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Coaching Mental Performance: Team Identity and Value Systems

Despite a club’s best intentions to make sure all coaches are maintaining consistent verbiage across age groups and skill levels, and keeping the expectations of the training environment relatively consistent, it often devolves into coaches putting their own spin on how they train their squad. What results is a team identity that is uniquely their own and becomes an integral component of their overall performance.

Team Values

Often when I speak to team’s about their identity, I refer to Nitsch and Hackfort’s (2016) idea that performance excellence means intentional and valuable contributions relative to the sociocultural and/or personal value system the team has created, or has yet to create. Their theoretical framework of performance psychology argues that “performance” is a relational concept. Furthermore, “Team Values” provide a standard, and an aspiration level, in relation to the athlete’s skills and their personal value system. When we adhere to the established core values of the team, we achieve performance excellence through maximizing intention of the behaviors we want to see out of our athletes and minimizing unfavorable side effects and undesired long-term consequences. With a framework to describe how we need to behave on/off the court, our season becomes about developing, maintaining, and reestablishing (if need be) desired and actual motivation, competence, and resilience of the team so that they can adapt to the rising-demand of competition.

Define Value Systems

Now, if you have been following along with the Coaching Mental Performance Series, you recognize that there is a theme of bottom-up processing (see the article around the neurobiology of development). When we consider that the athletes are trying their best to regulate themselves, coregulate with their peers, and manage the stress of their environments, coaches want to make sure they provide environments that allow athletes the freedom to express themselves as naturally as possible; so as to have a safe environment to figure out how they respond to the demand of competition. Therefore, when guiding value orientation sessions, I encourage the players to define their value systems. This places the players as the sole creators of the set of standards they will base their performance from and increase the likelihood of them naturally developing the resilience needed to adapt to the demands of competition.

Often coaches extensively and specifically define offensive and defensive systems, starting positions, nuanced play-patterns (like who should get the second ball when the setter takes the first), and even how to play the ball. The more the coaches define for the athletes, the higher risk they have of impeding the athlete’s natural instincts to the point where they do not feel safe expressing themselves now, and during future efforts. Value Systems therefore can help define your training environment in a way that the athlete’s can adhere to and regulate themselves within, without too many structures and regulations impeding their natural movements, therefore allowing them to adapt to the rising demand of competition and achieving performance excellence.

Value Orientation

Depending on what type of leader you are and what leadership looks like for your team will determine how your team acquires their values. When considering how to address your team and their values I like to make sure that the team knows that:

  1. They ultimately will play for themselves and each other, so they all must be in agreement with these values.
  2. How we hold each other accountable will be determined on how we define each of these values.
  3. Values are relatively static, however we can address and reestablish a team value during our season if it no longer aligns with how the team wants to operate. Often-times this happens when players are moved on/off our teams.
  4. Defining core values can have a language component – however language here is largely arbitrary. Language serves as our reference point for a felt sense of alignment, not necessarily always to be logical and rational. Allow the athletes to use whatever language they need to articulate how they want to feel and ultimately perform on the team.


Nitsch, J. R., & Hackfort, D. (2016). Theoretical framework of performance psychology: An action theory perspective. In Performance psychology (pp. 11-29). Academic Press.

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About the Author

Rob Samp is the Mental Performance Coach for MOD Volleyball, a JVA member club in Chicago, Illinois. He currently holds the title of LPC within the State of Illinois, utilizing EMDR and Brainspotting to work with complex PTSD, Depression, and Anxiety around Cook County, IL.  He is a Certified Mental Performance Consultant”, CMPC through AASP.

Samp has nearly a decade of coaching experience at the junior and collegiate level. He is grateful to be continuing his pursuit for facilitating performance excellence within MOD, as well as the universities around the Chicagoland area. Click here for Samp’s contact information and website.

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