What are your playing for when there’s nothing to play for?

At some point most of us have a season where eventually there isn’t anything to play for anymore. For the purposes of this discussion I mean for example you have been mathematically eliminated from post-season contention. There are other “nothing to play for” situations, but this is probably the most acute one. It’s the situation where it’s easiest to lose the team and see motivation levels plummet.

So what do you do? How do you keep the players – and yourself – motivated to continue training and playing at 100%?

Performance goals

One answer it to have other things to play for. Let me use the 2017 Midwestern State University (MSU) team as an example.

Unfortunately, we knew going into the final week of the season that we couldn’t make the conference tournament. We were three wins behind with only two conference matches to play. Yet, we still had three matches left – a Tuesday non-conference match, then Thursday and Friday conference fixtures.

Since we couldn’t focus on reaching the tournament, we shifted our attention to some secondary goals we defined earlier. One of them was to not lose any of the non-conference matches we played against teams outside the Top 25. According to the records I could see, we hadn’t done that in any season at least as far back as 2008. We needed to win the Tuesday match to achieve that objective, which we did.

Another objective was to get to 7+ conference wins, which we hadn’t done since 2013. We got on that in our Thursday match.

Unfortunately, a third goal we couldn’t quite achieve. We wanted to end with a winning season. We went into our last match 15-15, but came out 15-16. Still, that kept us fighting right through the last day of the season.

To have performance goals like this, obviously you need to set them up ahead of time. It’s easier to say, “We still have these goals to work toward” if the players were aware of them before, than if you just pull them out once the main goal is out of reach. Sustaining motivation is easier than trying to create it.

Developmental objectives

There are also non-performance things you can work toward. Stuff on the developmental side of things tends to stand out in this regard. Younger players who haven’t gotten much court time can play. You can work on aspects of the game that you want to see get better for the future. Playing a different type of system is an option.

The one plus to not having anything to play for is that you also don’t have anything to lose. You can take some risks. The important thing, though, is you need buy-in from the team. They need to be convinced that it’s worth putting in the time and effort. If not, the motivation just won’t be there.

Emotional motivations

A third potential area of motivation to get through those final matches is the emotional side of things. They can cover a range of possible thought processes.

  • Bragging rights over our big rival
  • Do it for the seniors
  • Playing spoiler
  • Revenge
  • Have fun!

No doubt you can think of others that might fit in here.

The idea in all of this is that you find a way to always have something to play for or that you’re aiming at. This shouldn’t just be something that comes up at the end of the season. If you can set things up from the beginning of the year, it’s much easier to keep a team’s motivation consistently high all through the campaign.

We’re losing, so let’s change something

Inevitably, when a team is losing there is a call to make changes. That could be in the context of a season or of a match. In this Volleyball Coaching Wizards podcast episode, among other places, Mark Lebedew and I discuss the pressure coaches feel to “do something” when things aren’t going well. So we take timeouts, we make substitutions, we spin the rotation, etc.

Do those things really help, though? Mark’s and other’s research on timeouts suggests maybe not in that case at least.

Regardless, there is always a push to do something different if things are not going well. You could relate it back to the old quote about doing the same thing expecting a different result being the definition of insanity.

There are a few different problems with this mindset, though.

Reversion to the mean

First of all, let’s talk about something statistical. That’s the concept of reversion (or regression) to the mean. Basically, the broad idea is that you are going to see periods of performance that is below average, just as you will see ones above average. Invariably, when outlier performances are seen, the odds suggest something much closer to “normal” will follow.

In the context of this particular discussion, if a player had recently done much worse than they normally do (their average), then it is likely the future performance will show an improvement. That doesn’t mean they’ll do much better than average. They might, but the odds are they will perform somewhere close to how they historically perform. If so, that will look like an improvement compared to their most recent play.

Think about this with respect to a coach yelling at a player following a bad performance. Does the yelling really improve performance? Or is it simply the case of the player reverting back to their normal better level of play? Odds are it’s the latter.

