Idleness Aversion And Aggressive Coaching

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People don’t like to sit around.  For example, I have spent time with people who will, by choice, drive kilometres out of their way to avoid standing for a few seconds at traffic lights, even if that added time to their journey.  Apparently this is a well known phenomenon known as ‘idleness aversion’.  And it goes beyond occasionally driving around in circles.  Research shows ‘many purported goals that people pursue may be merely justifications to keep themselves busy’.

This need for people to be busy is something that seems to arise in volleyball as well.  For players, how often do players in the learning phase (and too often later) automatically move before they should.  Receivers take two steps forwards as the server contacts the ball.  Setters take a step towards the receiver before he touches the ball.  Spikers always, always, always start their approach too soon.  I have thought for a long time that is was something ingrained that made it difficult for players to just wait.  It seems I might have been right.

For coaches there also seems to be some version of this.  In coaching, ‘activity’ often comes in the form of shouting or in practical terms calling timeouts and making substitutions.  It seems to me that many coaches, and journalists and managers and fans for that matter, think that the quality of coaching is directly related to the number of interventions a coach makes.  So added to the internal idleness aversion, there is external pressure to seem active.  Which brings me to my point… given that information, is using all of the your substitutions and timeouts actually archconservatism and therefore by extension, is the most aggressive form of coaching doing nothing?

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  1. I always tell my players and their parents that in an ideal world I would have nothing to do at games, because if do my job right at practice then the team shouldn’t need me when they are playing. Unfortunately we don’t live in an ideal world. My other favorite line is “I am the coach at practice and the head cheerleader when the game starts.

    I always try to give my team the chance to play their way out of a tough situation. Even though that means I often appear to be just standing around doing nothing while they struggle. At juniors club tournaments I see too many coaches who never stop talking, never stop calling plays, never stop yelling directions to their players. I often find myself wanting to yell at them “For God’s sake, sit down, shut up, and just let your team play!”

    Unfortunately I, too often, wait a little too long to call a time out or make a needed substitution. I think comes from being an eternal optimist. I always believe that the next play is going to be the one that turns things around. Even though I know it isn’t true calling time out sometimes feels like I am giving up on my team.

    My assistant coach however, has found a great way to keep herself busy. She stands beside and slightly behind me and pokes me in the ribs while hissing “Call Time Out! Call Time Out! Call Time Out!”


    1. I have had several experiences like you, David. I am trying to let the players solve the situation on their own, only to realize often too late, that they don’t. And then it works pretty good from time to time.

      The question for me is: How do you practice that players take responsibilities, when most of them grew up learning, that you better let others (parents, teachers, other coaches…) take (your) responsibilities?


  2. Wayne Goldsmith has a nice article online, called “Improve your coaching by not coaching”, see

    He identifies the problems with what he labels “over coaching”, gives some possible reasons for why it might take place, and offers some solutions to coaches to cope with their individual idleness aversion.

    PS I was referred to Goldsmith by Ralfs Voleyball-Blog (in German).


  3. All of you,
    what good comments am I reading!! This is what it ‘s all about. Will I make my team a “feedback dependend” team by telling them always what they have to do. Give them my solutions so they don’t know what to do when it’s “money time”. Choking under pressure etc. Or do I wait and trust my team so they can solve their problems themselves. This is explicit learnig against implicit learning. Declarative against conceptual memory. This stands for technical and tactical learning. Am I taking the risk that my players “do memory” interferes whit my “think memory”? It’s the choice that every coach, working whit young players has to make. A good coach is responsible for good practice; the practice is the “language” of the technique, or the answer to a tactical problem. Coaches don’t have to tell them, they must let the players explore it; let them feel it and learn it themselves. They learn also from their teamplayers. Also when they make mistakes! Probably, at those times they learn the most! It will become part of their inner volleyballmemory and not the memories of “something” that the coach had twenty years ago!
    “In die Beschrängkung der Anweisung zeigt sich der Meister coach”.


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