Just as Much of a Mental Game as a Physical Game | CROSSNET

Just as Much of a Mental Game as a Physical Game

I hope everyone is doing well and staying safe as we navigate these unprecedented times.  My name is John Klanac and I am an Assistant Volleyball Coach at Rice University in Houston, Texas.  I’m super excited to be able to share my experiences with other coaches and I’m looking forward to hearing your experiences and any feedback.

coach John Klanac

How long have you been coaching? What age group do you coach? How many people do you coach on a regular basis?

In 2020, I will be going into my third season with the Rice University volleyball team.  Rice is a D1 University, so the staff and I are training university enrolled student-athletes that we recruit and sign.  Our team generally consists of 15 student-athletes. I have also worked with athletes of all ages, 5th grade to 12th grade, with club volleyball.




Do you see different challenges with beginners versus more experienced players?

There are many differences and challenges between beginners and more experienced players.  With players new to the game of volleyball, it’s incredibly important to be patient. Like anything new we attempt, we fail more often and become discouraged.  That ultimately leads to not wanting to play anymore.


As coaches, we must promote an atmosphere of patience and teaching. With more experienced players, it’s almost the opposite issue, at times, more experienced players are unlikely to break their habits. 

An effective way to counter this is to focus on having a conversation with that player then provide recommendations rather than simply telling them what to change. As an example, during the heat of gameplay, if an attacker makes a hitting error, it’s important to ask them “What did you see there?” and being OK with their answer instead of immediately saying what they did wrong.

volleyball coach John Klanac

How has coaching the sport evolved over the years?

Over the years, it’s been incredible to see the evolution of the game.  As a former collegiate and professional player and current collegiate coach, I’ve had a front row seat to how rapidly and steadily this game continues to grow and change.

 We see a lot of current athletes starting at a younger age, which leads to better development as they grow. The participation of youth volleyball as a whole (boy’s and girl’s) continues to grow rapidly. 

I believe this is the natural progression of the sport. Once at a higher level, the speed of the game is the next evolution. The speed of an offense can significantly impact the game at the collegiate level, along with the benefit of having bigger and stronger athletes to execute things like quick tempo sets to the pins and an aggressive back row attack.

Where do you feel that you lose the most focus in your sessions?

As someone who has trained all ages, I believe athletes lose the most focus during basic skill instruction.  Naturally, they are “basic” and we should be able to complete these with no errors, but that isn’t always the case.  I firmly believe in progressions. If you can’t do the easy things, what makes you think you can do the hard things? Be good at the easy stuff, and the rest gets easier.

What’s the most important thing that you want readers to know about volleyball coaching?

Volleyball is just as much of a mental game as it is a physical game.  It is important to put yourselves in every type of situation, so when that situation arrives, you are READY.  I always tell my players that if you’re surprised by it, you aren’t ready. 

During my time as a player, I was fortunate enough to play in four Final Fours.  While it was great to even have the chance to be in the Final Four, after three years of losing in the semifinals, we knew we had to take a harder look at how we were approaching things in order to take the next step. 

We took the time to analyze what other teams were doing, and how we could improve our training mentally and physically, so when the time came about, we were more than ready. This change in mindset ultimately led us to winning a National Championship in 2011.  I try to apply this to coaching as well. I encourage all coaches to ask themselves, “how can I continue to grow?” You’d be surprised at how many ideas will come to you!

How has the #stayathome movement impacted your life, workouts, and coaching?

The #stayathome movement, as it has all of us, has impacted me on both a personal and professional level.  While we can’t be in the gym with our student-athletes, this is a perfect time to watch film on other teams/players.  For instance, we watch the USA Women’s and Men’s National Teams, professional teams, and collegiate teams. We discuss questions like: What are they doing that separate them from other teams/players? 

Can you mimic that? What makes them good? How did they react after an error? How did they act during crunch time? How can I apply this to my coaching and training? While we can’t be in the gym training our athletes right now, our time at home opens up an opportunity for us to connect with our players on a different level.  This is a great solution for it.

I think it’s important for coaches to continue to collaborate to better ourselves and our players we develop.  I would love to connect with you. Feel free to reach out at any time.

John Klanac

Assistant Coach – Rice Volleyball




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