John Speraw and Coaching for the Player’s Perspective

by on January 19, 2009
in Communication

I attended a U.C. Irvine men’s volleyball practice this week. UCI’s Head Coach, John Speraw, was an assistant coach on the gold medal-winning USA Men’s Volleyball Team, and he coaches differently than most coaches to whom I have been exposed.

He started this particular practice by asking players what they like to hear when they make a mistake. In the morning, I visited with U.C. Irvine’s Women’s Soccer Head Coach Scott Juniper and we discussed society’s impressions of coaches. I paid particular attention to (took notes) Speraw’s conversation with his players because of a comment I saw on a message board. A commenter said that a coach was not a good coach because he did not yell enough. I don’t know where or why society created this perception that the best coaches yell a lot, but I cannot see how it is accurate or positive.

In response to the question, the volleyball players answered that they liked “encouragement” or “positive comments.” One player said he liked when someone said something that “made him mad,” which he later changed to mean that he wanted someone to fire him up. Another player suggested something funny.

When I coached volleyball last season, our girls started to say, “Shake and Bake,” after a player made a mistake (just after Talladega Nights was in the theaters).

The players also commented that they did not like generic comments like “Let’s go!” or “Come on!” which are frequent phrases from coaches and players (count the number of times a coach says “Let’s go!” or some derivative at your next high school game if the coach is a vocal coach).

In the Positive Coaching Alliance, we talk about coaches using specific comments and only using praise that is truthful. That aligns with the comments I heard at practice.

The players also said that they disliked when someone “stated the obvious.” I hear this all the time. A player commits a turnover and the coach yells, “Don’t make that pass.” Really? You didn’t want me to throw the ball out of bounds? I must have confused the objectives of the game.

The worst, however, is when a coach tries to embarrass the players to save his own ego. I remember watching a coach who yelled things like, “Don’t make that pass! We worked on that yesterday at practice,” throughout the game, loud enough for the people on the other side of the court to hear, just to make sure that everyone knew he was doing his job as a coach and it was all the players’ fault when they made a mistake.

No player wants to hear this. And, this isn’t coaching. The comment did not help the player perform better the next time that he faced the same situation. The coach did not explain the mistake (“take a dribble to get a better angle”) or attempt to build the player’s confidence by noticing something positive (“way to see the open player”). Instead, the player feels even worse about the mistake and loses confidence as he is afraid to make another mistake and be embarrassed again. When a player is scared to make a play because he does not want to make a mistake, he inevitably makes a mistake, as it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I liked Speraw’s approach because he wanted to learn about is players so he could coach better, and he wanted his players to learn about each other so they could help each other in the middle of the game.

By Brian McCormick, M.S.S., PES
Coach/Clinician, Brian McCormick Basketball
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

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