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Mar 07 Appropriate Coaching

March 18, 2009, 12:46 p.m. (ET)

Appropriate coaching is an important part of being a good coach. Some thoughts about the use of running and other physical punishment follow. I will go back a bit in time to when the term coach was used to move VIPs, who could afford to ride, rather than walk or ride a horse, from one place to another.  This concept then began to be used when a teacher worked to move VISs - as in Very Important Students-from their one place of knowledge to another, higher level.  The key here is, to be a coach, you have to move people from one place to another - or else you are not a coach. To paraphrase the great coach John Wooden - "You haven't coached them if they haven't learned."

In watching thousands of games, I see players being out-skilled, by a team who could move faster, read better, pass without error, receive the ball and deliver the shot/attack without pause or fault. What does the coach who is being beaten do in their time outs or breaks in the game? Berate their players for being lazy, stupid, careless, sloppy, and other such derogatory terms. When things end, they again chew out the athletes, and then forewarn them to be "ready to run" when the team meets again.

The question is then, when will we coaches start teaching and become REAL coaches? A coach is a TEACHER first, and ALWAYS. The kids know how to run...they don't know how to do the game's skills at game speed.  The players may be able to do the technique in pairs, with limited movement - but they cannot PASS and connect to a teammate while moving.   What makes a coach stand or sit there on the sideline, screaming in their frustrations, slamming a clipboard, and acting like a two year old wigged out on sugar without a nap? Do they think that is what a real teacher would do in class? If they did, they would be sent back to teaching school until they had learned what a teacher does - they guide, they catch kids doing things right, they demonstrate, they question with a future purpose, they encourage.

My bet is everyone reading this remembers when they got their first gold star. Decades later we still can remember it  - for that good teacher caught us doing it right and paid attention to it. I doubt your school teachers made you do windsprints for misspelling "cat" or pushups for screwing up your chemistry experiment, or sent you to lap the school building because you divided wrong in math. Why not? Because such actions do not TEACH, they are not principles in good TEACHING. 

What I am asking today is for each of us to remember before practice what the great teachers did for you when you were in school. Not the coaches, the TEACHERS.  The one who made class fun, coming up with creative ways to learn the subject even if it was perhaps boring to some. The one who cared about you as an individual, and took time with you one on one to help you learn a task you were struggling with. The one who taught you new skills, while reviewing at times ones already well known.  The one in college who was so educationally entertaining, no matter what the subject matter, that there was always a waiting list to get into that class.  The one who may have been demanding, but was NEVER demeaning.  In short, the one who showed you how to learn, because THEY were lifelong learners and who gave back to their profession by teaching.

My mom was a first grade teacher for decades of her life...My dad was a dentist who would get up at any hour of the night to help a patient who was in pain. So my role models were strong on the concept of helping people get better.  I never saw my dad make people do pushups by the chair before he would treat them, even though they erred by not brushing enough. Nor did I see my mom make the kids run after they erred in any way in class.

Please don't get me wrong, it is not that I am against getting in shape, or running. It is simply that these young athletes need to run while learning skills. They need to sprint chasing balls going out of bounds and saving them. They need to move while passing or receiving the ball. They REALLY need to move between the contacts of the ball, learning/reading to get to the right place and the right time before contact. Most coaches do not teach the game between contacts well, they just comment at contact about the errors they see, even if it was caused by simply misreading or being faked out well.  They need to sprint in to the coach each time that they are called in for a team talk -- so they get back on task/to learning sooner and getting in shape at the same time. They just need to get more contacts with the ball and learn skill, not run. They already KNOW how to run, they learned that about 2 years old. They were not born with the sport skill or reading needs that are required to be good at this sport, THAT is what they need to learn, by touching more balls during the precious time called practice. In the matches, too many kids just watch from the sidelines, and even those playing watch, given that there is one ball and so many players. We learn by doing, not by watching.

So at the risk of losing some coaches who did not enjoy their English classes, I will close with several poems. The first was by one of the greatest sports coaches to every ply his trade on the field of play - yet again, John Wooden.  I know these words by heart...

No written word

Nor spoken plea

Can teach your team

What they should be

Nor all the books

On all the shelves

It's what a leader

Is himself.

When the amazing slam poet/teacher Taylor Mali spoke on "What Does a Teacher Make," he created a priceless poem that EVERY coach reading this MUST watch and share, so please view him bringing this poem below to life. For you are a TEACHER first and always and must follow those principles. When Taylor says teacher - think coach, for this is what every volunteer and professional coach does every day.

What Teachers Make, or
Objection Overruled, or
If things don't work out, you can always go to law school

By Taylor Mali
http://www.taylormali.com/

He says the problem with teachers is, "What's a kid going to learn
from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?"
He reminds the other dinner guests that it's true what they say about teachers:
Those who can, do; those who can't, teach.

I decide to bite my tongue instead of his
and resist the temptation to remind the other dinner guests
that it's also true what they say about lawyers.

Because we're eating, after all, and this is polite company.

"I mean, you¹re a teacher, Taylor," he says.
"Be honest. What do you make?"

And I wish he hadn't done that
(asked me to be honest)
because, you see, I have a policy
about honesty and ass-kicking:
if you ask for it, I have to let you have it.

You want to know what I make?

I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.
I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional medal of honor
and an A- feel like a slap in the face.
How dare you waste my time with anything less than your very best.

I make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall
in absolute silence. No, you may not work in groups.
No, you may not ask a question.
Why won't I let you get a drink of water?
Because you're not thirsty, you're bored, that's why.

I make parents tremble in fear when I call home:
I hope I haven't called at a bad time,
I just wanted to talk to you about something Billy said today.
Billy said, "Leave the kid alone. I still cry sometimes, don't you?"
And it was the noblest act of courage I have ever seen.

