Coaches That I Want to Watch in a Practice Session

“Everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned from someone else” – Keith Richards, Rolling Stones guitarist.

Joshua Bell is one of the world’s virtuoso violinists. I recently read a piece about Bell playing for hours in a Washington D.C. subway with little acknowledgment from commuters. Out of 1,097 people who passed by Bell, 27 gave money, and only seven stopped and listened for any length of time. Bell made $52.17, including a $20 note from someone who recognized him. 

In fairness, few would expect bystanders to recognize Bell by sight. However, one would expect the quality of the music to encourage one to stop for a moment and admire a genius at work.

“What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?” ~ William Henry Davies

Similar to the commuters who ignored Bell’s talent, from a volleyball viewpoint, it is easy for coaches to get so wrapped up in their daily duties that taking the time to appreciate and learn from what is happening in other gyms is deemed a luxury rather than a priority.

I started a video-based coach education business when I retired from Ohio State. Although I eventually sold this venture, to this day, I miss watching the training sessions of coaches I hold in high regard. I observed volleyball versions of coaching virtuosos from every level of our sport. I was intrigued by how these successful coaches organized their training sessions and taught their teams offensive and defensive systems or skill development. I was most impressed with the high-level communication skills, allowing coaches to simplify a complicated concept for their team members.

During the off-season, coaches ask their players to develop their game. Goals are set, and a plan is put into action. However, coaches tend to put their personal development on the proverbial back burner. The door for coaching improvement is there; coaches must walk through it and take advantage of available opportunities. During my career, I learned the most when I went to training sessions with coaches and asked a bunch of questions. Like the violin virtuoso, appreciate the job selected colleagues do in their gyms and take the initiative to examine their methods.

Hall of Fame UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden, to grow as a coach, would visit a competitor’s program annually and have extensive conversations with colleagues on a specific aspect of the game.

Eric Spoelstra, Jim Crutchfield, Brad Stevens

I encourage coaches to observe and talk with any coach, regardless of level, who might assist in their coaching development. NBA coaches Brad Stevens (formerly Boston Celtic coach) and Eric Spoelstra (Miami Heat) would seek out Division II coach Jim Crutchfield (Nova Southeastern) when needing consultation. WSJ Article

Coaches should look for colleagues who do the most with their talent, are good at teaching various aspects of the game, seem to have outstanding leadership and team chemistry, run an offense or defense that merits investigation, etc. I recall the entire Ohio State Football staff visiting the University of Miami program to learn more about the spread offense.

What coaches would be intriguing to spend time with to learn more about their secret sauce? This is a very rough list of gyms I would like to visit. (in no particular order).

  • Ben Josephson, Assistant Coach at Kentucky- great concepts of developing offensive strategies
  • Toshi Yoshida, former USA Women’s National Team – a great teacher of defensive skills
  • Dan Fisher, Head Coach, University of Pittsburgh- program development, training philosophy
  • Kirsten Booth, Head Coach, Creighton University- team chemistry, leadership
  • John Speraw, USA Men’s National Team- incorporating statistics into strategies and techniques
  • Dani Busboom Kelly, University of Louisville – program development, teaching skills
  • Chris Catanach, University of Tampa – long-term program success
  • Mike Lingenfelter, Munciana VBC – teaching fundamental skills and movement, developing challenging standards in a club environment
  • Alfee Reft, UCLA – teaching skills, practice organization
  • Kelly Sheffield, Wisconsin – skill development, talent management
  • Doug Beal, Former USA Coach – what he has learned during his career.
  • Tom Hilbert, Former Colorado State Coach – how to market a program.

Additionally, I would pursue coaches or experts from a variety of fields. Football coaches demonstrate time management in practice. I like how soccer coaches develop youth programs and teach the skills of the game. I would also pursue experts in physical training, communication and team building, and staff management.

There is no doubt there are additional coaches whose approach to the game is thought-provoking. The takeaway is not to be the subway pedestrian who walks past a genius. Observe a practice and ask probing questions to get an interesting answer. Similar to Wooden, coaches should seek out a better coach for wisdom. No matter how good you think you are, there are better coaches “out there” who would welcome you into their gyms.