What should I have done?

I hear a number of common phrases during volleyball play which I discourage athletes from using. 

I watched as the ball looped over his head and landed in.

He looks at me and asked, “What should I have done?”

I simply said: “Something else.”

In 2009, Jones at al proposed a Theory of Challenge and Threat states, which describe how stress affects an athlete given the resources that he or she perceives having. In the challenge state, athletes are unafraid to fail, explore new solutions, and view themselves in control of the situation even as they are challenged. In contrast, if they see the same situation as a threat, the priority shifts to protecting whatever remaining resources they have, become conservative in their exploration of the possible solutions to the problem, and may even be emotionally more fragile. And because they are threatened, subjects are more concerned about survival than learning.

Though set in the guise of being an attentive and improving athlete, this question betrays the Threat State in the athlete’s mind. He is seeking a quick solution out so as not to make a mistake again, to not be blamed. This is where a parent or a coach may shout out some kind of quick advice — move back, move your feet, reach with your hands up — but none of these address the learning gap in the moment, and in fact give the athlete a chance to displace the responsibility to an external source. Falling into this question quickly is not something I would encourage. The more effective volleyball player will continue to seek the right solutions.


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