Coaches Corner: An In-Depth Feedback Process

26 Aug


I was intrigued by Sam Shweisky’s feedback process he uses with his Princeton men’s volleyball team.  It is a pretty involved system of questionnaires, reflections, and meetings.  But the goal is simple: it shows his players how to appropriately handle authority.  Shweisky’s system also allows his team a way to give their opinion in a respectful manner.

What his feedback system is:

  • A way for players to give feedback and constructive criticism.
  • A time for his team to discuss what they did and didn’t like during the season.
  • A way for Shweisky and his players to discuss how he can best coach them.
  • An opportunity for players to let him know what they wish the team would do.

What his feedback system is not:

  • A time to complain without solutions.

As I listened to Shweisky explain his system, I worried that the meetings would become a time to complain, but he says it’s just the opposite.  Once his players got used to the process, they became very thoughtful.  So rather than lashing out in anger during a practice or whining about things in the locker room, they knew their time to be heard would be coming…but in a more appropriate location, his office.

His feedback system requires coaches to be open to listening, really listening, to their teams because it encourages dialog.  I think today’s athlete would respond well to a process that helps them feel like they’re being heard.  I can be honest and say this is an area that I can improve upon in my own coaching.  This generation of athlete is used to sharing their opinion in every other facet of their lives, I think it’s time for us coaches to make a shift in that area.

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Posted in Coaches Corner


Coaches Corner: Creating Realistic Discomfort For Your Team

19 Aug


When I asked Sam Shweisky, the head men’s volleyball coach at Princeton University, how he prepared his team to handle challenges or being put in uncomfortable situations, I liked his answer about “realistic discomfort”.  Sometimes I’ll talk to a coach and it seems like their main goal is to put their team through some sort of boot camp or make practice about perseverance rather than gaining knowledge.  Of course, I’m not saying we shouldn’t appropriately condition our teams or that we shouldn’t figuratively kicks their butts in practice…but it should be applicable to our sport.  The amount of volleyball coaches I hear about who still have their teams running a timed mile astounds me!  Anaerobic sports need short, fast, all-out bursts…not long, slow, managed cardio.

Anyhoo, I digress.

As Shweisky talked about realistic discomfort, I found myself trying to figure out which ideas would be applicable to my team and if I could make these things happen in my gym.

Creating realistic discomfort

  1. Practice in jerseys.  The fact is, game day messes with some of our player’s heads.  Most times, we hope, it’s good.  They get super amped up and are on edge (in a good way) all day until game time.  On the less positive end, some of our players may get very nervous to the point of not feeling well.  Either way, letting them have the opportunity to learn how to manage those feelings is a great idea and one I hadn’t thought of.
  2. Turn the scoreboard on.  The power of the scoreboard is amazing!  It instantly ramps up the competitiveness of your gym and I’d highly recommend putting some form of visual pressure on your team.  It’s what they have to deal with in real games and they’ve got to be comfortable having those numbers up there.
  3. Set the “game day” court up.  There’s nothing like walking into the gym and seeing it all set up for game day…it’s one of the things that makes game day special.  Again, another things I hadn’t thought about doing with my team that I will now do: make sure we practice with everything set up the way it will be for games.  Hopefully this will help them learn to manage the butterflies that come along with competition.

Not so fun realistic discomfort

These aren’t from Sam, but from me, but I think still pretty good!

  1. Pull your best player from a drill.  What happens if your best player gets hurt?  Or their grandma dies and they’ve got to miss a game?  Do you have a plan of action?  We owe it to our teams to have put them in situations where that player wasn’t on the court/field/ice and the team still thrived.
  2. Unbalanced scoring.  I’m sure most of you do this already, but create an unfair situation and make your team dig their way out.  Not only will they learn that it’s possible, they’ll learn to never give up.
  3. Stack teams.  Make one team very strong, like “why are we even practicing like this?” strong.  There are many ways to address the unbalance in skill level: scoring, you could put your best player on the worst team and force them to step up and lead the weaker team, the stronger team could have parameters on their scoring.
  4. Unfair reffing.  In the heat of competition, the team will look at the coaches and disagree with one another heartily.  Sometimes I tell them that the officials of a game are just people and they make mistakes too.  Practicing dealing with bad calls, in my opinion, is essential.  Worrying about reffing takes our player’s attention away from where it should be and we’ve got to help them manage their emotions.

