What Is Your Message?

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Over the weekend I saw a video posted on a coaching page showing a coach’s reaction to a serving error by his team at match point.  As the, I’m guessing, 14 year old girl served into the net, the coach fell to the ground as if shot and lay there with outstretched arms.  The overall tone of the comments was lighthearted and coach involved justified his actions by saying that it was his way of releasing the pressure on his girls.  Given that they were leading 14-7 in the tie break at the time I am not sure exactly what pressure there was but I digress.

All coaches actions and words are messages he sends to his team and to others. By making such a scene the coach is sending one overriding message.

“It is not MY fault.”

Coaches who jump up and down on the sideline and yell at referees and players and even fall over for effect are simply trying to send the message that it is not their fault.

‘I didn’t tell the player to do that.’

‘If the player did what I said we would have won that point.’

‘We won the point but the referee took it away from us.’

And countless variations on the same theme.

What message are you sending?


  1. Interesting question. I would like to return it with a personal question. During a match, there are situations where I’m simply sitting on the bench and some where I’m standing at the side line. As far as I can see, none of the two positions is connected to any affections or moods. I better concentrate while sitting and when standing it’s most of the times to get a better look on my or the other team. “Common sense” tell’s us, by changing between standing and sitting on the bench you are sending messages like now I’m relaxed because the team is playing good, and now I have to stand up because the team needs some fire. My observation is, that the team doesn’t care if I’m standing or sitting and I can see no influence on their performance. Any other experiences or science available?


    1. Everything you do has some affect. Sitting on the bench can also indicate a lack of connection to the events. A coach might sit down because he wants to distance himself from a poor performance.
      You can sometimes read from players in professional sport quotes that they like a coach who is emotional during the match because they feel he is more connected with them.
      I am relatively quiet because I think it is important to seem to be under control and I think it has an effect on the team.
      It is like all parts of coaching, you have to be yourself and you have to do what is right, not what makes you feel good.


      1. Hmm. Sitting on the bench can only indicate a lack of connection to those players who are not sure of the coach’s connection to the team or dependent from extrinsic motivation. And that will not change because he sits or stands.
        But that’s exactly the reason why I asked my question. I assume that we only believe that there is a connection between sitting or standing. Extracting that particular question from all the other context alone indicates that this has to be a joke.
        The key point, as you mentioned, seems to be being yourself and doing what is right. Most coaches connect in different ways with their players, don’t they? And I can’t see how pretending to be calm, connected, agitated, exited, fired up, in command, cool…could help my players? They will know pretty good if I am what I’m showing or just an actor.
        I would say supporting intrinsic motivation with the players is doing what is right. Helping myself being ready to help the players is doing what is right. Don’t get in their way is doing what is right.
        Of course has everything what I’m doing some affect. But so has what the players do on the court and the referees and fans… Would you try to explain to your setter that it would help the team if he would be just a little bit more cool, agitated, fired up, calm etc.? Or would you encourage every single player to learn to accept each teammate the way he is and to learn to see the strength he has because he is the way he is? And foremost not to get dependable from his teammate’s behavior?
        Back to the question of standing or sitting. Isn’t it quite likely that I have different characters on my team and that some folks like me sitting, some standing, some being fired up, some cool and most likely all of them asking me to mix it up, depending on their own situation and/or the match situation – if I let them using these kind of excuses?
        I’m not convinced 🙂


      2. A couple of points…
        The mood of someone absolutely affects people around them. Without question, in life and in the life of a team. You can see this at home with your family and in any workplace. The coach’s mood and actions can have a huge impact on the team. Try the experiment… come to practice one day, don’t smile and don’t talk to anyone and see how practice is. Then the next day come in making jokes. You will see the difference for yourself.
        The coach must be the example for the team and he sets the tone. Regardless of intrinsic motivation, the players look at the coach and take some lead from him. Unless the coach is perfect, he must always be acting.
        Yes, I want my players to not be influenced by others. But they still are.
        Yes, I absolutely tell my setter that how he acts is important. The setter is the central figure in the team. Every player looks to him before each rally, at least in sideout phase. When he looks at the setter, the player must feel that the setter is in control.
        Most of these things are not conscious. They work on a subconscious level.


