process over outcome


How many of you have coached a team and had what was termed as a “big win”? Three weeks ago my team experienced exactly that. We played a team everyone assumed would be victorious against us. We prepared for this match just like any other match; we were prepared to compete. We had what we thought was a good game plan. We watched videos as a coaching staff and as a team. We were prepared, but did we expect to win? No. We were just prepared to compete. If you asked my team or coaching staff, I am sure they would have said we were as prepared as we could be. But we did not expect win. So what happened…we won in five games. The players were euphoric. We just had a big win.

The following weekend we would be playing teams that were not as good as the previous week. Surely, we would play well and continue our new-found winning ways, but we didn’t. We played two matches against two very good teams in our conference and lost both of the matches in three games. We did not compete like we expected to. It was frustrating to watch us squander what we thought was an opportunity to make our mark in the conference, and it begged the questions…Why? What happened? Was it just a fluke? Maybe the planets weren’t aligned just right. I didn’t know what the difference was in our performances, but I knew why we lost. The statistics answered those questions, but what I did not understand was why didn’t we play well?

Of course, we immediately spent time evaluating what areas we were deficient in. But that did not answer the question. It clearly had to do more with the mental side of the game rather than the physical. So I did what I always do in these situations, I called my friend, Andrea Becker, a sports psychologist, and told her the situation. As we talked and evaluated our big win and then our losses, it became apparent to her what the problem was and therefore the solution. Our expectations had changed. It was as simple as that. After our win, things changed. Now we expected to win. We all did…players, coaching staff, family, and friends.

So I return to the title of this blog…EXPECTATIONS. We all have high expectations of our players. We want to hold them to high standards, but what are the expectations? Did we expect to win? I believe that is where we made our mistake. We now expected to win, but before we only worried about three things: 1) Play with great effort for the entire match or for as long as we can. 2) Be mindful of how we play and of our game plan. 3) Play as a team. We could control those three things. We could not control winning.

So my advice is to do what Hugh McCutcheon always preached to us, “Control the controllables.” I forgot that and it cost us. I was just worrying about winning and not about the process. It was following the process that allowed us to win. I needed to believe what Bill Walsh said, “The score takes care of itself.”

When we returned to practice, we went right back to training the way we knew we should. We came into the practice gym and went back to stressing and grading our practices on our core values: effort, competitiveness, and mindfulness. What are the results of this? It is too early to tell, but practices have been intense and fun. Oh, we did have another win, but for me, now it is all about effort, competitiveness, and being mindful. I just needed to be reminded of this.

Ron Larsen

Yeats and the Volleyball Season

Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth, We are happy when we are growing  William Butler Yeats

At LMU we play in the West Coast Conference. And it is a tough this year…really tough.  The teams that finished towards the bottom last season are greatly improved. Two teams are ranked in the top-20.  BYU has entered the conference this year, and with it, greatly enhanced the competitive level. Basically, every night is a battle.  Having competition like this is great. There is no doubt every team will be severely pushed and tested, and in the process learn a lot about itself. There are lots of challenges to all this, but possibly one central one:

“How do we keep our team, and individual players, on a course of improvement through such a turbulent process?”

Already, our team has managed to come from behind from some major deficits, as well as seen a few slip away we wish wouldn’t have. We’ve had some victories that felt great, and some defeats that have left the locker room in a sober silence. How do we ride this rollercoaster without being one ourselves?  I don’t have a simple answer to it, only some thoughts. But here are a few:

1 – There is no bigger role for me as a coach and a teacher than teaching my players how to learn: 

Maybe I should just stop with that comment, because I believe it’s at the core of everything. I believe everything is a skill, whether it is emotional, mental or physical, and everything has a lesson. If we can model and foster a mindset that challenges are an opportunity for growth, we will always be learning. If we are learning, we’re improving. And if we’re doing both of those things, we’re most likely highly motivated.

Sounds so simple, and yet is so difficult. If you’re skeptical, spend a day in a gym and chart the feedback of coaches and players. Make one column “process” and the other “result”. Which is praised more? Can people tell the difference?  If we can’t, if a good result means a good process, and an unfavorable result always means a bad process, the rollercoaster of the season might take us down with it. I know I’ve fallen there more than I like to admit, and as these young ladies’ teacher, I have to be better.

2 – We are a part of something bigger:

This is often said and communicated, and it couldn’t be truer. I believe this is one of the central reasons organized sports are so popular. Whether we’re an extraverted life of the party type or a loner with our nose buried in a book, we all want to feel we are contributing to something bigger than ourselves. This is a basic human need.  Do we have a team goal? Does it reflect this desire? Is it based on behavior we can control or is it based solely on results? Does everyone clearly understand how it is being measured?

3 – Back to Yeats

“We are happy when we are growing”. As much as this is a team game, players have to see and feel how they are improving in order to stay motivated. A player’s path of improvement, their ownership and understanding of it, is an anchor that should be there through all the results. I believe this is a compass through the highs of winning and the pain of a loss. And as we all know, losing hurts. It really hurts. We need that anchor.

This can be where organization and clarity comes in. Are there a few specific, clear items each player has to work on within their game? Do they have daily opportunities in practice to work on it? Are there video sessions for them where they can “keep score” of their progress? One of my most rewarding moments since I’ve been at LMU was when I had an older player come into my office crying, saying she felt she hadn’t improved at all. She wasn’t being dramatic; she was profoundly upset, and was wondering if this whole process-thing might just be too hard. Luckily, I was ready for her, and had picked up some old film of her, as well as a series of recent clips of her playing. Watching the look on her face as she recognized how much she had grown was a wonderful moment for both of us.

