Jaimee Rindy | Middle blocker at Coe College, juniors’ club coach
In a perfect world, every player would follow direction on the first ask and every decision would be met with no resistance. But volleyball is a game of imperfections, and that means you’re bound to have disagreements with players. While these are never pleasant, they are opportunities to understand your players better and to learn where you can improve as a coach. More often than not, a disagreement arises when a player has a different idea than the coach on how to achieve the same goal. I’ve been on both sides of these disagreements, and I’ve also been formally trained in rhetoric and communication. Here are a few key communication tips that will help you when you have a different point of view than your player:
- Don’t panic
When we hear the word “panic,” we usually think of a response to fear, often freezing and sending our neurons into overdrive. This is not exactly what I’m talking about, but there are similar symptoms. The kind of panic I’m talking about is the primal reaction to confrontation – anger. When we feel attacked, we want to defend our position by claiming it was wrong to attack it in the first place. This explosion of emotions blocks our ability to comprehend what the other person is saying and makes us lash out rather than think through the problem calmly and rationally. Not only is this an ineffective tactic, but it puts your player in a really terrible position. If they were able to voice their concern at all, it’s because they felt comfortable enough with you and respected you enough to trust that you would hear them out. That kind of trust is something every coach should aim to achieve, and you don’t want it shattered with one disagreement.
- Listen and break down the problem
Once you’ve stopped emotions from taking over, you’ll be in a position to listen to the player’s concerns. Listening seems like the obvious thing to do, but it’s also the hardest. Our belief that our position is objectively correct means that we don’t want to hear anybody else’s. But to understand where your player is coming from, you must abandon that belief long enough for them to be able to explain what they believe the problem to be. This is really important because many arguments spiral out of control due to the simple fact that the people involved were defending their positions to different problems. Before you can begin making your case, make sure you’re actually talking about the same issue.
- Ask questions
After you’ve allowed your player to explain their view of the disagreement, ask clarifying questions to make sure you’re at the root of the problem. For example, if a player doesn’t understand a drill or a particular skill, ask them to list the steps as they know them, then you will be able to determine where the wires got crossed. Or if a player has an issue with a coaching decision, ask them to explain what they believe the alternative should be. This will tell you where your views differ and perhaps offer some insight as to how the problem can be solved.
- Explain the “why”
All too often, it’s the most important part of a position that’s left out of the argument — the “why”. As a coach, it’s your decision whether to explain coaching decisions to your players as you make them, but if a disagreement arises, the “why” may be the key to your player understanding your position.
- State it differently
If the disagreement continues, it may mean that it’s time to try explaining your position a different way. The phrasing or delivery may be causing confusion.
- Show some humility
As a coach, it’s important to admit that you are not perfect. It may be that your player has a valid argument and has addressed something that hasn’t occurred to you. This is not to say that the players will be right all the time, but as coaches we sometimes need reminding that their perspective is very different from ours. But no matter what, it’s crucial that you treat your player’s concerns with respect. It’s certainly not easy for a player to voice a disagreement with their coach, and the main thing they want is to be heard and understood. If you don’t feel you’re able to properly address the concern at the time your player asks, you can always tell them you’ll get back to them after you’ve had time to think it through. This is a better option than attempting to argue when you’ve been caught off guard. It doesn’t mean that your mind will be swayed – or theirs, for that matter. But it may give you the opportunity to strengthen your reasoning or reevaluate for the future.
Jaimee Rindy is a junior middle blocker at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
- Don’t panic