By Dawn Redd, volleyball coach, Beloit College, Wisconsin
Usually when we talk about building chemistry, we’re talking about amongst the players. But I think it’s just as important that the team connects with the coach as well.
1. Talk to them individually every day. It’s easy to think that we’re keyed in with everyone on our teams, but I wonder if most of us aren’t closer to our starters than our non-starters. I’ll never forget being in high school and one of my teammates complaining about our track coach — I didn’t agree with her. And she went on to tell me that he treated his good athletes much differently than those who weren’t as talented. In the interest of building great team chemistry, taking a moment out of each day to connect with your athletes is well worth the time.
2. Share positive news. Whether it’s one of your players making player of the week, or giving a big presentation in class, or just performing well in a drill, being loud with praise is important. We encourage our athletes to challenge themselves and to take risks, so failure is a constant partner on the road to success. I’ve been known to stop an entire practice and make everyone focus in on one player who’s doing exactly what I want. It makes that player feel good and everyone else silently hopes that they’ll get the chance one day.
3. Give your leaders room to lead. I used to have one day a season that was designated as a “Captain’s Practice,” meaning that they ran the entire practice. Of course I had to see a practice plan and feel positive that everyone gave input, but essentially it was their day. Whatever you decide to do, it’s pretty important that your captains are more than figureheads, but actually have responsibilities. Organizing team and community service events, being the gauge for your team’s temperature, and being both vocal leaders and leaders by example are ways that they can really stretch their leadership wings.
4. Reward them for accomplishing short term goals. Most teams have the same big goals, but those require many little goals along the way. “Winning conference” or “becoming an all-American” doesn’t just happen. And just saying it certainly doesn’t make it happen. So as your team meets certain benchmarks during the season, be sure to acknowledge the effort and come up with some way to give them a pat on the back.
5. Help with the menial tasks sometimes. Unfortunately, I’m like those old-school parents who say that they only had kids so that they would mow the lawn, shovel the snow, and wash the dishes. But even I will shag the occasional ball every now and then or help take down the nets after practice. Not too often, but enough that the team doesn’t think my hands are broken and that’s why I don’t help out.
Try these out, and discuss with other coaches on your team how it worked.