If I Had Coaching Do-Overs, This Would Be One

Coaches at every level are on a continuous treadmill of to-do’s. Collegiate coaches are practicing, planning practice, competing, recruiting, filling out compliance forms, promoting their team, and I could go on. Club coaches have non-volleyball jobs that take most of their daily focus, but after wolfing down a quick meal disguised as dinner, they race to practice to work with their troops. Many high school coaches are full-time teachers with all the duties one would expect of a teacher in addition to their coaching responsibilities. Regardless of the level, coaches are, by default, very busy. 

Given the schedules of coaches, it is essential to prioritize any activity based on the benefit relative to the time invested. I will make a case for something I never did as a collegiate coach, but, in retrospect, I wish I had.

Michelle Chatman-Smith

I’m not a prolific writer nor a talented wordsmith like my friend, Terry Pettit. I enjoy writing blog posts like this or in my daily journal because it forces me to think, evaluate, learn, and plan. All of which are critical components for any coach or teacher. I went most of my coaching career without doing any form of writing, which, upon reflection, was a colossal mistake. I started keeping a journal when I retired from Ohio State and coached the USA U-18 Girls National Team. Actually, my assistant coach, Michelle Chatman-Smith, turned me on to the process. She had the players journaling at the end of each day. I discovered that the players found value in having to think about what was going well, or the challenges they were facing, random thoughts, etc. I gradually began the routine and have carried forth with writing down my thoughts pretty much every day.

I became a different and better coach by putting my thoughts to paper. The process of writing provided a personal forum for in-depth thinking and learning, recognizing mistakes, pursuing remedies for challenges, considering options, examining methodology, and planning a path forward.

Scientists call this process “metacognition.” Put simply, metacognition is “thinking about thinking.” When I coached, I did spend time thinking about practice content, player development, coaching strategies, etc. However, most of this thought was done on the fly or when I was emotionally charged after a match or practice. I rarely took the time to process my thoughts and perform a deep dive into the whys of my actions, inactions, or reactions. 

There are apps available to do this on a computer. However, I prefer handwriting my thoughts. It is a much slower process of organizing, displaying, and reviewing the day’s events. Therein lies the benefit. The coach must allocate time to get off the proverbial treadmill, go slower, and ponder the daily highs and lows. How can you improve your practice sessions? How could the just completed “bad” practice have been organized better? Are there offensive options or things that I want to try? Is there data that supports my decisions? Do my daily activities and interactions with the players fall within my coaching philosophy? By the way, what is my coaching philosophy?

As all coaches are painfully aware, on a daily basis, there are a million things worthy of your attention. By writing down your thoughts, you will begin to filter through your daily activities, and paths forward will present themselves. Writing is a great explainer. The French writer Nicolas Boileau-Despreaux once said, “What is clearly thought out is clearly expressed.” If you struggle to write an explanation for your coaching actions or ideas, then you may be on thin-ice for justifying those actions or pursuing new ideas. Without this reflective process of your methods and routines, you can quickly become a prisoner of your coaching habits. I can attest from my own experience that this is a mistake. There are so many blunders that I’ve made that could have been avoided if I had just taken a moment of written contemplation.

Investing the time to write down your thoughts provides a platform for investigating the what and why of your coaching performance with possible avenues for improvement. There are many methods of doing a coaching journal. You can go free-form and jot down thoughts and ideas that are currently rattling through your brain. Or, you can get more structured and do a Plus/Minus/Next format of your thoughts. The Plus refers to events that went well; the Minus refers to what didn’t go so well, and the Next would be a plan forward. 

Don’t make the mistake of being superficial with your thoughts. If your team performs poorly in serve-receive, dig deep into the why of the poor performance. The plan forward shouldn’t just be “more practice” or “I need better players.” So often, what is visible with the eyes or the stat sheet is not the problem but the result of the problem. Perhaps the generic thought of “more practice” should be replaced by reviewing visual cues for the passer, not forming the platform too early, or more repetitions on executing a drop-step on an incoming serve with a high trajectory. Part “B” of your thoughts might be why aren’t my players executing better? Do I need to modify how I present the skills or the time allocated in practice? Might more video analysis assist in the learning process? As you write down your thoughts, possible plans moving forward might appear.

The process of a daily journal is a time investment, along with requiring a degree of courage. You might discover that your current path merits modification. Will the return on the time investment be worthwhile? Based on my experience, I unequivocally state that you will be a better coach by investing time into a daily journal. If do-overs were possible, I would commit to this task every day.