault.

‘I didn’t tell the player to do that.’

‘If the player did what I said we would have won that point.’

‘We won the point but the referee took it away from us.’

And countless variations on the same theme.

What message are you sending?

Advice From A Genius

The following was written by Bill Walsh, often nicknamed ‘The Genius’, in his book, Building a Champion.  He wrote it referring specifically to professional players but it holds for all levels.

Coaches have to realize that players aren’t necessarily going to appreciate what you’re doing for them.  The player assumes this is part of your job.  Because he is part of a select few, he feels that someone else should deal with the mundane details of his life.  As soon as you resolve one problem, he tends to forget that and comes into your office with another.  A coach who expects that the player will be appreciative or demonstrate more loyalty or will be more motivated on the athletic field as a result will very likely be disappointed.  A coach should take these actions because he feels they’re in the best long-term interests of the athlete.  The coach should believe that his advice, counsel, and actions on behalf of the athlete are ethically and morally right.  He should not expect service in return.


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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How Growing Grass Is Like Building A Team

If you’re the kind of person who likes to get to the point without having to go through the story, the point is “Excellence only comes through patient to commitment to improvement over the long term.”

Thanks for your time.

If you want to read the whole story, read on.

I came across a story about a guy who wanted to get rid of weeds from his perfectly manicured lawn.  The expert he hired gave him the choice of killing the weeds, or growing the grass.   The guy was of course confused, until the expert explained.  Killing the weeds is easy.  The only problem is it makes the lawn itself weaker and in the longer term it is susceptible to more weed attacks.  The other alternative is to make the grass stronger, so that it eventually pushes the weeds out.  To grow the grass is the more effective solution in the long term but it takes more time and more work.

Short term easy fixes versus long term hard work are major themes in probably every field.  I see it every time a politician speaks on CNN, I see it every time I see a junior coach cheats to win a match and I see it in a week were two coaches (Gulinelli and De Giorgi) were fired in Italy.  I can’t possibly judge those particular situations (actually I can and do judge the junior coach) but I do know how difficult it is and how long it takes to create something worthwhile.  Long term success is not created overnight.  Raising standards and expectations takes time.  People are uncomfortable with standards being raised and will sometimes fight against it.  Matches can be lost while new methods are implemented and learnt.  Those moments are difficult and they test the patience and commitment of all.  But ultimately excellence only comes through patient improvement over the long term.  There is no other way.  The grass must be strong.

Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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Einstein On Volleyball

Matty commented on my recent post on “The Problem With Measuring Things” with a quote.  I really liked the quote and thought it perfectly described scouting.  When I tracked down the author of the quote I discovered it was attributed to Albert Einstein and was amazed to find that he had more things to say about volleyball.  Who would have thought…

Einstein of practice – “We have to do the best we can. This is our sacred human responsibility.”

Einstein on the problem of fitting your players to your system or fitting your system to your players – “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”

Einstein on scouting and statistics – “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

Einstein on whether sharing videos gives the opponent a competitive advantage – “Information is not knowledge.”

Einstein on tactics – “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

Einstein on innovation – “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

Einstein on the importance of the junior coach – “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”

Einstein on analysing a poor season – “The world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

Einstein on watching France play at their best – “To know what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty…this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness.”

Einstein on creating an effective training environment – “I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”

Einstein on continuing coach education – “The important thing is not to stop questioning.”

Einstein on how much to copy other coaches – “Truth is what stands the test of experience.”

Einstein on repeating the same drills – “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Einstein on spiking high balls into the middle blocker’s hands – “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

My apologies to the writer whose device I have borrowed here.  I read it recently but can’t for the life of me remember who it was or even what it was about.

Einstein’s thoughts on other topics can be found here and here

Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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Thinking Outside The Box: A Book Review

Everybody knows that the ability to think outside the box is a desirable quality.  A smaller number of people hold the ability to think outside the square as desirable.  I feel sorry for those people.  They can’t even recognise that the world is 3 dimensional  They are in for a shock if they ever make it outside, but I digress.  The ability to think outside the box, or to be able to consider new paradigms, is the quality that is most often applied to US college football coach Mike Leach.  I first came across him a few years ago in an article written by Michael Lewis, the author of Moneyball.  He is exactly the kind of character / coach that interests me the most, i.e. one who wins in ‘unconventional’ ways.  So because of that, and because I haven’t read enough biographies of coaches, I bought his autobiography as soon as I came across it.  I was not disappointed.

For all the talk about boxes and innovation, what I read was as close as I have found to a common sense textbook of coaching.  From a straight out coaching perspective (i.e. independent of the sport), he goes into quite some detail about what to do and when and most importantly, why.  The ‘why’ is most important because the ‘why’ that he describes is never ‘because that is how it has always been done’.  The ‘why’ he describes is always practical, simple, and sensible.  From a tactical perspective (i.e. football specific) his tactics are grounded in a very strong and complete logic, which is apparently based on looking outside of that box.  My interpretation is a little different.  His tactics were so simple that I liken it more to getting outside the box and looking back inside, but from a different angle.  That analogy seems to resonate more strongly to me.  He hasn’t reinvented anything, he is still playing by the same rules, with many of the same basics, but what he has done is to challenge conventions.  For example, he is known for throwing the ball a lot more than normal.  Convention says that a balanced offence is one in which a team throws and runs roughly 50% of the time each.  Leach’s says a balanced offence is one in which every part of the field can be attacked at any time.  If you were an alien (or even a recent sports science graduate) who had never seen football before I am confident this is exactly the kind of offence you would design, based on the rules of the football and simple game theory.  But if you are bound by convention, or paradigm, or a box, or the same point of view, you can never reach that place.  One of my favourite Einstein quotes is, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”  To continually improve you must not only challenge the things you are doing, but the way you are thinking about them.

As I said, I think this book could easily be reedited or restructured into a coaching textbook.  Some interesting quotes.

“The best coaches are the ones who best connect with their players”

“It’s vital to make things more complicated for the opponent.  (There are two ways you can do that.) One is to have a whole bunch of plays.  But the trouble is that your offence has to deal with as much complexity as their defence does.  The other way is to have less plays, and run them out of lots of formations.  That way you don’t have to teach a player a new assignment, just a new place to stand.”

“It’s not about tricks.  It’s about execution….Technique is more important than scheme.”

“How do you get the most out of your offence? You utilise all your players.”

About not having a playbook… “As a coach there is a tendency to take short cuts and not be as precise in your teaching when you can lean on a playbook.  As a player there’s a tendency to think you can just look it up in the playbook, study it like you’re cramming for a  test. … (Not having a playbook) raises the level of focus.”

“90% of teams don’t run an offence, they run plays.  (They) just run plays but without a concept.”

“Discipline is not just focusing on the negative aspects and scolding your guys when they don’t do something the right way.  Discipline requires encouragement.  Discipline requires support.  Discipline requires sharing a new perspective so the person can gain the confidence he needs to be successful.  Sometimes it’s about making it more convenient for your guys to perform the desired behaviour rather than the undesired one.”

“You’re either coaching it, or allowing it to happen.”

I could go on, but I won’t.  Check out the book.