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My first year of coaching volleyball had its fair share of ups and downs, and despite my years of playing both club and high school volleyball, coaching my first team required an entirely different thought process. No matter how strategically you were thinking as a player, different components enter the picture as a coach (think motivation, organization, playing moderator, etc.).
One major area I overlooked was goal setting. In your first year of coaching, it’s easy to get caught up in game tactics, practice plans, and teaching the physical skills. But it’s the mental skills which will make all the difference, not only to your potential as a coach, but to your players’ potential.
From the very beginning, you need to understand what kind of team you are coaching, and what the expectations are from the school or club you coach for. Is your team expected to be ultra-competitive, or is just having a fun season with lots of playing time for everyone the mission of your organization? Do you need to schedule tournaments to play against teams that promise a challenge, or is scheduling local tournaments a higher priority? You should know the expectations BEFORE joining the staff as a coach, so the culture of your club or school team matches your own coaching style, this way you will coach more authentically.
And by assess resources, I mean to take an honest look at your team, and determine the best way to utilize your time to meet expectations. Teams who can practice three times a week have an advantage over teams who practice once a week. Teams with fourteen players (really, I’ve coached one. And I don’t recommend it.) have different strengths and weaknesses than teams with seven players. Consider assistant coaches, practice facilities, equipment, and even location as resources, and plan to make the best of them. A lack in one or more areas doesn’t spell doom for your team… it just presents different challenges.
I once had a team which practiced in an old small gym with a ceiling height no higher than 20 feet. That is a horrible place for volleyball practice, or so you would think! By working with our space, our passing was kept low in practice and the speed of our game was much quicker than most of our opponents. This team of mine was ranked #65 (which is deserving of at least one or two posts in the future) and won a non-power league tournament against an opponent ranked #9! Know your resources and use them to your advantage.
Now that you know what you’re working with and what is expected of you by your organization, parents, and players, you can sit down and hammer out the details of your season-long goals. Keep in mind that goals need to be within your control to some extent and attainable throughout the season, so setting goals of winning every tournament you play in or being ranked a certain rank may be realistic for some teams, but those sort of goals can be difficult to judge in the beginning of a season and may lead to frustration later on.
Goals should be SMART goals (much is already written on this topic. I like this description) so you know if you are actually making progress towards accomplishing them. They should also be adjustable so as you progress through the season and learn how your team is doing, you can make changes if need be. An example of the goals I like to use during the season relates to passing, serving and attacking percentages. For my teams at the 14U level, I have found that my teams are most successful when we get 90% of our serves in, 85% of our attacks over the net, and 60% of the passes we make can be reached by the setter (my 90-85-60 rule). This will obviously vary depending on age and level, but this is what I stick by and it has worked for me.
I mentioned my 90-85-60 rule for my team every tournament we play in. How do I know when we’re meeting those? Well, you need to keep track! I keep my own stats (and get my players involved in tracking as well, which is great for keeping them focused on the game) and make decisions throughout the day on these stats. By staying focused on our goals, I know when to switch things up to keep our team on track. After tournaments I calculate all stats and see if they are still moving my teams towards the expectations mentioned in the beginning of this post. If so, I continue. If not, I may change things up a bit and focus on improving different areas in practice.
Other Team Goal Examples:
There are so many questions that you have to ask yourselves when coming up with your goals. You want them to be attainable, yet you don’t want them to be so easy that there is no motivation to achieve them. Your goal could be to make it to state playoffs, but if you’re the worst team in the league, half the team won’t even believe in the goal. That will only bring the team down. Same with a higher skill level team. If their goal is to make it to playoffs, and they come in first every year, nothing about their attitudes will change. Maybe a goal like, “never letting the opponent score over 20 points in a game,” or, “winning every match in four games.” These put enough challenge on an already great team so that they are always focused on the goal, especially during the game. Everyone needs to buy into the goal though… this is the only way it can be achieved.
Personal goals should relate to the team goals that you have set. If a player’s goal is to get 20 kills in a match, but the team’s goal is to play more as a team, either one or both goals will not be achieved. Example goals could be to vary hitting attacks, by hitting to line every once in a while if a player usually only hit cross. Or to tip and chip even from a great set, because you know there is a spot open right behind the blockers.
Before any match, goals should be written down somewhere. Afterward the game, go to the goals as soon as possible and have your players evaluate themselves. Have the girls ask themselves things like, “Did I swing even when I shouldn’t have?” “Did I go for every ball like I wanted to?” Instruct them to give their goal a rating between 1 and 5 on how well they achieved it. Then ask them if maybe their goal was set too high (20 kills in one match) or too low (getting half of your serves in). If it was a good goal that they either came close to reaching or just barely got, have them write what they will do in the future to make sure they keep reaching this goal or how they can get even closer to it.
Goals are very important, because they reveal to you how your team is performing. This can open your eyes to things you may have missed before, such as thinking one girl is the best passer on the team, when really, she’s not reaching her passing goal of getting her passes up to the setter.
It is crucial that your team’s goals are measurable. Having a goal set like, “jump higher,” or “set better,” is not going to do your girls any good. Goals need to specify exactly how much higher they want to get, or where their sets need to be going. This helps you rate their skills and lets you know what you need to work on with them to help them get better next time.
Sharing goals with the team can help everyone. Once your setter knows your middle blocker is going to work on varying her hits, your middle will probably get set more. If your setter sees her succeeding, she’ll let her know. If your hitter is not doing what you should be though, the setter can help by reminding her of her goal, so she can get back on track.
Having goals gives your girls a purpose during practices and motivation during games. They make them concentrate on the effort they’re putting into everything and overall make your team better than they would be if they just went to practices and games with no purpose.
What tools do you use to set goals for the year? Do you set team goals and personal goals,or do you only focus on one? Are there specific goals you set every year because you found them to be successful in motivating your team (similar to my 90-85-60 rule)?