Monday, February 10, 2014

"Beck's"...Part II

This is the second and final part of the interview the Az. Region did with USA Men's National Team assistant Coach Andrea Becker about Coaching and sports psychology. You can find a Volleyball Magazine article on Andrea Becker here. We hope you enjoy her unique insights into Coaching......


I think sometimes kids make mistakes. But if you’re lackadaisical, or you aren’t giving 100% effort or you have a bad attitude or being negative, I’m certainly open to repercussions. Those two things, you’re attitude and your effort are two things that are 100% in your control and it’s a choice and they can choose to change that.

Now again it kind of goes back to your coaching philosophy. For some coaches their response to a lack of attitude or effort might be to yell at them which could work, right? You could yell at them and it could increase their effort. But I might pull the kid aside and I might say how are you feeling? I would ask a couple of questions because I don’t want to make an assumption that the lack of effort is due to laziness. I want to make sure nothing is going on first: hey is something going on? Are you okay? And if all those answers are ya, I’m okay I’m just frustrated. Well, if you’re frustration is causing the lack of effort then my job is to help you be the best that you can be.

What I know about sports performance is that if I allow you to give half of your effort then I’m allowing you to be mediocre and I want better than that for you. I’m not going to allow you to be mediocre. That’s what I’m here for. I’m not doing my job if I allow you to practice at just mediocre because you know what happens, that transfers into mediocre performance and I'm not going to let you fail, that’s not going to happen. So I want you to sit out of this drill until you are ready to give 100% effort and being a good effort.

You throw them back in there and give them a chance to redeem themselves. You tell them what you want, you know, here’s what it looks like; I want you going all out for balls, I want you communicating with your teammates. You’ve been quiet. When they get frustrated they go quiet. I want you communicating on the court louder than anybody else. I want you to be responding with a smile. Whatever it is you want to see from the athlete you have to communicate that and then hold them to that behavioral standard.

Unfortunately, most coaches don’t hold their athletes to a behavioral standard; they just hold them to a performance standard. You can’t control performance. You can certainly influence it with your attitude and effort. You can increase your probability that you’ll get the right outcome. Once you hit a ball or make a toss on a serve, all they can really do is the best that they can do. So to punish them or to focus on those outcomes is really quite pointless. It just undermines what the coach wants to do in the long run.


They’re all athletes. They all want to be great and they all have different issues that they work through. So what I try to do is work with that person individually and figure out what’s best for them in that moment whether it’s the National Team level or the College level or even high school level. It’s just about figuring out what that person needs in a given moment of time and doing what helps meet those needs.

I always tell coaches, one of my favorite sayings is if you give them what they need then you’ll get what you want in the long run. The National Team guys are more mature, they know their bodies well they understand the mental game, their volleyball IQ is a lot higher so I think what you’re doing at that level is checking in, refining, maintaining. But at that level you still have social dynamics and pressures. I mean the pressure is pretty high for them and this is what they do for a living. At the college level, they go to school and it’s a whole different experience. It’s certainly a whole different ball game in the types of pressure they’re experiencing. Pressure is pressure so if we can peel some of those back in terms of the way that we coach and the way that we interact with them then we certainly want to do that.

Honestly it comes down to wanting them to truly have the best possible experience, that’s what we really want for them. Yea, it’s the National Team but I want you to have fun, I want you to enjoy volleyball, I want you to enjoy practice today, I want you to play hard, I want you to feel good about yourself. You still want those things for them. You genuinely want them to have a great experience and it’s truly special and they should be able to feel that. Not very many people get to do that.


There are confidence issues at every level. Every human being has situations where you battle with that little voice inside your head, sometimes confident, sometimes not confident no matter what the situation. If it’s a sports situation or a social situation or an academic situation, there are going to be things that contribute to those feelings.

Actually, confidence is an attitude. It’s not just a feeling; it’s also paired with thoughts and behaviors. When you feel confident and you speak confidently you probably behave confidently. But when you don’t feel it, you probably don’t feel very positively and your behavior follows whether its poor body posture or head down or slow movements or your words, whatever it is. Everybody battles that.


