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Ask the Coach - Changing Volleyball Team Culture
I’m looking for any ideas on how to get this team playing for the team instead of for themselves
Question from Frustrated Coach
I’m in my first year at a new school as a high school volleyball coach and this year has been a struggle. My assistant coach is also a first year volleyball coach and neither of us knows if we will return next year. I’m looking for some advice to help me finish the year strong and hopefully head off any additional problems.
Our team is ranked in our state in our class. We are expected to go to state this year. Anything less than that will be perceived as a failure on my part.
The negative part of this extreme level of talent is the fact that my varsity team has attitude. There’s a WHOLE LOT of attitude. Not just from the players, but from the parents. They all seem to think they are God’s gift to volleyball and expect me and the rest of their team to treat them like it. You can imagine how this would be disastrous. How in the world can I have 6 girls on the court who all think that they are the star? It’s seriously out of hand.
Last week we lost to a team that we beat easily in pre-conference tournaments. A team WAY, WAY below our level. They swept us. Then a team that we beat easily in pre-conference took us to 5 sets. It was infuriating. I’ve talked with the girls endlessly about their attitudes and how it brings the team down. It doesn’t seem to register. It’s like they think I’m only talking to the OTHER girls and not them. They call me a B**** behind my back and roll their eyes at me when I make a correction. Half of them have threatened to quit at some point this season. We always have some player crying post-match.
I’d maybe go to the parents for help on this, but the parents are horrible. I’m getting texts, emails, Facebook messages from parents almost daily. DAILY! I get messages, questions, complaints, about the varsity, but also about the JV and freshmen. All their girls are superstars and belong on varsity, they deserve to play more, or they think other kids should play less because they hurt their chances of winning. Even our (admittedly talented) freshmen parents get mad if their girls lose even a single game. Even to teams that are two classes bigger than us. They don’t want to put the bench players in because they believe they should win every time. The bench players parents think they should have even playing time. I can not win!
We’re heading into regional play and I desperately want to change the attitude in this school before it’s too late. With so much talent, it should really be so fun to coach, but it’s been miserable. If I can’t change the attitude this year, maybe I can change the attitude for future years so that we don’t have this problem anymore.
Can you give me some advice!? I’m looking for any ideas on how to get this team playing for the team instead of for themselves.
Dear Frustrated Coach,
Wow, you have a complete mess on your hands! I don’t blame you for being frustrated. Anyone would be frustrated at this point. I can see you aren’t a new coach, but new to a different environment. What happens when girls play club ball and are talented is not only do they get more invested, so do their parents (and grandparents)! This means that every little decision made by the coach is over thought. Usually high school is a lower level than club and girls have lower expectations, but it sounds like that’s not the case for you and too many talented players can be a coach's dream or a coach's nightmare, because only so many can play on a given night, and only so many can be on varsity.
What can you do about it though? I’m going to give you some steps that you can take NOW to stop a few of the immediate problems, and then I’ll give you some additional things that you can work on for next year to start to change the culture of the school.
The thing about girls is, they will not trust a coach that they don't believe cares about them. If they don't know that you care, they won't play hard for you, they won't listen to you, they won't respect you, and your criticism will not be considered coaching but nagging. Once they know you care, all of that changes
Short Term Solutions
- Tell the parents to stop contacting you, immediately. Send a letter home with the daughters that parents are no longer allowed to text, message or call you with problems/questions/complaints. Tell the parents that if there is a problem, question, concern, it has to come from the daughter. Also include in the note that if they still feel the need to talk to you, you would be happy to set up a meeting with all of the coaches, the player and the athletic director. Make no exceptions to this rule.
- Start benching players. It sounds like you have a talented group of girls to work with. Those that give you the most attitude, remove them from the game. EVERY SINGLE TIME they show any attitude you must remove them from the game. If that means your entire starting 6 or 7 is on the bench and your bench is on the court, then that's OK. Sometimes you have to take one for the team to make a point. Attitude = bench. Once that is trained in, you will discover you have far less attitude to deal with.
- Make them come together as a team at the conclusion of every single point, win or lose. They should form a circle and touch eachother's back. Have you ever noticed that college players do this? The reason for this is to remind them that they are not an island. They are part of a team and the girl that your arm is around on the left and on the right, they are fighting the same battle that you are. The only way to win that battle is together.
