By Dr. Richard Kent and Dr. David Gallagher
Looking to help your players enhance their learning of the game during the upcoming season? Writing in team notebooks may be one answer.
Based on the training logs, notebooks, and journals of world-class athletes, team notebooks provide a variety of reflective writing activities that help players unpack their performances while becoming “students of the game.” And for coaches, reading their players’ writing can provide a unique way to come to know their team.
Exactly how does writing support an athletes’ growth? Writing authority William Zinsser sheds light on its value:
“Writing organizes and clarifies our thoughts. Writing is how we think our way into a subject and make it our own. Writing enables us to find out what we know—and what we don’t know—about whatever we’re trying to learn.” (Writing to Learn, 1988)
Richard Kent, Ph.D., is a professor at the University of Maine. A former Olympic Development Program soccer coach and state ski coach, Kent is the author of many books, including Writing on the Bus: Using Athletic Team Notebooks and Journals to Advance Learning and Performance in Sports. Kent works with teams, athletes, and coaches across the USA.
David Gallagher, Ph.D., is a professor at Mount Saint Mary College where he teaches courses in adolescent literacy and secondary education methods. A former captain and setter at Boston University and Michigan State University, Gallagher has been in gyms and on sand courts playing volleyball since the age of 5.
Becoming Students of the Game: As coaches, we’re always looking for ways to guide our players to that illusive next level. We read articles like this one and watch videos, attend conferences and share ideas with fellow coaches. As teachers of the game, we work to raise each athlete’s understanding of volleyball, and to help them get better. But coaching is a tricky business.
Our athletes learn at different rates and in different ways. While some players want to watch game film with the whole team, others prefer watching alone at home. That quiet time with the remote in hand gives them a chance to process. After thinking through the match, that player might post a comment on the team’s webpage to initiate a discussion. Because of the different athletes we work with, our coaching tool kit needs to be loaded with ideas. In Figure 1, we’ve included a list of the different ways our athletes learn.
Since writing is such a powerful way to learn, adding the activities from team notebooks may help some of your athletes and you as a coach.
TEAM NOTEBOOKS: A typical team notebook has five sections:
— Preseason Thoughts
— Match Analysis I
— Match Analysis II
— Postseason Thoughts
— Athletes’ Notes
As you develop a team notebook for your players, try out a variety of pages to see what works best for your coaching practice and your players. The most popular section of the team notebook might be the Match Analysis I:
Match Analysis I
The prompts for the Match Analysis 1 help athletes reflect on a match they’ve played in or watched from the bench, and take a player about five minutes to complete. (Inevitably, some players will take their analyses home with them to study and work on. Others will whip through the questions in 2-3 minutes.) Depending on the number of athletes on the team, coaches will read and perhaps take notes on the collection in 10-20 minutes. (See Figure 2 or link on to the Match Analysis 1 page online.)
Match Analysis II
The two-page Match Analysis II prompts assist athletes in writing about a game that a team watches together. Maybe you’re at a tournament and you have time to watch your competition play. The Match Analysis II takes athletes approximately 10 minutes to complete and may be used as a discussion guide. Coaches may read and perhaps take notes on the collection in 10-20 minutes. An example of a Match Analysis II may be found on the Volleyball Journal resource website.
The prompts on this page are great for helping players reflect on the previous season and write goals they wish to establish for the upcoming season. Writing Preseason Thoughts takes the athlete 10-15 minutes. Depending on the number of athletes, a coach will read and perhaps take notes on the collection in 20 to 30 minutes. Here are examples of prompts for Preseason Thoughts:
What were your strengths last season as a volleyball player? When asked to name strengths some players said that they were Focused, Dedicated, Strong, Disciplined, Responsible, Skillful, Confident, Competitive, Motivated, Courageous, Positive, and Fit.
List your strengths and write about one:
— Last season, in what areas did your playing skills need to improve
— In the offseason, what did you do to improve as a player?
— Describe the most satisfying team performance last season during a match or a training session. What contributed to this performance?
— What are your Personal Athletic Goals for this season? A personal goal is not “I’m going to hit X number of kills this season.” A personal goal is a specific performance objective you plan to accomplish. So, for example, perhaps you plan to improve your hitting for accuracy, blocking technique, or strengthen your legs:
Personal Athletic Goals
What will you do to reach your Personal Athletic Goals?
Who might help you reach these goals?
–Improve my leg strength.
–I will spend 10 minutes after practice each day and do extra leg work.
–I will pick a different teammate each practice to stay and work with me.
The prompts on this page help players reflect on the season while making plans for the future. As with Preseason Thoughts, an athlete may take 20-30 minutes to write out these thoughts and a coach may read and perhaps take notes on the collection in 20-30 minutes. Here are examples of prompts for Postseason Thoughts:
- What have been your strengths this season as a volleyball player?
- What areas still need improvement and how do you plan to improve?
- What has been your most significant off-the-court accomplishment this season? (e.g., nutrition, grades, proper sleep, time management)
- Write about your best personal performance this season in a game or practice session. What contributed to your success?
These pages are for keeping notes, sketching plays, and storing information from the coach. The pages may be blank pieces of paper or the coach (or players) may create any number of different page styles (e.g., a volleyball court outline). For travel or select teams, players might keep a day-to-day journal of sights seen and games played.
In addition to the basic five sections of the Team Notebook, some coaches like to add a series of journal prompts to help their players grapple with issues they face or to reflect on life beyond the court. Here are several prompts:
- Write about this quotation: “Adversity, if you allow it to, will fortify you and make you the best you can be.” –Kerri Walsh Jennings, 3x Olympic Gold Medalist
- What advice or talk do you least like to hear before an important game? Why?
- A class of sports psychology students explored how failure can be helpful. Among the list compiled by students were the following — write about them:
Failure found what didn’t work. Failure adds value to success.
Failure creates hunger to do better. Failure is feedback.
- Watch a game on television, online, or a video. Make a list of some the announcer’s best descriptive lines. What’s your favorite and why?
- Tag a VB Teammate: Under each category (e.g., Who’d make a great coach?), name a teammate, volleyball camp friend, or even an opponent. Give an example or two of the athlete’s qualities.
BENEFITS OF TEAM NOTEBOOKS: Adding Team Notebooks to your program won’t make up for unfit athletes, poorly designed training sessions, or tactical mistakes. But writing will complement your coaching practice and add a new level of understanding for athletes and team staff members. The act of writing not only organizes and clarifies an athlete’s thoughts, but also can
- add variety to practice sessions,
- frontload pre- and post-game discussions,
- keep coaches and other team personnel informed in another way, and
- fill in knowledge gaps.
Ultimately, writing improves learning and that makes for more effective coaches, athletes, and teams.
CONCLUSION: Team Notebooks can become as important to your coaching as watching game films and as much a part of your players’ learning as watching professional matches. Writing guides players in thinking more critically about their sport and helps them think and talk more like coaches.
With Team Notebooks to complement your coaching practice, you will find that you’re looking more fully at your team, your athletes, and your own coaching. Indeed, the notion of writing to learn in athletics encourages coaches—and athletes—to live more fully as students of the game.