With the speed guns, it’s an outcome. The coaches that use the speed guns crack me up. It would be like asking a person to drive your car on the freeway at a certain speed without a speedometer.

If we’re going to tout process and if process and routine are going to be the most important things, then why are we calculating the speed which is an outcome? If they’re doing the process correctly and their technique is good then speed should come. You always have a speed v. accuracy trade off in a task like serving and our philosophy is that accuracy is more important.

Say they can hit it at 75 miles per hour. Is that the goal? It depends on what the coach wants. We (UCLA) get criticized a lot for our serving philosophy because we might miss more serves because we believe in serving tough so we might miss more serves. But we also serve more aces then other teams in the country. It’s about what you want as a coach; do you believe in just putting the ball in? Do you believe that if the player before you misses the serve do you just get it in? I don’t believe in any of that.

If they’re hitting it the best they can, does the speed matter? So the kid tells the coach hey, I hit it the best I can and the coach says that was 62 and I think you’re capable of 65, do it better. What good is that if they hit it the best they could? Why does speed matter?


Subbing is fragile. What you might do is sacrifice a point in the short term to get what you want out of the athlete longer. Most coaches won’t make that sacrifice because they are so focused on the outcome: they want to win NOW. The thing about John that makes him unique is he does not fear losing. And when you don’t fear losing you’re able to make decisions that are long term decisions instead of reactions in a moment. And that allows you to stay with kids and they’re not going to always be at their best and they are going to have an off day and it’s hard to build trust and confidence in them. You sometimes have to stick with them so they know in the end that you believe in them, and that’s important.


In terms of my dissertation, I can't think of anything off the top of my head that truly surprised me, mainly because I have studied coaching for so long. However, I did think the model and the explanation of how the components; for example the environment, the system, the coach, helps us understand why so many coaches are unsuccessful. They have too many breakdowns in the background components. They don't have good relationships or they haven't created the right culture or they aren't consistent in who they are. So all of those things detract from their ability to coach and to get the kids to buy into what they are coaching. The greatest coaches have very little cracks in the armor of their program.

We want to thank Andrea for her time in this interview and we encourage all of you to read her dissertation entitled, "It's Not What They Do, It's How They Do It; Athlete Experiences of Great Coaching." 

Monday, February 3, 2014

"Becks"... Part I

Volleyball Magazine recently profiled the current USA Men’s National Team Assistant Coach Andrea Becker. For those of you that missed it, Becker has a master’s degree in Sport’s Psychology and is currently a professor at Cal State Fullerton and has been working with National Team head coach John Speraw from his days at U.C. Irvine to his current gigs as the UCLA Men’s Head Coach and the USA National Team. Becker took some time with the Az. Region to give some more insight on coaching athletes, questions to ask in her own words. This is the first of two parts of our interview with Coach Becker. 


I always knew I would coach. My research was more geared toward the psychology of coaching and what makes a great coach and how you should design your practices and what kinds of relationships a coach should have with their players, what kind of environment should you create, what kind of culture should you create?

Just being indoctrinated into the volleyball culture and really, just studying the game from an external perspective is kind of what I do. Whenever they’re implementing a new system or talking to a player about a technique I’m really studying it from an unbiased position and really what I do is just ask a lot of questions. Why do you do it this way? Why is it beneficial? How can we make it better? Sometimes the answer is that’s just the way we’ve always done it. Maybe the way we’ve always done it isn’t the best way.

So maybe we can explore options and use researches to figure out what is the best way, and go with that.

I went to school for 11 straight years. Those 11 years were truly dedicating my studies to the psychology of the sport and understanding what makes a great performer, what makes a great coach to how do we learn best, how do we accelerate the learning process? How do we develop physical skills, mental skills, how do we change athlete’s mechanics?


