You can’t call subs in beach

It has been said that after meeting with the great British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, you left feeling he was the smartest person in the world,but after meeting with his rival (previous Prime Minister) Benjamin Disraeli, you left thinking you were the smartest person.

The South Australian Sports Institute (SASI) volleyball program was offering internships a few months ago, so naturally I applied. The catch was the only time I was free to do it was when the indoor season was over which put me square into their beach program. I never liked beach but decided it was time to be a bit more open minded about it. Turned out to be a good experience and the season ended with a king/queen-of-the beach day at SASI and then the king/queen of the beach day at Glenelg. The king/queen-of-the beach is an interesting concept: individuals get paired with a succession of different individuals and the one who wins most is crowned king/queen. It sounds like you have to play with a lot of self-interest, but the point of the exercise is that you can only win by getting the most out of all your different partners.

A massive philosophy in beach that isn’t as obvious in indoor, is the concept of making your teammate better. That’s not to say that indoor volleyballers don’t try to get the best out of their teammates, but like most other team sports, it’s a choice, not a necessity. Because in any sport where you can substitute people during a game, you have the choice of being efficient and effective instead of trying to get more out of something that isn’t performing well. Obviously, you can’t do that in a game of beach. We treat a player that’s playing badly in a game of indoor volleyball differently to how we treat one that’s playing badly in beach volleyball.

When i stepped onto the sand and spoke to the same players i spoke to indoors, i realised just how much some of their “indoor thinking habits” were affecting their ability to succeed on the sand. In indoor, you have starters and players on the bench. You work hard to be a starter. If you play badly, you get benched and someone comes on and gets the chance to prove themselves. You can help weaker players in training, but you don’t have to. Unless you’re supremely confident, you’re always worried someone will take your spot. You can’t think like that on the sand. for the duration of that match or tournament, you’re wedded to that person so you have no choice but to make them better.

This concept of making your teammates and colleagues better isn’t anything new. Phil Jackson writes about it in Sacred Hoops and I’m sure it pops up everywhere. The best book I’ve read about it in recently is Multipliers by Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown, which is really a book about management and getting the intellectual best out of people. The book starts with the quote above, and explicitly, it’s not about sport, although there are some examples of Larry Gelwix’s successful Highland Rugby program. But it does provide an alternative way to look at how we treat people as resources.

The book describes the behaviours of multipliers and diminishers – respectively people who make the people around them smarter, and dumber.

5 main Multipliers “disciplines”:

  • Develop talent instead of using it
  • Are intense, not tense
  • Challenge people to find the answer instead of providing them with the answer
  • Debate decisions instead of making them
  • Invest in people instead of micromanaging them

Are there players that make you feel like the best player on the court, and those that make you feel like the worst? Absolutely. It’s this ability to be proactive in getting more from your teammate that is cultivated more in beach than indoor. I’ve met no shortage of “diminisher” players and coaches and have to admit to having behaved like one at times

Coaching an indoor game, it’s natural for coaches to look at their 8 or 9 person roster and find the most “efficient” and “effective” way to “use” their talent; a tall player goes off in the front court for a shorter player. It’s “efficient” on a ford-ist level but between them you still only have 1 complete player between 2 individuals you’re only using 50% of the time each. but to take the “multiplier” approach, you give both the chance to play all around and “develop” 2 complete players. Do you want to be “efficient”, or do you want to explore what you can get out of ALL of your players?

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One Response to “You can’t call subs in beach”

  1. Ditching your best player « Huy's Volleyball Blog Says:

    […] her book Multipliers, Liz Wiseman writes about how high performers can either have “Multiplier” qualities which make […]

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