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Build It Up- 10 Coaching Competencies

By By: Richard Garay _Vassar Men's Volleyball , 02/20/20, 9:45AM EST


Build It Up – 10 Coaching Competencies

February 6, 2020 •   By American Volleyball Coaches Association

By: Richard Gary - Vassar Men's Volleyball

Originally Published in: Coaching Volleyball

Copyright and Provided by: American Volleyball Coaches Association

There seem to be as many models for successful coaching as there are successful programs. There are coaches with great personalities, who light up a room and inspire with every word. Others are more focused and aloof, even introverted. Some appear to be true technicians, breaking down every movement, while others are motivators, driving outcomes and not getting caught up in the small stuff Strategists and generals in one gym, hands-off sweethearts in another.

No matter the approach, their teams have enough players performing at or near the top of their potential and the level of their competition to consistently win. With all of this variety at the top, how can a coach determine the most useful habits, processes and systems to cultivate in order to build and sustain success?

A small digression...I believe the worst advice, advice that is offered in every coaching talk, is "be yourself." If the coaches offering this were being specific, I think the advice translates to a warning not to model everything you do on another coach. But even this can be frustrating for a new coach because our models for coaching are the biggest resource we've got, and while it's true that we can't just cut and paste another coach's being into our gym, there are so many important things we should be taking from them, and "be yourself" just ignores this.

Kevin Hambly once said that he was a very aggressive player, and that he had to learn a different way of interacting during competition when he became a coach. His behaviors, born out of "being himself" were freaking out his players. Karch Kiraly's playing personality would be nearly unrecognizable to the U.S. Women he now coaches. The fact is that those coaches cultivated new habits, fought tendencies, resisted temptations and avoided "being themselves" in significant ways. They saw others doing something different and said "that's what I'm going to have to do to get where I wanna go."

The point is, we need to look at other successful programs and incorporate every winning facet we can in order to build and sustain success. The closest version of "be yourself" that should be said is "be the absolute best version of yourself, knowing that you're a flawed being, that `you' will need to change, grow and improve, and that through focused growth and self-awareness you can make big strides in guiding a program."

Hopefully we can agree, therefore, that there's value in picking and choosing the competencies and habits of successful programs. Another common piece of coaching advice is to "steal everything." This idea fits more into a model of change and growth, and it offers us an opportunity to start building a model of the areas we should identify to plunder. A winning coach may drink vanilla lattes, but that may or may not lead to success. However, if that coach gets a latte with a player and chats about their goals every pre-season, there may be some helpful behavior to model.

In attempting to identify the areas we should be plundering, let's try to build a model of a successful program, and from this framework we can start filling in the valuable next questions: "How am I creating this competency?" and "If I'm not creating this competency, what can I do about it?"

At its most simple, there are four outcomes that reflect sustained success. The following outline offers each and suggests key competencies to explore in creating them.

1. Enough individual players PHYSICALLY perform at the top of their level

  1. Recruitment
  2. Strength and conditioning (get strong in off-season, body at/near peak during competition)
  3. Health management (sleep/diet/etc.)
  4. Trainings create opportunity for peak physical performance in key times

2. Enough individual players MENTALLY perform at the top of their level

  1. Recruitment
  2. Coaching game management
  3. Mental toughness has been established through training/ meetings/sports psych/etc.
  4. Training practices that create resilience under pressure
  5. Team chemistry is effective
    • Team-building
    • Bonding, chemistry
    • Training to build rapport and ability to work together
  6. Player/coach relationships are managed
  7. Distractions are held to a minimum
    • Arrive relatively on time for games, organized travel structure
  8. Competitive environment is fun to play in (supportive fans, campus respect, etc.)

3. Enough individual players have enough SKILL to perform at the top of their level

  1. Recruitment
  2. Trainings build skills efficiently
  3. Off-season is utilized for development, players work on
    their own to grow competencies outside of "go time"
  4. Staff communicates and helps in goal setting to effectively guide players through their skill development

4. Individual players TACTICALLY perform at the top of their level

  1. Recruitment
  2. Coaching/game management in-game
  3. Training strategic adjustments
  4. Scouting and game planning

Within each of these four pillars there are some commonalities, some strategies that overlap and can be refined into core competencies that every program must address. There may be a million ways to execute these competencies, but the goal here is to identify them and ask how your program works to achieves them.

Recruiting (the common thread in all 4 pillars)

  1. Identify talent - done by some or all of the following:
    • Grinding the trail to see every player
    • Building relationships with clubs/recruiting coordinators
    • Office drudgery - combing lists, websites, videos and databases
    • Sort through prospects who contact you (Not always possible)
  2. Evaluate talent
  3. Attract talent to your program/winning the recruiting battles


  1. Create optimum physical performance at the right times
  2. Build resilience under pressure
  3. Increase team bond to have positive reactions to stress
  4. Develop skills in the sport - players improve
  5. Tactical aspects of the game are honed

Game management

  1. 1 Scouting plan is established
  2. Players have the training to execute adjustments/ planning
  3. In-game mental game is effective
  4. In-game adjustments and strategies are employed
  5. Valuable observations made during games (stats/charts/ intuition/etc.)

Player management

  1. Coach/player communication is effective
  2. Team goals understood
  3. Team expectations clear
  4. Conflicts get resolved or minimized so as not to interfere with other needs
  5. Sufficient level of of court bond established
  6. Players have understanding of how to develop skills in the off-season
  7. Players are motivated to develop skills in the off-season

Staff management

  1. Staff works together to cultivate every zone
  2. Innovations, growth, active staff development
  3. Work is spread among support in order to maximize team output

Logistics management

  1. Team travel, logistics planning executed so as to avoid distraction
  2. Comfort and nourishment are at least adequate
  3. Added value can be made from travel (bonding, improved meal quality, etc.)
  4. Administration supports team to its fullest
  5. Campus supports team to its fullest

Tactics developed

  1. Strategies and tactics established to utilize personnel
  2. Video analyzed - of opponents and your team

Extra mile development

  1. Audience building for matches - creating winning crowd feel (and attracting recruits)
  2. Extra travel opportunities (international trip, bonding events, etc.)
  3. Alumni relationship cultivated (models a successful future, builds extra funding, etc.)

Strength and conditioning

  1. Players motivated to work in off-season
  2. Knowledgeable about effective programs/training practices to maximize outcome
  3. Sequencing effective in order to peak physically in the right times

Health management

  1. Knowledge of best practices for maintaining health
  2. Discipline/motivation regarding best practices for maintaining health

Going through this list, a self-aware coach is going to recognize one unavoidable fact: No single person can be great at all of this. How we prioritize each competency and grow, hire, recruit and push our administration to fill in the gaps can often be the difference in sustaining success. There's always work to be done!

Photos courtesy of Vassar Men's Volleyball