The Top 5 Qualities I Want in My Players

Being “coachable” is a very broad term, and encompasses many personality traits. The following five qualities carry a high importance to me as a coach, because they can elevate both player and team progress and performance. It is incumbent on the coach to teach and reinforce the character traits they want to see in their athletes.

These 5 qualities are equally important for coaches to embrace in their own actions. The coach is a member of the team, and must constantly work to match or exceed the efforts of his or her players.

1. Passion

Above all, I have no patience for apathy or a lack of passion. In this life, we are fortunate to have choices on how we spend our time. If a player chooses to participate in a sport, they need to understand that they are sacrificing a piece of their life for it . . . literally. If a player displays a lack of passion, I would rather they find another activity or hobby that fills them with joy. Not every day will be a great day physically or emotionally, but when you get onto the court it needs to be your refuge . . . your escape. You need to bring passion to your work. While I believe volleyball is one of the best lifelong sports, I have had several players over the years move on to other areas of passion, whether it be sport or otherwise.

The team’s passion will often match that of the coach or other team leaders. If you want to lead, you must be passionate.

2. Trustworthiness

If a coach asks you to do something – can they trust you to do it? At times a coach will give an instruction to the group, and then have to turn their attention away (perhaps to correct one- on-one with another player). Can the athlete be trusted to do the right thing, and apply the lesson on their own, when the coach is not looking, or will they quickly revert back to “what works” for them in the short term? Can the athlete be trusted to do the off-court training or assignments given to them?

Learning both as an individual and as a team can progress rapidly if all players and coaches develop an environment of high trust.

Trustworthiness also speaks to the team dynamic off the court. Can they be trusted to take care of their bodies and refrain from unhealthy activities away from the court or playing field? Can the players be trusted to have their teammates back at all times? Do they avoid any negative back-talk, gossip, tweets or posts that can destroy the team culture? We can tear more down off the court in a day than we can build upon the court in a season, so we need a high level of trustworthiness amongst all members. Personalities will differ greatly, but when you are on a team, the team purpose always comes first. Find something good in everyone, and focus on those qualities.

3. Stickiness

I talk to my teams about having the ability to make changes stick. Once we learn something, we want to do it the right way from that point forward – especially for the simple mental things. As a coach do I have to repeat the same instructions over and over again? If I ask players to make a change or minor adjustment, how quickly can they adopt that change and make it stick?

Some players will receive feedback, try it, and never look back. It is rare but does happen. Most often, it takes several reminders and multiple repetitions to encode a new movement pattern. Some athletes can change movement patterns more quickly, while others take months of repetitions to break. Think about how fast progress would be if every player had a high degree of “stickiness”.

The degree of “stickiness” that the players have individually, and as a unit, will determine how fast the team can progress.

4. Durability

There will be moments when an athlete goes through an injury either from serious trauma or overuse. This is part of sport, and as coaches we must expect it, accept it, and adjust the plan accordingly. However, players who are constantly at low energy, miss practice when they have a minor ailment, and are continually on the “sick list” are not only difficult to teach, but to build a team around. Practices require consistently high turn-outs in order to run drills and execute team play effectively. This means players must be durable. Keep in mind that missing a high number of practices or games also opens up the opportunity for another player to fill your role.

I am in no way suggesting that players who are seriously ill with the flu, a severe cold or have injuries that need time to heal, participate in practice. However, athletes need to know their bodies and when to push through minor aches, pains and discomforts. Coaches need to make it clear that in sport, and in life, there will be many times you are not 100% physically or mentally, but you still have to show up and do your job. If players see missing practice due to a minor issue as letting down the team and themselves, and not being consistent with their values and that of the team, you will have strong attendance and engaged players.

5. Gratitude

Besides a lack of passion, a sense of entitlement is about the worst quality a player can bring to their team or sport. Nothing is owed to you. Think of how lucky you are to have the opportunity to play a sport or to have the latest shoes, uniforms, and equipment. Even in a country like Canada, not all kids have the resources to play organized sport. In some countries, women cannot play sports at all.

If you are grateful to your parents for their encouragement and love – they will be more willing to keep supporting your passions. If you are grateful for your coach’s investment in you – they will want to invest more in your future. Remind yourself of this every day, particularly during those moments when you are tired, and it is difficult to pack up your bag and head to the gym. Tell yourself, “I get to practice”, rather than “I have to practice”.

Coaches also need to be grateful for the opportunity to coach and make a small impact on kids’ lives. Coaches should view the opportunity to coach the same as the opportunity to play – “I get to coach”.

Conclusion

My personal approach is to speak to my team periodically before practice, usually for 5 minutes, and discuss these types of attributes. Perhaps pick one quality for each week. After stressing to your players how important passion is to you, and the team’s success, you are almost guaranteed to have a high energy practice. Speak to your team about how you value and appreciate durability and the team turn out will be consistently higher. When teaching a technique or a new team system, remind them of how important it is to make the change stick, and the entire team will have a higher accountability to learn quickly and move forward together. Discuss how important it is to show gratitude for the chance to play, and you will have players saying “thanks coach”, as they leave practice, and hugging their parents more in appreciation. Explain trustworthiness when giving out an assignment, and it will bring higher compliance. These are not “nice to dos”, but are critical to building a team culture of high commitment, and high purpose.

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