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While I “coached” at most of my high school’s volleyball youth camps over the summers as a player, my first real coaching experience didn’t happen until I was 21. I was given the opportunity to coach a 14 and under team in my hometown for a club that had only just started two years before. Prior to this club, there were a few sporadic club teams which would pop-up over the years, but players would typically have to drive 45 minutes to an hour away for the closest club team (my 12 year old self included).
During my first year, I was going to coach with someone I played with in high school, who had a couple of seasons under her belt already. She had coached at the high school level, and also for the new club. We were friends in high school and got along, so I was very excited to get the season started!
Once the season started, I realized I was ill-prepared for what was coming my way despite having played volleyball for almost ten years. There were a lot of administrative tasks which I had ignored as a player, and some aspects of coaching which hadn’t ever occurred to me. How should I communicate with parents? What should the team rules be? What information do I need to know before tournaments? There was a lot I had overlooked as a player.
READ MORE: What is Your Favorite Coaching Memory?
One of the biggest obstacles was that my coaching style was different than my head coach’s style, and she wasn’t able to be at a lot of our practices and even some tournaments due to her other job. Eager to test out my coaching ability, I deviated from her style and gave my own style a shot whenever I could (which is a huge no-no, and my first year was a huge learning experience mainly for that reason).
Here are a few pearls of wisdom I learned during that first season:
- Keep the coaching style consistent. Even if an assistant has to run a practice or two on their own, it shouldn’t deviate much from regular practice. (Read more about choosing an assistant).
- Determine team rules before your first practice. Only modify them if absolutely necessary. Enforce them consistently. I was more strict in my rules than the head coach, and this caused confusion amongst our players.
- Focus attention an developing players equally. I am a huge believer in the saying “you’re only as good as your weakest player” and spent a lot of time trying to improve the players who I thought could improve the most. This also meant I ignored the best few players, since they were always ahead of everyone anyway. The result? My weaker players got a little better, but the team did not move forward as much as they could have.
There were quite a few more lessons I learned during that first year, but these were a few of the biggies. If I would have known these before I started coaching, I think my first year of coaching could have had a much greater impact on my players. Still, we had a successful year and I believe the girls enjoyed it. It’s just hard not to look back at your first year and wonder.
PANCAKERS: If you are an experienced coach (or even just now getting to year two!) I would love to hear how your first season went! What challenges did you face, how did you change your style after your first year, and do you have any pearls of wisdom to share?