The same is true of making a change because things are going poorly. If the team is performing below its usual level, any improvement seen after a change (timeout, substitution, etc.) may simply be mean reversion at work.

That brings up an important question.

What’s the causality?

Is there something identifiable that is causing the team to lose? Sometimes there is. Your outside hitter got blocked four times in a row and now has no confidence. Your libero seems to have completely forgotten how to pass the ball. The setter keeps making terrible decisions on where to set. Your blocking scheme isn’t taking away the right parts of the court. The opposition is passing your serves perfectly a high percentage of the time.

These are concrete things you can potentially address by making changes. They could include substitutions, a shift to a different scheme, changing service targets, etc.

The point is, if you can pin point the specific problem, then certainly change makes sense. If there is no one cause, though, what’s the point of change?

For example, your team gives up 5 points in a row. The first is a missed serve by your OPP. The second is a shanked pass by the libero. The third is a double contact call on your setter. The fourth is a hitting error by your OH. The fifth is a net violation by your MB.

Is there one cause you can address by making a change? Seems unlikely. And you’re not going to sub out the 5 players who made the errors, are you?

What does the change address?

The point of all this is two-fold. First, there needs to be something specific and identifiable you see in need of correction to justify making a change. Second, you need to have a reasonable expectation that the change you make will result in an improvement.

Let’s use a player substitution as an example.

Suzy makes several hitting errors. Do you sub her out and put Jane in?

Presumably, Suzy is the better player since she’s the starter. If you see something in Suzy that suggests the errors have an underlying cause (e.g. she is not exhibiting her normal on-court personality and/or movement), then you have a case for swapping players. Alternatively, if she is facing the sort of block that gives her trouble and Jane tends to deal with that situation better, there’s a reasonable case for a sub.

If, however, Suzy looks like she’s playing how she normally does, and there isn’t something in the match-up working against her, you don’t have cause for change. Think about it. Odds are Suzy will play in the future close to her normal level. Similarly, the odds are that Jane will also play close to her normal level. Since Suzy’s normal level is higher than Jane’s, chances are she will be the better performer.

The bottom line

Change for change’s sake is foolish and short-sighted. If you put in a less skilled player or adopt a strategy with lower odds for success simply because you feel like you need to change something, chances are you’re just going to make things worse.

If you truly want to help your team do better, look for the cause. It won’t always be obvious. You may have to filter through layers to find it. Pinpointing causalities is one of those coaching skills that develops with time and experience.

If you can figure out what’s amiss, then by all means address it. If you can’t, then any change you make is basically rolling the dice with the odds tilted against you.

What if certain matches didn’t count toward the RPI?

In the Pre-conference vs. pre-season post I talked a bit about the RPI – the Rating Percent Index. This is something the NCAA uses to help determine the teams selected to the championship tournament. In a way, though, it can really constrain teams.

NCAA tournament selection

At all three levels of play – Divisions I, II, and III – there are certain teams that qualify automatically by winning their respective conferences. The rest of the teams, however, are at-large selections. Basically, that means the best of the rest.

In Division I volleyball the at-large selections have no geographic constraints. At the Division II and III levels, though, the championship tournament starts regionally. That means the at-large selections are all made win regions.

For example, in Division II the South Central Region is one of the eight regions. It comprises a total of 33 teams from three different conferences at this writing. The winners of those conferences are the automatic qualifiers. Five at-large teams are selected to complete an 8-team NCAA regional tournament. The winner of that tournament then moves on to the 8-team championship finals.

So how does one become an at-large selection to the NCAA tournament? That’s where the RPI comes in. The selection committees use the RPI as one of their tools to help them rank teams. For that reason, it has become a major focus for teams with NCAA tournament aspirations. It factors both into whether a team can make it as an at-large selection and to tournament seeding.

Scheduling to the RPI

The RPI comprises of three elements. The first 25% is your winning percentage. The more you win, the higher your RPI. The next 50% is the winning percentage of your opposition, while the final 25% is the winning percentage of your opposition’s opposition. What that means is a team’s strength of schedule is very important.

