Thursday, January 31, 2013

Feedback Checklist....

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s definition of Feedback: the transmission of evaluative or corrective information about an action, event, or process to the original or controlling source.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary ALSO defines Feedback as:  a rumbling, whining, or whistling sound resulting from an amplified or broadcast signal (as music or speech) that has been returned as input and retransmitted.

Dear Coach, which one are you?

Walk around a practice or a tournament and you’ll hear coaches talking, shouting, cheering, moaning and giving feedback even when they don’t mean to. Watch a coach’s reaction to a missed serve late in a game; feedback. Watch a coach’s reaction to a call that goes their way at a pivotal match point; feedback.  

The question is whether or not your feedback adds value to your athletes, to the culture of your gym, to the process and training you provide.

USA Volleyball’s Coaching Education department urges coaches to give “Less feedback and more “Feed-FORWARD.” It instructs coaches when giving feedback (forward) to use the following guidelines: Better vs. more, be specific, Positive wording, one key at a time, Provide less info when intensity increases and to coach & comment on the averages.

That’s a lot to remember, especially for newer coaches. Many will spout a continual fountain of things they heard as players, the first thing that pops into their head or even worse, verbal darts they may think are funny but can be sarcastic and damaging to their athletes.

So let’s try a simple checklist this time. Three things to filter before your feedback leaves your lips.

  1. Is it obvious?
  2. Is it positive?
  3. Does it help this person become a better volleyball player?

Obvious is a coaches goal line fumble and yet the one feedback miscue that happens more than any other. Listen at your tournament this weekend and see if any of these sound familiar: “Ladies, let’s get our serves in.” “Let’s get our passes up.” “Stay out of the net.” “Get the ball in!”

You’ll hear those hundreds of times this weekend and surprisingly, Coaches have already taught our athletes these things. Being obvious translates to ‘white noise’ and gives our athlete’s a reason not to tune their coach in; a rumbling, whining, or whistling sound resulting from an amplified or broadcast signal…”

Positive can be a more difficult filter, especially when a team is playing badly. If you are a coach long enough, the phrase, ‘the wheels came off’ will at some point fall off your tongue; it’s volleyball, it’s random, it happens. Trying to find the positive is what a good coach does, and on occasion can sometimes turn the tide of a bad stretch.

The unfortunate flip side of that is what is heard too often. “Don’t miss your serve” for example. What’s the first thing the server is now thinking about? You guessed it! “Just get the ball in!” It’s not heard by the hitter as be crafty and make a shot, it’s heard as, “I have no faith in your swing so just don’t make a mistake.” “Can we just get a pass?” “Stop getting tooled!” “Who’s going to get that ball?” These are all going to be overheard at this weekend’s tournament, and next weekend’s and the next and the next. But being positive going forward, coaches have the ability to change!

How often do YOU, as a coach, get positive feedback? How does it feel? Your boss tells you that you did a great job this week. Your husband tells you dinner was amazing tonight. A parent comes out of the stands and tells you how much they appreciate their daughter’s improvement so far this season and thank you. It makes us feel GREAT. Why are we so slow to understand that and more importantly, why are we so slow to utilize the same with our athletes?

Finally, the one question that should be paramount; does it help this person become a better volleyball player? Looking at the feedback above, can you honestly say any of that will lead toward that goal? A good coach will forego the obvious; Instead of “get your serve in” they would say, “toss a little higher next serve.” “Give me a pass,” might become, “get your platform out sooner.”  “Someone get that ball” becomes “you are the outside passer so you get the split on that serve.”

The list of great coaches just in our sport, have exceptional feedback as a common ground: Hugh McCutcheon, Carl McGown, John Speraw and maybe the best of them all, Marv Dunphy. It’s not a coincidence.

A small checklist can yield big results with your athletes and your team’s culture and training.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

"My Dinner with John" Part II

Arizona Region Commissioner Harold Cranswick was at dinner with John Kessel last week. In this guest blog, he talks about the work that Kessel has done not only for his coaching and our Region coaches but for coaches world wide.

