Let’s face it…. Playing poorly all day, whether it’s an important match or a big tournament weekend, takes its toll on even the most confident coaches and players.
It’s no fun to watch a meltdown happen right in front of your eyes.
Although you may not be happy with how your team performed, there are a couple of things you can do to get your team back on track.
KEEP YOUR COOL
I’m a pretty calm coach, and my patience is actually something many players and parents comment on.
However… I’ve been pushed past my breaking point on a couple of occasions, and here’s what I can tell you about how that went…
You’ll step on players when they’re down. It may feel satisfying in the moment to give your players a piece of your mind, but in the long run, are you actually accomplishing anything? If performance is so low that you’re ready to start yelling at players, I can tell you that they already feel bad and don’t need their coach to reinforce this feeling.
You’ll probably say something stupid. In the heat of the moment, it’s very easy to speak without thinking. If you let your emotions take over, you might not even make sense, and you lose a lot of respect both from players and parents (because what you say WILL be passed on to parents).
You might be overreacting. In fact, you probably are. Many clubs have the 48 hour rule (where parents are not allowed to discuss matches with a coach before 48 hours since the match) BECAUSE we often need time to cool down after we get worked up. Volleyball is a high-intensity, highly emotional sport. Once we’re off the court, we often get a better perspective of what actually happened.
I highly suggest wrapping up a bad day by acknowledging that the performance level was not where you expected it to be, and that you’re going to dig into the stats and really review what happened to make sure your team is better prepared for the next competition.
LOOK AT IT FROM ALL ANGLES
Were you missing a player? Trying out a new rotation? Did your team just come back from a long break or have a big school event the night before?
Maybe a couple players have some stressful situations going on at home that you don’t know about, or big exams are coming up and they’re feeling a lot of pressure from their parents to study more than usual.
There’s a lot that we can control internally, but outside of the gym walls we lose that control. If you think most of the performance was due to a one-time occurrence, just accept that it impacted your team, and be ready to move on. If it was something like a school dance, discuss the importance of getting home and to bed on time afterwards, or work on focusing techniques with your team.
ASSESS HOW YOU PREPARED YOUR TEAM FOR THAT SPECIFIC COMPETITION
It’s easy to point the blame at something outside of your control… but most likely there’s something that you skipped over as a coach, didn’t spend enough time on, or just flat out made a mistake in what skills were most important to teach and when.
There have been TONS of tournament recaps where I relayed to my players that we hadn’t learned a certain skill yet, and that we would spend some time working on it in the next practice.
This is beneficial for a few reasons:
It gives you a reality check. Coaching is fun, but it IS a job. If you’re not focusing enough on planning effective practices, your team will suffer (and like I said, this has happened to me on multiple occasions but I’ve learned and have gotten better after each setback).
It gives the players a clean slate. As a perfectionist, I would beat myself up over even small mistakes as a player for a long time. A lot of players (even if they are not exactly perfectionists) have a hard time shaking off mistakes. If you take the blame and put it on yourself, it lets your players start fresh and with a clear mind.
Your team will get better. If you actually take the time to assess what you’ve missed up until this point, you’re going to be giving your players a more well-rounded volleyball education. If you skip analyzing what you have and haven’t taught them, you’ll probably have a repeat of this past performance in the near future.
You will become a better coach. The best coaches spend time on their craft. If your team plays poorly and you’re not willing to look in the mirror and ask yourself if you could have prepared them better, you’re cutting your own development short.
WORK ON THE MENTAL GAME
Sometimes, when we get knocked down, it can be a challenge to turn around and pick ourselves back up.
Consider running drills which work on mental toughness and coming together as a team to support each other, and you will likely see a big change in how your players approach the next match.
Here are a few drills to consider running for mental toughness:
Approach your next practices with enthusiasm and optimism. Address that the competition did not go well, but be ready to move on. As I always like to remind coaches… Players do not want to lose or perform poorly. They are not doing it on purpose. There is something underneath the surface and it is your job to get to the bottom of it!