A Willingness to Argue

The Scream
Edvard Munch- 1893

Given the events of recent months, the health benefits of a primal scream might be under-utilized. The Edvard Munch painting of “The Scream” comes to mind. The wonderfully simple picture captured my mood on many recent days. Don’t scoff, Kanye West has dabbled in this form of stress management. In 2016 West came home one day to find Tony Robbins (yep, that Tony Robbins, the larger-than-life motivational speaker) in his living room, who had him engage in a treatment dubbed “scream therapy.”

However, the benefits of a scream are probably short-lived. At some point, there is a need to move forward in a positive direction.

One of my duties with The Art of Coaching website is to answer questions from our viewing audience. Recently, a frustrated high school coach posed the problem of dealing with a club coach who was openly critical of the methods and techniques used during the high school season. The club coach was fresh off attending a clinic (not an AOC clinic, mistake!) where the attendees had a binary choice. Either do things our recommended way or the wrong way. I’m guessing this particular club coach was at the head of the line at the Kool-Aid stand.

I encourage viewing with caution any clinic or coach that issues right/wrong edicts while offering little debate or rationale for a recommended methodology. Be equally skeptical with any justification for a particular method that begins with the over-used phrasing, “science says, or studies say.” Most scientists will argue that any knowns will create an equal number of unknowns. Columbia University professor Stuart Firestein presents his take on the scientific method.

I have often told former colleagues that if I were to have “do-overs” in my collegiate coaching career, I would proceed very differently both on and off the court. The change in my approach to coaching was a result of my tenure with the USA Youth National Team. In this role, I was able to observe and partake in a wide variety of training sessions with coaches that used a range of training techniques. This facilitated extended conversations about training methods with coaches from the far reaches of the volleyball world. I recall having dinner with the Italian coaches who were doing “belly-laughs” as I described the NCAA rules restricting coaching in the off-season.

The most important aspect of the back and forth exchange of ideas is that I had to justify and rationalize my beliefs. In many areas, I had trouble articulating a rationale for my approach. As my ten-year tenure as YNT coach unfolded, my on and off the court philosophy were modified and many times reversed, successfully I might add, as I gained awareness of different perspectives.

In order to improve coaching in our country, we need to argue, debate, and deliberate much more than we currently do!! Not in a violent or confrontational manner. But to gain insights into viewpoints, both yours and others. For those that require a seminar in the subtle skill of argument, this Monty Python clip will provide an insight.

It is unfortunate the prevailing atmosphere in our country stifles debate. We are returning to the high school coach criticized for his methods, without an attempt by the club coach to understand or start a dialogue. In our current political and social atmosphere, a conversation offering a different perspective is not only discouraged; it is not allowed, and if a discussion is attempted, there will be a severe price to be paid. I am hopeful that volleyball coaches can avoid this approach. Our professional growth depends on dialogue and with an exchange of thoughts and perspectives.

As a profession, we spend an excessive amount of time pontificating about what we know at the expense of exploring what we don’t know. Quite often, a healthy dose of “ignorance” will allow us to be better coaches. Embrace the ignorance of not knowing all the answers and pursue more knowledge with great enthusiasm and passion. When your current methods are proven to be less than you expect, embrace a new plan that might offer better results.

That being said, coaches require strong opinions about the items they are teaching and the methods being used. There needs to be a level of confidence that you are presenting good information in a positive manner. In the profession that we’ve chosen, you will be criticized, second-guessed, and blamed for any failure that jumps into your path.

“Have strong opinions that are weakly held” -Bob Sutton, Stanford professor

You must be able to combine your confidence in current methods with a mindset that allows for change.

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