As many coaches have said, “results matter” and none of us would disagree. One of the central issues for all of us might be – how do we give ourselves the best possible chance at these results, continue to improve, and have a rewarding experience through such a challenging, competitive experience? Maybe some ideas from above will help, and if you have some yourself, I would be grateful to hear them.

Tom Black – LMU Women’s Volleyball


The Dog Days

I was reading a fishing report a few weeks back, and it was entitled “The Dog Days of Summer.” The report went on to explain the current fishing conditions, the hot weather, how to avoid rattlesnakes, and the challenges of trying to catch fickle trout.

Today I spent several hours chatting with camp clients about recent matches, big wins, tough losses, and the smorgasbord of team issues that exist in high school volleyball.  After speaking to several clients, I realized that we are in the “Dog Days” of the high school volleyball season.  Most teams are well in to league play.  Some have exciting matches with big implications ahead, while others are struggling to stay afloat.

Regardless of your rank or current record, this is the time of year when your athletes need you most. It’s the time of year when your athletes are most likely to lose focus.  It’s the time of year when parents are either with you or against you.

If you are competing for a state championship, your athletes need you to make smart, strategic decisions while maintaining your momentum.  If you are struggling to find momentum, your athletes need to know how much you care.

I am always so impressed with the dedication of our clients.  I received the following email today, and was blown away by the vision and confidence that this coach has….

“Well Mike, our season has been positive even though we haven’t won any matches.  The girls are a young group and undersized compared to their opponents, but we have been competitive in every match.  I can definitely say we are doing better since having the GMS clinic.  Although we don’t have any match wins, we did finish third in a local tournament, beating a section rival in pool play.  It was a very big accomplishment since we’ve never taken a set from that team and they went on to win the tournament, with us being the only team to beat them.  I’m really looking forward to next summer’s clinic and hope to get my staff and myself to a clinic.”

Struggling through a long season is hard.  Staying positive and consistent throughout is even harder. Kudos to this coach for finding all of the positives out of what is clearly a difficult situation.

For those of you who are having great seasons, keep it going!  Here’s a few tips as you head towards the post season…

–  It’s OK to shorten your practice, but ensure the intensity and focus remains.

–  Your athletes need rest as the season goes on.  Don’t be afraid to give them a day off from time to time, or shorten practice to serve/pass only.

–  As you get in to post season play, don’t change as a coach.  Continue doing what got you to this point.

For those of you who are struggling right now…

–  You are the leader of your ship.  Don’t allow opinions, critics, or your athletes to break you. Regardless of the situation, stay focused and steady.  Continue to work your plan.

–  Learn something from the email above.  There’s always some positives to focus on.  Find them in your program.

–  Continue to get better!  Just because you aren’t winning matches doesn’t mean you can’t get better.

–  Let your athletes know how much you care.  Don’t give up on them even though it can be exhausting.

–  Go see Moneyball, and buy yourself a large popcorn

Do everything you can to end your season on a positive note!  Good luck in your upcoming matches!

Mike Wall


Staying the Course–Process over Outcome

Last Thursday we played our first conference match of the year at BYU–a new member of the West Coast Conference. We knew they were very good–even better than when we played them earlier in the season. I felt like we were ready to play well and we were expecting a very competitive match. It wasn’t competitive. We got crushed in straight sets.

As good as BYU is, we certainly didn’t make it very difficult for them. In my seven years at Saint Mary’s I don’t believe we have ever played that poorly from start to finish in any match. Against a team like BYU, if you simply show up they are going to embarrass you–which they did.

We still aren’t sure exactly why we played so poorly. Maybe it was simply a confluence of everybody on our team having an off night. Maybe there were nerves. Maybe I did not prepare them well for the opponent. Maybe it was all of the above. Whatever it was, it was ugly.

During the match we gave the best tactical feedback we could and we did our best to motivate them to play better. It just wasn’t happening.

After the match I was very candid with them and I told them that I had thoughts of making them run sprints up the hill by the gym, or tearing into them verbally–ranting and raving like a lunatic. I told them that when they play like that it makes me question everything we are doing. I had the urge to do something radically different. I wanted to make a statement.

In the end, what we did was no different from what we always do. We went back to work.

It is tempting, when we are coaching, to react in some extreme way when things are not going the way we expect them to go. My ego has gotten in the way many times in my coaching career, and that’s when we blow up and start yelling and screaming and threatening. In such moments we need to check our egos and think about what is truly best for the team.

If we are doing our very best in preparation for a match, then no matter how the match goes, all we can do after the match is continue to do our very best.

So we are staying the course. We are as invested in the process of excellence now as we were before, and we aren’t going to let a bad match derail us from doing what we believe are the right things, or from doing things the right way. If we need to do those things better, then we will. If we need to make some changes for the better, we will change. But we shouldn’t make things worse by violating the principles we believe in simply because we feel “something has to change!”.

It doesn’t sound very exciting, I know. But in the end, we are demonstrating that we truly are dedicated to what we believe in when we adhere to the principles that are the foundation of our team. When we fly off the handle and start going crazy, we are sending the message that we don’t believe.

The message I want the team to hear, loud and clear, is “I BELIEVE”.