Why the Beach made me a better coach.

I started my coaching career in indoor volleyball. Indoor is a typical team sport where matches are loud, athletes are cheering, and coaches are barking directions from the sideline at all times. Coaches in the game tend to take a very active role: trying to change tactics, technique, mental attitudes in between every point and sometimes even during a rally. As a young coach, I definitely was no stranger to this world. I coached the way I was coached and that meant a lot of yelling, a lot of in-game instruction, and sometimes some clipboards being “dropped” on the ground.

When I became a beach coach, all of a sudden I had to sit on the sidelines and not give any direction at all for 7 points at a time. It was nerve-racking. I would see things and want to say something and my body would want to jerk around and I’d have to remain poised. It took a toll on me at first. I could feel my body at the end of the day just completely exhausted from bottling up all those emotions during the match. After a season things became easier and I learned to focus less on the little errors our team was making and more on the big picture; what is our offensive strategy, defensive strategy, what do we expect the other team to do. What 1 major adjustment can we make in these next 7 points that is going to make the difference?

In junior beach volleyball, coaches can interact even less than in the NCAA: before and after matches, and during a timeout, which happens once per set. Preparation becomes so, so much more important in junior beach. We prepare them before the match, but more importantly, we prepare them in practice.

The beach made me an even better practice coach. When you know you can’t interact with your athletes during a competition, the paradigm shifts from teaching them the game, to teaching them how to teach themselves the game. Let me say that again.  The goal for a coach is no longer about teaching their athlete’s the game. It becomes more about teaching your athletes how to teach themselves. This point was even more exacerbated for me when, in order to provide a year-round training experience in my club, I dealt with athletes who were training with me max 1x per week. I would see them on Sunday and then they would go off to their indoor teams to either reinforce the thing they just worked on, or go back to their old habits. Getting them to self-diagnose was critical in this process and motivating them to get reps on their own at home was even more imperative.

What does it look like to teach a player how to teach themselves? In a nutshell: A lot less lecturing and LOTS AND LOTS OF questions. For some reason, it came naturally to me to get others to think. I ask a lot of questions in general and hate being on stage.

I remember the days when I was an athlete and I would tune my coach out when he started to lecture at us. At those points in time it just became more about how to get our coach to stop talking and less about what we were trying to learn. The lesson we really learned was: don’t mess up or the coach will stop the drill. Inevitably we hated each other for messing up, so we stopped taking risks and played safe in practice. This is what happens when you lecture in sports, especially to young women. Your players tune you out, and you teach them making mistakes = lecture, so don’t make mistakes. (meaning don’t take risks)

Unfortunately, in my young coaching days, I definitely copied a lot of my former coaches’ tactics and many of my players performed under fear rather than from their own intrinsic desire. I wondered why we would never win the close ones. I don’t need to wonder that anymore.

Nowadays I catch myself in practice. “too much talking” I say. It’s a thing. I shouldn’t be lecturing at my athletes. I want them to be TELLING ME what should happen and how and why. They need to learn it, not me. They also need to learn confidence, self-reliance, and they need to learn to have a voice. They learn none of those things if I take the stage.

They say that you really haven’t learned something until you can explain it to someone else. If this is the case, then as coaches we shouldn’t stop short at teaching our athletes how to perform a given skill, we should be teaching them how to teach themselves and, therefore how to teach others. THAT is how we GROW the game.


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