October 6, 2008

Question about a Player's Attitude

Coach-I have a high school player who has some college coaches looking at her. The thing holding her back I fear is her attitude. She is not negative towards teammates, but herself. She becomes visibly frustrated. It’s very obvious and as a team leader affects the moral on the entire court. Any advice or help you could offer?? Concerned Parent

This is always a tough situation for college coaches to evaluate in Prospective Student-Athletes. As you indicate, the player (by the sound of your e-mail, it may not be your daughter) does not react negatively towards others, but her negativity towards herself is affecting the moral of her team mates.

The honest answer is that this negativism will only hurt her standing within the evaluation's of college coaches. It is not as detrimental as a PSA who is overtly negative towards team mates, but her self criticism does have a poor impact upon those she may be trying to lead.

The most important lesson I had to learn when I became a head coach was the importance of effective recruiting. I believe young coaches fall prey to their egos with regards to skill training and team development - we feel we can 'train' any player into being an all conference selection. When I matured beyond this mindset, I became more effective in evaluating physical talent and trying to determine what was ability and what was potential which statistically would not be reached.

Another mistake that I made, as many other young coaches make, is believing you can change players attitudes or demeanors. It was only with experience that I came to find that a coach cannot 'undo' 18 years of learned behavior. Some coaches may be able change attitudes, but it is usually because the system or program is so dominant that players have to change to survive - but even then, I have been aware of top flight teams that were hurt for a season or two because a couple of players had this type of negativity.

My recruiting process has evolved to the point where I stay away from potential - I had a coach in a sport other than volleyball tell me that when someone says you have potential, what they are really saying is that you are not working hard enough to be the best you can be. I would rather have a 5'9" outside hitter that is complete in her skill sets, than the 6'0" outside hitter who has tons of potential. I guess it is that old analogy that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

I may spend more time evaluating a PSA's personality, than physical talent. Physical talent is easier to quickly rate, but what is between a PSA's ears is the difference between a good volleyball team and a team that has issues. For instance, I would not recruit the player referenced above simple because it would take too much time to manage this situation and pull my attention away from other members of the program.

The teams that I have enjoyed coaching the most, were those that had compatible personalities, understood the importance of accepting each others little quirks and idiosyncrasies, and believed in the value of working hard to make a good season both in terms of wins and satisfaction.

With this player mentioned in the Question - I would suggest a few things.

1. Volleyball players must have severe short term memory. If you make a bad play, know why you made it, try not to make it again, then forget about that play. Holding on to bad plays has no place in sports, especially rally score volleyball games to 25.

2. Film her during practice or matches - Sometimes it takes the critical eye of the camera to show a player how they look to everyone else. Matches that have been on television, I will cringe because I can see vivid illustrations of my shortcomings as a coach while I portray myself to my team and officials. It can be very humbling to see what one actually appears like to others.

3. Directly tell her that every time she acts out about something, it just reduces her rating with regards to potential college programs. College coaches are paid to evaluate PSA's and a player who has a negative slant, will not be as attractive - she simply is hurting her future.

4. Ultimately, it is a very selfish act to beat yourself up about your play. It is focused only on yourself, it does not make you better and it distracts and disrupts the focus of the team. Volleyball is not a selfish sport, in fact, I feel it is the most intensive team sport because you can't catch the ball.

Unless this player has an epiphany, I don't see behaviors like this changing until a coach or program takes away what she most values - playing volleyball. It is much like a child - every time she throws a fit, take away volleyball. She acts out in a practice, then she should shag balls for the rest of the day. She goes off in a match, then she is done for the day. Tough love is tough, but it will be best for the team and for her as player.

Good luck and it is not an easy fix.