Tag Archives: Practice Philosophy

The Coaching Is Not In The Interventions

There is a common quote applying to music that I first heard in a Phil Jackson book but have heard in varying forms many times since,

“Music is the space between the notes.”

The quote has been attributed among others to Claude Debussy, and it always makes me think about things like the interactions and relationships in the playing of whatever game is being talked about at the time.  A few days ago I read something that made me think of this idea directly in relation to coaching.

Most people think of coaching as being what the coach does during the game, the timeouts, the substitutions or if we want to go into real ‘depth’, the starting rotation.  Some smarter people understand that what happens in practice is equally important, the drills done, the feedback given, the time taken, the conduct of practice.

The moment I had was when it occurred to me that all of those things are interventions.  The notes, if you will.  But just as music is not in the notes, the coaching is not in the interventions.  The coaching is in the timing of the interventions.  It is choosing the moment when the feedback will have the greatest impact.  It is not giving any verbal feedback at all but allowing the player or team to learn the lesson by themselves.  It is allowing the errors that lead to learning.  It is not jumping up and down on the sideline berating players or the referee but trusting the team to carry out the vision of the game you have taught them in practice.

In short, the coaching is not in the interventions. The coaching is in the space between the interventions.


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

Cover v2

Klucz do siatkówki

Artykuł przetłumaczony na język polski przez Zuzannę Dulnik.

Originalne po Angielsku jest tutaj.

Ludzie często odnoszą się do siatkówki jako do technicznej gry. To znaczy drużyna z najlepszym poziomem technicznym to drużyna, która najprawdopodobniej wygra. Inni mówią, że największa drużyna to drużyna, która najprawdopodobniej wygra. Osobiście nie zgadzam się z żadną z tych teorii. Najprościej mówiąc, kluczem do siatkówki są interakcje.

Interakcje są widoczne gdziekolwiek spojrzysz i są one (prawie zawsze) decydujące.

Interakcje występują pomiędzy zawodnikami, pomiędzy trenerami i pomiędzy trenerami i zawodnikami.

Interakcje występują pomiędzy trzema kontaktami z piłką po każdej stronie siatki.

Interakcje wystepują pomiędzy fazami gry, od fazy przyjęcia do fazy zdobycia punktu, od fazy ofensywnej do defensywy do fazy ofensywnej.

Interkacje występują pomiędzy wszystkimi wyżej wymienionymi: zawodnikami, kontaktami z piłką i fazami gry.

Ostateczny potencjał drużyny tkwi w optymalizacji wszystkich tych interakcji.

To jest gra w siatkówkę.

Ta sama zasada dotyczy treningu. Tak jak interakcje pomiędzy osobistymi, technicznymi i taktycznymi elementami decyduje o jakości gry, tak samo interakcje pomiędzy różnymi elementami treningu decydują o jakości programu treningowego. Jak renomowany trener od przygotowania fizycznego Vern Gambetta mówi:

“W przypadku wydajności, esencją są połączenia, nie izolacja. Zatem trening powinien to odzwierciedlać i skupić się synergiach i połęczeniach mięśni.“

Klucz do wydajności tkwi w interakcjach. Izolowanie sprawia, że czujesz się lepiej jako trener, ale łączenie sprawia, że stajesz się lepszy.

The Key To Volleyball

People often refer to volleyball as a technical game and the team with the best technical level is the team most likely to win.  Others say that volleyball is physical game and the biggest team is the team most likely to win.  I agree that you need to have a very good technical level and I agree that you need good size and athleticism.  But as a rule I do not agree with either thesis.  Simply put, the key to volleyball is interactions.  Interactions are evident everywhere you look and they are (nearly always) decisive.

There are interactions between the players, between the coaches and between the players and coaches.

There are interactions between the three contacts on each side of the net.

There are interactions between the phases of play,the sideout phase to the point scoring phase, the offensive to the defensive to the offensive phases.

There are interactions between all of the above; the players, the contacts and the phases.

The ultimate potential of the team lies in optimising all of these interactions.

That is the game of volleyball.

The same principle applies to practice. Just as the interactions between different personal, technical and tactical elements determines the quality of game play, the interaction between different training elements determines the quality of the training program.  As renowned conditioning coach Vern Gambetta says:

“In performance the essence is linkage and connections, not isolation. Therefore the training should reflect this and focus on muscle synergies and connections.”

The key to performance lies in the interactions.  Isolating makes you feel better about yourself as a coach, but combining makes you better.

What Actually Drives Performance Improvement?

Statement 1 – In the last thirty years the understanding of techniques and tactics and training methods has improved enormously, leading to the increased performance we see today.

Statement 2 – In the last thirty years equipment and technology have improved enormously, leading to the increased performance we see today.

If asked I am reasonably certain that everybody involved in sport would agree with both of those statements with the proportion attributed to each variable due to the particular sport that person is most involved in.

A Canadian science show recently did a piece investigating and trying to isolate the effect of technology on performance in a few individual events.  The show can be seen here.  The basic premise of the show was to give current performers the conditions of their predecessors and see how they perform.  The most interesting one was the world championship 100m sprint bronze medallist who was given similar conditions as Jesse Owens.  Running on a cinder track, with leather shoes and no starting blocks, he ran 0.7 seconds slower than Owens.  There are of course other contributing factors (including habituation to the conditions and absence of competition) but it is a stunning point.  The athletes in other disciplines showed similar, if less stark results.  These results suggest a ‘what if?’.  With all of the increases in training knowledge, technical knowledge and pharmaceutical assistance, what if the majority of improvement in performance can be attributed to improved equipment?

