Tag Archives: Sam Shweisky

Coaches Corner: Managing Assistant Coaches

coaching staffsource

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

feedback1source

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

comfortablesource

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