So after nearly 5 months of training and planning it is now a week before the first match of Australian Junior Volleyball Championship. The ACT U19’s have played in a NSW state cup where they came third, losing only one match to the eventual undefeated winners, a training camp in Sydney as well as numerous training matches including a number of wins against the ACT U23 team. The team has had a lot of match success as well as some tough losses and are in final preparation for their end goal of winning a medal at AJVC.
With all of this training and competing, it was interesting to look through the attendance and notice that there have only been 4 training sessions that have had the entire team attend. Between national junior team tours, national junior netball representation, injury, family trips, year 12 and illness over 90% of the trainings have had at least one player missing. Even though this may sound like a bad thing it actually turns out that these 4 trainings have been the final 4 sessions that the squad has before the tournament, and the team is playing the best that they have since coming together as a squad because of it.
Coaches often talk about how vital it is that everyone turns up to trainings and meetings and that if you don’t it hurts the team as much as the athlete themselves, but after thinking about these facts for my team in particular I don’t think that it is quite true. Having some players away from time to time (especially the strongest in the group) has had the benefit of having the weaker girls be able to have some additional skill focus that may otherwise not have been possible, on the flip side when some of the weaker girls have been away it has meant that the top of the group have been able to do more difficult and complicated training that would not have been possible with “weak links” in the group. I feel that over a long period, having people missing from time to time has actually benefitted the team and now that the whole squad is together for the final weeks of training they can fix any niggling issues that haven’t been present with all 12 not present together.
Before the final competition starts I am going through a process of reflection over the trainings that the team has done. It’s too late now to try to change the plans that we have in place, and the girls will either play well or not, so stressing over what will happen is pointless, but as a coach I think its important to look back at what I planned to achieve and what has actually been achieved.
The team had a big focus on fitness throughout the entire training program, sacrificing 1/4 of every training session to do fitness work just to ensure that the girls were getting it done, this meant that there was a lot of time that could have been spent improving skills was spent on conditioning. The idea behind this was to reduce injury and fatigue not only at the final competition but long term as well. It also was intended to create an increased team bond, and discipline, while developing physical ability to perform tasks that, for some of the girls, would otherwise not be possible. Looking over the season, there were a number of injuries early on in the training program (4 ankles, 2 backs, 3 shoulders, 2 knees, 1 shin splints and a couple of fingers) however now that we are a week out there are only two girls have current issues, both of which are to do with not doing exercises that they were given to do at home. The team has a tight bond and while they complained every second of the first few fitness blocks now they just get it done. While I am not sure that the girls have actually become as strong and fit as I had desired, the purpose of the fitness was more than this and I am confident that it has been beneficial.
Another major focus for the team has been taking responsibility for their actions and managing themselves. One of the biggest issues in junior sport that I see is that the athletes simply cant look after themselves, and if someone doesn’t tell them what to do, they don’t do it. With this team I felt that, seeing as they are getting to the point where they need to be treated as adults in day to day life, I decided that I would treat them as adults. This meant putting expectations on them they may have seemed unreasonable, and some things didn’t happen because it wasn’t driven by the coaching staff, however now that we are approaching the end of the program, all of the girls are turning up early and preparing the court and themselves without instruction (at least most of them) and they are able to run their own warm ups and team meetings including some activities outside of training that were organised entirely without prompting.
The only two other things that were major priorities for me in my planning for the team were having them all continue to play (and preferably compete at AJVC again next year) and for the team to win a medal. Neither of which I can determine at the minute, however I feel that the team in the best position it could be to achieve these two goals that it could be, but only time will tell.