I was asked by a client the other day for some advice on beach volleyball coaching for kids. She asked if I had any favourite drills or other activities that I could give her to help. It’s something that I see a lot of-people thinking that being a good coach means having a long drillbook memorised in your head, pulling an exercise from it and getting them going. While drills are important, I think that without the right feedback, adjustments and thought behind the drills, you aren’t much good as a coach at all.
In my eyes, it’s like being a GP with no people skills. You can memorise all the treatments in the world, but if you can’t speak to the patients to work out what is going on, what you prescribe is just a stab in the dark. A good coach, like a good doctor, treats what’s in front of them, and doesn’t just use a one-size-fits-all approach.
So what are these principles, you ask? Well, here they are:
Principle 1: Teach to move, not just play
The best beach volleyball players in the world are all incredibly co-ordinated, agile, fast and strong. Many of the best athletes across all sports grew up doing lots of different sports. Look at the cricketer Ellyse Perry, Australia’s best-known female player. She’s represented her country in both cricket and football, and probably played every sport going when she was younger. So too for England footballer Phil Neville; when he was younger, he could have chosen to be a professional cricketer or footballer. There are countless examples of how being multi-disciplinary is massively important when children are developing.
How does this translate into beach volleyball coaching? My ethos is this: you don’t have to spend all the time digging, setting, spiking or serving. So anything with catching, moving, jumping etc and challenging their co-ordination and motor skills is great! If you can catch a ball on your head, you are getting in the right position to volley. If you can jump and throw a ball, or move and intercept a ball, you are starting to work on spiking and defence without realising it. Both of these are essential motor skills for these two skill elements-you can have the best spike technique ever, but if you can’t locate the ball in the air then it is useless.
The other reason I like this approach is because it provides positive, attainable goals. Young children probably won’t be able to both track a ball in the air, run to it and dig it back to you. If you can get them to do each of these skills separately, they feel that they have accomplished something and are improving at that skill. If you just keep feeding balls for them to run and dig that they can’t get, it’s disheartening and can have the effect we don’t want-to stop their enjoyment. The golden rule is to make things challenging but accomplishable-trust yourself to find that middleground, and keep reflecting on it!
Principle 2. Let them Learn
This is an area that may be controversial, but it is a big part of my beach volleyball coaching. I would prefer to give kids the space and time to learn than hold their hand all the time. Translated, this means trusting the young people I am coaching to work in pairs, 3s or 4s, to feed for each other, and to make mistakes.
It’s something I see loads from young or newly qualified coaches-they want to control the quality really closely, so make everyone wait in one long queue while they feed the perfect set, or a brilliant down ball. Obviously, this way you can make sure that the player gets a high-quality feed, but unless you are working with groups of fewer than 6, I think there is a lot to be said for a more hands-off approach. Here are three reasons why:
Kids learning to feed for a set, or hit at a partner, helps them develop skills they will need in a game and training as they improve. I train four times a week and I need these skills all the time. You have to learn to toss the ball for yourself to serve-why not practice similar things when training?
If you are making 8 kids wait in a line for you to feed, they are touching 1 in 8 balls. If you get them to work in pairs, with them feeding for each other, they are playing a volleyball shot one in every two balls, and also practicing a motor skill for the other one. Yes, it might not be a perfect feed, but isn’t that realistic of the game scenarios these kids will find themselves in? Even pros like the McKibbin bros and Taylor Crabb talk about this..
Finally, the advantage of not being a feeder yourself is that you can go around the groups and give more feedback; you can actually coach, not just feed. If there are 8 kids waiting for you to feed a ball, you can’t really stop for too long to explain something to the player that has just hit. If it’s just two of them, and no-one is waiting for you, then you have the time to explain what you mean. It’s a big difference, and allows you to work more closely with the children you are coaching.
Principle 3. Make it fun.
Last, but definitely not least-my final beach volleyball coaching principle is probably the most important. I’ve touched on this already in the first section, but the thing that guides me in my coaching the most is to make the sessions enjoyable. I believe that, as a coach for kids, your job is to foster a love of sport and exercise first and foremost-even more important now that we are facing an obesity crisis. If that sport happens to be volleyball, even better.
There are loads of ways to make things fun. You can add elements of competition into drills (which pair can get to x number of things first). You can get them doing something silly, or being creative-I like running warm ups where they have to come up with their own games for the rest of the group, for example.
You can add extra balls into drills, you can throw in some funky rules to make them do things differently-there’s loads of ways of doing it. But the main thing is to make sure that the children you are coaching leave the session having enjoyed it. Then they are more likely to come back, which is the way that they get better. You can just dig for 90 minutes and get the kids loads better at that skill-but when they go home saying they got bored, and with bruised arms, and they don’t come back again, it’s not a great return on your investment of time. Better to make sure that they are there, smiling and eager, for your next session.
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I’d love to hear what you think. Do you agree with my beach volleyball coaching principles? Let me know in the comments below…