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USA Volleyball

Creating and Training Resilient Athletes

Feb. 07, 2011, 11:37 a.m. (ET)

What a great IMPACT webinar last week, with Andy Pai answering the 200 coaches’ written questions that poured in, while Phil Shoemaker, head coach at University of Alaska Fairbanks, and I shared about 100 total years of collective insights for these new coaches to learn from. One coach made our night, typing in that he felt he was getting a $1,000 coaching clinic for under $100. When wrote the first edition of the IMPACT manual back in 1988, that was the intent, to share the science, facts, ideas and even secrets so a new coach could be far more successful in that crucial first year. It is nice to see that 23 editions and years later, it is still doing that. 

As the questions came in, I was struck as to how many caring coaches we have in our sport, but also as to how many wanted to fix their players, rather than guide them. It is part of the coaches (and teachers and parents) paradox – we want the best for our kids, but often step in too soon to problem solve and deliver the solution. This is explicit learning, which results in their being dependent on the coach for the answer, rather than being able to solve it, albeit more slowly, themselves. It also results in players who, when they err, head swivel to look at the bench “for the answers,” rather than inwardly and using implicit learning to figure things out themselves. This not only creates dependent, not independent athletes and thinkers, but athletes who are not resilient.

Developing resiliency in your players is one of the top three things you can do as a coach. I have oft written about the “Right here, Right now” focus of great players and teams. Of players who will play with drive and purpose and passion through matches and tournaments, focused on getting better, one point at a time. They know it is about raising their averages, in a game fraught and filled with the chaos of randomness.  This random training is VITAL for the athletes to retain what is being learned and problem solve novel situations. It will LOOK, to quote USA Olympic Volleyball Coach Hugh McCutcheon “a little squirrely out there…” but the players are learning faster and remembering what is being learned better. 

Like it or not, as good as a coach as you might be, we all are still subject to the randomness of our sport – and, as I wrote long ago “Stuff Happens” … we must be patient, and never get angry when streaks of errors occur. They will occur. A lot. As will good streaks.  A key is to thus be calm, optimistic and consistent, focused on mastery, not the outcome.

INTENT vs. RESULT

What we need to do better is focus on the INTENT and not the result, as we teach.  At my last practice, while working with a talented and self critical player on my 14er team, I had a one on one with her after a great serve that went long, corner to corner zone one.  She looked disgusted with herself, a habit in our sport that is shown by body posture, gestures and even verbally which coaches continue to work to eliminate. So many players who come from situations of being alone, or even sports, where one’s actions are not seen in total, do not realize the power they are giving opponents by these external displays of frustration. So that was part of the teachable moment, but at its core was that I wanted to reward for the intent that I saw, when she chose the right serve to do at that moment. I also got to remind her of the positive vs. negative error options in her choice. She served over, not into the net. Good. She served long, not wide left to zone one. Good. It was a GREAT choice of serve, she just missed. That result was ok at this stage of her development, for I saw the right intent in her eyes…

Helping is NOT Fixing

Helping is guiding them to discover the solutions, not giving them the solution. At my core of this fixing vs. coaching focus, is my own coaching philosophy of Developing Amazing Leaders. This means that I am using volleyball and its wonderful, best of all sports TEAM game realities, to grow the leadership, problem solving and resiliency skills of each of the players.  The athletes on my Team Colorado "14ers" team know that: 

1. They must get their own water bottles; they cannot ask a parent to bring it to them.

2. They are to serve to weakest passer or toughest to pass areas of the court based on their experience and information we give in practice and advance of the match – they will never see me signaling where to serve a ball in a match.

3. They can call a time out to celebrate or talk about things happening in the game – it is not just me who might call a time out to celebrate the success of our team.

4. The game will ebb and flo, and that is not to be worried about. That they play with passion and joy, while focusing on the only point they can control – this point.  Not the last one or the next one. This point.

5. Knowing why is more important than knowing how.

Thoughts on Resiliency

I wanted to share some other thoughts on developing resiliency in players. In no particular order, they are…..