Yes, winning is important. If, however, you just beat up on a bunch of weak teams, it won’t do anything to help you in the RPI department. Your RPI is 75% weighted toward the strength of your opposition. This is why you hear about teams picking their non-conference opposition with an eye toward their strength of schedule (you can’t do anything about who you play in conference).

A problem with the RPI

One of the problems with the RPI system is that every match counts the same. It provides no flexibility to schedule matches you can use to give non-starters some experience. Or, for that matter, to give a team a couple of early season matches to find their feet. If you play teams that are not very strong, they pull down your RPI. If you happen to lose to them, it’s even worse!

In theory, the NCAA selection committee can factor this sort of thing into their considerations. But let’s be honest. Are they really going to drill down into individual match rosters to see who played and who didn’t? Seems unlikely.

What if ….

What if teams could designate certain matches as ones they didn’t want to count toward their RPI? That would give them more flexibility in scheduling. They wouldn’t have to be so conscious of always playing the best quality opposition they could, and they could be more experimental with their line-ups.

There would have to be some constraints on this of course. For example, it doesn’t seem right that one team could designate a match as not counting toward their RPI, but the other team still counted it. Also, would you make it so conference matches all had to be counted?

Just something I thought worth thinking about. I’d love to hear some thoughts on the idea. Feel free to share them in the comment section below.

Coaching Log – November 13, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

On to the final week of the Lone Star Conference season. There weren’t any major surprises in the prior week’s results, though for our sake we would have liked a couple of them to go differently. In particular, it would have been good if Texas Woman’s had won at Eastern NM. They did not, though. Combine that with our own results and the end result is that we are mathematically eliminated from the conference tournament for 2017.

Interesting to note that 8 out of the 11 teams had a conference record of at least .500.

Tarleton locked in the #1 spot for the regular season, and as a result will host the LSC tournament. Commerce was very likely to end up #2 given they had UTPB at home on Friday and only needed one win to seal the deal. After that, there were a number of different possibilities for how tournament seeding could fall out.

Monday

Our senior setter was back in training, though with a heavily taped ankle. Not surprisingly, that slowed her down, but she was effectively nevertheless. At least offensively, anyway.

Practice featured a lot of competition. We started with Brazilian Tennis, then shifted to a type of 5 v 5 game. It featured a setter, middle, and three back row players. Basically, it was mainly a back row attacking game, with middle attacks included to let our setters and MBs work on their connections. A key feature of the game was dig-or-die scoring. That’s where a team goes back to 0 if they fail to at least touch a ball on defense (or coverage).

After a little time working on our pin attack connections off serve reception, we shifted to a 5 v 5 game. This time, instead of 2-up/3-back as we played last week, we went 3-up/2-back. That put more pressure on the back row players to cover ground defensively. We played a game to 15, normal scoring.

Our final exercise was 6 v 6 play called broken wheel. That is where one side stays in a single rotation while the other side plays through all six of theirs. This time we played it with the sides alternating as the broken one in a certain rotation. An aggregate score was kept for both sides being broken to determine a winner.

Tuesday

It was our last road match of the year, at Dallas Baptist. They came in tied for 4th in the Heartland Conference. They’d won four of their last five matches. Under normal circumstances we would we be considered favorites. Given recent injuries and performances, though, plus being on the road, maybe not so much in this case.

The gym at DBU is apparently a former chapel. It has interesting amphitheater seating on one side. There are more traditional bleachers on the other side.

The went 5 sets. Our senior setter did play, though she clearly had mobility issues. That causes a couple problems with 2nd balls, as you might expect.

The real twist was that our season-long libero all season shifted to OH. She was an All-Conference hitter in 2016, but bad knees forced us to move her. She’d been hitting in practice some, and really tore things up on Monday. The match definitely was an indication of her former talents, even if she couldn’t jump as high or move as fast. Not surprisingly, she fatigued toward the end. Still, she finished with 20+ kills, and 20 digs. In the back row, she played in her normal Position 5, shifting the libero we used in her place (our senior DS) into 6.

