The coach as Auteur

A colleague of mine wrote recently about how there is an abundance of volleyball “programs”, many of which serve single purposes (eg a tournament) but aren’t necessarily athlete focused. For me, a program is anything where there are more than one team’s worth of players that share some resources.

In any case, we do have a lot of these programs. One player I am coaching is involved in 6 volleyball programs. It’s an extreme case, but still quite a lot. Could there be a better way to do it for the athlete? That’d be nice.

Part of the problem I think is every coach likes to be an auteur.

Auteurism is one of those wanky French film terms that became common in the 70s – referring to Filmmakers who not only directed their films but wrote and produced them too. Graduates of film schools are now under the delusion that this is a god given right. Truth is, before that the norm was to have producers in charge of running the “business” side of things, screenwriters who wrote scripts and Directors who turned up on the set and got the actors to hit their cues.

We have too many coaches that expect too many things of players. I’m partly to blame. I’m coaching a “program” that trains twice a week, adding to the burden that many of my players already have. If a player is involved in 4 programs and they all expect the player to train twice a week, that’s a lot of hours spent on things that have no obvious synergy.

Sometimes a coach’s job is to just put players on and let them play. Someone else has written the script and all they need to do is get the performers to hit those cues.

In my end-of-season report as women’s coach of my last volleyball club, I wrote that one of the program’s big challenges was managing the workload of a growing number of talented players who were involved in other programs (SASI, State etc). The club never had these sorts of players in their women’s teams before, and largely had players whose only source of development came from the club. I suggested that perhaps one way to do it was to allow exceptional players with big workloads to play without training as much as other players. It’s not an easy sell and creates all sorts of problems in building a club culture that rewards effort and contribution. It was a challenge I would have taken on had I stayed at the club because the alternative would have been burning out players early.

Maybe what’s best for the athlete is to be able to play at some levels without having to train as much. AFL footballers aren’t expected to train with their SANFL/VFL sides if they get dropped, and they still get to start. Unfortunately, it’s not necessarily what’s best for the team, but it’s worth finding a way to manage it.

How much training does a team need to be competitive? As I have spoken to coaches in different states it’s surprising how different they do things from each others. The results aren’t always consistent with the time put in. My U16 Girls state team trained 16 x 3hrs last year. The ACT team we played off against in the Bronze medal game trained a few times after their National Juniors commitments were over. The Queensland team that won every game but the last had a couple of camps.

Alexis’ post poses the question about what would happen if things were more athlete driven. Instead of having to master every skill and tactic in a short timeframe for each program over and over again, what if  they worked on skills until they mastered them. The implication being that at some competitions there will be some underdeveloped skills. It’s not ideal from the team coach’s point of view, but creative problem solving is very much part of what coaches need to do (technically, if this approach was taken, things would be even with a lot of players underdeveloped in the same areas at the same competitions). I’ve definitely had successful and/or rewarding tournaments where my team could only do one or 2 skills really well.

Auteurism died in Hollywood in the late 70s because filmmakers were unable to prove that being given more money, time and control equated to making films that people paid to go see. Some of the best filmmaking comes from the filmmaker having boundaries, and being forced to find creative solutions by understanding their audience, genre and the parameters for success. Sometimes coaching isn’t so different.


5 Responses to “The coach as Auteur”

  1. alexislebedew Says:

    I particularly like the last paragraph. The boundaries help creativity. I actually just wrote a post about the art of coaching being in managing the boundaries (particularly time).

  2. VolleyTaxi Says:

    In swimming, Coaches become territorial and outright hostile towards anyone else coaching their swimmers, believing that changes to the swimmer’s program, increases to workload, changes to technique will have a detrimental effect on the swimmers development & performance.

    Volleyball has the added complexity of more athletes making representative teams resulting in exposure to different coaches with different approaches let alone different priorities. For example state coaches must face pressure to focus more on the result rather than longer term athlete development.

    I know a young player trying to learn the game who currently has exposure to 5 different environments, often having more than one guide at each of these venues. The conflicting advice is causing some confusion in the players mind as he tries to find his own techniques.

  3. Sketch Says:

    May I reference the Falcons Men’s honours team this year as an example. Due to the involvement of most of our players in multiple “programs” (state, academy, school) we train once a week for an hour to 90 minutes, on a friday night before a saturday afternoon game. Basic warm up and get some touches, discussion and brief drill/walk through of what we are planning to do tomorrow, warm down, home. Despite being the youngest in the competition by a long way we sit on top of the ladder a third of the way through the season. Games are referred to as match practice.

    • Hugh Nguyen Says:

      That sounds like a good way of managing things. The benefit to Falcons is attracting and retaining the quality players in the short term, but also building a relationship with players who may be more involved in the club when their involvement in other programs finishes.

      Looks like you guys are doing well. How do you get it to work with the players who only play for Falcons? These guys might turn up to the one weekly practice more often but still wind up on the bench.

      • Sketch Says:

        Due to the age of our team, if you remove our oldest player the average age is 17, there’s only one player who isn’t getting at least two trainings a week.

        We really struggled to get a training venue on a night that didn’t clash with another training that would cost us a significant portion of our team, so the situation we have at the moment as much by luck than by design.

        Because of the relatively close grouping we have in terms of age and location, almost everyone on the team (save the old guy) has or currently does play with their Falcons team members in another team. So we’re not relying on training time together to develop familiarity.

        I think an important element of our success has been our new coach hasn’t tried to implement any drastic changes, in contrast to many of the other coaches we see at state league (and elsewhere). The game we won on saturday was in part due to our opposition being stifled by their (albeit very successful) coach. Being a good coach is not knowing everything, it’s knowing what is the right thing for the team you are coaching.

        This also relates to coaches trying to “claim” players, very few volleyballers once they get beyond their initial team/training have only had one coach. Even if you have had a large impact on a player as a coach, there has undoubtedly been other contributors. No man is an island, it takes a village to raise a child, etc., etc.

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