Punishing a Lack of Talent

vballLast season, our volleyball team had an opinionated senior captain. We also had a number of junior varsity players who could not get their serves over the net.

Now, a high school player should be able to get her serve over the net, but we had several first-year players and smaller than average players.

When we discussed our serving woes, the captain suggested that we make the players run if they missed a serve. This is a common coaching tool. Many times, a coach assumes that players make mistakes due to a lack of concentration and use sprints as a punishment.

However, this mindset errs in three ways:

  1. None of our players intentionally missed her serve. They wanted to serve well. Therefore, their misses were not due to a lack of effort or desire. Punishing a player for missing her serve would be punishing a lack of skill.
  2. The players who miss their serves need to spend more time practicing their serves. What happens when they run as punishment? They take fewer practice serves.
  3. When a player serves, if she worries about running rather than serving properly, the fear of punishment steals her concentration. For a player struggling with her serve, a loss of concentration is not going to help her serve better.

For the varsity players who serve pretty well, the captain’s suggestion may have some merit. When varsity players miss their serves in practice, it is often a lack of concentration. A punishment for a missed serve would not be a punishment for lack of skill or a skill error, but a punishment for not concentrating or focusing on the task.

For the junior varsity, punishing missed serves is punishing a lack of skill. These players need more practice, not fewer repetitions. While the captain meant well and offered a suggestion based on her club volleyball experience, one must think about the purpose of the punishment and if it meets the objective.

Will making players run because they cannot get the serve over the net suddenly make them get the ball over the net?

Lack of skill does not deserve a punishment – it requires more instruction. For some, it took guts to try a new game at a competitive level as a high school sophomore. Do we want to discourage them?

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

4 thoughts on “Punishing a Lack of Talent

  • I think it depends on the skill/drill. If its about getting someone or a group to be more competitive which is arguably a skill then the punishment of running can be helpful.

  • I disagree. I do not think that making players run makes them more competitive. They may try harder at a simple task to avoid running, but that is not competitiveness. That is task avoidance. Competitiveness must come from within, not through an external punishment or reward.

    I do believe that competitiveness is a skill, and I make every drill as competitive as possible, depending on the learning stage. However, trying hard to avoid running is not competitiveness. Great competitors are motivated internally or intrinsically, not externally.


  • As an educator, I would go as far to say that in some cases a lack of skill may lead to a lack of concentration as kids may mess around in an attempt to devalue the drill to compensate for their short comings in the eyes of their peers. It is paramount to reinforce the skill even it means providing special instruction or reinforcement for individuals or a small group to ensure they came “keep” up with their peers or at the least show improvement in that skill.

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