Regardless of your record, most teams will experience a mid-season slump of some sort. However, as a coach there are some things you can do to keep your team engaged and the athletes’ morales high through the club season.

Here are 5 ways to avoid the mid-season slump:

Set realistic expectations for the team

Rather than talk about how good your team should be, show them how good they could be. Teams that fall short of early expectations struggle to recover the fire that was there at the beginning of the season. Travis Fuller from The Academy Volleyball Club suggests focusing on the following:

  • Get your players to understand that winning is hard.
  • You need to be able to push your athletes, but you must develop a relationship with the athletes that will build tolerance. You will ask your athletes to do hard things, so they must be able to master the simple things.
  • Never stop coaching the fundamentals. Players need meaningful feedback, no matter what time of the season you are in.
  • Add layers to your systems. As soon as your team gets comfortable with something, add another layer. Teams that feel and see growth throughout the year will keep wondering what’s next.
Focus on the process

Many coaches attempt to teach their team everything there is to know about volleyball in two months in order to prepare for the first couple of tournaments. Instead of building a strong foundation in the fundamental skills, they build systems with bad fundamentals and spend the entire season trying to operate in that system with a poor foundation. Start with fundamentals and then build systems around the most important phases of the game.

A great place to start is:

  • Fundamentals – Serving, Passing, Attacking, Setting, Floor Defense, Blocking, Reading
  • Serving System
  • Serve Receive System
  • Team Defense (focus on defending the left side attacker)

KIVA 17 RED just came off a stretch where they played 8 out of 11 weekends, which is tough on players, coaches, and parents alike. In addition to a busy schedule, they also play an extremely aggressive schedule that includes the highly competitive Mideast Power League (4 weekends), the Triple Crown NIT, and Adidas Bluegrass with Power Pools.

17 Red Head Coach and KIVA Associate Director Anne Kordes says “The toughness of the schedule is what we are looking for as we feel that playing the best will help challenge us to be better,  but at the same time it leaves less room for a cushion to experiment with line ups and rotations. It doesn’t mean you don’t do it, but against strong teams it may mean you accept a loss while trying to figure what works best for your team. The losses that come with trying to find the right mix is normal, however coaches must be able to make it okay for the players to avoid negative feelings that a loss can bring about. It’s important to help them realize bumps in the road are sometimes necessary in finding the right chemistry to be your best.”

Keep it fun

Playing a busy schedule leaves little time for much else, so it’s important to keep it fun. This can be as simple as your communication as the head coach or as expansive as producing team bonding activities throughout the season.

After KIVA 17 Red played in the final MEPL in Indianapolis,  the team ordered pizza and then took off for laser tag and an arcade. Kordes shares “We had an absolute blast and continued laughing about it through the next day. I had no idea that 2 hours was going to be as valuable as it was.”

Mix up your training regiment and get in the sand for a practice  or two once the weather warms up.

Focus on progress

If your team is experiencing more losses than wins, there is a tendency for athletes to assume they are not improving. That’s where providing detailed, quality feedback can help.  For older athletes, statistics can help them focus on progress. For example, if a primary passer started the season passing a 2.1 on a scale of 3.0, and by the end of March has improved to passing a 2.3 on a scale of 3.0, that progress is something to acknowledge and celebrate. The same goes for an outside attacker terminating the ball on a double block at .175 at the beginning of the season, and improving to .225 by mid-season. When reviewing statistics with your players, the focus should be on the progress, rather than the negative.

Sarah Roush, Munciana 15 Lorax Head Coach and Munciana Tournament Director likes to do at least three individual evaluations during the season: after one month, mid-season and mid-April after the JVA World Challenge.  “I like to do 2 minute meetings with each player and ask them two questions. What do you want? What do you need from me as a coach? We open up communication and help build our relationship this way. It covers the playing time issues. The players can see exactly what I think they need to be better at, and what they are improving on.”

Stay connected

It’s important to check in with your players individually, whether it’s communicating about their recruiting process, or asking them how their recent family get together went. Social media and text messaging make it so easy to stay connected. Send an encouraging text after a great practice or a funny MEME on your teams’ group chat. Connecting with kids in short bursts seem to go a long way these days.

From setting new goals to re-evaluating coaches and players — or even taking a break from competition and practice — clubs use a variety of strategies to assist athletes in maintaining or regaining their focus. Try these actions to better connect with your players, aid your team in staying committed to its goals and keep everyone from suffering a “slump” when it matters most.

View related reading and resources on culture. 
View related reading and resource on Evaluations.

This article was a collaboration with JVA member clubs KIVA (Louisville, KY), The Academy Volleyball Club (Indianapolis, IN) and Munciana (Yorktown, IN).