Exclusive Carol Gordon Interview
We have managed to catch up with England Cadet Boys and the Malory Eagles coach, Carol Gordon.
Carol reveals how she operates as a coach while preparing her players for matches and what pre-match methods she applies to promote a good performance from her teams.
We all know marginal gains can be the difference between winning and losing and Carol give some insight into a few of her own.
Q: As a coach of a number of different teams and players of a wide ranging ability, is there anything that you keep and replicate for all teams?
A: My personal philosophy is to explain each decision that I make to promote a positive learning environment for all my players. Any decision that I would make within a match, would have already been practised with the group in training, so any in game substitution or tactics are never a surprise and don’t add to the already existing pressures of the game.
I have adopted this way of thinking from when I used to play as a tactical service substitute and a defender. I always knew when I was about to get subbed on to the court, because we had already practised it in training. A player who is already aware of the fact that they are coming on is likely to be more switched on and would be more effective for your team. This is something I look to train in my players and adapt to all the squads I am involved with.
Q: What is your first plan of action in match preparation and what do you do during the game to keep the edge for your team?
A: We try to scout teams before we play, but this often depends on how far the team is away from us. Ahead of a game I look to see who is registered on the opponent’s team, but as you know, teams can register players on the day of a game so it's difficult to predict who will be playing. Generally when the season starts, if I have the time, I will attend matches of teams who are local when coaching my National League team. Then I can start to look at the match ups that we can use to get a slight edge and adapt our training to reflect this.
Once the game starts I note down the oppositions rotation, then I can start looking at the strength of their rotation against ours and then apply in game tactics to that before the next set. For instance, you may match your strongest blocker with their best hitter etc… This is very basic but sometimes the small things count.
Q: How does scouting feature in your game day preparation when coaching England U16’s squad?
I choose not to focus on the opposition too much when preparing for our matches. I would be looking to play to our strengths and remain adaptable. The squads are usually not experienced enough to tactically adapt in terms of formation, however I often switch players from one position to another. This would simply not be able to happen if we did not practice this in training. Often teams make changes like this as a last minute substitution for injured personnel and the player is then lost on court when the ball is served.
In training I make sure all players get a chance to play in all positions, so they can be comfortable and aware of their role on court. The players are often new to on court formations, so I look to educate the athletes in this using both on court and off court methods. We often have classroom sessions where the athletes get small snippets of information in relation to where the setter is and they have to then complete the rest on paper. This is a great task for those beginning to play for teams and almost forces to speed up that learning process, eradicating on court confusion.
Q: What is your protocol for arrival before your game for National League games?
A: Generally the rule of the thumb is to arrive at the location 1 hour before the start. We try not to let the key players drive, so we try give that responsibility to somebody else. If a game goes to 5 sets, then players will need to remain mentally focused throughout due to small margins between winning a set and losing. Even the smallest phase of play where a player switches off can cost you the game. Setters for example, who are the playmakers running the team, need to be mentally prepared before a game and not only just starting to relax after focusing on the road after a long drive.
Q: Do you have any particular warming up methods for preparing your players on match day?
A: The team will all warm up together at the start where we tend to stick to a same routine and then this will flow into individual warm ups. A lot of the players have elastics and skipping ropes, so I always make sure there is time for them use those. The initial warm up is key to team focus, so it is good to do a fixed warm up. The focus is on speed, therefore static stretching is a no go, unless a player is carrying and injury. I also like to do some footwork drills where players not only just practising their movement to a wing block, but also back off into their defensive position too.
Q: What do you look for from your players in match preparation?
A: I look for good focus. The mind and body can be prepared, however if they are then wasting time with the ball is it more than likely that they are then not going to be focused. It is important to establish some discipline, therefore if a player is practicing poor technique or simply messing around I would make sure to re-focus them at the earliest stage, as you don't want that sloppiness and attitude taken into the first set.
Q: How would you deal with a player who appears to be switched off??
A: It is often quite easy to spot those who do not seem to be prepared to start. Usually they may have poor defensive timing, and may be showing poor movement skills within their footwork. As mentioned previously, the earlier the player can switch on the better, so if I see signs of this early in the first set of the game, then I would call a time out and use an assistant coach to speak to an individual whilst I speak to the group. With only 30 seconds in the time-out I always keep things sharp and concise. If this persists, then I would start a more open conversation asking the player what the issue is and trying to solve the problem this way. Reassurance is always key as any anxiety will be likely to reflect into their play.
Q: What do you say in your final team talk before the game starts?
A: I usually breakdown the responsibilities of positions to different players, especially utility players. Some players may have a new position for a particular match, so it’s important we let them know what to expect and how to deal with different situations that arise in front of them. I always remain calm and reassuring before a game, talking about a few tactics and motivating the team. I set short term goals so the team are not overwhelmed with the occasion and get rid of anxiety associated with the pressures of winning a game. There is no point in building up the game and getting the team over aroused. The team talk would usually just confirm what has been practiced in training and normalise the situation, so the players perform in the similar calm fashion as they would do at training.