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Transfer of Knowledge - Coach

Transfer of Knowledge - ability for players to execute skills being trained. 

One of the greatest coaches of all time, John Wooden, once said, “You have not taught until they have learned.” Coaches need to remember that they are always teachers, and teaching is a skill that can be grown and nurtured. Three things need to be assessed before we go about the business of coaching. Two of them come from the player, the third comes from the coach. Can the athlete we are training physically perform the skill? Does the athlete possess the mental acuity required for the tasks at hand? Lastly, does the coach/team have the time to train and implement the skill for competency/mastery? I have seen coaches complain that their players will not execute the things they have been trying to teach. I believe these thoughts to be a bit misguided and presumptuous at their core. It all boils down to the two questions above.

Is a player physically capable of performing the skill? Blocking is one of those skills that has the quickest physical assessment. Most volleyball coaches tend to see height as the defining factor of physical ability for our sport as a whole. In the first year I coached high school, there was an athlete who walked in at around 5’10”. At the time, she was the tallest player in the gym. I later learned, and was often reminded by my assistant, that she was not as athletic as I had assumed to put up an effective block. She may have had some capable height, but did not have the physical talent to be quick. It just did not work.

Does a player have the mental tools required for the skill? This assessment tends to be a bit tougher. I generally categorize mental tools into two things: spatial awareness and processing speed. Spatial awareness includes knowing what's happening around them and projecting things in their minds. Processing speed is attuned to how fast the brain is assessing things as they are happening, as well as moving from item to item to process.

There was a camp I was working at a few years ago, and we were working through serve receive. We want athletes to visualize ball flight paths as the server is serving to help assess where and how to set up passes. There was one athlete I was working with, and I could tell she was not tracking the ball very well. I pulled her aside to talk her through it a bit more. She shared with me that she has a condition called aphantasia – the inability to create mental imagery, also known as mind’s eye blindness. A very athletic athlete that could not project or imagine things. Not too many studies about this condition have been done, but it was the first time as a coach I had encountered someone with this type of inability, and it was very eye-opening as a coach.

Another quote from John Wooden I think about often when assessing athletes is, “God in his infinite wisdom did not create us all equal.” This includes the speed at which our brain processes things occurring around us. We were on our last day of tryouts for varsity many years ago. It came down to one last spot for a Defensive Specialist. There was only one way to make my final decision. Four attackers versus the defender. The first one went, and although it was hard for her, she was able to get touches on balls all over the place. The second one could touch a few of the balls. What was more intriguing was the times the ball hit the ground and then the athlete dove. There was such a clear difference in how fast each of these players was assessing what was occurring. There was only one choice at that point.

I want to share that coaches also have this processing talent to self-assess. There was a coach I was working with this past year that helped me understand the gap that can exist between coaches and processing speed. This can be due to mental limitation or also experience. Take time to test how fast you can assess your athletes and team with a more experienced coach. I have also learned that this processing speed can increase and decrease with time and experience.

The last item is time to work and develop the skills. Most skills can be trained. The question for us coaches that I overestimate sometimes is, do I have the time to help close the gap or correct the issues? Seasons tend to fly by faster than any of us truly feel. Here is where the rise of private lessons has taken hold. This is a whole different discussion and blog post. Nevertheless, we as coaches can overcome a lot of things if we were given an infinite amount of time to improve our players. Alas, this is just never true. Athletes never really fail if they never give up. They may run out of time though.

There are so many things we need to do as coaches to help the athletes under our care to improve. We must also sincerely assess the situation and the limitations. There are limitations that provide us the guideline to plan and effectively deliver to those who trust us with the skills they are entrusting us to teach. Always remember to teach with sincerity and honor. Accurately assessing your athletes will help greatly in that endeavor. Best of luck with your season to all coaches out there.

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