Long Term Solutions
Show them you CARE. The thing about girls is, they will not trust a coach that they don't believe cares about them. If they don't know that you care, they won't play hard for you, they won't listen to you, they won't respect you, and your criticism will not be considered coaching but nagging. Once they know you care, all of that changes.
Now I'm not saying that you show them that you care about VOLLEYBALL. I want you to show the that they care about THEM. Go watch their club teams and cheer just for them. Make a note about a big test they mentioned and ask them how they did. Take pictures with them. Laugh at their jokes. Ask them about their lives. Send them a message in the off season that you were just thinking about... (insert memory here) and it made you smile.
If they know you care, suddenly everything will change.
- As a team come up with team values, “On this team we value, sportsmanship” or “On this team we value working hard” or “On this team we value encouraging each other” Write these on a big poster board, or four. Hang them in the locker room. Tell the girls that whenever they see somebody being a great example of these values they should write about it on the board, and that you will do the same thing. They do not need to sign their name. “Judy showed sportsmanship in the game against river town by admitting she had a touch on the block.” or “Pam encouraged me by offering to stay and work on my hitting with me.” Doing this encourages the girls to do positive things so that they can get their name on the board.
Create team goals. Have the goals not be about how many games they will win or lose but other things. “To have a game where we serve 100%”, “To have a game where we have 4 players with 5 or more kills.” “To have a game where we don't shank a single ball on serve receive.” Make sure the goals are attainable for your team. Attach a reward to these goals. The reward can be a pizza party, or a practice with no conditioning, or a “field trip” to somewhere fun on a Saturday or Sunday. Things like this remind the girls that they can only do it together. They need to cheer for each other. The rewards are also great opportunities for additional team bonding.
Create a “Big Sister/Little Sister program. Assign each Junior and Senior a Freshman or Sophomore that they can be a “big Sister” to. If there aren't enough upper class women, simply assign two players to each “big sister”. Make the big sister responsible for encouraging the little sister. She needs to look out for her in drills, help her if she notices something wrong, cheer for her when the younger girls are playing, write her kind notes, etc. Every day at practice have some sort of built in time or drill where the big sister watches, coaches or works with the little sister.
Using this program helps players learn to be more selfless. Also coaching other players often helps the player doing the coaching as much as it helps the player being coached.
Once a week have a team chat. The team meeting is a time for the team to talk and the coach to lead the discussion. Have a “comments” box in the locker room where the girls can leave anonymous comments. Have them right below the team values and remind the girls to use their team values before writing comments. The comments can be positive or negative and they will be read aloud by the coach (scan them, if there is anything demeaning to a single player or inappropriate, don't read those aloud.).This gives an equal voice to all team members, even those that are intimidated by other teammates or the players that are afraid to voice their opinions.
When you read the comments, make sure that you are careful to talk about how these apply to your team values. You will get all sorts of comments, some will be silly, some serious. On teams where this was done they've gotten everything from, “We have no food at home, so I am always hungry” (Coach suggestion, “without knowing who this player is, how can we be good teammates to her?”) to, “on Monday's we should all wear pink to practice” (coach, “What team values would this encourage? What do you think about it?”) and often, “We should do more drills on …......” “I wish we could do this in practice....”
The important part of having the team chat is to open up communication, to get them to laugh together and maybe to cry together. What we really want to accomplish is allowing them to express themselves in a safe way to each other and to you as the coach.
Finally, clearly define all of your rules, requirements, theories on playing time, team values to your team parents at the start of the season. If you say you don't play based on age, ONLY based on skill, then that mildly athletic senior should not be on varsity when a super talented freshmen isn't. If you want all seniors on varsity, you should say, “Seniors will be on varsity. All other varsity players will be placed on varsity based on their skill level, potential skill level, work ethic, volleyball IQ, etc. Make sure in your rules you have how parents should handle problems or concerns.
The biggest part of changing your team culture is by clearly defining what is acceptable and what is not acceptable behavior by your players and then living by it, every second of every day. Don't allow a super talented player stay in a game when they are being jerks, even if you have a horrible replacement. Take them out of the game and let them see how their attitude is letting down the team. Do it early in the season next year and you will be shocked at how quickly so many of these problems will just disappear.
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