The mental attributes of volleyball performance

2nd November 2018

The mental attributes of volleyball performance

The Volleyball Psychology series appears on the Time Out newsletter each month. In the second feature in the series, we look at what mental attributes are required to be successful at volleyball. The series has now moved on to looking at how to build different types of mental attributes - you may have seen our recent video on competitiveness and a drill to develop it in your players! If you don't subscribe to Time Out, do so now and get bang up to date with the series. But here is a look back at the feature which explored just what the mental attributes are that are needed for sport...

As human beings, almost everything we do begins in our heads. The most complex and powerful organ in the body, the brain regulates just about everything we do. Yet, we’re still so often surprised by the impact of what goes on in our mind has on what we do.

In the first piece in the Volleyball Psychology series, we looked at just how important the mental aspect of performance is for volleyball players and, most inspiringly, that mental qualities can be developed and improved. But just what is it we’re talking about when we say mental qualities? In the first piece, the crucial idea was that although it may often be labelled mental strength, the psychological aspect of performance is actually made up of many mental attributes. Just as with technical volleyball skills, a player may be fantastic in one area but not so good in another.

Volleyball England worked in partnership with Sheffield Hallam University on research which identified 11 different mental aspects to volleyball performance. In this feature, we explore what each means and how to recognise them in volleyball players. For any player or coach, reading on to finally build the picture of what the mental aspect of sporting performances looks like is the first step to improving these qualities…

11 mental attributes

Awareness: awareness of having a professional attitude and how behaviours influence others
The quality of awareness reflects on a player who understands how their behaviour can have a positive or negative impact on their team. They will look to encourage their teammates, recognise how others contribute to the team, and will show self-discipline, meaning they won’t let their emotions get the better of them and will sacrifice other good things in life, such as aspects of their social life and diet, to be the best they can be.

Motivation: being committed to achieving and having work ethic to strive for goals
This one is often misunderstood. Many people want to win, but are they motivated in their actions to win? A motivated player will always turn up on-time for training, listen to coaches and be proactive in the sessions, and will ask questions as they seek to improve. They strive towards their goals, will often have role models and want to give themselves the best chance of being successful.

Competitiveness: having a winning mentality. Have a competitive edge and wanting to compete
A competitive player thrives on and enjoys competition. They want to win all the time. They will always be aware of the score – even in training, drills and games. A smart thing they do is being efficient with their effort, they will save their energy for the key points in matches when it really counts.

Sport intelligence: heightened game awareness. Seeing and perceiving situations. A mental aptitude to complete sport tasks successfully, also described as Sport IQ
A volleyball player with sporting intelligence will have an insight to what is happening on court. They will recognise patterns of play, read the game, anticipate what others will do, read ball flight and control play. They are able to reflect on this and understand instruction and game plans from coaches to take the initiative on court.

Decision making: staying in the moment to make accurate decisions with own movement and passes/execution of plays
A good decision maker will consistently make the right choice of play. Understanding the moment in the match, they will know when to take risks and when to play safe. They pick up cues to what is going to happen and quickly make the right decision about how to react.

Focus: able to switch on and concentrate on the task at hand. Able to block out distractions
Good focus is being able to stay in the moment. A player with focus will not get distracted by noise or what is happening with the opposition, rather they will be concentrated on how to do their job. After breaks in play, such as in-between points in a match or time out from training exercises, they will quickly switch back on to the task in hand. For example, when an opposition coach calls a time out to disrupt a server, they will not be phased and get straight back into their rhythm.

Confidence: trust in one’s sport ability and playing without fear
Often one of the most prized mental qualities of them all. A confident player will show a strong court presence, meaning, not that they necessarily want to stand out, but will own their performance. They will want to be part of the action and want the ball. They step up and are eager to try new things in matches and training.

Mental toughness: performing under pressure – having an optimistic outlook regardless of whether the outcome is positive or negative
Being mentally tough is the player who performs under pressure and in adverse situations – on and off the court. It is retaining intensity through good and bad periods. Most notably, someone with mental toughness will perform consistently under pressure, retain composure and will control their emotions.

Resilience: being able to bounce back from negative moments with improved motivation and growth
Perseverance is a key quality of a resilient volleyball player. When things are not going right, they are committed to finding solutions. They will see losses and mistakes as a chance to learn and improve. Positive language and self-talk, and optimism are key characteristics of resilient athletes.

Team-orientated: willingness to become a team-player
A team-player will work to build the value of the team. They are committed to the goals of the team and understand their own role in achieving them – whatever that may be. They spot when their teammates are going through a bad patch and will step in to help, on and off the court. Honesty, trust and openness are common traits for a genuine team player.

Demonstrating independence: enjoys being responsible for taking decisions (on and off the court) into their own hands
Independent players will take responsibility for themselves. They will not be the player that needs to be constantly reminded about when training is, how to get to away games or what they need to bring. Often comfortable in leadership roles, they set high standards for themselves and others.

Now, knowing more about the mental aspects of being a good volleyball player, how do you assess your own mental attributes? What aspects do you think you need to work on?
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The mental attributes of volleyball performance