1. Catch them on the comeback path. – The book Mindset by Carol Dweck is filled with guidance on creating confident, independent kids, from a parenting/coaching role point of view.  The key remains to praise things they can control, not things out of one’s control. So we all must “catch them being good/nearer to the desired actions and behaviors” with things that show their being more resilient.  Saying things like “That’s how we compete hard always!;” “See how your hard work brought us back into the game;” “Great job sticking with it!;” and rewarding with your attention, the efforts they give along the way, even if they are losing on the scoreboard. Remember the USA Team “Relentless Pursuit Rule” – 1. Go for every ball. 2. When the ball is too far away, see rule one…

2. Seek first to understand, before being understood. – The ability to be empathetic is a huge skill for a coach. Develop yours. It is like the great Canadian Hockey clips we have on the MVP Youth CD say at the end “What if kids treated us the way we treat them.  CLICK HERE for the best of the bunch, the child teaching his dad golf....

3. Be consistent and respectful – Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde coaches develop very non-resilient players, for they cannot trust or respect your teachings, when given inconsistently and without respect for who they are. One of the places to help guide the whole team in this process is to cease using the words “always” and “never”  - Be specific and be respectful, and I can promise you, that it is not accurate to say “You always” or “You never…”

4. Focus on MASTERY over outcome. – The best teachers do, and the research shows that it is 10 times more important than the tourney’s results in impacting your players on all sorts of levels. It is neat to see the research on mastery focus, given that the title of IMPACT is Increased Mastery (and Professional Application of Coaching Theory).

5. Teach and show adaptation. – Walk the talk.  Be creative. Change line ups. Teach non-traditional skills. Do the unexpected.

6. Coach to the individual. – know who they are from the player information form. Remember, kids don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.

7. Miztakes r oportunies to lern.  – Marty Miller in Iowa showed me his t-shirt with such a phrase on it, and it is an important lesson in developing resilient athletes. Stay consistent to letting your gym be, what Bill Neville calls an “Exploratorium” – As the Olympic motto says, “Citius, Altius, Fortius” – swifter, higher, stronger – all of which means mistakes will happen along the way, and they are simply part of the learning process.

8. Guide their discovery, but don’t give them the solutions. – Give them “hints without a rule” and they will learn it far better than you telling them what to do.

9. Let them influence you.  – Over thirty years ago I learned that teams have needs, which include affiliation, competency, and influence. Let the players chose to serve or receive. Let them pick where to go for lunch. Let them pick games and scoring options in practice. Let them determine the rewards for performance and effort.

Remember coach, there is a reason we have TWO eyes, TWO ears, and ONE mouth….

Increasing Deliberate Practice of Resiliency Through Reading

While the most important skill in our sport is reading, this same verb applies to developing resilience in our athletes by learning about role models and examples through stories. So my top choices for players to read on this topic are:

1.  Unbroken – my new #1 read on resiliency - the true story of Louie Zamerini, by the author of Seabiscuit.  From juvenile delinquent to Olympian and WWII hero….a great, but tough and gritty read about wit, persistence, ingenuity and the will of man.

2.  A Man’s Search for Meaning – I have oft mentioned, shared and gifted this book by Viktor Frankel, where a man’s choice to chose your own attitude is so powerfully stated. It was at #1 for decades, and worth the read.

3.  Vision of a Champion – Anson Dorrance’s book for soccer players which largely fits how to be a great, resilient, team sport competitor.  (Coaching friend Jason Trepanier in Canada notes that in another great book, The Man Watching - a biography about Dorrance - that Anson’s father is quoted saying that “Anson is the most confident athlete with no talent that he’d ever seen…

4.  Get with it Girls – Life is About Competition  By Teri Clemens, our own USAV CAP cadre member, who about a decade ago wrote this great book for volleyball girls. Thanks to Amazon, you can get a copy used or new, and it is worth sharing with your team on a pass around basis. I actually have five copies for loaning and sharing.

5.  The Little Engine that Could -  I think I can, I think I can….I thought I could, I thought I could. Over a century of versions of this tale. Now, with digital technology, in 2011 you will see a 3D version of the story in film.  CLICK HERE to get lots more information on this classic….

And a couple of websites on the topic: 

 1. A Nation of Wimps – a classic and still favorite site on helping kids be strong and able to bounce back on their own.

2. Raising Resilient Children – Read the book many years ago when my kids were young, now a website with some helpful insights too.

Thanks for your help in growing the game. If you like these blogs, give it a Facebook like or share, and forward to your fellow coaches. You are welcome to email your thoughts and comments to me at john.kessel@usav.org regarding resiliency or anything you are thinking about that will help us grow the game. 

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