Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Lessons Learned, the Az. Edition...

In the last of our series on what lessons coaches took from this past season, here are Arizona coaches, who agreed to have their lessons made public so we can learn from them as well.

"The lesson I learned from this season is the importance of mental toughness. The successful players are those that keep pushing forward even when they think they can't. That will find a way when it seems like there are none. That will keep competing and fighting when the odds are stacked against them. Training the mental side is often overlooked but so many matches are determined by a such a small margin of two points, the successful players stay mentally tough until the end. This is a skill that should be trained starting at the younger ages and have the power to take a player to the elite level."

Megan Taylor, Grand Canyon University

"The landscape of collegiate volleyball is ever changing. Student athletes who transfer from one institution to another have the opportunity to fill gaps in a team's roster that might otherwise rely on an unproven player. That is exactly what happened at Arizona this year. It was a transitional year for us because we lost six starters from our 2015 team. We were fortunate to get a transfer opposite and two defensive specialist. All three played significant roles on their previous teams. Instead of relying on the inexperience of freshman we were able to fill those position with two seniors and a junior. The addition of those three players and the development of our current returning players helped power us to a NCAA Tournament bid in what would normally be a transitional year."

David Rubio, University of Arizona

“For me, our past season was one of high achievement coupled with a sudden re-grouping due to two significant injuries. No season goes as you expect. There are always issues and concerns that present themselves that you can’t even imagine. The level in which you coach has little to do with the challenges we as coaches face. So as our season progressed and our team re-grouped, our coaching staff, in particular my assistants, played a significant role in helping our team and me. You need to have good people on your staff. You need to be able to relate and rely on them. I’ve known that as a coach – we all do. But it’s not until you get challenged as a program, do you really see the significance and impact having good people around you has on you and your team. I’m so very thankful for an outstanding staff and great assistant coaches.”

Jason Watson, Arizona State University

"This season's lesson: The importance of time off. The longer I coach, the more I firmly believe in the importance to time off. I know a lot of coaches believe in the 'no time off' philosophy. However, over the years what I have discovered is taking time off not only has enhanced my coaching, but has also helped my players stay fresh and eager. The cycle of volleyball has become unforgiving. Kids go straight from their high schools seasons to club within a week or so. Club season runs for nine months and then it's summer camps and clinics and again back to another high school season. The kids never get a break. By the time these players enter college, many are tired, lacking a love and passion for the game they once had, and many are dealing with chronic overuse injuries. I have learned that sometimes 'less is more' and that a day off here and there, can have greater benefit than any drill or practice. Chances are, if you are needing a break, your players are feeling the same."
Lisa Stuck, Glendale Community College

"This year I was reminded that how you teach players is just as important as what you teach them. Confident, relaxed, optimistic players are capable of great things. One of the best things I can do for a team is to help them keep this mindset through the stress and adversity of a season."

Ken Murphy, Northern Arizona University

Thank you Arizona Coaches for your input and we hope you have taken some lessons from the last few Coaching blogs.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Lessons Learned II...

To continue our conversation about what coaches learned from this past season, these are from High School and Collegiate Coaches from around the country. What can we learn from their lessons?

"There is an old saying, 'You can't push spaghetti, you have to drag it.'
When selecting a team, carefully choose people who have desire and heart. Cut the rest. I would rather work with players whose skill level may be inferior in the beginning, but their attitude and work ethic is great. It may take longer, but in the end you will be able to accomplish much more."

"When we listened to the kids talk about the 5 things they'll miss most... only 1 listed had to do with volleyball. So, here we have perhaps our most talented kids yet...and they love to compete, but they're here for the ride and all the team building, etc too. One of their favorite memories was our film&fun "practices" when after film we did things like play reverse charades and made cookies. So while these kids...some of our best yet....LOVE volleyball and LOVE to compete...even they remember everything else first too."

"Each season is a learning lesson for me, as I am the constant student of this game. So for me, this season was about what defines success and/or a successful season. And even though we missed the playoffs, I found myself proud of our progress this year. With such a large group of freshmen; 8 of 12, I really focused on the individual and group successes on and off the floor. When we watched film from our first match, and then film from our last match, it is night and day. This team dealt with adversity by working harder and bonding together. This team also demonstrated tremendous growth as young women off the court. So, for me, this season taught me to look at more than wins and losses for what dictates success; and to broaden my view to see the bigger picture that is in play."

"This season I learned to swallow my pride and remember that simple is better. I have always hated single blocking and considered teams who did it to be 'poor' teams. The old adage 'if one blocker is good, two is better' has always been our mantra. I pride myself on being a coach who isn’t afraid of pursuing innovative things. We took on swing blocking and jump serving at the high school level before other teams in our area had even heard of it. This year, however, our team was very small: 5’4, 5’5, 5’6, 5’7 with 5’10 and 5’11 in the middle. A few matches into the season, it was clear that our smaller kids were not getting touches on the block, and we were getting killed on tip defense because our back row was getting hammered. Our two middles are young, but they have very good timing and technique on the swing block. The little people on the outside and right side were just in their way. We decided to pull them off for defense and let the middle just swing from pin to pin. Our team this year had MORE total blocks than last season! Our MH2 had almost as many blocks as our whole team did last year. While I still hate the 'idea' of single blocking, I learned that sometimes, simple is more effective and practical scores points. We have to cater our offensive and defensive strategies to the athletes we have, not the other way around. Of course, a small part of me is still hoping our small kids will grow and get mad hops so that we can double block next year like 'real' teams and a voice in the back of my head is screaming, 'What’s next? Middle-up defense? What is this, 1985?!' but I know that my swallowing my pride and letting go of my own personal biases allowed our team to go 29-4."

