Return to Play: Encouraging Athlete Autonomy

Ok! We’re back! Many states are now permitting beach volleyball training sessions and competitions to resume. You have your guidelines in place and are doing your best to keep your athletes and coaching staff safe and healthy. Despite the recommendations of small groups, handwashing, and sterilizing balls, how else can you make your training sessions safer but as valuable as ever?

Returning to play after a few months off provides a unique space for an athlete to slow down, break questionable technique, and to re-build a better foundation. Without the pressure of the big national championships for at least a month, athletes can really work on their weaknesses. Especially in reduced size groups, there’s a great opportunity for a coach to hone in on every athlete and provide a ton of feedback. 

The following recommendations are written with high school-aged athletes in mind. Younger athletes may need more guidance and structure. 



Take one more set of hands off the balls during a training session by setting up athlete initiated drills. Make sure that you clearly outline intentions, pace, and what the athlete’s focus should be. This allows you to step back and provide more feedback and your athletes to get more touches on the ball. To keep pace in drills that require precision (ex a full-court serve receive drill), have a backup athlete to throw a ball in should there be a missed serve. 



Encourage your athletes to bring a journal with them to training. Give them a few minutes to write down goals at the beginning of the session and reflections at the end. This small habit will allow them to chart their progress, identify areas that need improvement, and put more intention behind their training. 



Film everything, share with your athletes, and encourage them to review it after every training session. Although your athletes might not be playing at their highest level, watching film is an essential learning tool. Using an app such as Coach’s Eye or Hudl Technique can be helpful to create mini clips, slow things down, and really hone in on technique. 

If your athletes have college aspirations, they should be creating new content every week to update college coaches. Recruiters understand that ALL athletes have been out of training and they don’t expect perfection, but they do expect teamwork, effort, and competitiveness. 



As your athletes have been off for a few months, make sure every training session is packed with competitive live play. While this time is great for re-developing a foundation at a slow pace, it is also really important to make sure that your training session is an outlet of FUN and a reminder of why your athletes love this sport. 

Encourage partner mixups, set different rules, and overall keep it COMPETITIVE and FUN.



Ask your athletes to complete an assignment before the next training session. This could be an on the ball activity such as “pass to yourself 500 times” or a cerebral activity such as “watch a match of your favorite athlete and chart their attacks”. Keep your athletes accountable by spending the first five minutes of every training session discussing their homework and what they learned. 

Overall, make sure that return to play training is intentional yet fun. Give your athletes space to be kids but also take advantage of this unique time. 

Want more tips and trips to engage your athletes? Get in touch! 

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