  2. A timely article Mark. I have been thinking about the exact same thing since the weekend. I have had a tough start to the season with two (1st and 2nd league) teams that are a lot younger than everyone we are playing against and I’m watching a lot of young kids making a lot of errors, (as young kids do). I caught myself on Sunday dropping my head when balls were being served into the net, or when we were getting aced between two guys who both called “yours”…

    Dropping my head is definitely the wrong reaction, but I am not sure if I should be getting angry with them for making these basic mistakes, or if I should be helping them to focus on the next point (which is my usual approach). It’s a difficult decision between letting them see your frustration, or playing it cool, and I think it depends on the score, and the mood of the guys on court.

    I have to admit, I play the fool sometimes to get a smile out of a player. Especially if I think he’s gone to internal, or is starting to tank.


  3. I’m just thinking if the whole discussion is about my misinterpretation of the verb to act. In this context here it means for me showing off something I don’t feel. Pretending. Doing what an actor does on the stage. And now I have the idea that you probably have the meaning of the German word “handeln” in mind?


      1. This is a completely new idea to me. I never thought before that pretending could in any meaning be judged as something helpful or the right thing to do.
        Of course will my mood affect the people around me. But I can not act it away. The people around us know that we are acting. In family life and in volleyball. We are close to the others in these situations. It will work with strangers but not in these situations. On the contrary it has some potential of hurting the people around us.
        If the coach sets the tone, and I agree, wouldn’t it be good if truth would be rated higher then disguise? If I am in a bad mood, the players will find that out no matter how good I act. But if I’m taking my own responsibility and don’t let my mood on them, wouldn’t that make a huge difference? Players know I’m in a bad mood and probably take that in mind in their approach towards me. Vise versa if I’m in a good mood I have to see if my good mood doesn’t affect a player who’s in a bad mood. But how can I act not being in a good mood and at the same time showing others, who need it, my good mood? It’s a dead end.
        Talking about control it’s even more dangerous to act something different. For a coach or player pretending to be in control but the result shows that you are not will destroy a lot of trust from the other side. For a coach asking for help in this situation is not easy. But we can not be in control of every situation. Especially not if the mood/emotions of others are involved. Maybe the players have a solution? And from my players I’m asking that they tell me if they are really overwhelmed (if I can not recognize it myself). Their substitute can help and we can work on that in practice.
        The setter needs to be in control. No help with pretending to be.
        The lead a coach has to take is that he doesn’t let his mood (good or bad) on others. He does not act to don’t let it on others he really doesn’t.
        Because most of the discussed things happen on an unconscious level pretending can not work. You can not trick what is unconscious.
        I like that discussion because it helps me thinking aloud and getting my own actions/thinking from unconscious to conscious.


  4. I don’t even know where to start…

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/rogerdooley/2013/02/26/fake-smile/ This is the first of over 1,000,000 google results for ‘how smiling changes your mood’.

    “The lead a coach has to take is that he doesn’t let his mood (good or bad) on others.” How do you not let your mood on others without pretending or acting? If you have a bad mood and show it, the players know and after that there is nothing you can do. If you don’t show it, you are acting.

    We are always acting in some way. If we didn’t we would be shunned by society and quite possibly committed to a mental health institution.

    The players will not believe you if you act out of character, if you are not authentic. If you try to be someone you are not, you will have trouble. If you stay within your character, you can act as much as you want.

    Do the experiment with your team.


    1. It’s either a huge misunderstanding because English is not my native language or we are simply not on the same page here. I can’t see that your last comment is a reply to what I intended to write in my last comment. Let’s leave it at that 🙂


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