"This season I learned that as a coach you need to allow your players the freedom to play well. I think too many times we as coaches are too critical about things that definitely don’t matter in the moment and today’s athletes really let that affect their confidence and performance. We had a way better second half of our season this year because I just a lot of things go and let them be them."

"I don't think I really learned anything new this year but certainly reinforced certain philosophies. No matter how good or weak my team is, hard work every day and commitment to the 'team' needs is critical. Take nothing for granted and earn it. And we can and will continue to learn and improve...even going into the practice before the championship. My team embraced this and I respected their commitment to improving everyday."

"A lesson I learned this past college season is to coach to your team’s strengths more than spending too much time on your team’s weaknesses. In the past I have been guilty of spending too much practice time and coaching emphasis on coaching to our next opponent also. This year we focused primarily on what our team was good at and how do we use those strengths to score more. Of course we spent some time on improving our weaknesses and scouting opponents but it was only about 25%-30% of our practice time. During spring season we will devote more time to improving our team’s weaknesses but during our competition season we will spend the majority of our time working on what we do best on the court."

"Patience was the #1 thing I learned from my HS experience. I get a mixed group of players from different levels of the game and many with a less diverse club experience. I do my best to keep things simple in HS and do my best to challenge players individually but don't have huge expectations of them. My goal is to make kids better in HS and do my best to make sure they have a positive experience. I held my players accountable and wanted them to achieve in everything they did, but was always realistic of what they were capable of. When we competed against powerhouse programs, I reminded them that we were not expected to win, but it would be awesome to upset!"

"Team chemistry does not guarantee wins. Winning without it is undeniably difficult but having it is not a promise of success. My
team this year was easily the most physically and athletically gifted
group of young women I have ever had the honor of working with. Mentally, we struggled. By the end of the season I knew I had missed something in the training process that as a coach I should have provided. We are taking steps now to ensure we address those issues early for next season. The girls got along amazingly well. They truly enjoyed the company of their teammates. I even had a parent tell me that her daughter told her that this was the first team she had ever played on where she got along with every one of her teammates! All of that is great but at the end of the day, we need to win games. Which we did. More than any other season in many years;14 wins. However, the team did not meet its goal of making it into the playoffs and therefore, as a program, we are disappointed with the season.
Despite the team chemistry and all the girls truly enjoying playing
together and spending time together, we still pulled away from each
other when our opponents put pressure on us during the games. This is
where our lack of mental toughness and discipline would show up.
Instead of trusting in the ability of the team to perform as a unit, we
tried to take over the game as individuals. In the end, I realize that
I designed a preseason plan that created opportunities for the team to
develop some chemistry on and off the court. I got the outcome I
wanted. Unfortunately, it was at the expense of creating mentally
strong individuals that could hold themselves together emotionally
during the toughest times of a competitive match. I have to hold them
more accountable and put more pressure on them in practice. I have to
train them to the point where they trust not just their own skills and
abilities but the skills and abilities of their teammates as well. I
also need to teach them to hold themselves and their teammates
accountable for their actions. I will have a veteran team of seniors
next year who will be highly motivated to succeed. Finding a balance
between giving them control of their team and doing what I tell them to
do as the coach will be a critical piece to our success or failure."

Thanks to these wonderful coaches who shared their lessons learned with us to help us get better. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Lessons learned...

Lessons learned. We spend our seasons worrying about the little things, the big things and even the things we cannot control. But in the end, we learn. 

We asked coaches from around the country to weigh in on what lesson they learned this season past. 

This is what they learned...

"I always learn a lot but I would have to say that I realized no matter how or what is going on with parents or players I need to stay true to myself and my coaching style, coaching philosophy and mission. In the end people come and go but I have to live with myself."

"Easy question--go back to what's important--loving children, loving the game, and keeping life in perspective. Sounds simple, and usually is. However, when life took over last year, as hard as I tried to stay focused I couldn't see the forest for the trees. We always want our kids to let go of everything when they come into the gym, but I struggled doing that very thing. The harder I tried the worse I did. Funny how that works sometimes. This summer I realized I needed to be true to myself and my kids. My responsibility is to serve them and be committed to their success. I could care less what anyone thought. Thank goodness my girls are so unconditional. They just loved me through it and forgave me without hesitation. We had a great year, made wonderful memories and are looking forward. Life is good. Everyday is a blessing. I am so lucky to be able to have the job I have and enjoy these kids. Life doesn't fall apart--it falls into place if we just let it. It's a great time to be a Lady Tiger!!!"

