Show Notes

 

Today’s guest is a 5-time national champion coach, 4-time national coach of the year was elected as a member of the American Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2011 and holds the distinction as the only coach in his sport’s history to win a championship in his first year at two different schools. Today’s guest has not only lived and breathed the pinnacle as a repeat champion, his teams made the postseason in all the 32 years he coached; the hallmark of what it means to be truly great in the ultra-competitive and the ever-evolving world of college athletics.

Despite what would appear to just about any other coach on the planet in any sport, as success worth leaning on and when making decisions and leading, this coach has built his very philosophy on learning, listening, and an unmatched attention to detail that’s allowed him to consistently set the bar higher and higher for his team and himself.

Maintaining a beginners mind has allowed him to fall deeply in love with the process that is the art, and science of coaching. Listen in to gain insight from the freshly retired championship head coach of the Stanford Women’s Volleyball team, John Dunning.

What do you do to cultivate a relationship that can help athletes succeed? [2:25]

  • It’s something that has changed over time. The relationship I had as a coach when I started in high school is different than now when I’m super grandpa.
  • There are a few people that are capable of having self-drive. [4:11]
  • I push, create avenues, opportunities, and situations to learn. I schedule tough and do all the things that add up in a quest for them to be as good as they can be.
  • You walk down a balance stick because if you don’t drive them they can’t get there. At the same time, if you push too hard, you risk losing relationship, which is the key art to coaching. [4:51]
  • If I push too hard and there’s no relationship, it will not work. If I don’t push hard enough, they’re not going to like it because they won’t get tangible results.

What techniques have you developed that allowed you to walk the fine line of balancing between past victories and players knowing you care about them? [5:26]

  • A relationship has to occur for it to work and it’s what we all crave because we want to stay connected with people for life.
  • An athlete who gets lucky works hard at it, will have friends for life from their athletic and or school experience. They get two tries; the people they know on campus and the people they know in a very intense way in their sport.

John’s philosophy that is operating in the background that he developed from when he started coaching. [7:32]

  • ‘’It has evolved. When I started as a high school coach, I didn’t know what I believed in.’’
  • If you asked an athlete I coached in 1985 vs one I coached in 2016 certain questions, they would say my philosophy has changed a lot.
  • In this day and age in our world the idea of team chemistry or team culture, it has to lie in ‘where does that come from? How is it efficient? How is it productive?’’
  • My philosophy is in words like loyalty, trust, inspiration, etc., when you watch me, do you see these in me and therefore see it in the people who work for me and see it in the people who play for me?

Is the language you use on your players something that you’ve cultivated actively as you’ve understood the impact of words? [10:16]

  • I’ve always believed in language and tone and organization.
  • When you talk to an athlete, always think, ‘’are you selling long-term?’’
  • ‘’As a young coach, I tried to focus on the art I possessed that would get the person in that state while in practice so as to get a lot out of it in their quest to be great.’’
  • Without saying a word, you can get someone to have the same added focus to that by talking about ‘’You have to be a team mate right here.’’[12:46]
  • Part of your responsibility when you walk into the gym is how you play and how you help your team outside of how you play. What do you bring to it as a person that motivates the team and everyone around you? [13:00]
  • The consistency of language has an effect on us.
  • It’s all based on language and how you sort it out and for what coach and what group is the most important way they all add up.

How to develop a stronger sense of competition in athletes as a coach. [15:50]

  • You can have a chance to pursue greatness if competing is the greatest thing to you.
  • ‘’You can make people more competitive by having them know that that is the most important thing to you.’’ [17:03]
  • John’s definition to being the most competitive volleyball player is the person who is the most ready, the most often to play the next play.
  • Competing only happens in a greater way than what the athlete naturally is as a person if it’s what you’re focusing on and they know it’s the most important thing.

Can you elaborate on the perspective that you look at competition through? [19:01]

  • There are a lot of ways that the world portrays what it means to be competitive and it’s different in every sport. [20:25]
  • Someone in rock climbing will only compete against themselves.

What have you seen, experimented with, and done to help your athletes work through the demons of self-doubt? [21:11]

  • One of the reasons we practice is to develop a belief and if you believe in yourself, you have to understand that you have to wear down the idea that you need to doubt yourself. [22:53]
  • Great people, when they make a mistake, they’re not approaching the next play like they doubt themselves.
  • ‘’As a coach, the last team I coached, one of my personal goals was to cater to their belief.’’
  • It’s different for every person.
  • For me, one of the things that go into performance is what can I do, how do I approach the fact that each player and/or the team believes in themselves enough? Because a coach’s pressure is always a distraction.
  • Pressure is designed and happens in a way that it distracts your brain from focusing and believing in what you’re going to do next. [25:31]

Calming players as a coach [26:10]

  • First, acknowledge that’s part of playing. The higher level you go up, the more the pressure.
  • Never shy away from discussing it.
  • The more you know they better off you. Don’t shy away from the fact that you know that it happens.
  • Let the athletes learn about fear and pressure just like they learn about strategy and skills.
  • When the distraction of pressure comes up, the idea of discipline and controlling your thoughts is important. [29:38]
  • If you’re coaching a 12 and under team, you won’t focus your attention on breathing since they can’t pass out. They need to learn the form of passing, hitting, and how to play the game.
  • As you progress as a player the things you can learn and employ, light breathing, like the other thought process, is discipline-based because if you’re not awesome and disciplined at it you will go away at the moment that you’re needed the most.

