Development Or ‘Success’?

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At a clinic I recently attended one of the topics ended in a discussion about specialisation.  The presenter of the clinic maintained that specialisation should be avoided as long as possible to facilitate the development of individual athletes.  He backed up his position with a story about playing an international junior tournament with players out of the ‘normal’ positions.  Unsurprisingly (at least to me) virtually none of the coaches present supported this position.  The tone of room was ‘we have to win, so we have to specialise’.  When the presenter, and I, attempted to point out that a) you don’t have to win, and b) the coach can choose to do whatever he wants, our position was met with real anger.  One participant in particular was visibly upset by our contention.

Unfortunately, this mentality is the prevailing mentality everywhere I have gone.  And sadly it is based on a completely false premise.  The premise is that if you focus on the individual development of players, you CANNOT win.  The premise is that it is either one or the other; development or success.  This premise is just plain wrong!  It is 100% a choice that coaches make, and coaches can just as easily choose to encourage and have both development and success.

One coach that I know well has made just that choice.  He decided to coach his junior team with the long term in mind.  Click on the photo to read his story…

norwood u15


  1. I’m with you. Development and success. Some players will not be as well rounded as others, but I think the best athletes should be able to play the whole game. I like to think that my girls could go in a circle and do a decent job if they had to… although it may not be pretty 🙂


  2. I think, the key is to make players find their personal success primarely in their developement, rather than in the results of particular matches. Once players internalized that, success in terms of results of matches is coming along automatically, as Huy’s example shows.


  3. I’m a basketball coach from the Netherlands, so of volleyball I don’t know to much. But I think that coaching is more or less the same.

    The last few years I’ve worked with boy and girls on similar principals. We tried to become better every practice and every game we played. Wins didn’t count at the start, just development. I also didn’t place players on one spot, they had to learn how to play on every spot.

    The first time I did practice this way, it looks like it would take forever. But I hang on to the principals and slowly I saw results (wins). After the first year I had more wins, then games we’ve played. Thinks we did in practice came back in the games we played and every time it came back we had a win.

    Three years later I started with a new team. Because I was familiar with this way of teaching the game, we did go a lot faster. The first months we lost more than a couple of games, but the second half of the competition we started to grow a lot. Little wins in the games we played, did make us win the hole of it.
    The first game of the season we lost with over fifty point. At the end of the season we did meet the same team, and this time we only lost with four points (after overtime). I did receive a lot of complements after that game, even from the coaches of the opponent, about the way we have grown.
    The second year was even better, we did only lost two games in the start of the season, but overall we won the most and became champions.

    After two boys teams, I choice for a girls team. This time I decided to change it a little bit. This team was not only younger (U14), it was also not familiar with the positions of: guard, forward and center. I didn’t learn them what it means to be a position player, I learned them what they had to do when they should come in that position.
    I didn’t develop a certain kind of player, but instead I did develop the players. Of course it takes a lot of time, but in the long run it will give you better players.
    Other teams found it hard to play against us, we had tall girls playing as a guard if necessary and we had small girls playing centers when they came in those spots.

    I recommend everyone to develop players, instead of playing to win the matches. I belief that the fun for players, and for coaches, stays longer. Because they all will become much better.


  4. Coaches who are going for succes training youth are victims of our ” judgement of succes” system. They are walking with wide open eyes into the pitfall of that system. Going for succes with young players almost always mean that you are training and coaching on a very explicite way. A lot of tips and tools, mostly very verbal without space and time leaving for a explorative way of learning. That, in a “players learning age” that they should solve problems themselves by doing things and looking for clues without the explicite feedback of the coach . They are apealing to much on the declarative memory system in the brains. To much thinking instead of just doing. In that way coaches are making players “feedback dependend”. They are doing well when the coach is coaching. But when they have to do it themselves, they will search for solutions “brainly” and they will “choke ” under the pressions of time and stress. The harsh realities almost always come to the surface when the players become older. When they are playing at senior level. Then it becomes clear that they are not so good as people thought they would be at that age. Training and coaching on devellepmont is almost always in an implicite way. A kind of discovery learning. You are apealing on the conceptual part in your brain. Not to much talking; give them time to explore their own way of playing. Taining and learning all the facets of volleyball is part of that way of learning. You can see it as a way of differential learning. Schöllhorn already said “Nie das richtige trainieren, um richtig zu spielen”. When you train them in this way they will become better players at senior level. You can ask yourself if coaches who are going for short time successes are (at the end) the players best freinds? I call it subconsciously incompetence. We have to add to the components technics, tactics and physics a fourth, precisely when we are trainng youth and that’s what I call the brainics. Going full for succes often means the exclucion of this important “instrument/tool” and it seems contradictional but, in the end that “goal” is an obstacle in the (young) players development. Therefore Mark: I agree completely with you and your friend!


  5. Andre’ Lachance the Canadian National team baseball coach has a unique youth league where any coach from either team can stop play and teach any player from either team. Any coach from either team may also require a “Do over” to put into practice that which was just taught. From all accounts it was not readily received, however the positive development of the players has changed many a mind. Imagine that, a youth development league where developing youth is a priority. Food for thought.


      1. We do something like this when we bring outside teams together for a common ‘practice’. We agree amongst ourselves that the coaches can come onto the court and instruct between points. We also agree that the rotations are entirely up to the individual coaches so we’re free to skip some rotations or work Rotation 5 for a little longer or throw different servers into that rotation. “Do-overs” are allowed if a team is out of rotation to make sure the kids learn the correct pattern at that moment before we move past that rotation. We have unlimited subs where we are free to adjust our teams in whatever way we want. The only reason to keep score is so we know when to stop for water, have a group conversation and reset things for the next round. I have had great acceptance from other coaches for type of ‘combined practice’ where it’s partly practice and partly live play. Could a ‘league’ be formed where this is how the game is played when we go to tournaments? Not on your life because the parents want to be ENTERTAINED and to them, watching their kid get better is like watching paint dry.


  6. Maybe I missed the coaching course on ‘winning’ I only coach for development and I call that success. It has taken me some time to become what I’ll call a ‘process orientatedcoach’. I coach in various school systems and see coaches who want to win yet not many of them achieve this. To me, seeing kids develop – that is change for the better is winning. At one particular school I coach the junior, intermediate and senior teams. We dont talk about winning only about process and what we could do better process wise and what technically we could improve. Recently out of 23 schools our seniors came 3rd, intermediates came 2nd and the juniors 1st. I’m certain after 30 + years coaching that it’s all about the players – this thing calked winning. We coaches should stay focussed on the things that help them to improve and they can then start thinking about the winning after process and technique is improved. It also saves all this anxiety about winning.


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