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  • Writer's pictureGold Medal Squared



Fred Sturm, who is now the head coach of the Danish Senior Men’s National Volleyball team, is one of the USA’s greatest volleyball coaches. From 1978 to 1985 he was the coach of the Stanford women’s team, and from 1979 to 1990 he was also the coach of the Stanford men’s team. Altogether Fred’s team won more than 300 matches on the Farm.

He also coached our USA men’s team in two Olympics (1992 and 1996), winning a bronze medal in 1992. In recognition of his many accomplishments he was the recipient of USA volleyball’s ALL TIME GREAT COACH AWARD in 2007.

He was also a terrific player, winning 3 NCAA titles at UCLA (72, 75, and 76) and 14 open titles in his beach volleyball career (72-79).

Because he is now coaching in Denmark he has become a student of international volleyball. After observing the 2007 European Championships in Russia Fred said this to me: “The order of finish in this tournament was highly correlated to the quality of the coaching in the tournament. The best coaches were good for and good to their teams.”

I was in Switzerland at the time, about to embark on a season of coaching in the Swiss professional league, and the simple concept of good for and good to was going to have a big influence on my coaching, but first I had to figure out what it really meant to be good for and good too.

Here is what I did. In trying to be good for and good to my team I made two checklists. The checklist I made for GOOD FOR was easy. Here it is (If you wonder about any of the things on the list I can send you information about them):

Mission statement

Core values

Dignity of Effort

Leadership Committee

Pyramid of Success


Daily serving/passing sessions

Terrific practices

Awesome scouting reports

The checklist for GOOD TO was not so easy, because I am forced to admit that I had never before thought very much about being good TOO my teams. Luckily I had in my library the book Positive Coaching by Jim Thompson. (You can join the Positive Coaching Alliance:

This book really helped me change my coaching. Here are some of the insights that it contains.

More than anything, coaching is about relationships. Sports are highly valued in our culture. The potential exists in sports for most athletes, whether great or not, to rise to the occasion, to give their best in a moment of symbolic meaning, and to take a greater sense of self into the rest of their life. But too often athletes are diminished by their experience with sports. Some kids will be outstanding athletes, most won’t. Some teams will have winning records, about half will not. But everyone can develop a stronger sense of self through participation as a member of a team.

Everyone can learn important lessons about life by making great efforts, enjoying the taste of victory, and returning to try again after a loss. Coaches can be enormously influential in the lives of their athletes.

If you ask a random group of adults to recall something of significance that happened in their fourth or fifth-grade classroom, many will draw a blank. But ask about a sports memory and you’re likely to hear about a game-winning hit, or a dropped pass, that, decades later, can still elicit emotion. The meaning that coaches or parents help young people derive from such moments can shape their lives.

Punishment leaves bad feelings that eat away at motivation. When kids are punished, yelled at, or criticized, their emotional energy is used up being angry, feeling sorry for themselves, or thinking up reasons why the coach is wrong. When children are secure in knowing that they will be valued and accepted by the coach, no matter how they perform, more of their energy can go to responding to the challenge.

It’s not your job to be liked by the kids. Your job is to like them. The number one trait of an effective coach is the ability to demonstrate support for one’s players. The most important role a coach can play in a game is to be a cheerleader and advocate for the players, no matter what they do (or aren’t able to do) in the game. The reason it is so important for coaches to support their players in game situations is that the athletes are most vulnerable at those times. When a player is playing badly it is essential for that player to know that the coach will still provide confidence and support.

One very useful notion Jim has developed is the “ELM Tree of Mastery.” This acronym helped me remember that the feedback that most helps players develop their potential is not praise for good performance or criticism for bad performance. What works best is helping athletes understand that they control three key variables: their level of Effort, whether they Learn from experiences, and how they respond to Mistakes.

Because there are so many opportunities to fail in sports, it is a gold mine of teachable moments. “If a competitor misses a big play, it’s a perfect opportunity to talk about resiliency,” explains Thompson. “I know you’re disappointed and I feel bad for you, but the question is what are you going to do now? Are you going to hang your head? Or are you going to bounce back with renewed determination?’”

Another concept that Jim recommended, and that we used a lot, is a mistake ritual. In a fast-moving game, things happen in seconds. “When a player makes a mistake if the coach is saying, ‘Don’t worry about it,’ it’s actually not very helpful,” notes Thompson. The key is to get rid of the mistake quickly and decisively. So PCA teaches coaches to establish a “mistake ritual.”

One technique, adopted by many, is teaching players to “flush” their mistakes. Using a hand gesture that mimics flushing a toilet, a coach can signal from the sideline and players can signal to each other. “So the kid looks at the coach and the coach goes: ‘Flush it.’ The teammates are saying: ‘Hey, Flush it, we’ll get it back.’ And the kid plays better. Because if you’re not beating yourself up, you can focus on the next play.”

After careful reading and rereading of Positive Coaching, I had a multitude of useful ideas I could use to make my GOOD TOO checklist, but more than a checklist I had a better outlook on one of my really important coaching roles.

Finally, my list had only two items:

Say and do the things that make everyone around you play better (our definition of a good teammate).

Don’t sink the boat if you are in it.

My team from Switzerland, LUC (Lausanne Univerisité Club), had a very nice season.

Thanks to Fred I think I really was GOOD FOR and GOOD TO my team

Carl McGown

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