Teaching Your Team to Finish Strong

(AP Photo/Joerg Sarbach)

Hi Coach,
Having come off a season where we consistently lost sets, even though we were the 1st team to 20, I'd like to read about how to make my team mentally tough. I?try to get my athletes to be?positive?with their thoughts and I teach them the techniques you suggest in your articles, yet we continue to struggle. For some reason we are unable to consistently stay on top of our game! Don't get me wrong, my girls love to play and work?very?hard. I just feel that they deserve so much more than what they've gotten. Anything you suggest is welcome. And thank you for all the knowledge you provide for us!

It's great to hear from you. I can relate to what you're talking about.?It's happened to my teams. When I created my own club program, I would take my team (usually made up of 90 percent of my own girls) to tournaments. Match after match, we'd be ahead and then lose. Then we'd have game point and lose. Then we'd get destroyed 25-10. We never seemed to lose 25-19. But we'd lose 26-24 or get embarrassed.

As this went on for nine years haha, I realized what the bottom?line was?to winning these matches: I had to increase my players' skill level!

I asked myself if my?girls had the skill to finish the job? In my younger years, I would think, "Heck yeah,?they had to skill to get to 20-17. Of course they should have the skills to finish." But as I went along, I discovered that it often wasn't skill that got my poor little teams ahead 20-17; it wasn't brain cramps and lack of effort that created the loss.

Well, then why does a team get up 20-17, but then lose? Often it's the opponents who don't have a strong work ethic.?Often it's the opponents who don't take the match seriously. They "play down" to their opponents, etc.

Power of Video

I encourage you to look back at the video. How did you get up 20-17? I know your team scored 20 points, but exactly how were those 20 points "earned"? Were 15 of them opponent's hitting errors, blocking errors, serving errors, and their other brain-cramp mistakes? If so, then you team didn't earn those 20 points, your opponents allowed you to get to 20.

Then, as soon as the opponents stopped making all those errors, they started scoring more points for themselves and giving you fewer. At that crucial part of the match,?your team had to ace them or block them or kill a ball; and, your team probably couldn't. Thus, the opponents caught up and they won. No mystery to all this. Your opponents were more skilled.

Now at 20-17 your team may have given the opponents a few points by brain-cramps, blocking errors, serving errors, etc. Sure, they weren't accustomed to winning the close games, therefore, they got nervous. Yeah, you may have some squeamish kids who just couldn't perform under pressure.

And if the video tells you that your players exhibited these behaviors only after the score was 20-17 and at that point your team mentally fell apart, then that is something that can be drilled. Each of your favorite drills can be converted to a pressure drill. In fact, if you want some help with that, email me with, "Tom, tell me how to convert the following drill into a pressure drill."

Final Stretch ?

But, Coach, most often the team that loses at the end can't keep up with the opponent who decides to display their better skills for the final 5 minutes of the match. ?

Sure, part of winning is confidence. Sure, finishing one game breeds the confidence that you can do it again. Sure, winning breeds winning. But all this requires your team to have more skill than your opponents. And if you don't have any tough serving, any strong hitting or any big blocking team members, then you're at the mercy of your opponents.

Let's?look at it from another angle. Let's say you're up 20-17 and you've served 4 aces, stuffed?3 balls, and you've have 9 kills. Then you?have the firepower to win the game. Your team can take the game from the opponents. Your team is in command of its destiny. In other words, you're not at the mercy of the other team.??

I've coached in both situations. I've coached where we took games from our opponents, regardless of whether we were behind 10-15, or 22-24. I've also been in?the opposite?situation where no lead is safe, and I was?always on pins-and-needles, hoping the opponents continue to make errors.
Finally. ?Coach, hang in there. Losing happens. In volleyball, the winning team is usually the better team. Keep telling yourself that if you improve your players' skills, then they will win more and more games! ?It's true! Then one day in the near future, when your players are killing, blocking and serving tough, it'll be the other teams that are saying, "How come we can get to 20 every time we play them, but we can't ever get to 25?" ?

Coach Tom Houser is director of STAR Volleyball Camps as well as author of the “I Can’t Wait” Drill Collection and Ebooks. For more info check out www.coachhouser.com

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