Category Archives: Coaches Corner

Coaches Corner: Managing Assistant Coaches

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Sam Shweisky, the head men’s volleyball coach at Princeton University, is in a unique position.  He’s the head coach for the men and the assistant coach for the women’s program.  I wondered if that gave him a more in-depth outlook on the role of assistant coaches.

So what makes a good assistant coach?  Of course we want someone with knowledge of our sport and, logistically, we want someone who we can rely on to attend practices and competitions when they’ve said they could. Those are just the basics, is there more.

3 qualities of a great assistant coach

  1. Loyalty.  We’re all looking for that assistant coach who is proud to wear our school’s name on their shirt.  The person who understands the traits we look for in representatives of our institution and is willing to fall in line with those expectations.  Someone who’ll stay around for a reasonable amount of time and who will support us behind the scenes.
  2. Common voice.  Speaking of supporting us, a great assistant supports their head coach with the athletes…no matter what.  I’m not saying you can’t have heated debates as a coaching staff behind closed doors.  Hopefully your assistant coaches feel comfortable voicing their opinion and you, as head coach, have created an atmosphere where divergent opinions are welcome.  But once your players are around, we’re all singing from the same hymnal.
  3. Nurturing.  The head coach doesn’t always get to be the nice guy.  Sometimes we have to point out the inconsistencies between team goals and effort level in practice, sometimes we have to bench a player, sometimes we have to have hard conversations.  That’s when the great assistant coach steps in to make sure the athlete can see their way to success, because sometimes, those tough conversations can cloud their vision.



4 ways to manage assistant coaches

  1. Give them a role.  Whether you’re lucky enough to have full-time assistants or you’re making it work with part-timers, they should know their value to the team.  It’s good for them and the team will respect them more if they have a designated role.
  2. Coaches meetings.  Have regular meetings or check-ins with your assistants to make sure you are all on the same page.  It could be that you’ve decided that, as a staff, you’re going to be tough on your team, or that you’re going to focus on only one correction for a particular time period.  Whatever it is, everyone’s got to know what’s going on.
  3. In game responsibilities.  The beauty of assistant coaches is they are a set of willing extra hands.  Depending on the level of support at your institution, your game day responsibilities could be great.  Maybe your assistant has to help set up your game space, or set up the camera so that the game can be filmed, or do stats.  During the game, give them at least one thing to do during warmup and in game…those responsibilities will make them feel useful and needed.
  4. Ask for feedback.  My assistant and I speak after each practice, even if it’s just for a few moments.  We talk about what went well and what didn’t, what we need to keep working on, and personnel issues.  We’ve both been known to say, “feel free to say this is crazy, but…”.  Having a great assistant coach as a sounding board is priceless.




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!

Coaches Corner: An In-Depth Feedback Process

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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.

Coaches Corner: Creating Realistic Discomfort For Your Team

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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!

How To Successfully Follow A Popular Coach

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: http://coachdawnwrites.com/#sthash.osbvJn6d.dpuf

Coaches Corner: Sam Shweisky

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: http://coachdawnwrites.com/category/coaches-corner/#sthash.lEnjZsaS.dpuf
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: http://coachdawnwrites.com/category/coaches-corner/#sthash.lEnjZsaS.dpuf
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: http://coachdawnwrites.com/category/coaches-corner/#sthash.lEnjZsaS.dpuf
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: http://coachdawnwrites.com/category/coaches-corner/#sthash.lEnjZsaS.dpuf

Coaches Corner: Evaluating Drills For Effective Practices

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I’m a big fan of evaluating my program after each season. Everything from hotels and restaurants we used to game schedule and practice plans. I certainly don’t think that evaluation must necessarily lead to changes, though it should lead to comfort that you’re doing things in the best possible way given the tools (budget, staff, athletes, knowledge) at your disposal. As the tools change, you and your program may have to change…hence the evaluation.

While practice planning may sound an awful lot like an X’s and O’s conversation, don’t you worry, I plan to stay on the philosophical plane. When I talked to Becky Schmidt, head volleyball coach at Hope College, she talked about a change of philosophy she’s made in regards to practice.

She said she used to think every second of practice was important and needed to be planned, now she says she’s much more willing to experiment and not be afraid to waste time. As Schmidt evaluated her only practices and drills, she noticed many of her drills were old favorites from her playing days. She then had to challenge herself to innovate, because surely better (more efficient, more relevant, more applicable) drills have been created in that time span. And if not, she should create them!

This is something all of us can and should do. Drills that were great for one team may fall flat with another. Just as we have to modify our coaching styles for our athletes, we have to modify our coaching methods for our teams.

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!

Coaches Corner: On Being A High Energy Coach

high energysource

Becky Schmidt is the head volleyball coach at Hope College. She’s also a professor at the college, with a Master’s in Sport Behavior and Performance. I found a quotation from one of her non-volleyball students that gave a glimpse into who she is: “Crazy woman. Sleeps like 3 hours a night and drinks lots of coffee. Bursting with energy and excitement about everything, especially volleyball.”

It turns out, while a lot of her energy is natural, Schmidt is also constantly aware of her energy output. She would say the main reason she is so engaged is because she had moody coaches in the past. Because she knows how annoying it is to be on the receiving end of that kind of treatment, she tries hard to remain the same. As a matter of fact, she says she’s even keyed in when she’s out recruiting. She’s engaged…all the time.

I was interested in how she did that, of course, but more interested in how she challenged her players and students to match her intensity level.