Our Region has been blessed to have such a close relationship with John over the years. John is a constant source of new ideas and inspiration with respect to the world of volleyball but, perhaps more importantly, when you interact with him, he reminds us that, regardless of our volleyball title, we play a critically important part both in promoting the sport and promoting the growth and development of young people. John can share an endless list of drills for coaches ranging from beginning to advanced, for players from toddlers to Olympians, for the indoor and outdoor game, for abled and disabled and every drill will sooner or later include the phrase "game-like" situations. And, like so many who have learned from John, he changed the way I coached and the way my players learned the game but that isn't what stands out at this point.

What makes time with John so valuable now is that he is such a big thinker. He soaks up information from a wide variety of sources and combines it with his desire to constantly grow the game. Yes, he certainly wants players to improve their skills but, as was emphasized at dinner, he sees his interaction with young people to have a higher, bigger purpose. He can coach a team to a winning record but using volleyball as a vehicle to help young men and women grow up to be critical thinkers, productive members of society and leaders is really what drives him. For anyone who has ever read a book by UCLA coach, John Wooden, the parallels are striking for those who had John as a coach. Let's face it, players may or may not remember the finer points of what they learned about volleyball but the lifelong lessons of how to lead a fulfilling and successful life are never forgotten.

Because of John's attitude and philosophy, you can engage him in a conversation that might be about coaching drills for 10 year olds, the scientific research to determine how much time a hitter's hand is actually in contact with a ball when it is hit, the current state of sport, how his ideas are relevant to other sports like pole vaulting or the fact that he wants to learn from you regarding what is working in your world. Is it any wonder with a mind that is interested in such diverse ideas that John receives invitations from around the world to share his wisdom?

While sitting with John at dinner, my thoughts went back to my first memory of him. I first encountered John when I was in Denver in the 1970's and had an opportunity to watch the Denver Comets of the IVA, the professional indoor league. At that time, there was little chance for someone from Arizona to encounter this level of volleyball and watching the game played with such power and passion was both exciting and inspiring. Some years later, I learned that my NAU coach, Bryce Corley, was acquainted with John and that provided the initial conversations with John at USA Volleyball meetings. After that, as I began to coach more, I attended John's clinics whenever possible. After comparing his "game-like" emphasis to the old method of coaching, I quickly  understood why so many coaches loved his approach to teaching the game. Since then, there is no question that John has influenced literally thousands of coaches to rethink how they go about teaching and coaching volleyball. His methods and his emphasis teach the concepts and keep the game FUN and that is something we should never forget. At the end of the day, if we want to grow the game, it needs to be FUN.

So, if you were one of the coaches who made the decision to join John for dinner, I hope you had as much fun as I did. I came away appreciative of the opportunity and energized to do more for our young players, the Arizona Region and volleyball in general.

Monday, January 21, 2013

"My Dinner With John"....

In 2002, the Arizona Region sent their second High Performance delegation to Park City, Utah. Earlier in the year it was the site of several events in the XIX Winter Olympics. On a tour of the facility, some coaches got together and paid an exorbitant fee out of pocket to spend 34 seconds screeching down a highway of ice in a 4 man bobsled. Expensive, short lived but thrilling nonetheless, the coaches knew they would never have that opportunity again, and so they jumped on it.

Opportunities like that live in the rarefied air.

Last Wednesday, a handful of coaches took advantage of an opportunity they may never see again. USAV Director of Growth John Kessel agreed to a dinner with coaches to talk, answer questions and share ideas and knowledge.

Jesse McKinley is a 12’s coach in the Region. He came looking for answers.
“I had some ideas and thoughts reaffirmed after talking with John.  It challenged my philosophy of coaching and really strengthened my passion to coach 12's.  I'm ready to teach my players to ‘be slimy’ and to guide their self-discovery more at practice and to get them playing more to learn and grow as competitive volleyball players.”