While these suggestions came pretty close to the X’s and O’s line, I think they hit home the idea that sport is a mental, as well as, physical venture.  These ideas will help you to develop your athlete’s mental games alongside their skills.  Good luck!

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Posted in Coaches Corner, Mental game


How To Successfully Follow A Popular Coach

11 Aug

Los Angeles Lakers v San Antonio Spurssource

There’s no easier coaching job than following a coach that the team–rightly or wrongly–didn’t like or respect.  In that situation, everything you say is a breath of fresh air, the players hang on your every word, and the alumni give you hearty pats on the back when they meet you.  It’s all good when you replace the unpopular coach.

Replacing the popular coach?  That’s a whole different story.  That’s the situation Sam Shweisky found himself in when he took over the coaching reigns of the men’s volleyball team at Princeton University.  My first coaching job was actually with the man that Shweisky replaced and I’ve seen, first-hand, the devotion his current and former players lavish on him.  There’s a saying that you don’t want to be the guy right after “The Guy”, but that you want to be the guy after the guy who replaced “The Guy”.  Well, Shweisky’s the guy immediately after the retirement of “The Guy”…how did he navigate those waters?

4 ways to create a fresh team culture while honoring the past

  1. Take your time.  Shweisky was in no hurry to step in on day one and change everything that the program had done in previous years.  Unless you’re planning to leave your school quickly…what’s the rush?  Sit back.  See how things are done.  Figure out what your priority list for change will look like and enact a plan rather than coming in, guns ablazing, changing everything in sight.
  2. Be good.  Winning games goes a long way in terms of buying time with skeptical alumni and players.  Shweisky had the good sense to experience success early and often.  Greasing the wheels with some wins certainly makes whatever change you plan to enact a little easier for everyone to get behind.
  3. Meet with key alumni.  The previous coach had amazing relationships with his alumni.  He was connected to them in a very real way and the alums are all very passionate about their time and experience under that coach.  So what did Shweisky do?  He talked to them.  He listened to them.  He engaged them in meaningful conversations and assured them their old coach would not be forgotten.
  4. Connect with previous coach.  In an incredibly smart move, Shweisky spoke with the previous coach.  He was respectful of what he’d done to get the volleyball program to its present state and he’s made a concerted effort to continually reach out to him that is admirable.

I’m sure, like Shweisky, if you find yourself in this position and feel you need to tread lightly, these are great steps to take.  Clearly, Shweisky had things he wanted to change about the program and he did it…on his own timeline.  Slow and steady wins the race in coaching.  We all aspire to be the kind of coach that our players will revere ten, twenty, thirty years after our time coaching them has passed.  And we all would want our legacies to be respected by whomever we pass the baton on to.

Join me in a series of interviews with successful coaches.  I believe what we learn from our coaching peers can be applied to our teams, our recruiting efforts, and how we behave as professionals. These interviews will be less Q & A and much more philosophical in nature, keep coming back to see who I’m talking to and what they’ve got to say!

Join me in a series of interviews with successful coaches.  I believe what we learn from our coaching peers can be applied to our teams, our recruiting efforts, and how we behave as professionals. These interviews will be less Q & A and much more philosophical in nature, keep coming back to see who I’m talking to and what they’ve got to say! – See more at:

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Posted in Coaches Corner


Coaches Corner: Sam Shweisky

04 Aug

Sam Shweiskysource

Sam Shweisky is the head men’s volleyball coach at Princeton University.  I worked at Princeton eons ago under the (somewhat legendary) previous coach and know that it’s a great place to work.  Not only are the athletes motivated in the classroom, but also on the court.  The coaching staff has a different model there, because Shweisky also serves as the women’s assistant coach.

Shweisky has a Sports Psychology background, so talking to him about coaching was fun and the only reason I had to stop was because I had another meeting scheduled.  He’s one of those guys who loves to talk coaching.  He’s a cerebral guy who has put a lot of thought into his coaching style and has a reason for everything he does.

