Lessons from U.C. Irvine Volleyball Coach John Speraw

John Speraw is the Men’s Volleyball Coach at U.C. Irvine. He won an NCAA National Championship as a player at UCLA and as a coach in 2007 with the Anteaters. He also served as an assistant coach with the gold medal-winning USA Men’s Volleyball Team in Beijing.

Speraw is a friend of a friend, so last week I attended UCI’s first practice of the season. There were several things I liked about his practice:

1. He explained the practice to the players before they started. He used a dry erase board, and he outlined the practice on the board, including some of the basic strategy that they covered in practice. He answered some questions before the practice, which helped to maintain a very brisk pace during practice. He also wrote the teams for the scrimmages and the starting positions for different players (setters) for the hitting drills.

2. He used visualization before practice. All the players left the gym, and he used a brief visualization exercise to focus the players for practice. When the players were ready, they entered the gym and immediately started their warm-up routine, which was self-led.

3. He used a journal. Before and after practice, players took a couple minutes to write in their journal. Before practice they wrote about their intentions or goals for practice, and after practice, they evaluated their effort and planned for the next practice.

As you can see, Speraw is very interested in the mental side of coaching. These activities probably took 15 minutes of a roughly two-hour practice. There is no tangible measurement of their success. Some players did not take the activities as seriously as others.

Speraw is one of the few coaches who I have seen who believes in the importance of mental practice and actually coaches in a way that develops mental skills. None of these activities is unique; many coaches use visualization, prepare players for practice, and have players write in journals. I have done all three. However, he is the first coach that I have seen place such importance on the activities and utilize multiple avenues for developing mental skills. It is clearly a priority for him, and the results speak for themselves, as few coaches get the opportunity to wear a championship ring and a medal around their neck.

By Brian McCormick, M.S.S., PES
Coach/Clinician, Brian McCormick Basketball
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

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