I can get information from somewhere where you’d least expect it; a young child and their performance for example. I guess I’m always studying the psychology of performance no matter what I’m doing. It’s always in the back of my mind. I’m always thinking about it, I’m always thinking about interesting concepts and how they relate to volleyball, how does it relate to social dynamics, how does it relate to coaching better? But you can draw from all different fields. There are a lot of important areas. It could be a writer that’s writing fiction but they have a very good blend of ideas and thoughts and those thoughts might be relevant too. I think you always have to keep an open mind and you have to do what works best for you.


How do you talk to people? A lot of how you talk to people has to do with the features of the language rather than the words themselves: The inclination in your voice, the tone, the speed, the level to which you display confidence in them or do you not? It’s less about what you say and more about how you say it. It’s how you deliver that message.

In addition to that is the body language that goes along with it. We can raise so much more information with the body language and the feature of the words than what we actually say and that’s so important. I think I guess what I do is draw the coaches attention to those things. Little subtleties like that can make a big difference. And oftentimes when players don’t know what their coach is thinking, and their reading into their body language or their reading into something athletes often times think the worst possible thing. They automatically think oh man, coach doesn’t’ think I can do it or oh gosh, his head is down he must be upset with us, that kind of thing when it’s not necessarily the case.


There’s no one coaching style that everybody should implement in order to be successful. You have to work within your own personality and your own comfort zone and you can be genuine and authentic with who you are so that you won’t be a different coach than you are a person but you can be the same person whether you are on or off the court so the players know who they are going to get and you can be consistent in who you are and how you do things. I think that’s really important. But there’s no one style where you’d say you have to be like this


The first thing I would say to club coaches is first of all the most important thing in coaching, #1, is be consistent in who you are, in what you do and how you do things. So when you come into the gym every day, you are the same person, over and over and over again. If you are an emotional person and you aren’t consistent with who you are, then your team will not be consistent. You have to be consistent in what you implement. So if you’re running a system and you believe in that system, you have to be consistent in that.

Consistency comes when the coach has a very strong sense of who they are and a very strong sense of what they believe in. Their actions and behaviors are based on philosophical beliefs which our stable rather than situations and circumstances that might come up during the course of a season that are unstable. So if you’re basing your decision making and behaviors on unstable circumstances, you‘re going to come off as very inconsistent. One time you’re making a decision in one direction, another time you’re making a decision in another direction.   But if you’re basing your decisions off of a core belief system that you believe about coaching and about playing volleyball then you’re decision should be consistent based on that philosophical system. That’s so important.

You’re basically creating a culture that is oriented about the team rather than the coach. It’s not about the coach; it’s about young people and helping young people realize their goals and their dreams and you can enhance their self esteem and their self worth and their confidence. It can be a pretty amazing experience.

One last thing is truly, you have to love them. You have to love the kids. If it’s fake you can’t create a genuine and authentic culture. You have to feel that for them.

So I guess if you go back to the big three I would say really know who you are and be consistent with who you are and what you’re doing and how you do things. Have a strong philosophy and the third thing is when we use the word positive it gets over used maybe incorrectly. The word positive doesn’t mean you give them pats on the back or tell them they’re the best thing to hit the court it the last 10 years. Positive doesn’t’ mean any of those things, positive means you’re instructing them, you’re teaching them, you’re spending time with them, you’re treating them fairly, you’re showing that you care about them, you’re getting to know who they are as people and players, you’re motivating them.


 Coaches often times, they start to choose an out and especially at the younger levels that is truly about developing young people. They have very good intentions for developing young people and to build character and to make it fun. And you go and watch them coach and they respond so negatively to outcomes; whether we won or we lost or whether we got the kill or we didn’t get the kill, whether they served out of bounds, they respond to those outcomes. So their original desire to build character and develop young people is thrown out the window when winning and other outcomes and factors come into play.

That’s really disheartening at those levels because  the focus on those outcomes actually undermines the coaches desire to get what they want in the long run because the players start performing out of fear rather than performing to give effort and have fun. So over a period of time it actually creates more mistakes than helps them. 

Part II of this interview to follow next week. If you have any comments or questions, please contact Az. Region Outreach