At Princeton, Shweisky has coached a couple conference Newcomer of the Years and has been voted Coach of the Year himself. Keep coming back as we discuss:

  • Replacing a popular coach
  • What makes a good assistant coach
  • How to create realistic discomfort in practice
  • Managing the feedback process with your players

Join me in a series of interviews with successful coaches.  I believe what we learn from our coaching peers can be applied to our teams, our recruiting efforts, and how we behave as professionals. These interviews will be less Q & A and much more philosophical in nature, keep coming back to see who I’m talking to and what they’ve got to say!

Join me in a series of interviews with successful coaches.  I believe what we learn from our coaching peers can be applied to our teams, our recruiting efforts, and how we behave as professionals. These interviews will be less Q & A and much more philosophical in nature, keep coming back to see who I’m talking to and what they’ve got to say! – See more at:
Join me in a series of interviews with successful coaches.  I believe what we learn from our coaching peers can be applied to our teams, our recruiting efforts, and how we behave as professionals. These interviews will be less Q & A and much more philosophical in nature, keep coming back to see who I’m talking to and what they’ve got to say! – See more at:
Join me in a series of interviews with successful coaches.  I believe what we learn from our coaching peers can be applied to our teams, our recruiting efforts, and how we behave as professionals. These interviews will be less Q & A and much more philosophical in nature, keep coming back to see who I’m talking to and what they’ve got to say! – See more at:
Join me in a series of interviews with successful coaches.  I believe what we learn from our coaching peers can be applied to our teams, our recruiting efforts, and how we behave as professionals. These interviews will be less Q & A and much more philosophical in nature, keep coming back to see who I’m talking to and what they’ve got to say! – See more at:

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Posted in Coaches Corner


Follow These 8 Principles To Reach Success

28 Jul


In a TEDtalk titled, Success is a Continuous Journey, Richard St. John talked about being on top of the heap…and then getting complacent, overconfident, and cocky.  Which led him losing all of his clients and the aforementioned success. He realized success is a journey and not a destination.  The talk is less than four minutes long, so he didn’t elaborate on his steps to success, but I will put my coach spin on things!

8 things we shouldn’t stop doing…especially once we’re successful

  1. Passion.  I haven’t met a coach who isn’t passionate about their sport.  I think it’s safe to say that enthusiasm for our sport is a necessity in order to reach any measure of success.
  2. Work. A few years ago, there was a popular book which said that good things would just come to you if you thought they would.  I’m all for positive thinking and visualizing and all of that good stuff…I think a positive mindset is critical in whatever field you’re in.  I’ve not met a coach who said, “we had the best season of my career and I didn’t do anything!”  Combining that positive frame of mind with a whole lot of hard work will yield results.
  3. Focus.  If each of us focused on learning something new about our sport or about coaching in general everyday, success would surely follow.
  4. Push. There will be tough times, there always are, but we can’t give up.  You can’t lose a couple of games and decide that maybe coaching isn’t for you. You can’t make a coaching mistake and decide that you’re a bad coach. Push through the bad times to the good that are surely waiting for you.
  5. Ideas.  Whether you’ve got a player who isn’t performing up to their potential or an opponent you’ve never beaten before, fresh ideas are a necessity in coaching.  It seems like players (and their problems) are like snowflakes…no two are the same!  We’ve got to be able to tackle on and off-court issues with an arsenal of innovative ideas.
  6. Improve.  We’ve got to be willing to get better.  I was talking to a “big time” coach a few months ago and he said there were days he felt like he knew nothing about our sport.  I’m sure that was his way of putting pressure on himself to keep getting better and pushing himself to keep learning.
  7. Serve.  Successful people serve others.  Whenever you read interviews of wealthy people, they generally talk about donating a considerable portion of their income to charity.  And most sports teams do some form of community service work or volunteering.  The teams may do it out of a sense of humanity/morality/trying to be decent, but teams can also learn what they can achieve together.  Beyond that, community service events are great team bonding experiences.
  8. Persist.  Jimmy V. said, “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up!”  I agree.

With the fall season right around the corner, we can all use a few reminders to keep pressing on toward the goal.


