Practice Planning: Creating Discomfort

By  Dawn Redd-Kelly

Dawn Redd-Kelly is the Volleyball Coach at Beloit College. This article was originally published on her blog  CoachDawnWrites.  

When I asked Sam Shweisky, the head men’s volleyball coach at Princeton University, how he prepared his team to handle challenges or being put in uncomfortable situations, I liked his answer about “realistic discomfort”.  Sometimes I’ll talk to a coach and it seems like their main goal is to put their team through some sort of boot camp or make practice about perseverance rather than gaining knowledge.  Of course, I’m not saying we shouldn’t appropriately condition our teams or that we shouldn’t figuratively kicks their butts in practice…but it should be applicable to our sport.  The amount of volleyball coaches I hear about who still have their teams running a timed mile astounds me!  Anaerobic sports need short, fast, all-out bursts…not long, slow, managed cardio.

Anyhoo, I digress.

As Shweisky talked about realistic discomfort, I found myself trying to figure out which ideas would be applicable to my team and if I could make these things happen in my gym.

Creating realistic discomfort

  1. Practice in jerseys.  The fact is, game day messes with some of our player’s heads.  Most times, we hope, it’s good.  They get super amped up and are on edge (in a good way) all day until game time.  On the less positive end, some of our players may get very nervous to the point of not feeling well.  Either way, letting them have the opportunity to learn how to manage those feelings is a great idea and one I hadn’t thought of.
  2. Turn the scoreboard on.  The power of the scoreboard is amazing!  It instantly ramps up the competitiveness of your gym and I’d highly recommend putting some form of visual pressure on your team.  It’s what they have to deal with in real games and they’ve got to be comfortable having those numbers up there.
  3. Set the “game day” court up.  There’s nothing like walking into the gym and seeing it all set up for game day…it’s one of the things that makes game day special.  Again, another things I hadn’t thought about doing with my team that I will now do: make sure we practice with everything set up the way it will be for games.  Hopefully this will help them learn to manage the butterflies that come along with competition.

Not so fun realistic discomfort

These aren’t from Sam, but from me, but I think still pretty good!

  1. Pull your best player from a drill.  What happens if your best player gets hurt?  Or their grandma dies and they’ve got to miss a game?  Do you have a plan of action?  We owe it to our teams to have put them in situations where that player wasn’t on the court/field/ice and the team still thrived.
  2. Unbalanced scoring.  I’m sure most of you do this already, but create an unfair situation and make your team dig their way out.  Not only will they learn that it’s possible, they’ll learn to never give up.
  3. Stack teams.  Make one team very strong, like “why are we even practicing like this?” strong.  There are many ways to address the unbalance in skill level: scoring, you could put your best player on the worst team and force them to step up and lead the weaker team, the stronger team could have parameters on their scoring.
  4. Unfair reffing.  In the heat of competition, the team will look at the coaches and disagree with one another heartily.  Sometimes I tell them that the officials of a game are just people and they make mistakes too.  Practicing dealing with bad calls, in my opinion, is essential.  Worrying about reffing takes our player’s attention away from where it should be and we’ve got to help them manage their emotions.

While these suggestions came pretty close to the X’s and O’s line, I think they hit home the idea that sport is a mental, as well as, physical venture.  These ideas will help you to develop your athlete’s mental games alongside their skills.  Good luck!

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