Effective Coaching 101

Fundamentals of Effective Coaching

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There are three core fundamentals to effective coaching. The more successful you are in mastering these fundamentals, the faster your players will learn, the better your team will play together, and the bigger the impact you will have on your players outside of the gym.


There are basic physiological laws that govern the motor learning process, regardless of the sport or activity.

Rule #1: Players have a limited ability to process information

Associated Coaching Principles:

  • Keep it simple
  • Use key phrases
  • Use visuals and demonstrations

Examples in Practice:

  • Demonstrate skills as much as possible, but only if you have proper form. Use players as examples when possible.
  • Use key phrases to make feedback succinct and consistent
  • Focus on one or two things at a time. You can’t teach everything at once.

Rule #2: Motor learning is specific

  • Associated Coaching Principles:
  • Minimize progressions
  • Make drills as game-like as possible

Examples in Practice:

  • Use only as many progressions as needed to ensure at least a moderate level of success.
  • Initiate as many balls from the other side of the net as possible.
  • Use pass-set-hit drills for passing drills, setting drills, and hitting drills.
  • Let drills play out to a natural conclusion

Rule #3: Feedback is critical!

  • Associated Coaching Principles:
  • Make feedback specific
  • Focus on effort, not results
  • Player centered drills

Examples in Practice:

  • Make feedback specific. Most players know when they make a good serve or a good pass. Tell them why. “Great platform! And way to get your feet set!” is infinitely more valuable than “nice pass!”
  • Provide feedback prior to skill being performed. If you know a player has certain tendencies, it is much more effective to address them as she is preparing to perform the skill rather than just afterwards.
  • Put yourself in the best position to provide feedback. You are much more effective standing next to a player than being 45’ on the other side of the net. “Player-centric” drills will allow you to provide better feedback.


There are basic psychological laws that impact the learning process, regardless of the sport or activity. These apply to everyone, but especially for young women.

Rule #1: Players will do what is emphasized and/or expected

Associated Coaching Principles:

  • Be consistent with your actions and words
  • Emphasize effort and adjustments, not results
  • Set expectations consistently
  • Examples in Practice:

Use “do” feedback instead of “don’t” as much as possible

Stop drills to recognize players for doing things right

If you want your team to pass-set-hit, you must celebrate and recognize a team for doing it, regardless of the outcome of the point. By the same token, you might not yell at the setter for just “dumping” the ball over instead of setting her hitters, but you shouldn’t ignore it either

If you want maximum effort from your players, you must be relentless in your expectations, regardless of the situation. If you demand focus and intensity erratically, not only will your team play erratically, they will be frustrated because they don’t know what to expect.

Rule #2: Confident players are better, and learn faster

Associated Coaching Principles:

  • Positive reinforcement is essential, especially in learning phases
  • Put players in a position to succeed
  • Make sure your players know you believe in them

Examples in Practice:

  • Set drills up for success. If a player or team makes a mistake, allow them repeat attempts so they can get it right.
  • Use positive reinforcement liberally and catch them doing it right.
  • Be very aware of your body language, it speaks much louder and more effective than your voice.
  • Players aren’t scared of not hitting the ball over the net, they are scared of letting their team down or having their coach single them out. Minimize this fear and players will be more confident.

Rule #3: The more they trust, the more they learn

Associated Coaching Principles:

  • Be a role model
  • Be confident
  • Be capable

Examples in Practice:

  • Work with the coaching staff to be organized. Know what the plan is for the team and for individuals every practice and tournament.
  • Know your team’s lineups, serve receive patterns, etc.
  • Build relationships with the players. They say that players don’t care what you know until they know you care.
  • Have something to say at breaks, beginning/end of practices/tournaments.


The environment may be the most critical fundamental of effective coaching. You will find effective coaches that don’t necessarily adhere to some of the physiological and/or psychological guidelines, but you will not find an effective coach who has not created a good practice environment. Teaching good practice behavior might be the most valuable skill you can teach your players. Having a set of practice rules will help you create a good practice environment and will allow you to be more effective.

Rule #1: You can’t teach if you don’t have their attention

  • Associated Coaching Principles:
  • Demand eye contact when speaking
  • Do not allow players to be distractions
  • Give responsibility of drills to players

Examples in Practice:

  • It does not take much to be distracted – one player can disrupt an entire practice. Address those players by speaking with them individually or simply sit them out.
  • When addressing the team, everyone must pay attention and stop bouncing balls, tying shoes, adjusting kneepads, or anything besides being still.
  • One person talking at a time
  • Players who are not “active” in the drill must continue to pay attention.
  • Empower players to “make drills work” by shagging and allowing them to do things like change lines to keep the drill flowing.

Rule #2: Intensity and effort is part of a team’s culture

Associated Coaching Principles:

  • Structure of practices helps encourage intensity and effort
  • Scoring is easier than screaming
  • Use pace of drills to control your team
  • The coach should help bring the energy

Examples in Practice:

  • Help keep water breaks short
  • Demand hustle while shagging balls
  • When appropriate, make drills as fast as possible without sacrificing form
  • Demand communication. Intensity is highly correlated to volume.

Rule #3: Details matter

Associated Coaching Principles:

  • Sweat the small stuff
  • Empower attention to detail
  • Examples in Practice:
  • Address and discourage laughing or embarrassment at mistakes
  • Address and discourage intimidation or fear; teach “bring it on” attitude
  • Define how players hand balls to you
  • Corner up with players facing away from the other court
  • Start/End on time
  • Define how players line up their bags/backpacks
  • Adhere to dress code