I’d like to welcome Dr. Cheri Toledo to Purpose2Play’s Coaches’ Corner.

(Dr. Cheri Toledo)

(Dr. Cheri Toledo)

Dr. Toledo is a Certified Elite Life Coach, with a 15+- year car career as a collegiate and high school coach. She has coached Athletes-in-Action volleyball teams touring the Philippines, Korea, and Japan, studied volleyball in China through Study Tours International, and was chosen the Gulf Star Conference Volleyball Coach of the Year as the Head Coach at Stephen F. Austin. She has been educator for over 30 years, teaching and coaching on the university and K-12 levels and serving as an academic dean, academic counselor, and program coordinator.

Today, we’re going to pick her brain on how coaches can ensure successful road trips.

Purpose2Play: Road trips are inevitable for any athlete. For many athletes, high school in particular, spending the week or weekend away from home and with teammates can be an exciting time, but out of their routines, it can also be a time littered with distractions. How can coaches best prep their athletes for the trip (on and off the field/court of play) prior to departure?

Dr. Cheri Toledo:

How to help players feel ready to hit the road:

  • Provide players with an itinerary for each day; e.g., wake-up, breakfast, walk-throughs, practice, lunch, pre-game, game, dinner, and curfew.  During down times, set aside specific times for study hall, free time, team time, and coach/player meetings.  Continue the routines established at home practices and games; e.g., pre-game rituals, warm-up routines, and game day tasks.
  • Give them a checklist of what to take: clothes, toiletries, warm-ups, uniforms, socks, shoes, sport-specific equipment, etc.
  • Sometimes it can be helpful to put players in pairs or groups of three and have them travel together, room together, and warm-up together. This was an everyday occurrence with my teams – I assigned practice/warm-up partners each week and roommates on the road.
  • Talk with the players about possible situations that might come up.  Help them mentally prepare for being away from home and focus on the purpose for the travel.  Emphasize that it’s not party time, they are traveling for competition, and they have a job to do.  Walk them through the itinerary – a typical day – and answer any questions they might have.  Have the team captains answer questions and help the younger/newer players.
  • You as the coach will set the tone for the trip.  Do your homework, be organized, make sure you have directions to the hotel and the gym/field, and remember to get the money you need to pay for the hotel and food.  It is good to make a travel checklist for the logistical items.  Your players will pick up your energy or anxiety, so do what you need to do to remain cool, calm, and collected.

P2P: Curfew has to be enforced on the road. Do you have any tips for coaches to get their athletes to comply without issues?

CT: The culture of the team must start at the beginning of the season.  Student-athletes need to understand that they are expected to act maturely.  The coach must set team rules and have an agreement that is signed by the athlete and his/her parents.  The non-negotiable rules can come from the coach and then the captains and/or players can add more rules to create a higher degree of personal buy-in.  The coach, captains, and players can provide the consequence – many times players will come up with much more intense consequences.

To help set the tone for the trip, remind players that they represent more than themselves.  Institute a dress code so they feel professional; e.g., collared shirt, no jeans, shorts, or sandals; or athletes wear team warm-ups or shirts on road trips.

Players should be assigned to rooms – coaches can pair up team leaders with the players who might push the rule envelope.  They also need to know that that the hotel can electronically track the opening and closing of room doors. Some coaches will do bed checks and noise checks.  Make sure that the coach’s and chaperones’ rooms are in between the players’ rooms, rather than at one end or the other.  Make sure that one of the team rules addresses curfew and noise – define in-room time, in-bed time, lights-out time, and quiet time.

Set a goal that the hotel and restaurant managers will say, “That was the best team we’ve ever had here.”

P2P: Playing in a different town, with not many backers on the road, how might a coach help his or her team best focus on the game, when the “home” crowd won’t be behind them? What are some strategies to get players focused while on the road (Ex. Watching game tape on the bus ride, scheduling a walk-through on a down day, etc.)

CT: In addition to maintaining the same pregame and warm-up routines, coaches and players can set specific goals for the game or match.  Emphasize, “We are in control of our game, our tempo, and our game plan.”  Tell players, “When you want to react, stop and think about our game plan and our goals.”  Talk about “what if …” situations to reduce players surprise, anxiety, and reactivity.

Get to the site early so they can acclimate to the environment.  When possible, practice in the game facility; do a walk-through practice; look at the locker rooms and the training room.  If there are earlier matches/games spend some time watching the other teams and getting used to the noise level.

If you know that there is going to be a big crowd and your team is not used that type of noise, try to simulate it at home.  Take a recording of a previous game and play the crowd noise over the speakers in your gym; run drills with players creating distractions for their teammates.  Do what you can to create an unpredictable environment at home practices – surprise players with a different drill, spin on the ball, or made-up rule for the game.

P2P: Coaches tend to function as parents, to a certain extent, when traveling. Let’s say there is misbehavior while on the road. What are come logical consequences for coaches to enforce?

CT: The consequences will depend on the sports culture of the school, program, and team and many issues come into play.  Sometimes the coach will have to weigh the impact of single-player punishment on the team.  For instance, if your best player breaks one of the team rules before a play-off game, what you decide to do is based on the culture of winning.  It all goes back to what the coach and administration believe about purpose of athletics.  Some coaches will hold the line no matter who it is and others will decide that holding back the punishment is best in order not to hurt the team … at least in the win-loss column.

As discussed above, each player and their parents have agreed to the team rules and the associated consequences.  One typical consequence of breaking a team rule is being benched – this can range from not starting to not playing a game or match.  For major or multiple infractions, the coach can call the parents and have them come and take the player home.  Of course, the ultimate consequence is kicking a player off the team.  When I got my first teaching job I was also the volleyball, basketball, and softball coach.  I had three sisters who played on all three teams.  Two of them were focused on becoming better athletes and making the team successful.  The third sister was more selfish and troubled.  On one of our final road trips of the year, she was caught scratching her name on the back of the bus seat, so I benched her for the first game.  Then I found out that she wrote her name on the bathroom doors, so I kicked her off the team – after three sport seasons enough was enough.  I remember being unsure of her parents’ reaction, so when I saw her father walking toward me at the awards banquet, I cringed a little.  He came up, shook my hand, and said, “Thank you.  You’re the first person who did what was necessary.”  After I breathed a sigh of relief, I thanked him and smiled.  It is so important for us to hold the line … even if we may lose a game … even if we know we’re going to take the heat.  We have to be focused on the growth of our athletes, not just the win-loss column.

Give Dr. Toledo a follow on Twitter: @cheritoledo