Connect with us


Coaching Mental Performance: No Such thing as a “Bad” Practice

While working as a counseling intern for the leading harm reduction facility here in the Greater Chicagoland area: Above and Beyond Family Recovery Center, I often referred to a quote that adorns a wall in one of our group-rooms from Hamlet (Act 2 Scene 2) that goes, “things are neither good nor bad, but thinking makes it so.” I often spoke to this sentiment with my clients who were challenged by deep shame and guilt regarding how their relationship with substances has affected their livelihood. It proved helpful to recognize the possibility of holding two competing truths at the same time: “I have done bad things” and “I’m doing the best that I can” as opposed to perpetually victimizing themselves and focusing solely on their negative experiences.

“Not Good, Nor Bad”

When working with coaches at practice, I often refer to how often we qualify practices on a spectrum of “good” to “bad”. The intention may be that we want to give our athletes a relative frame of reference for their performance during that session. However this often breeds a detriment-focused lens for our athletes who will then only evaluate themselves based upon what they are doing wrong. The opposing point of view could be a “strengths-based” lens in which we acknowledge the athletes right to self-determination and place emphasis on all the ways they are adapting and growing. In this way, we can also look at practice as both a collective set of experiences for the team and individual learning moments for each player.

The challenge is then for coaches to recognize there really isn’t ever a “bad” practice (nor then a ‘good’ one for that matter). There are only learning opportunities. In this sense, the “worst” practices offer the deepest learning opportunities for the team and individual athletes. This approach teaches athletes that no matter the outcome of their play, there are always intrapersonal, interpersonal, and team-based takeaways for every athlete during training and competition.

“It All Plays”

You may have noticed that your athletes consistently passed in a way that put the team out of system more times than not during training, rarely giving in-system chances during game-like drills. Often this prompts a debrief around their need for game-like and in-system reps in certain situations, or for them to focus on how “bad” their passing had been and how to fix it. Instead we could make the debrief around what the team learned about their relationship to each other based on each of the servers they faced, and how they can work to increase their side-out efficiency regardless of where the pass took them. We can talk about the relationship of the hitters approach rhythm relative to the speed and trajectory of the pass and the location on the court the setter takes the ball from, about how to emotionally regulate in-between points to promote a next-point mentality, and even how to address how much attention they can pay to their own training in practice based on how burnt-out they feel during the day, week, and month. You are the coach. You can frame this however you’d like. It All Plays.

“The Benefit of the Doubt”

Giving our players the benefit of the doubt and recognizing that their intentions are rarely to outright “tank” a practice, allows us coaches to pull learning opportunities from virtually every circumstance. It can therefore be helpful for coaches to gain a base level of knowledge regarding what players may need during any given moment during their training. Here’s a handout that coaches can use that is a partial list of basic feelings we feel and how we may choose to fulfill them that can serve as a baseline for coaches to address whatever their athletes may be going through. The first page also provides a way to communicate to your athletes in a way that typically does not evoke a defensive response from them, and the rest of the handout provides phraseology to choose from.

I get it. Play can look “bad”. We all have a good idea of the level of execution we are looking to maintain with our team, and there are times when the team does not meet those expectations during training and/or competition. My hope is to help us all recognize the deeper learning opportunities despite the team’s level of play. There are plenty of them if we know what we are looking for!

This article is shared as part of our Fair Dealing Policy. For the original article, please visit:

The JVA Vision is to be the premier organization to serve all the needs of the Junior Volleyball Community. We are the ONLY national association that is 100% focused on junior volleyball and the needs of junior clubs.

Click to comment

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

More in Youth