Morph Bowes beach volleyball clinic ‘‘How to coach’ and ‘what to coach’

It was a huge pleasure and a great honour to have a coaching success story from Scotland delivering a beach volleyball coaching clinic at St Andrews for two days.  Morph Bowes, Dutch Women’s Beach Volleyball Head Coach, presented an excellent coaching workshop which was well attended and well received by 10 enthusiastic participants on Saturday. In their words it provided ‘great insights into the coaching process and the strategy behind long term athlete development’.

Morph started by presenting his own coaching philosophy, questioning the linear approach of ‘plan-do-review’. Instead he described coaching as a ‘messy’ business of unanticipated behaviours. The interaction of a large number of variables is impossible to predict or control. The coach sees more reference points than the athlete and gets frustrated when the athlete ‘doesn’t do as they are told’. So the mission of the coach should be to empower the athlete and practice an environment that allows and stimulates exploration of potential, giving ownership to the players and unlocking their creativity.

The ‘how to do this’ was the best part of the clinic. Morph’s idea is to listen to the players and ‘bite your tongue’ trying not to tell them the correct instructions. Instead, as an expert in sport psychology, he suggested one uses the exact words of the players in order to navigate them to the find their own solution to the problem. 

Applying the same training methods for everyone is wrong. Not just because everybody has their own movement ‘fingertip’ but because everyone has a different interpretation of the reality. How to give ownership to players was highlighted by the practical session that was, in my opinion, the best part of the course. He gave control to the players and enabled them to reflect on their actions and fine-tune their performance. It was indeed a very inspiring session with the strong wind providing an ideal environment for problem solving.

For skill development practice should start with intent and one should focus on movement meanings. He advises coaches to make their players comfortable with errors, talk to them about failure and seek with empathy the meaning behind their actions. His ‘Zen’ approach of not following your emotion and staying in the moment is appropriate and relevant to every level of coaching.

For national development planning he argued that one needs to be clear about what they do. As a head coach managing the vision, and true follower of Zen, he insists on handling the thing itself and not an empty abstraction. He asked to be aware not to detach from realities and turn into conceptions: “It is not enough to say we give ownership to the players; it is not enough to write big mission statements; we need to act on them in a specific and appropriate manner”.

Candidates were delighted to see a real structured and applied model of long term athlete development as in the Netherlands; it created a good discussion and in their words “left a lot of questions for coaches to personally reflect on in their planning”.
To have the patience to let the learning process unfold by trying to see the world through the player’s eyes was the most valuable lesson of the day in my opinion. To restrict the temptation to step in as soon as you have noticed a mistake is common knowledge but to see it done so successfully by an international coach was very inspiring.

My very grateful thanks to the players and coaches who made this an enjoyable experience and many thanks to Morph Bowes for the excellence of his delivery, and the support he offers Scottish Volleyball.