• Gold Medal Squared

Helicopter Coaches

The other day I was reading an article in a magazine about Helicopter Parenting—the term given to parents who hover over their child’s every move. The author gave 5 suggestions to avoid doing for our children what they can and should do for themselves. We coaches can glean lots of good advice that applies directly to how we teach our players.

1. Look for opportunities to allow your children to do things for themselves, even if it means more work for you.

It requires a lot of energy, enthusiasm and persistence to get players to do everything we ask them to do. It requires even more to get them to do more than we ask.

I love hearing from a parent, “she’ll do anything you ask her to do!” That’s a good trait. But what I want to know is what will she do when I don’t ask her to do anything?

If we as coaches are constantly telling our players everything they should be doing, they will become dependent upon us. Players who come from a culture where they are told what to do in every situation have a harder time thinking on their own and they are less likely to be proactive about their own development.

Instead of telling our players what to do, we should frequently ask them questions that lead them to self-discovery. “What did you see before you played the ball?” or “If you were to do that over again, what would you do differently?” are good questions to ask. Sometimes I will simply say, “analyze that play/pass/situation for me” , then listen to see where that player is in terms of self-awareness.

Hugh McCutcheon says to his players, “you are your best feedback mechanism”. The sooner our players understand that, the sooner they will become independent learners, which will accelerate their progress. They need to keep learning even when we aren’t giving feedback. If we are constantly telling them what to do they are not likely to ever reach that level of independence.

2. Teach your children to work.

“Nothing of lasting value was ever accomplished without hard work.” This was a familiar quote with Carl McGown’s teams at BYU in the late 90s. Our players must work hard. But more than that, they must learn that hard work is the path that leads to self-fulfillment. Once they see the connection between effort and results they are likely to work even harder.

Make a big deal out of examples of work leading to success. If one of your players works hard to develop a new skill or to make a positive change, make sure she hears you say “that’s because you worked so hard at it!”

We also should regularly help them see that the great role models got where they are because of hard work. “Misty and Kerri have worked very, very hard to be as good as they are. “

3. Teach your children that choices have consequences.

The other day in practice a player didn’t go for a ball. What she needs to understand is that not going for a ball is a choice. There are a number of consequences that come as a result of that choice. The first and most important consequence of not going for a ball is you lose the point. We can certainly create other consequences, but until she understands the significance of the consequence that comes as a result of her choice—that she let her team down—she is likely to make that bad choice again.

We need our players, our kids, to understand that most of life is about choices we make. They will become better volleyball players when they stop making excuses about why they didn’t do what they should have done, and accept that it probably boils down to a choice they made.

The brighter side of that coin is that they can choose to work hard, be a good teammate, and make the best of whatever comes their way. The consequence of lots of good little choices is self-fulfillment, success, and happiness.

4. Stand up and be courageous.

This is for us. We need to be courageous in standing up to behaviors that are detrimental to the individual player and to the team. It can become tiresome holding our athletes to a high standard, and, as I mentioned in the first paragraph under #1, it is even harder to lead them a state of independence, where they understand that they are the most critical component to the success of their team, not the coach.

It takes courage to hold firm to the principles that lead to success. We must have the courage to live that way ourselves in addition to teaching it to our players.

5. Allow your children to have heartaches and setbacks.

This should be easy, because half the time sport is about heartache and setbacks. What we need to be sure to do is teach our players that failure is a necessary step in the learning process. (See the blog Observing Skaters)

The best time to allow our players to experience setbacks is in practice. Do we set up practice to make our players feel good about themselves? Or do we allow reality to help teach our players?

If we are constantly controlling the environment in practice we can make it so that the athletes achieve a comfortable level of false achievement. A common way coaches control practice and give our players a false sense of achievement is by tossing and hitting lots of balls to them and making sure there aren’t many games where the random nature of volleyball is learned.

If we want our players to become great at playing volleyball we will allow for the random, often chaotic, and sometimes uncomfortable situations that naturally arise in a volleyball game. We might even create games that emphasize areas where our team is weak so they can work through those situations and get better.

If practice goes very smoothly and everyone is feeling wonderful about themselves, then perhaps nobody learned very much. There should be some discomfort, some chaos, and some losers in most practices.