Coaching Lessons From Keith Richards

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The Keith Richards memoir is an interesting and entertaining read.  The passage that most grabbed my attention today was about the generosity and the spirit of sharing amongst musicians.  “Mostly there are no secrets; everybody swaps ideas.”  Which got me thinking about the different between music and volleyball.  In volleyball there are no secrets either.  All coaching methods, techniques and tactics are readily available through the internet or a hundred other places, either directly or indirectly.  And yet there are many who think they’ve discovered some special secret, which gives them such an advantage that they cannot possibly share it with anyone else.  I’ve encountered one or two of those in my time.  There was one who said straight out that he had spent a lot of his own money to gather his knowledge so why should he share it with anyone.  However, the one that stands out most in my mind is a coach I worked with created a reputation for himself as something of an expert on setting.  He may have been but I don’t know.  We worked at a couple of National Junior Team camps together but he steadfastly refused to divulge any information about setting and at one point actually refused to let me help him with a drill so I wouldn’t even be able observe.  And we were actually supposed to be working for the same team.  I can only presume he imparted at least some of his ‘wisdom’ on the actual setters, although nothing would surprise me.  What these coaches tend to do in a frantic attempt to maintain their secret is stop actually learning anything, I mean why would they, they already know the secret.  Like everything, volleyball suffers in the end.

I’ve experienced this in many places, but my experience with Italians is different.  They seem to understand things a little differently.  Among Italian coaches there seems to be a much greater sense of community and they are always willing to learn.  At one clinic I went to in Italy a couple of years ago, there were World and European champions and various league champions and National Team coaches sitting amongst the local school coaches, all learning and sharing.  It seems to me that these coaches understand that what is good for volleyball is ultimately good for all of them.  The stronger the sport and the league are, the more employment opportunities available for everyone.  And they further understand that information is NOT the secret.  The secret is what you do with the information, and in this each coach is individual and can’t be replicated.

As Keith Richards implicitly knew: It doesn’t matter how many people knew his techniques, there is only one Keith Richards.


  1. In my experience it is similar with beach volleyball. I think that, when the athletes are also the employers, there is a feeling that they need to be buying a ‘secret’ from the coach. And the coach who sells the ‘secret’ the best, gets employed.

    This is a HUGE problem in tennis and one of the reasons that Australian tennis has stagnated over the past 20 years or so (though they are working hard to fix this).


    1. Results would suggest that no Australian tennis coach, except Darren Cahill, had a ‘secret’ worth buying. Maybe the fault lies with the consumer.


      1. Interesting observation, which is actually the point. In tennis (in my experience) there is very little need/desire to collaborate. Therefore things stagnate. A few years ago Australian tennis put some things in place to fix this. The benefits probably won’t be seen for 10 years or so though.


  2. Great post Mark. I agree that it isn’t knowledge itself that creates the success, but the delivery and the preparedness to carry it out. The Gladwell article “When David beats Goliath” talks about Louisville University basketball coach Rick Pitino, who has had NCAA championship success using the unconventional “full court press”:

    “I have so many coaches come in every year to learn the press,” Pitino said. Louisville was the Mecca for all those Davids trying to learn how to beat Goliaths. “Then they e-mail me. They tell me they can’t do it. They don’t know if they have the bench. They don’t know if the players can last.” Pitino shook his head. “We practice every day for two hours ” he went on. “The players are moving almost ninety-eight per cent of the practice. We spend very little time talking. When we make our corrections”—that is, when Pitino and his coaches stop play to give instruction—”they are seven-second corrections, so that our heart rate never rests. We are always working.” Seven seconds! The coaches who came to Louisville sat in the stands and watched that ceaseless activity and despaired. The prospect of playing by David’s rules was too daunting. They would rather lose.

    At other times, I think to be able to use another coach’s “secret” requires an ability to accept a perspective on volleyball that you may find truly disgusting.

    I started getting success teaching people to pass over a year ago by planting their feet, staying upright and balanced, facing the ball and using their torso to angle the ball to the target. Other coaches asked me how my players got such good ball control, and when i told them, many found the “Secret” so contrary to what volleyball should be in their heads and found it disgusting.


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