  1. Challenge team to give max effort. Schmidt talked a lot about how we, as coaches, can show our players how not to limit themselves. She says she asks her players to give her whatever they have in the moment. Feeling your absolute best isn’t the prerequisite for hard work…just the desire to put in the effort.
  2. Help them to stop being afraid of failure. This is one of those life skills that we tell our athletes they learn from playing our sport. This quality alone will put our athletes ahead of their competition once they’re in the work force.



What if they’re not doing those things?

  1. Call them out on it right away. I think I can do a better job of this one. I sometimes give my athletes too much leeway to pull themselves out of the mire. According to Schmidt, I need to intervene sooner.
  2. Give them the confidence to push themselves. As coaches, we can show them how much we believe in their potential by expecting more from them. If our athletes have inappropriately low expectations of themselves, it’s our job to raise them up…no matter how tough it is.
  3. Correction vs. criticism. This isn’t necessarily for the coaches, but for the players. Many times, any sort of correction is seen as criticism. For us to be able to do our jobs, our athletes have to be able receive correction in the spirit that it’s given.



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!

Coaches Corner: What Is Advanced Teamwork?

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Becky Schmidt is the head volleyball coach at Hope College and has had an amazingly successful run. Consistently in the top five of Division III, she’s figured out what it takes to put winning teams together. In talking to her about some strategic moves she made within her team, she used a term I’d not heard before: advanced teamwork. She talked about managing a larger than normal team and how she went about creating “a team” within that construct.

What is advanced teamwork?

  1. Hold one another accountable. This one is a doozy. The only, and I mean only, teams I’ve had that have been successful have been able to effectively navigate the world of peer management.
  2. No cliques. Another tough one, because teams have natural divisions within them…most notably, classes. Generally, your freshmen will hang out together, your sophomores, you get the idea. Part of this should be handled by the captains, they’ve got to build bridges within the team. The other part is on us, as coaches, to stay on top of our team’s chemistry.
  3. Respect one another. I think this could be underrated by our players. How many times have you had issues on your team because one player thinks another isn’t working hard? Or thinks a teammate didn’t do something they were supposed to do? Or isn’t performing up to their potential? All of those problems have respect as a root cause.
  4. Seek out greater relationships. I really like this one, it may be my favorite of all of Schmidt’s advanced teamwork tips. For players and coaches alike, we’ve got to step out of our comfort zones and really get to know one another. Not just the surface, “Susie is a senior nursing major”…you can learn that from the media guide. Let’s seek to really learn about one another.



Creating “a team” is the biggest challenge and most important duty of a head coach…and the bigger the team, the bigger the challenge. Hopefully, you learn some good tactics to help your team become closer to the coaches as well as one another.

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!

Coaches Corner: Becky Schmidt

Becky Schmidtsource

Next on the docket is Becky Schmidt, head volleyball coach at Division III Hope College. Schmidt has been tremendously successful while at the helm of the Flying Dutch.

She’s never had a losing season while coaching her alma mater and holds the school record for victories at 34-4.   She’s had nine 20-win seasons and a career winning percentage of .791. Beyond the numbers lie the dominance Hope College has enjoyed under Schmidt’s direction. They are a perennial national contender for not only the top twenty-five in the country, but to win it all.

Stay tuned for highlights from our conversation:

  • Evaluating and changing practices and drills.
  • Discussing advanced teamwork.
  • Monitoring her energy level.



See you next time!

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!

Coaches Corner: Next Level Coaching

adversitysource

Coaching is more than X’s and O’s…I’m pretty sure most folks reading this would agree to that. So what is it, if it’s more than the tangibles?

Coaching is about leadership, teaching our players how to work well within groups, to put the needs of the team ahead of personal desires. It is also about showing our athletes how to deal with the circumstances life hands us in a positive way.

I’ll start with an example of what not to do. I met with a recruit the other day and she told me the story of her club coach who was recently fired because he was constantly belittling, cussing at, and being unprofessional with the players. His tearful excuse with the team was his rough upbringing.

Now, without negating what is sure to be the truth of his tough past, part of our jobs as coaches is to show our players how to deal with adversity on a micro and macro level. Micro: a point by point level within a game. Macro: when life deals an extraordinary blow.

Melissa Wolter, the head volleyball coach at the University of West Florida, was able to model that macro level life situation for her team. She found out she had breast cancer at a very young age and used that adversity to become a better coach and mentor for her team.

4 ways coaches can use adversity to in a positive way

  1. Don’t change your standards. Wolter says that cancer didn’t change the standards she holds for herself or her players, but how she went about accomplishing them did. Our players are on teams because they want to be pushed and held accountable…adversity shouldn’t change that, but it could make you more relatable and human for your team, which would help build trust.
  2. Right any disconnects. According to Wolter, she was much more selfish in her pre-cancer life. More about the wins and accolades. In her post-cancer life, she’s much more about positively affecting young people’s lives. When we’re self-focused rather than other focused, our team won’t receive the best coaching from us.
  3. Motivate your team. After her cancer treatments, when she was back in the gym with her players, Wolter actually performed their off-season workouts with them. I haven’t spoken with any of her athletes from that time, but I can imagine that was both a humbling and motivational experience for them.
  4. Become a better coach. Wolter is more relational with her teams now because of the adversity they’ve dealt with together. She says she’s able to find joy in the intangibles of coaching instead of just the wins.



I can’t state enough how important it is for coaches to use the adversity in our lives to improve at our jobs. We can become better coaches, we can become better mentors, and we can become better leaders for our athletes if we let life’s journey mold us. The only thing it requires is that we take a critical look at ourselves, our coaching style, and what needs to be changed. What a valuable life lesson we can teach our athletes!

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!