As many of you know, I had the privilege to spend time with Head Coach Mike Hebert while at Minnesota. People still ask what I learned most from my experience…and I have a journey full of ideas. Much of what I learned was through listening, watching, small talk, and brainstorming. The times I appreciate most were those brainstorming sessions – bouncing ideas around. I recall a time talking about what makes an ordinary person extraordinary and coming up with a list of things great players do. This list was ranked and separated into levels. The levels were used to recognize the number of items on that list an extraordinary player accomplishes during their volleyball career.
After mulling over that exercise for the past couple years and my experience with players and my coaching, I have learned that there are similar developmental phases between players and coaches which I call “Me We They”. As players and coaches mature over the seasons, they grow from a ME mentality into a WE mentality and hopefully progress to a THEY mentality. Typically younger and less experienced players or coaches spend time in the ME phase while the most experienced players and veteran coaches may advance into the THEY phase.
The ME phase is simply a player or coach working on, thinking about, and developing themselves. “It’s all about ME!” Their mind, thought processes, movements, court awareness, etc. are concentrated and solely focused on the specific skill they are performing. When a new player learns the footwork approach, they are mentally processing (and even audibly announcing) their footwork – “left, right, together”. As a coach and even a teammate, it seems as if this player has blinders and ear-muffs on as they concentrate on new motor skills.
Coaches also undergo this ME phase of coaching. New coaches dive into knowledge and education about coaching by reading books, watching videos, attending seminars, asking questions (I’m sure Mike Hebert was tired of me many days 🙂 ). New coaches are formulating skill explanations, skill demonstration, word choices and keywords for clarification and direction, specific movements for their players, etc. New coaches will determine how practices will be structured, the best offensive and defensive systems for their teams, and how am I to get these kids fed?!?!
It is through experience and repetition where players and coaches do not have to think about their skill, how practice will be structured, and how movements will be presented. This is when the ME processes become habitual. Habits are positive and negative, but ultimately should allow a player or coach to graduate to WE.
After a player or coach is comfortable with themselves, both mentally and physically, they can move on to WE – the team. The WE phase is learning about and understanding each individual that makes up the the team. It is knowing the strengths and weaknesses, the ability to motivate a particular player or even that players favorite movie. The WE phase builds the core of the team and is responsible for developing the chemistry, a style of play, motivation and even a team mission. The WE phase is most prominent in setters because they are the “middle chain in the link”. A setter does not have the luxury of time, especially between points, to think about “explode off my right foot from setter target to reach that errant pass”. The movements and thought processes have to be automatic. “What are my hitter strengths, weaknesses, what play set needs to be run in this rotation…now make the appropriate set call…whistle…!?!?” A setter has to think about WE, the team.
Coaches are similar in the WE phase. In this phase, coaches learn, develop, and lead the team through thought processes, structure, and assigning roles (among many many other coaching duties). Examples include: How does a head coach empower and direct the assistant coaches, managers, strength trainers, nutritionist, etc.? What information do outside hitters need to be successful? What are the strengths of our passing rotations? How do I best work the line-up so our libero is in optimal location? The list goes on and on. I believe coaches spend a majority of their time in the WE phase.
Again, at Minnesota, a statement that Lindsey Berg said during one of those brainstorming sessions, has stuck with me, “…I spend hours and hours watching opponent video”. Lindsey is completely confident in ME and as completely confident in her team, WE. What I believe sets her apart is her knowledge and dedication of THEY. She spends an extraordinary amount of time studying the opponent. She understand the opponent as much as her own team. She knows the opponent strengths and weaknesses and knows what it will take from her and how to direct her teammates to exploit the opponent. The THEY phase is about the opponent and knowing everything there is to know about them. Lindsey is fully developed in the ME WE and THEY phase, making her a complete player, and is one of the best.
Great coaches also fall into the THEY category. I recall University of Florida Head Coach Mary Wise at an AVCA Convention Educational Seminar discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the Florida line-ups. She specifically discussed the match-ups of the NCAA Tournament match of Florida versus Penn State. She believed that the University of Florida would match-up very well to Penn State in all rotations EXCEPT if Penn State started in rotation 4. A sarcastic, yet disgruntled Coach Wise exclaimed, “Guess which line-up Coach Russ Rose started his team in – Rotation 4!”. Russ Rose is an expert in the ME WE and THEY phases.
As discussed with Mike Hebert during our brainstorming session of extraordinary players and the levels created, many collegiate players are proficient in “Level 1” and many items of “Level 2”, some dabble in “Level 3”, and some will touch a few items in “Level 4” and “Level 5”. It is the extraordinary players that consistently achieve the most skills and mental processes in all Levels 1 – 5.
Me We They is a contiguous thought process and a tool that helps me to coach players. When I understand the phase a player is in, I understand how to best guide them. When I understand the phase I am coaching in, I can better guide myself through a particular situation.