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


Coaches Corner: Evaluating Drills For Effective Practices

30 Jun


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!

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Posted in Coaches Corner, Practice


Coaches Corner: On Being A High Energy Coach

23 Jun

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!

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Posted in Coaches Corner, Coaching strategy


Coaches Corner: What Is Advanced Teamwork?

20 Jun


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!

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Posted in Coaches Corner, Team chemistry


Coaches Corner: Becky Schmidt

16 Jun

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!

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Posted in Coaches Corner


Coaches Corner: Next Level Coaching

13 Jun


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!

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Posted in Coaches Corner, Coaching philosophy