Do you have to train your response to certain thoughts and certain emotions the same way you train a certain style of serving? [31:16]

  • However, it’s really, really hard but the longer you don’t do it, the harder it is to add it in.
  • In volleyball, if you don’t see anything on the court, and the ball is bouncing around and is in the air. If you stare at the ball the whole time and don’t take close from anywhere else on the court and know what’s going on because you’re staring at the ball, that’s called reading.
  • Reading makes you better in a lot of different ways. You start teaching reading in 6th 0r 7th grade or younger. Teach them how to look at the court.

Difference between playing and performing [36:31]

  • Performance skills are becoming more and more important.
  • The performance levels in all sporting activities are going way up. As you go up the performance stairs in your sport and you’re performing better in high school then college then internationally, it’s so hard to go up a step.
  • You have to allow your players to level up in different settings. Which means they have to be disciplined, refocused, a competitor and be in a state of mind to help their team at that particular moment.

Is learning part of developing a certain level of competition? [40:20]

  • For a while, John’s team was successful and he thought he was the cause of it.
  • He was later told he was not the cause of their success. He’d stopped learning and started believing in himself.
  • As soon as you decide you know it all you’re going in the wrong direction.[41:36]
  • As a coach, if you’re going to be great and still striving to be great, you’ve got to be that coach or team that’s still going up.
  • At the end of his career, he had to step out of his logic and started experimenting new things which felt a little weird in the beginning.
  • ‘’I need to learn more about how to help athletes be in the frame of mind they need to be in to be the best.’’

Helping athletes develop a sense of self-awareness [43:58]

  • When an athlete comes into my program, the level goes up compared to what they used to be. They find that they have things they have to learn.
  • For John, he always wants an atmosphere in the gym that says, ‘’Ask the question.’’
  • One of the most respectful things anyone can say to you is, ‘’What’s your volleyball IQ like?’’ [44:57]
  • As a coach, ask a lot of questions. When an athlete asks why they have to do something or why does a situation dictate something, as a coach, ask them a question back and not give them an answer.
  • Try to get your athletes to come with answers or let them understand that being inquisitive is crucial. This helps them be an expert in the sport.

The Self-restraint of asking questions as a coach [46:40]

  • Sometimes when you’re impatient and you’ve said it too many times, you just tell me, ‘’Just do this.’’ You’ll get them to do it in the moment but they’ll resent it because you’re like an enforcer and that’s not how the learning process happens.
  • If I ask them a question or say something that makes them think, it will sell the present a little bit short by not making the next play perfect, but it sets up the tone and possibility where in the future they won’t ask questions because they know the answer.

How do you think sport elevates consciousness? [48:54]

  • ‘’I’m so stupidly logical and mathematical.’’ It’s like in what ways are you learning?
  • Are we looking at the world, our society, and our country right now and saying, ‘’maybe people aren’t displaying resilience the way we want to.’’?
  • Sport, if you focus on it, can help you understand how to be more resilient. [50:02]
  • The things you learn about in sport like leadership, team, dedication, and discipline, is very non-threatening and non-dangerous.
  • If all you have is how you play then you’re not going to learn enough in life. [51:51] you have to go out and fight for how you’re going to help the team with energy or positiveness or drive or hard work where they all feel it to the extent where they’re all better because you did it.

What does it mean to you to be an Omni coach? [53:50]

  • We’re finding ourselves where we are in the world, and this is an experience that in our country lots of people are choosing, enjoyment and improvement of self through sport.
  • When we find a Zen master at the sport we’re trying to learn, they don’t talk about the same things we do. They talk about only things that have to do with the imperative that will help the world right now.

What skills, relational, emotional, and mental, make it easier and quicker to succeed as a coach? [61:47]

  • The skill of having the ability to communicate and somehow, given all the other frameworks, have a relationship with people. This ranks above everything else.
  • Those kinds of relationship based things will make them never doubt that you care about them as human beings.

 

PULLED QUOTES.

  • There are a few people that are capable of having self-drive. [4:11]
  • If you push your team too hard, you risk losing the relationship, which is the key art to coaching. [4:51]
  • Part of your responsibility when you walk into the gym is how you play and how you help your team outside of how you play. [13:00]
  • ‘’You can make people more competitive by having them know that that is the most important thing to you.’’ [17:03]
  • There are a lot of ways that the world portrays what it means to be competitive and it’s different in every sport. [20:25]
  • Pressure is designed and happens in a way that it distracts your brain from focusing and believing in what you’re going to do next. [25:31]
  • As soon as you decide you know it all you’re going in the wrong direction.[41:36]
  • If all you have is how you play then you’re not going to learn enough in life. [51:51]