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Posted in Coaching philosophy


Great Coaching Advice…From A Coach Smarter Than Me

21 Jul


The first year I started coaching, I went to my first major coaching convention.  A week-long affair, I learned so much about the profession that I thought my head would explode.  As a young coach, fresh out of college, I was living in a parallel universe of reliving my past glory as an athlete and trying to gain respect as a coach.

While at this convention, one of the speakers (unfortunately, I can’t remember her name) gave me two nuggets that I still remember to this day…this is the aforementioned great coaching advice:

  • You can’t be a great coach until you stop trying to be a great player.
  • No Sh*t Coaching (N.S.C.)…more on that later.

Great player
I received an email from a reader recently and she’s been doing the camp circuit over the summer and felt that her fellow camp coaches didn’t respect her because she didn’t play in college.  I told her, like I’d tell anyone, that we all have to learn to be coaches…playing doesn’t prepare you for the profession.  How many of us know folks who were all-Americans in college, but can’t figure out how to teach a movement or skill?  Coaching isn’t about playing, it’s about teaching, leading, motivating, prodding, believing, and guiding a group of people.  Coaching is a learned profession and you don’t learn it from playing.  You learn it by doing and by studying those who’ve gone before you.

Captain Obvioussource

“Get the serve over the net!”–volleyball coach
“Make this shot!”–basketball coach
“Run fast!”–track coach

No Sh*t Coaching is stating the obvious. Using the examples above: Of course volleyball players should serve the ball over the net, does a coach really need to say that?  Will a basketball player become better if his coach tells him he should make a shot immediately after he’s missed it?  Does the sprinter really not know that she’s supposed to run fast?  It is track after all.

When the speaker said this, it was the beginning of my desire to really delve deeply into my sport, to learn the hows and whys of each movement and every assumption that I had about volleyball.  I’d advise every coach to go beyond the surface level coaching and give your athletes critiques and corrections that they will be able to use to become better versions of themselves.

Hopefully you find the speaker’s advice as great as I did!

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Posted in Coaching career


How To Motivate Our Teams

14 Jul


Daniel Pink focuses on how we’re motivated in a TEDtalk called, “The Puzzle of Motivation“.  He spends a lot of time going into why we’re going at motivation all wrong and in an outdated way.  In example after example, he shows us that offering up rewards (or delivering the promise of punishment) doesn’t work in today’s world.  The talk is about eighteen minutes long…check it out!

His talk is coming from a business point of view, so certainly a lot different than the world of athletics.  The athletic “business model” allows for some behaviors that would be outside of the norm for an office setting, but I think we can learn from a lot of what Pink says.  Our athletes are growing up in this world where they want to be internally motivated and I think most of us can agree that a motivated athlete is an engaged athlete.

Pink says that traditional ideas of management (you get more money if you perform a task quicker, etc.) are great if you want compliance, but if you want engagement, self-direction works better.  And this is where I see the athletic world as being a bit different…because sometimes coaches do just want compliance.  If we see a weakness in our opponent that our team can take advantage of, we just want to players to do exactly what we say and not ask questions.

On the other side of the coin, we need our athletes to be able to identify trends within a game without us telling them every second.  Most sports don’t have tons of timeouts where we can relay information, so we rely on our players to understand what they’re seeing, remember the scouting report, and react to those things in an appropriate manner.

So how do we create this engaged (passionate, hard-working, accountable), yet compliant, player? If I knew, I’d be a gazillionaire! But I have some ideas.

  • Create trust.  And not just that the coaches know what you’re talking about, but that you care about your players and want the best for them.
  • Build in autonomy when possible.  We’ve done 30-day challenges in the off-season where each player was responsible for their own work.  As coaches, we focused on why this was important and how each person’s contribution was vital to our success.  Pink says we all have an urge to direct our own lives.  I think this is a great way to give them autonomy, but within a team construct.
  • Have amazing team chemistry. Huge!  If you don’t got it, go get it.  If you got it, fight like heck to keep it.
  • Empower leaders.  Pink talked about self-direction within the business world and I think a great way to bring that to athletics is a captain-led practice.  It teaches your captains how to lead, plus you’ll find out what drills the team likes and what things they think they need to work on…a win-win.

There you have it!  Let’s all get out there and motivate our teams.

