Club Life: The Players’ Mentor

8th June 2018

Club Life: The Players’ Mentor

In our ‘Club Life’ series, we’ve gone behind the scenes at London League club Wapping Wildcats to find out more about what it takes to run a volleyball club. We’ve spoken to: chairman Cormac Byrne about what it is like leading from the front and the man controlling the finances treasurer Bernd Kuehl.

In the next piece of the series, we head courtside to find out what life is like as a volleyball coach. As any coach will tell you, the role of a coach is very varied. As well as being a coach with in-depth volleyball knowledge, there are also times when you need to be an organiser, psychologist, fitness coach, committee member, motivator and a good friend.

We chat with Federica Ferretti who is one of the three coaches at the Wildcats and works with the men’s team which plays in the London League Premiership. Being a coach is a lot of work but can be incredibly rewarding, as she reveals…

What does your role as coach involve? What do you think are the key attributes you need to succeed?

FF: I would like to say that my role involves inspiring and motivating my players to achieve our goals as a team; improving the players individual technical and tactical abilities; helping people work together towards their personal and inter-personal development and provide a direction and support to the team.

What do I need in my role to succeed? Well, to start a lot of calm and serenity and happiness, as people come to training after a long day or week at work and they need to have fun, otherwise nothing works. Also, as many of the guys have played for many years, a good technical and tactical knowledge are key, to achieve respect.

I think the most important think though is being fair to everybody. We all have had the coach who showed a preference for one or the other player, and this prevents other individuals from growing and giving the best: the bottom line is that every player is important in a team and they all deserve respect, attention, and a fair shot at being able to play!

Why do you volunteer to help run your club and what attracted you to your particular role?
How did you first get into volunteering for your club?

FF: Well I did my Level 1 and Level 2 courses to mainly start coaching beach volleyball, but, having known many guys in the team for years, when they asked me to start coaching them half way through the 2015-2016 season, I thought I’d step up to the challenge. There is a very good team spirit and most of these guys are friends outside the court, so it was, for me, an honour to accept the position. Besides it is a very competitive environment, and I like that very much, having played for many years.

How much time do you put into your role per month?

FF: There are two hours training per week, and then generally 2 hours of games per week: most of them, thankfully, in London so the commute is not too long.

On top of that there is admin stuff, like sending registration cards, chasing everybody to see who is coming to training or the game, and then my personal research.

The latter involves finding better ways to do the physical training such as High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) sessions, exercises to train a specific position or skill, exercises to train the interaction between players, exercises that train the mental abilities and concentration of each one; all of this while trying to have intense, challenging, and fun sessions. I do spend quite a bit of time worrying on how to make the team perform at its best, maximising every players time on the court at games.

What do you most enjoy about your role?

FF: I want to say making my players do push ups! Or perhaps should I mention when they do sit ups - they moan a lot! But the truth is, I enjoy it when I see them happy and proud of themselves, of what they have achieved, for example when they make that shot they could not before. When I make a call and put a player on the bench and when I put them back in they absolutely smash it! So, yes a bit selfish, but I also enjoy it when I manage to make a difference.

What are the biggest challenges you face as a coach?

FF: Lack of equipment is one. We do not have a space to keep equipment in the gym so it is difficult to have and store a cube to stand on to spike on players from the other side of the net, or cones to use as targets, or weights to use for the physical training, or asymmetric balls to train reflexes and defence.

As the players are adults, many of them have have got commitments with work, families, life, sometimes injuries, so sometimes there are not as many people as I would like to be at training sessions or games, which impacts on the planning of the sessions.

On top of this I have a very intense daily job, so sometimes I’m lucky if I get time to be able to plan as much as I would like.

Is there anything that Volleyball England could do to make your role at volleyball clubs easier?

FF: I am just throwing an idea out there…it would be nice to have a venue where more than one game is played over the weekend and advertising it. It could be a good way to get families to come and watch for a minimal price (like five pounds to cover for the cost) and to get more young people into the sport. A bit like during the Paralympics, when many families took their kids to watch as it was a much cheaper way to have a day out and watch some good sport than going to the Olympics.

I also think that perhaps some more training for the referees sometimes could be required as the standard is very different depending on whom you get at the game, which can make a substantial difference.

What has been the highlight since you’ve been a coach for Wapping Wildcats?

FF: Well, taking over the team halfway through the season two years ago with a team that was in the bottom two in the league and finishing the season in the top three or four was great.  Then coming back last year and winning the League was fantastic! Last season getting to the quarter finals of the National Cup and beating a Super 8s Team has been thrilling! On top of that what our team achieves every day is to attract talent, and that to me is priceless.

How important is the working relationship between the other volunteers at your club?

FF: I am a bit guilty here as I do not pull my weight in many other areas of the club volunteering, but I think the guys are doing a great job. In fact, if we did not have our captain, who has a full-time job and also a small child, managing our Teamer app, being our team treasurer and secretary, I am not sure where we would be.

Then we have Cormac Byrne, “El Presidente” [club chairman], taking care of venues, equipment, and anything else really. Hina, she organises parties for all teams and brings everybody together. I cannot say I do much, but they are amazing!

Do you feel your work is appreciated by the other people at your club?

FF: Sometimes I am not sure what my players think, especially after the push ups, sit ups and the circuit training! Last summer I also coached the ladies during the beach volleyball season, so I felt a lot of love from them too. My work is mainly focused on the men's team, but it is nice to know our team achievements have not gone unnoticed.

What top tip would you give to someone taking on the same role at another club?

FF: I knew a lot of technique and tactics, but I did not necessarily know how to structure a training session, how to best communicate my points, how to make sure people could develop, or how to do a player assessment. I got my Level 1 and 2 coaching qualifications and I thought the courses were very useful as they teach you basic stuff like planning - so I would recommend that.

Then, I would say do your research and remember always that the players are only human, they could have had a bad day, be tired, be unwell, have a low self-confidence or a lower concentration time span that day, so you need to be alert of physical signs and be flexible with your training enough to be able to change it if needed.

On top of that, do not have a firm opinion on each player, they all try hard and they all deserve your attention, so make sure you do not create favourites, and give everybody a chance.

Finally, communication is key, always state what’s the reason and the goal of an exercise, why you are asking players to do something different, or why you have decided to put them in or out of the court. If they know what you are looking for, then they can improve. Besides you need to be there for them not just as a technical guide, but to support them, to believe in them and to ultimately make them grow all around.

Club Life: The Players’ Mentor