"The most important thing that I learned this year for my 9-11th grade 'B' team was it was important to let them play through their mistakes to gain confidence rather than sub them out."

"I think I learned that towards the end of the season it is more important for the kids just to play and that we aren't going to make any HUGE changes in their skills-just let them play 3 on 3, 4 on 4, 6 on 6 drills and make it fun. I knew this before but it was really reiterated this season when we had 2 weeks between our last game and Region tournaments. The days I tried to focus a little more on passing or hitting fundamentals were a bust and the girls did not enjoy practice or get much out of it because they weren't invested."

"This season I was reminded that the most important things my volleyball players will learn from playing volleyball has nothing to do with volleyball. We tried something new this year and had a weekly discussion called 'Monday Moments' where we discussed different aspects of what it means to be healthy. Some weeks I had the girls come prepared with short presentations, we discussed the different character traits in John Wooden's Pyramid, we talked about confidence, we discussed the importance of sleep, time management, etc. This started out as a way to use time while we waited for the court, but became an amazing bonding tool. The girls referenced the things we discussed multiple times during matches and games. It was 15 minutes once a week, but they really looked forward to it and taught each other so much."
"Every time they bring something up from our discussions, it reminds me what it's all really about. Keeps me from getting too caught up in the competition and from forgetting that I'm dealing with people. Amazing young people. They may not always be volleyball players, but they'll always be people who I got to have an influence on for a short time, so my goal is to make it count."

"The most important lesson I learned this year was to trust my assistant coaches more. I am very stubborn in my ways especially when a game is going on. My assistant coaches are watching the girls more than the game itself and can see when they are having a bad day quicker then I can. Usually they will tell me to take someone out for another girl and I was quick to say they are playing fine and no sub is needed. Early in the season it didn't burn my team at all to leave the girl in but I always noticed on film the girl struggling and remembering my assistant coaches telling me to sub one in for her. As the season wore on I would trust my assistant coaches and their judgement more because of this early season lesson I learned. It helped us more than it hurt us to listen to them and use their judgement. I wouldn't always listen to them but they were right more times then they were wrong."

"I learned that through injuries and adversity you need to remain steadfast in your beliefs and positive to a fault.  We struggled all year and could have thrown in the towel on a less than stellar season, but kept coming to work each day and talking about a team goal that could still be reached.  Focus on what lies ahead and do not dwell on things of the past.  We were able to play our best volleyball down the stretch and win our district for the 3rd year in a row.  We also managed to get to 10 wins when at first it looked as though we'd remain in single digits.  Keeping positive and focusing on energetic practices and improving on areas we could improve on each day kept the team together and working towards a very reachable goal at seasons end.  Also, not being afraid to take days off late in the season to allow kids to rest and recover both mentally and physically kept them wanting to come to practice."

"I learned the hard way this season: one player who is NOT invested can and will be the downfall of the entire team and its mission. In three seasons, I had established a culture at my high school and a theme that had been our foundation: 'Heart and Hustle.' We don’t have big kids or a big offense, so we’ve had to rely on our defense and our 'never let a ball touch the floor' mentality. I lost my setter this year because of concussions, so I was in trouble at the beginning of the season. When I got word that a 5’10” senior setter AND her 5’10” freshmen OH/MB were moving in, I thought my prayers were answered. They weren’t. This kid became our biggest nightmare because of her moodiness and her lack of commitment to what my other seniors had been working towards for three seasons. They didn’t understand – and I couldn’t seem to coach above this kid’s attitude. I had no other setter, so I had to have her on my court. While we still finished third behind the #1 and #2 teams in our state, we didn’t make it out of our Regional tournament, and for the first time in 3 seasons, didn’t make the state tourney. It was a tough lesson to learn, but the old adage is certainly true: you’re only as strong as your weakest link."

"The most important thing I learned from this season is the power of a true 'Team First' atmosphere. One of our mottos for this season was '14 Strong!' We had 14 girls on the roster, and we called on each and every one of them to make big plays on our way to our first league championship in 23 years. As an example, during one of our matches versus the eventual 2nd place team, we were down 5-9 in the fifth set. My libero was struggling and had a bit of a breakdown. I called on one of my outside hitters (who hadn't played at all during the first 4 1/2 sets) to come in as a defensive specialist for her. My outside hitter came in and did AMAZING. She made amazing dig after amazing dig. We ended up winning the set 15-13. This type of thing happened several times throughout the season. Every one of the girls stepped up in different ways at crucial moments."
"This example shows the power of the team. My bench worked very hard to maintain a positive attitude, even if they weren't playing, and to always stay ready to come in and contribute in whatever way they could for the team. As a team, we celebrated each other's successes and all the girls made sure that they were never bitter or negative if someone they were directly competing with for court time was finding success on the court. We were able to compete and win because we were '14 STRONG' all season long."

As you can see, most lessons weren't on court lessons but lessons about people- trusting, getting them invested and enjoying the process, the 'ride.'

More to come....stay tuned!