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Posted in Mental game, Team chemistry, TEDtalk


Non-Verbal Communication

11 Jul

power posesource

“Our bodies change our minds
And our minds change our behavior
And our behavior changes our outcomes.

In a TEDtalk called Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are by Amy Cuddy, I learned that how we present ourselves is amazingly powerful.  And not in the way that you think.  It’s how you present yourself to yourself…not necessarily to others.  The findings of assuming powerful positions, like my man Frank Underwood up above, are pretty astounding.  I’d suggest you watch the talk, it’s about twenty minutes long and well worth your time.

It turns out that folks in studies who assumed high power poses for two minutes and then were put through an intense interview situation were seen as:

  • Passionate
  • Enthusiastic
  • Captivating
  • Comfortable
  • Authentic
  • Confident

Which all sound like the qualities we’re looking for in our athletes!  Apparently, powerful people are more assertive, confident, and optimistic than their less powerful peers.  They think more abstractly and take more risks, as well.  It turns out that power isn’t only about dominance, but how you react to stress.  The high-power pose people in the studies had hormonal changes from just two minutes of assuming their powerful positions.

Here are some examples of high power vs. low power poses:

power pose2source

I’ll add as a side note that checking your phone is also a low-power pose, because you’re making yourself smaller.  The high power poses are all about making yourself bigger and taking up space.

What if we had our teams take on high power poses before each competition?  The studies seem to show that their bodies will physiologically react to the pose with a more powerful view of themselves.  I’m willing to try it…are you?

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Posted in Coaching strategy, Mental game, TEDtalk


Advice For New Coaches

07 Jul


I was watching the local news last night and my favorite station was debuting a new meteorologist.  Just for background, I live in a smallish city, so we seem to be the testing ground for all new and untested TV personalities.

This poor guy was so bad, tripped over his words so often, and had so many awkward pauses that I turned the channel.  Not because I was upset that I couldn’t figure out what the weather was supposed to be…but because I was terribly uncomfortable for the guy.  Then I forced myself to turn back, because we’ve all been there.  We’ve all been new.  We’ve all been driving the struggle bus.  We’ve all failed.

It’s not that he didn’t know his weather-man stuff, I’m sure he does!  His trouble wasn’t with knowledge, it was with speaking actual words.  But lest you think I’m making fun of his failure, I most certainly am not.  I’ve got a story of epic failure, too…as I’m sure most coaches worth their salt do.

Dawn’s story of new-coach failure

My first coaching gig was with a club team.  I was super organized.  The team was well-prepared.  I’d done all the appropriate teaching, motivating, and leading.  We were ready!  As the team did our warmup (that I’d stolen from some of the best and most successful teams), the official came over and handed me a lineup sheet.

I’d never seen one before.  So I wrote down the six numbers of the people who were going to be starting.

When he did the obligatory check at the beginning of the game, he came over and said everyone was in the wrong place.  I had to use, like, six substitutions just to be able to start the game with the correct lineup.  The team was looking at me like, “what’s going on?” and I’m sure I had some stupid look on my face.


I couldn’t even think about coaching the team, because I was mortified at my mistake and my lack of knowledge.  But I did keep coaching that team and many teams after it.  That horrific mess of coaching was seventeen years ago.

Moral of the story

You’re going to screw up.  It’s pretty much guaranteed.  The only thing you don’t know is how that failure will present itself.  It could be like my poor meteorologist who couldn’t do the basics of human communication or like myself, who thought I had all of my I’s dotted and T’s crossed…only to get tripped up by a simple lineup sheet.

Sometimes failure is the only way to learn.  I can assure you that even to this day, I triple check my lineup sheet to make sure it’s correct.  Beyond that, we learn that we’ll live through the embarrassment of failure.  We learn that failure isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Michael Jordan said, “I’ve failed over and over again in my life, and that’s why I succeed”…wise words.

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Posted in Coaching philosophy, Mistakes


Play Like A Girl

04 Jul

Little Girl Holding Basketballsource

I don’t know if you’ve seen this #LikeAGirl youtube video, but you should check it out.  The throw/run/play/etc. “like a girl” phrase is still a thing on athletic fields and PE classes all over the country.  Watch this video, share it, and show it to the young people you coach

Like A Girl

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Posted in Female athletes