Yesterday, I posted about the psychology of improved performance.  Athletes perform relative to their expectations of performance.  Perhaps they model their performance somehow on previous performance, their own and others.  As an experienced coach, this makes some intuitive sense.  I could also name specific examples from my own personal experience and from history when the performance of a team has improved simply because a new coach brought with him higher expectations.

Putting those two threads together if you consider training, equipment and psychology, could it possibly be that training, training methodology, technique, tactics, scouting, (drugs) are actually the least important component of our programs?  At the very least, the above evidence seems to suggest that we may be overvaluing their importance.

There Is No One Answer!!

I have written several times over the years about the 10,000 Hour Rule.  While I understand that this is not in fact a ‘rule’, it has always been an intriguing idea for one reason.  Explicit in the ‘rule’ is the importance of practice.  And not just any practice, deliberate practice which has the specific goal of improving performance.  This is the most powerful, and more or less only, takeaway.

Since it was first popularised by Malcolm Gladwell, the ‘rule’ has been often used to prove that talent does not exist. For example by Daniel Coyle and Matthew Syed.  The suggestion that talent does not exist is an intoxicating one, particularly for coaches who can tell their athletes that hard work is the sole determinant of success and everyone has an equal chance, and thereby increasing their own importance in the process.  They continue to maintain this stance despite the fact that it is patently ridiculous.

With that background, I read a blog post that quoted studies digging deeper into the importance and effectiveness of training.  The researchers quoted a figure of 18%.  That is practice accounted for 18% of variance in sports performance.  For the non maths experts, 18% is less 100%.

“Our conclusion is that, of course, deliberate practice is an important factor, but it’s not the only factor or even the largest factor,”

Shockingly, the author of the study on which all of this is based, K. Anders Ericsson, disagrees with that conclusion*, pointing out all sorts of flaws in interpretation and method.

To rub salt into the wounds,

“…it’s time to get beyond the idea that talent is either “born” (genetic) or “made” (all about practice). Instead they propose what they call a “multifactorial” model. It features arrows going all over the place in an effort to capture how factors like basic ability, personality, and deliberate practice affect each other and the overall development of talent.”

It is incredibly attractive to think that for every situation there is only one answer.  It allows us to simplify the world into patterns we can more easily understand.  Coaches love to think that there is a best technique or method and applying it will inevitably lead to success.  Attractive as it is, this kind of thinking is that it doesn’t take into account reality.  There are so many factors involved that trying to identify a single answer can only ever lead to superficial thinking.

There is NEVER only one answer.


*Presumably Gladwell, Coyle and Syed also disagree.


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

Cover v2

Transfer, Transfer, Transfer

I think all coaches agree that the goal of practice is to create environment in which the activities taught therein are transferred to the game situation. How transfer occurs is naturally a topic that occupies the specialists in the field and there are many considerations.  Topics we hear about include blocked and distributed practice, game like practice, repetitions, drills, games, ‘the game teaches the game’, etc etc.  It seems that distributed practice, closely resembling the game is the type of activity that produces the most transfer.

However as with so many other things, the ‘discussions’ that begin on various coaching forums often take an all or nothing view. One way is right and all other ways are wrong.  As I was following a particularly aggressive version of this discussion I was reminded of a comment made by (I think**) Joe Trinsey.  To paraphrase:

“All training activities (within reason) produce transfer.  The question is only how much transfer, and would a different activity produce more transfer.”

There you have it in nutshell.  All activities produce some level of transfer.  No (or hardly any) activities are ‘wrong’.  Or ‘right’.  Only ‘better’ or ‘worse’, for today.  The art of coaching is finding the activity that produces the optimal amount of transfer under the current conditions of the learner. The answer to this question can change from week to week or even day to day, as conditions*** change and the individual develops.


** I am more than happy to be corrected and attribute it correctly, or to include the exact quote.

*** Conditions including, but not limited too, the age of the learner, the experience of the learner, the number of players at practice, the proximity to a match, the time of the season.

“You Haven’t Taught Until They Have Learnt” – Part Two

A couple of days ago I tweeted (What! You didn’t know I was on Twitter? Then go here.) an old post on coaching and learning.  For a quick refresh, the title is a quote by John Wooden.  The basic interpretation is that the coach is responsible for learning by the player; until the player has learnt, the coach has not been successful in his teaching.  Coaches must intuitively understand this at many levels, particularly as they often stress accountability to their players.  But I digress…

Discussing this idea today, a point was made to me that I thought was worth adding to the ‘literature’ on the topic. The biggest reason that a player does not do what you ask them is that they think they are already doing it.  Imagine the stress of the player who thinks they are doing what is asked of them, but are still not having success and are still subject to the ‘feedback’ (often negative) of the coach.

In this case, further explanation by the coach cannot make things better. He needs to modify his approach

Sometimes, video feedback is useful to show the player what the coach sees and what he is actually talking about.

Sometimes, the coach has actually not explained clearly enough to the player what the words he is using actually mean.  So the player is understanding a different thing from that which the coach asked.  Most often the player will NOT say ‘I do not understand’. It is ALWAYS the coach’s responsibility to recognise the situation.

Sometimes, the word/s used doesn’t resonate with that player.  Different words have different meanings for different people.  The coach may have to tailor his communication for each individual.  And sometimes that word/s that resonate are not actually anything to do with the topic at hand.

Sometimes, the player does not understand how the technical requirement fits with the tactical / game requirement.  In this case it is the context that must be explained rather than requirement itself.

Whatever the details, it is the coach’s responsibility to ensure learning occurs.

The lesson, as always, is, pay attention to John Wooden.  And your players.