Dr. Brent Crouch recently joined Rob Browning’s coaching staff at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, CA. He attended the coaching clinic held in Seattle earlier this month, and sent us these ideas after considering the material presented. This will end up in our coaching manual (hence the reference at the end to “this book”), but thought it would be nice if it were available before we printed the newest version.

Where (or how) should we get our fundamental coaching beliefs?

There are a number of possible ways we can arrive at fundamental coaching beliefs, but some are better than others. Some widely used methods produce beliefs that don’t work well (because the principles they produce are false!). At least one way, however, leads to truth. It is helpful to first identify these various methods of finding beliefs before selecting the best one: the method of science.

(1) Method of Tenacity: Sometimes coaches will simply cling to a certain belief, say about serving. A coach may say to himself: “jump serving leads to too many errors.” If someone tries to point out to him that the stats show that jump serving leads to more point scoring, this coach will not listen. In fact, he will actively avoid differing beliefs and people who voice them. His method is simply to repeat his belief over and over to himself, clinging to it tenaciously and turning away from any idea that presents a threat. His motto is “I believe it, that is the end of it!”

(2) Method of Authority: This is the most common method of arriving at coaching beliefs. Coach Tom watches his local University play, and notices that the passers always move their platform back to their core after they contact the ball. “If U. is doing it,” Coach Tom says, “then it must be the right thing to do. I’ll teach that move to my passers.” U. is an authority for Coach Tom, and looking to an authority figure or figures is his method of finding beliefs. Sometimes authority figures aren’t people at all, but ingrained traditions(or even fads.) Middles are the tallest, slowest players on most teams. So, Coach Tom puts his tallest, slowest player in the middle position.

(3) Method of Solitary Thinking: Coach Sarah decides that clinging to what she already believes is not a great method of finding fundamental beliefs. And she thinks following an authority figure isn’t much better: aren’t there different authorities that teach different things? How should she decide who is right? Coach Sarah concludes that she needs to turn away from the chaotic voices of authority figures, but also from many of her original beliefs about coaching. Instead, she thinks through the game on her own, and tries to reason her way to correct beliefs. With respect to passing, she thinks “When I played shortstop in softball, I had to get behind the ball or else I would often make a poor play. Even if I missed the ball with my glove, I would block the ball with my body and keep it in front of me so that I could still make a throw. Getting behind the ball in softball seems like a good principle, and it probably is in volleyball too. When passing a ball in volleyball, I should therefore always in every case get behind the ball first. That is the fundamental key of passing.”

(4) Method of Science: This method is the most difficult (since it requires the most work) but also seems to lead to fundamental beliefs that work the best. Why? Because unlike the first three methods it is wholly dedicated to discovering the facts of reality and finding beliefs that are based in these facts. Coach Mary has a team of ten players, a couple of which are tall and somewhat slow. Should they play middle? She decides to run a test. She runs a hitter tournament and plays five different players in the middle at various times and counts how many points each scores. At the end of the tournament, she discovers that her quickest player is the top middle blocker and neither of her tall slow players is in the top two. When she makes her starting line-up, she goes with the top two players in the middle tournament. Coach Sarah (from above) puts her thinking to the test – and it turns out that the key “always get behind the ball when passing” is leading to low perfect pass percentages.

In practice, it is difficult to always use the method of science. Coaches have many obligations, and empirical research takes time. What should you do then? Although not ideal, the best answer is to use the method of authority, but make sure the authority is using the method of science to find beliefs. In this book, you’ll find ways to use the method of science in your coaching (especially “Developing Your Team Through Statistics), but you’ll also find some beliefs you may accept on authority – especially those discovered by practicing scientists in motor learning, teaching theory, and biomechanics, areas that most coaches do not have the time or training to research for themselves.