I have recently made the transition from athlete to coach, and it is hard. It is very hard. As an athlete, you can directly influence the outcomes of games. As an athlete you have the ability to create a positive impact, a neutral impact or a negative impact. As a coach, you cannot directly influence the outcome of the game. By no means am I postulating that a coach cannot have an affect on a match, however at the end of the day, the outcome is determined by the athletes on the court.
This is a hard. The most difficult part to internalize is that you no longer have control. Coaches cannot control the outcome of a match any more than a teacher can control the grade a student gets on a standardized test. Much like a teacher, a coach can prepare their athletes for competition. This is the crux of being an effective coach: coaching practice is more important than coaching games. With a good practice structure, a coach should be able to sit back and make minimal adjustments when it is game time.
Of course, this is rarely what happens. I first began coaching while I was in high school. During my off season in while in grade 11, I would coach the grade 7 & 8 team. By grade 12 I had moved onto the grade 9 & 10 team. I volunteered for the position and wasn’t given any instruction as how to coach them. I was chosen because I knew volleyball, not because I knew how to coach. At first I did what all athletes turned coaches do, I tried to play the game from the sideline. Anyone who knows volleyball probably has had a coach like this before. I tried to give some coaching advice to an athlete after every play. I tried to make tricky substitutions and to call tactical timeouts designed to throw the other team off. I was on my feet most of the time, usually pacing up and down the bench. I was looking for teachable moments to impart to my players on the bench. I was doing a lot.
In contrast (and hindsight), the practices I led were awful. I would either focus on something too large and have athletes get lost, or focus on something too small and get athletes confused. The teams I worked with were never bad, I was lucky enough to have some already talented athletes, but they were also never really good.
Everything I did was imitating how I had been coached up until that point. I had some really interesting coaches over the years with a variety of philosophies, and I tried to amalgamate the best parts of each into how I functioned. That was until I came to UofT.
Everything I know about coaching and volleyball, I have learned while with the University of Toronto Men’s Volleyball Team. I am so fortunate to have John Barrett as my Head Coach. His leadership and volleyball expertise has been a defining factor in how I see the sport of volleyball.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is you have to release control as a coach. Once the game begins, you have no control over the outcome of the match. Must like a teacher, once a student begins to write a test, there is nothing left you can do to assist them.
Most athletes feel stress while competing, coaches do too. However, except if you are in danger of bodily harm: all stress is perceived stress. You perceive situations, like losing or failing, to be stressful. Perceived stress has the same physiological response and applies to both coaches and athletes. Coaches can get very worked up on the sidelines, and that can have a very real impact on their bodies.
I won’t make any grandiose claims or preach how a coach should do their job, but I will state my thoughts on coaching.
- You cannot lead the from the bench the same way you used to lead on the court.
- Please accept that you have no control over the outcome of the game.
- Coach the sport in practice, coach the athlete in competition
- Thank you so much for doing what you do. Sport isn’t the same without you.
Best of luck to everyone in their respective seasons. Let me know what you think by tweeting at me.