I make parents see their children for who they are
and what they can be.

You want to know what I make?

I make kids wonder,
I make them question.
I make them criticize.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them write, write, write.
And then I make them read.
I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful
over and over and over again until they will never misspell
either one of those words again.
I make them show all their work in math.
And hide it on their final drafts in English.
I make them understand that if you got this (brains)
then you follow this (heart) and if someone ever tries to judge you
by what you make, you give them this (the finger).

Let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true:
I make a ***damn difference! What about you?

These thoughts I think fit the "coach" of ANY sport - not just our wonderful lifetime team sport of volleyball. The kids deserve great teachers, no matter what they have chosen to play.  If a coach choses not to be a good teacher, they can get out of the way and let them PLAY and learn without being coached, like millions of children did growing up... How many great skateboarding, beach volleyball or BMX biking coaches do you know?  What, none? Do you know there are tens of millions of athletes doing those sports, yet they have no coach? They coach themselves? Gosh, maybe I am not as important as I thought I was, and I had better get better at teaching my motivated players. What, you want help in motivating them now? Heck they ARE motivated, for they are there at practice, risking in public rather than at home watching TV or anonymously playing video games.

Just shy of 100 years ago, long before those TV and video games existed to take kids off the playgrounds and inside to be less active, Teddy Roosevelt in his  "Citizenship in a Republic," speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

Finally, at the risk of being politically incorrect, for I have an amazing daughter not just a son, I share one last poem, Rudyard Kipling's "IF" for as food for thought, as we are teaching far more than our sport.  We are working hard to grow our game and develop amazing leaders.  

If you can keep your head when all about you 
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you; 
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, 
But make allowance for their doubting too; 
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating, 
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise; 

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim; 
If you can meet with triumph and disaster 
And treat those two imposters just the same; 
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken 
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, 
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken, 
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings 
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, 
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss; 
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew 
To serve your turn long after they are gone, 
And so hold on when there is nothing in you 
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, 
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch; 
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you; 
If all men count with you, but none too much; 
If you can fill the unforgiving minute 
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run - 
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, 
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

So as always, you can email me at john.kessel@usav.org or leave your comments below and thanks for getting this far in developing your coaching.

Comments

The following comments were made on our previous web platform and have been transferred here to maintain the historical record.

On March 18, 2009 USAV Admin wrote

I should forward a copy of this article to my college baseball coach. We had to run after every loss and our team was horrible because we spent more time running than correcting our mistakes. He tried to correct the mistakes after we were tired. The end result bad words and sloppy play. I hated baseball after loving it for all my life. While growing up in Puerto Rico I remember the great baseball coaches that understood the game and the training principles. If you ever wonder why there are so many great infielders in Puerto Rico just stop by any practice and you will see the reason. We spent countless hours turning double plays and working on defense while players were taking batting practice. We learned to multi task and we also learned that if you did not pay attention you would get nailed by a ball. There was always a ball in play, there was always movement, there was always a ball in the air that needed to be caught. I would have hated baseball if they would have made us run foul poles. They made us run the bases as fast as possible. Practice always ended with a full sprint around the bases or a specific game situation. Guess what we did in our free time. We played baseball with our friends. After we were done playing baseball we played baseball with our other friends. When we went home we watched baseball on TV and we pretended to be in the MLB. Why did I not implement the baseball principle in my volleyball coaching? I guess I was trying to become a better volleyball coach and did not think about the great teachers that taught me how to play baseball. FYI - my wife is bugging me to take my daughter and her friends to play sand volleyball. I have to go. She is as hooked on volleyball as I am. She is coaching a 13s team of girls that feed in to my school attendance zone. Her team loves to play. :)

On April 17, 2009 Trish Sokoul wrote

Man, sometimes it isn't just about the running. Do think the coach above with the team executing perfectly doesn't do any running or wind sprints? My teachers did not make me run sprints for misspelling words, for English class was not an endurance sport. I have watched a similar number of athletic events and rarely see the losing coach behaving as you say they all do. It's wrong to generalize. I also see a lot of highly respected coaches behaving as you explain. Duke's men's basketball coach for one. Are you saying he is not a good teacher? Do you think he doesn't discipline with running? Those players are going to get run -- win or lose. Human emotion is part of sport and shouldn't be dismissed as bad coaching. Some may display it differently or more extreme than others, but showing emotion does not make them a bad teacher. There are a lot of schools with little money anymore to dedicate to athletics. Coaches are often called upon for many other duties and may not have the funding to futher training in a sport that they were simply assigned to. It is a condition of the times. So the reality is to either cut the sports or find some way to make it work. Do you pitch in to fund training for your kids coaches if they are not qualified, or just complain about high taxes? No easy solution, but generalizing running and yelling as a sign of a poor coach is not a solution.

On July 29, 2010 Alyson Jackson wrote

In the early stages, help develop a LOVE for the sport FIRST, a great and inspiring concept! Once in love w/the sport, it's a little easier to take a little toughness, even from a slightly or highly misguided coach. Be positive, keep teaching rather than constantly stopping to punish, GENIUS! Condition w/sport specific tasks that will also make you better at your sport...common sense...lost on many! If anyone tries implementing these ideas, you must come to the same conclusion that I have which is that THEY WORK. I am a better coach because of it and my kids notice...and appreciate it. Have the right mindset, let your passion, instincts, experiences, and mentors guide you. As you are molding your kids, you are also being molded in the process, evolving, ever changing for the better. Thanks to John and all the great minds that he mentions that help us on our journey toward being the best we can be.

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