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Last year was the first time that I have ever attended the ASC in a role other than that of a coach.

Working on some of the younger divisional courts, I was amazed and disappointed at the way some of these younger kids were being treated. For some of them, I thought that it would probably be their first and last tournament. The expectations some coaches were putting on these kids was just outright unreasonable.

One girls team—in a division where free balls and trying serve in was the order of the day—were being told by their obviously knowledgeable coach about stack blocking. A good point for AVL teams perhaps, but way off the mark in that level of competition.

Right now, your kids are about as good as they are going to be skill wise at this tournament. All kids will learn at an event like this, that is why the event is so important for the development of our junior players. If they learn lots and lots, then perhaps these kids have learnt more by playing matches than they did by attending your trainings.

I have been there and done that. Indeed a salutary lesson learned and one we will all eventually learn.

Volleyball unfortunately is a game that can be broken down into its many parts. Volleyball coaches since time began have been breaking the game down and have been doing this to their disadvantage. Kids will often learn more by playing a match than they will by doing some poorly referenced drill training actions that are not relevant in the actual game. This week, some teams will certainly prove this to some coaches.  

After many years of coaching rubbish, I ceased to brag about how much my kids improved during the tournament as I eventually realised how little they had improved by my training drills during the year compared to the tournament they had just played.

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The ramifications for Australian volleyball are clear: we need more tournaments and regular match opportunities for our juniors. The fact that the ASC is such a huge portion of a kids volleyball year is not something we should be proud of. Yes, it is a great tournament. However, it should be one of many.

As I said above, all kids will improve at the ASC. As coaches, we can facilitate that improvement by, as John Kessel says, “catching them doing something good and then telling them”. Be consistent and positive in your message.

Of course, that is way harder than it sounds. Don’t throw your clipboard on the floor, don’t raise your voice, try to avoid rolling your eyes and don’t be sarcastic. If you manage to do that all week email the Pope at the Vatican and seek your well-deserved sainthood.

Work hard to make sure your team has a great time during the week, so much so that they will not be able to wait till training starts next year so that they can do it all over again. Do other things beside volleyball during the week—even if you come last, we all need your kids to want to come back again next year.

Make sure every kid has their moment in the sun. If “Benny/Betty the benchie” does something great either on or off the court make sure you take the time to acknowledge it. Work out now how you can have all the kids start in a set and how you can get them on the court.

Our challenge as coaches will be to turn the negatives into positives and make every match an opportunity to get better. One method I used was to ask my players: “when was your best ever match?”. If it was deep into the past then that is clearly not desirable and they need to have a “best match” soon.

Often with juniors they do have their best match but do not recognise it as such, because they remember their errors. It is our job to help these kids have their best match, and to tell them if they do. You may find with this increased confidence may lead to another best match in their next game.

Next week I will address the issue of a kid or team who is just not getting better, strategies on how to deal with it, and how to get your worst players on the court without doing too much damage.