As a volleyball coach, accepting that failure is a part of the learning process can be hard. In an ideal practice, we would see a mistake, explain how to correct it, and the problem would disappear. Or during a tournament, when we try running a new play for the first time, we get a kill.
This doesn’t happen very often.
If you’re a seasoned coach, you’ve probably tried to correct a player’s form, only to see them go back to their old ways five minutes later. Or you pump up your team that now is the time to try that new play, and they get blocked and lose their momentum and maybe even a little faith in your coaching.
These are failures. But we need them.
Let’s say you are too nervous to run that play. Your players won’t attempt to run it, until it’s absolutely necessary. And then when they have to do it, it’ll be too late for them to have worked out the kinks. Failure when it matters is much worse than failure when it doesn’t matter. Choose when to fail. It is inevitable.
It is inevitable because it is part of the learning process. If you want your team to push against their limits, you’ll have to become comfortable with failure, and instill the same acceptance in your players. If you are able to overcome this obstacle, you can be sure to reap these three benefits:
1. Your players will push themselves further.
If you had a coach who made you drop and do ten push-ups in the middle of the court for not getting a ball that you dove for but shanked, would you go for it again? Maybe. If you do, it’s out of fear of more push-ups and embarrassment, rather than a sincere desire to help your team out, cover your area, and dig that ball. Or you may shift responsibility for the ball, saying the blockers should have had it, or your setter left her defense too early.
Essentially, do you as a coach want your players to avoid punishment and shift blame? Or do you want to recognize their effort and encourage them to try again. They may learn to read the hitter better and get to the ball sooner, resulting in a better pass. You’re unlikely to get this level of dedication from fear.
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2. Your team will develop positive reinforcements for effort.
The way you react to your team’s performance is how they will learn to react to their teammates. If you are afraid of failure and yell at your hitter to switch to tipping after two swings out, you will soon hear the rest of your team encouraging the hitter to “just get the ball in?” and “why are you swinging, you need to tip it!?”
Conversely, if you answer the second missed swing with the encouragement “just reach a little higher on the swing, you got this,” you will soon hear similar sentiments echoing on the court. “It’s ok, you can do it!” “You’ve got the next one, no worries,” followed by a high five and pat on the back. Watch what you say, it becomes your team’s subconscious mind.
*One attempt at positive encouragement is not enough. You must permanently shift your mindset to one that embraces failure. You’ll likely fight an uphill battle at first, but once your team is on board it becomes easy and natural.
3. Your expectations will be exceeded.
You must have full faith in your players and they must be dedicated to bettering themselves, each other, and the team as a whole. But this dedication comes from trusting that they can fail in front of you and their teammates while they learn. Once they know that they can push themselves without punishment, they will surprise you with the things they try.
This is probably one of the most satisfying results of encouraging failure. I can’t tell you what your team may push themselves to do, but I know my players have impressed me on multiple occasions by running unexpected plays, making serving decisions that dramatically built momentum for the team, and flying out of nowhere, sacrificing their body to save the ball.
If these reasons don’t inspire you to welcome failure into your practices and even early matches or tournaments, I’m not sure how much I can help you. The last reason alone is worth a few missed swings here and there. If you are uncomfortable with the prospect of failing and it possibly NOT working out, I challenge you to consider one of my favorite quote: “Feel the fear and do it anyway,” by Susan Jeffers.
Pancakers: With school ball just around the corner, start yourself off on the right path and evaluate your coaching style. How can you change your habits to be more accepting, and even encouraging, of failure? If you have a habit you’re going to change, leave a comment for other coaches to see! It’s nice to know we’re not going through this alone!