Scott Lungren has been a coach for many years with several clubs and he took this gem away from the evening:
“Serving practices with serve receive on the other side of the net equals twice the touches on the ball! I divided my team in half, and had them serve all of the balls, then switched the servers and the receivers. Also, I use radar a lot, now I use radar with server receive while still giving them a zone.”

Tonya Lee is a high school indoor, sand AND club coach and she got much out of the evening.
I LOVED IT! Reflecting on it, I can relate a lot of his philosophies with what I do day to day. Not only volleyball, but also in my classroom as a teacher. In my PE class I usually do 2 week units and have 1 week ‘drills’ and 1 week tournament but after dinner, I am trying to incorporate more real situations to the basics of each unit. I also liked how he emphasized to play in the ‘Gold Zone’, how to always try to shoot area 1 and 2. We need to get our players to up their volleyball IQ, and most of the time the weak side is that right side of the court.

Kessel also enjoyed the opportunity to interact in a casual atmosphere at Majerle’s Sports Bar and Grill in downtown Phoenix. “I sure enjoyed the evening and I think the 5 coaches did too.”

Opportunities like this are rare and the Region does what it can to provide as many of them as possible. The chance to share a dinner with Kessel or clinics with Olympians might be tough to navigate: rearranging schedules, getting babysitters, etc. But these are the opportunities that come along once in a coaching lifetime.

Don’t let your opportunities slip away. Jump on the bobsled and smell the air…

Coming up soon, Commissioner Harold Cranswick’s reflections of “My Dinner with John.”

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Coaching Resolutions.....?

We’re a week into a new year. Resolutions always come to mind this time of year and as a Coach, while we shouldn't be waiting for the New Year to change our habits, here are some simple ideas to help grow as a coach.

Stop wasting time stretching before practice.  
We spend years of practice time every season having our athlete’s run and stretch before practice. Why? Tradition or is it a way to buy some time for that coach who isn't totally prepared for practice? Either way, SCIENCE has spoken. Three hundred and sixty one studies, that’s 361, showing it has no advantage and could actually be harmful. Instead of wasting that 10-15 minutes stretching and running, how about playing?

Don’t steal from your athletes.
How many times have you seen a coach in a drill playing while one or more of his athletes is on the sideline, or shagging? This is a classic case of “Grand Theft Athlete.” Coaches coach, players play. If a coach needs to fill in for a scrimmage situation, that is understandable. But for athletes to not be playing at the expense of their coach who is? That is a coaching behavior that has to change!

Read one coaching book.
A sample list of some is listed here, but one of the characteristics of great coaches is their thirst for knowledge, not only in their sport but with how athletes learn, retain and use information, how to handle people, etc.

Go to a college practice, spring OR fall.
Arizona State, University of Arizona, Northern Arizona, Grand Canyon men’s OR women’s, Embry Riddle: all of these schools would welcome other coaches into their gyms to see what they’re doing. They are all committed to raising the level of volleyball in our state and what better way to do that then take in one of their practices. You’ll need to e-mail ahead of time but it’s a free and amazing learning experience for any level coach!

Check out the USAV website for coaching resources.
Often overlooked, but there is a TON of information on the USAV website for coaches. Dozens of articles studies and articles to go along with skills training and coaching tips are all free on this rarely tapped resource. Who better to learn from then the folks that put your Olympic teams on the floor every quadrennial?

Better inform your parents.
The only way to bridge the gap between coaches, athletes and parents is education. We need to do a better job as coaches of informing parents. Offer up a Q n A session with your Parents after a practice one night and help them understand the game and what it entails, how and why you do the things you do and oh yeah, get them to go out and play in local city or rec leagues, sand leagues or even grass at a local park. The more they play, the more they’ll understand.

These are just a few tips that are free and can make a world of difference with your team or program. If you have any suggestions, please let us know at