Before your first tournament of the season, you’ll need to identify leaders on your team.
This can be a challenge because in the beginning of the season, EVERYONE is on their best behavior! Everyone hustles to shag, they’re all clapping for each other, and when you ask them to come in… they run.
But in order to find one or two players who will own the role of leader, there are a few things we as coaches can keep an eye on at practice. Noticing these characteristics early on will help you in more ways than you can count, as you’ll be able to focus attention towards guiding these players, who in turn will help steer the rest of the team for you.
CHARACTERISTICS OF NATURAL LEADERS
Teammates Naturally Listen
Eye Contact With The Coach
Do Not Give Up Easily
Own Their Position
Now, these characteristics are not a 100% guarantee that the players will be a great leader on your team. Your true leader may exhibit all of these traits, or only 2-3, but it is unlikely you’d have a leader who did not demonstrate most of these characteristics on a regular basis.
HOW TO FIND YOUR LEADERS
Before the start of your next practice, call your team in for a quick huddle. Notice who gets there first, who is comfortable making eye contact with you (or even initiating conversation), and if players gravitate towards a certain player. These will be some non-verbal indicators a player carries influence over the rest of the team.
Next, try asking your players a simple question, like, “Hey ladies, I have a tough/fun/other adjective practice planned for today, but I set aside some time at the end for a quick game. I have a couple of ideas, but wanted to know if there was a game you’d like to play?”
You’ll have a couple of people chime in, and you need to prepare yourself for a small disagreement (which is why I typically avoid asking players for opinions or drill ideas). But pay close attention to which idea gets the most support, because the natural leader on your team will probably a) share an idea that appeals to most of her teammates, and b) also choose a game or drill which the coach would approve of.
However, leaders are also able to adapt if their idea isn’t the most popular, so if a few ideas are thrown out, wait to see who the final “decision maker” is on the team. An example would be if one player says Queen of the Court, another says Dead Fish, and another says Hitting Survivor. Let’s say the group seems to be between Queen of the Court and Hitting Survivor… notice who the last person is to change their mind and get the rest of the team’s support. This player likely holds influence over her teammates.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR ON THE COURT
During play, you’ll also notice who holds themselves in a confident manner on the court, and who “owns” their position. These players will usually come into the season telling you “I’m a libero” or “I’m a setter.” On rare occasions, players who are new to the sport but hold influence may not have a position yet or be 100% confident in their skills, but they will soon adapt to one.
You’ll also notice that the entire team tends to look towards certain players or take feedback without push-back from certain players. A classic example is in serve receive, a player might be out of rotation and a teammate would tell them so. If they argue with or question this player, they are likely NOT a leader on the team in the eyes of their peers.
However, if the teammate quickly adjusts without negative feedback towards this player, the player is seen as a leader on the team.
LEADERS AS CAPTAINS
Alright, so you’ve identified the natural leaders on your team, now it’s time to decide who to name as captain. I’ve written on picking captains before, but I want to make sure it is clear that these players should be role models on the team for good behavior.
On occasion, the natural leaders on the team may not be ideal candidates for the position of captain. If this is the case, you’ll need to spend some extra time on these players to find out their motivations and reasons for playing, so you can encourage them to WANT to be better for the team. Unfortunately, this isn’t something you can force on a player.
That’s a discussion for another day. I hope you have enjoyed this article and that you are able to identify your natural leaders more quickly because of it! If you have anything to add, please consider joining our “Volleyball Coaches Corner” private Facebook group, where volleyball coaches from all over “talk shop” and share helpful tips with one another.