A Painstaking, But Worthwhile Evaluation Tool

Hall of Fame coach Mike Hebert told me that one of his most valuable tools to develop as a coach was recording video and audio of himself during multiple practices. My first reaction was my fear of what I would see or hear if I tried this self-improvement tactic. I did summon the courage, and my fears were well-founded. The good news was it proved to be a springboard to improvement.

If you decide to observe your practice session, knowing what you want to identify is one of the keys to accurately assessing your coaching performance. You may or may not be able to accomplish this aspect of the observation. One of the downsides of going through this process independently is that your bias’ may impact how you perceive your practice organization and performance. Having another set of eyes to observe your practice might assist.

Dr. Carl McGown

At this point, I need to relay a story of Dr. Carl McGown observing one of my training sessions when I was coaching at Ohio State. Carl was in Columbus for a motor learning seminar and took the time to observe a practice. When I asked for his feedback, he was somewhat hesitant, but after much prodding, his first sentence was, “I think you just wasted two and one-half hours.” He proceeded to be highly critical of my activities. Although the evaluation session ruined a delicious lunch, it made me a better coach. For that, I’m eternally grateful to Dr. McGown. If you bring another set of eyes to evaluate your session, be prepared, as an honest evaluation might be uncomfortable.

When watching or listening to yourself in a training session, you need to focus on the aspects that have the most consequence on your coaching effectiveness. I’ve listed some suggestions (in no particular order of importance):

Time Management

  • Take notes on how every minute in practice is spent. 
  • How many minutes were spent with the coach talking, organizing, explaining drills/activities, designating teams/partners/scoring, etc.?
  • How often does the coach stop an activity? For what purpose? Did the stoppage inhibit the flow of practice?
  • How many minutes are spent on water breaks?
  • How many minutes are spent in drills that have minimal transfer for skill or team development?
  • How much time on the warmup, stretching, and unfocused ball handle activities?
  • How much practice time is spent chasing volleyballs? 
  • How much time on post-practice evaluation?
  • Does the coach spend time interacting with players in advance or after practice?

Coaching Feedback

  • What forms of feedback are implemented? Verbal, body language, statistical, video? 
  • Regardless of format, does the feedback correct behavior or criticize behavior?
  • Is the feedback specific and timely, with a recommendation moving forward?
  • After receiving feedback, does the player have the immediate opportunity to repeat the skill, or do they need to wait for another opportunity?
  • How often does the coach stop the practice to provide feedback?
  • Although video feedback is valuable, does it take too much time away from valuable contacts? Can the video component be accomplished pre or post-practice?
  • Do the players exhibit proper listening skills when receiving verbal feedback?
  • Does the coach provide feedback to all the players, or is the focus on those who will receive the most playing time?

Practice Format

  • Are the players being challenged with tasks that encourage them to go beyond their current skill set?
  • Is there a priority on game-related activities that offer constraints that encourage a focus on specific aspects for individual or team improvement? 
  • Do a majority of your activities start with a serve?
  • Do most of your activities have specific, measurable objectives? 
  • Does the content focus on addressing skill or system weakness, or is the focus on making a skill or system strength even stronger?

Once you have the data from your practice, the question is whether the practice sessions accurately reflect your values and philosophy. In addition, do the activities facilitate an atmosphere where the athletes can improve their skills and have a positive experience? I was disappointed in many aspects of my sessions when I went through this process. The most glaring concern was how often I would halt practice activities to address the team on the issue of the moment.

I highly recommend this exercise of self-examination or with a trusted advisor to advance your teaching process. How a coach organizes and implements practice sessions is the most meaningful aspect of your job. It is time well spent examining your process and constantly searching for improvement.