“Young players learn more from old players than they do from you.”
The statement was made during a presentation by Australian rugby league coaching legend, Wayne Bennett. To quickly describe Wayne Bennett in a single sentence for non Australians could be ‘Vince Lombardi if he coached for another 20 years’ or ‘Sepp Herberger with a (very droll) Australian accent’. It is an idea I have been thinking about for a while and posted it onto this blog’s facebook page. It created some very interesting discussion, with a couple of coaches pointing out the negative consequences of players learning from each other instead of the coach and others the positive side.
To summarise the negative side, team’s don’t always have experienced players, experienced players are sometimes selfish, young players are sometimes closed and that when players learn from each other they can shut out the coach completely. These are all valid points of which the coach should definitely be wary.
The positive side was summed up by Steve…
“It boils down to math basically. A coach has a player for maybe 3 hours a day for practice. He spends maybe 30 minutes of that practice talking. How much of what he says is applicable to any one specific player?
On the other hand a lot of people are visual learners so the whole practice they are watching and learning from other players on the team. In addition most volleyball players hang out with and live with other players. The number one topic of conversation is volleyball. There are 12 – 15 players on a team who are in one way or another influencing the development of any given player.
All this is in addition to any advice that one player may give another player during any given practice.”
Although I didn’t ask him specifically, I think Nikolai Karpol is in the Bennett camp, at least based on this quote from his book.
“Young girl players, and the same is true for men, need to get involved in training with older players as soon as possible, for they will then be able to put together the little stones of the understanding of the game into a mosaic.”
Based on my own observations, experiences and discussions, I would tend to agree with the statement as is, independent of negative or positive aspects. Although it sometimes has negative effects on the team and the individual players, players learn from each other, for all the reasons that Steve explained. Like in every other area of the coach’s work, it is up to the coach to ‘sell’ his message to such an extent that only the positive benefits remain. Creating specific mentoring relationships within the team could be one way of achieving a positive outcome.
There is one area in which I am sure players can learn more from each other than from the coach. That area is in the ‘tricks of the trade’. Coaches are mostly briefed with improving individual techniques and team concepts. As hard as the coach works and as focussed as he is, the nature most of this work is general, he is watching many things simultaneously and for most things he can’t have much more than an overview. And of course there are so many individual situations that require unique solutions that a coach cannot (and should not) hope to provide solutions to all of them. Older / experienced players provide the bridge for solving those problems. In addition to the scenarios that Steve described, communication between players on the court is more immediate and direct than that between player and coach, plus there is a different (not better or worse, but different) level of trust that allows some things to be communicated better and / or more efficiently.
To use Karpol’s metaphor, perhaps the coach provides the template for the mosaic, together with the big pieces. The players add the little, shading, pieces and the grout that holds it all together. But all are required to make art.
Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.