Skill Development: It’s Easy As 1-2-3

By FredrickHobbs

“People don’t know how ordinary success is.” -Olympic gold-medalist swimmer, Mary T. Meagher

Outstanding. Elite. Excellent. Success. Those are words that we use to describe what we want for our athletes. We want the best for them and we want them to excel above all things. But what if it were easier than we thought? What if success was just doing “a lot of ordinary things very well?” I’ve written about Daniel Coyle and his book The Talent Code before…I think it’s great. He’s also got a blog and this article is based on a post he’d written giving a tongue-in-cheek representation of what athletes should do to be unsuccessful. Let’s check out the three ordinary things that our athletes can do in order to increase their skill development and slowly but surely…become great.

The 3 things that we can do to help our athletes and their skill development

1. Learn to love mistakes. We’ve got to give our athletes a love of watching video. Not just to study up on the other team, but to study up on themselves. As Coyle says on his blog, “let’s start with a well-established truth: many top performers are obsessive about critically reviewing their performances.” He’s not just talking about a one-time viewing…”obsessive” seems to indicate a stronger level of commitment. It’s the desire to constantly get better that drives these athletes to search their technique, their movement, their response to their surroundings. It’s this desire that will make them a better athlete.

2. Become ritualistic. This is one that made me feel better about all of the superstitions we carry on our team. Certain girls wore the same headband all the time, my assistant wore the same shirt every game, I decided in my head that our team won when I put on makeup. Clearly these things had no influence on the game and we all recognized that…but it didn’t stop us from doing those things! But lo and behold, Coyle says “these behaviors are usually described as a superstition, but I think that misses the point: their ritual is their unique way of prepping to deliver a performance.” So while it may seem silly, it’s everyone’s way of putting their game faces on. Make sure that your team has individual rituals (headbands or listening to certain songs) as well as team rituals (warmup music, cheers) to get their brains into competition mode.

3. Watch others and learn. I think all of our athletes understand that they’re not the first folks to play their sport…and that maybe someone else knows how to do something better than they do. And if they don’t know, you should tell them! Show them video of folks doing what they’re struggling with so that they can internalize the technique. Have position practices where only your setters (or whatever position) attend and then just drill, drill, drill. It will allow your younger players to watch the veterans and allow your older players to develop their leadership skills. As Picasso said, “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.” Copying (stealing) technique is a great way for your athletes to develop their skills.

Imagine if your athletes did these three things every day…and how good they’d become! So give them a call or send them a text and let them know just how simple it could be to get really, really good.

Dawn Redd is the Head Volleyball Coach at Beloit College. Come visit Coach Dawn’s community of coaching nerds and team leaders over at her blog,, where she teaches how to become an excellent coach, motivate individuals, and build successful teams.