Do In Matches What You Do In Practices

The following post is courtesy of Coach Tom Houser.  

Coach Houser is currently sixth all-time in coaching victories in Virginia with a career record of 267-47. He has been coaching travel volleyball since 1991, and his teams have qualified Jr Nationals 4 of the past 11 years. He is the owner of STAR Volleyball Services LLC which conducts numerous clinics around the country.  Click the link to gain access to more valuable coaching tools. You can also contact Coach Houser at

In this post Coach Houser is sharing his answer to a question he received from another coach. The topic is “Doing In Matches What You Do In Practices”

Our conference tournament was last week.  We made it to the 3rd/4th consolation match yesterday.  We played a team that we had not played during the season (because there are 18 teams in our league).  The first set we won barely: 29-27.  The second set I put in all the other players b/c that’s our conference rule.  We lost only 22-25.  I was feeling pretty confident about the starters for the 3rd set.  Nope – they completely froze.  It was awful.  Of course, I’m now second guessing myself about everything I said/did both before and during the 3rd set.  This group of players just didn’t have the want.  I have until next August when we start again to learn the right words.  I’d like to be better at coaching a game.  Coaching skills and practices go great but I’d like to be better at motivating during games.


The coach said, “better at coaching a game”??  Whether “the freeze” happens once a month or once a year, not getting the desired results in the final 10 minutes of an hour-long event happens in every sport, to every coach, and to every athlete.  

But, as she will be doing above, all of us coaches must analyze ourselves.  As we do this, please ask ourselves, “What would have made me play better at that age?”  Or, if you’re a male coaching females, “What would help my daughter play better at that age?”  If you can answer that question, then that’s what you say to your athletes.  That’s how you react to their struggles.

Let’s discuss practice.  This is my attitude, and I tell my players:   What we do at practice — how aggressively we hit, who we set, how tough we serve —  is what we do in matches regardless of the score, the pressure , the opponent, the noise, etc.  

Here’s an example:  I got the following text a few day ago from a dad of one of my last year’s players:  

“I caught myself using one of your sayings ‘do it again’. I was trying to push Logan’s team.  But, each time they made an error, even when I thought they made the right decision, they weren’t as aggressive the next time.  I was disappointed.”  

Yes that’s one of  my phrases that I learned from a coach who said, “the most important three words in coaching are ‘Try it again’ ”.   I recommend all coaches say the same thing. 

I call this method “sprinkling power dust on the players”.  There is no thinking, no worrying, just DOING!!

Now, I’m used to coaching 15s and 16s, and this is what I expect my athletes to do:  If they get a good set at 14-14 in the 3rd and don’t hit it, I’ll ask them why.  But also, if they rip the ball into the block and get stuffed, we will discuss that too! You may be saying, “So your players can’t please you?!”   No.  There are consequences to what they decide, and I expect my athletes to make the correct decision in the 14-14 situation because we’ve practiced it so many times.  Example, suppose that hitter gets a tight set in front of two blockers; then she is to keep the ball in play!  If she can that, then “Nice job!”  But, suppose the hitter gets a set that a few feet off the net and about a foot inside the court; then, she should HIT LINE!  If she misses that shot, I’m OK, b/c she did the right thing.  Then, suppose the ball is set accidentally — or intentionally — a little inside, then the hitter should crunch the ball cross.  If she misses that shot, I’m OK here also. 

People say, “You play like you practice,” but most of us believe that is referring to effort, intensity, etc.  And that can be the case.  However, your athletes should also make the same decision in matches that they make at practice with regards to their serving, hitting, setting, etc.


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