Arguably, the match should not have gone 5 sets. Mental errors put us in a hole a couple of times. Defending the right side attack remained a struggle. We fought throughout, though, including at the end of the 5th. We were down 14-12, but took it 17-15. Our other OH also got 20+ kills.

The win means our only non-conference losses for the season were to ranked teams. It’s the first time MSU has done that since at least as far back as we started noting poll rankings in the schedule (2008 or 2009).

Wednesday

Last practice of the season. After watching some video ahead of Thursday’s match, we kept it fairly light – only going a little over an hour on court. The primary elements were an offense vs. defense drill to work on some of the rotations we struggled with on Tuesday, and a narrow court game pitting MB/OH vs. MB/RS. It’s one we played before and had the benefit of encouraging a lot of hitter coverage.

The second round of NCAA regional rankings came out. Unfortunately, our three losses the prior week meant we dropped a place to drop down to 15 from 14 the week before.

Thursday

We hosted Cameron this evening. We lost to them at their place early in the conference season in what we felt was a very poor performance. They had only one conference win since (vs. UTPB) and were winless in away matches for 2017.

We completed the set for Cameron with a strong 3-0 win. Our performance was dominant, making the earlier loss even more frustrating. We hit .313 on the match, our second base performance of the year. At the same time, we held them to just .060. Along the way we tallied 8 blocks and 6 aces to keep us up in the conference rankings in those categories.

Friday

Our final match of the year was against Kingsville. They came in tied for 3rd in the conference standings. We had a decent match against them the first time around, at least after the first set. Their OPP really killed us, though. She was 15 of 29 hitting.

We did slightly better slowing her down this time. Unfortunately, other hitters stepped it up. We had periods where we put them under serious pressure. We just weren’t able to take enough advantage offensively. A few too many hitting errors and not enough kills. Basically, the story of our season against better teams. The final result was a 3-1 loss.

Of course, this being our final home match of the season, it was also Senior Night. We had five of them to honor. That meant spending a chunk of the morning preparing their gifts (framed jerseys).

That’s it

And so ended the 2017 season for MSU Volleyball. It was definitely a major experience. In my next update I’ll provide a recap. I’ll post that one after the dust settles, we find out what kind of awards our players receive, and all that.

 

Coaching Log – November 6, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

Most of the prior week Lone Star Conference results were fairly predictable. Interestingly, however, West Texas earned home wins over both Tarleton and Angelo. The latter was probably not a major surprise given how poorly Angelo has done on the road this year. Tarleton, though, has looked quite dominant. Commerce beat Kingsville at home, but the latter picked up a win at Texas Woman’s. Woman’s also played a couple of non-conference matches on Saturday. Unfortunately for the conference, Woman’s lost a 5-set match to one of them. Not a good loss.

The results leave the standings looking like this.

Our 13 overall wins is better than the 12 we recorded last year. Further, we’ve reached the 6 LSC wins we accumulated in 2016. That was enough to reach last year’s conference tournament, but obviously it won’t be this year’s edition. To start the week, we had five LSC matches left to make a move, including three this week. We’re done with the New Mexico schools, but had both Texas Woman’s and Angelo ahead, along with Cameron below us.

I figured we need at least two wins, maybe three. Eastern NM had a very winnable match vs. UTPB on Tuesday, but the rest of their schedule featured Angelo and Tarleton away, plus Commerce at home. A win in any of those would be a surprise result. The key match was looking like home vs. Texas Woman’s. TW won the first time around, 3-1.

UTPB is also on the remaining schedule for TW, which seems a likely win. Along with having to go to Eastern NM, they also faced a trip to Western NM. Not good odds for a win there. A home match vs. West Texas is an unknown quantity. WT has some good wins, but their performance away from home hasn’t been very good.

Monday

As usual, we started with the team going over some of the stats from the week prior. Our serve receive passing was a major positive. Of course, we also had to go over some of the less positives. That dovetailed into some video review. We went over two parts of recent matches. One was the second half of the 3rd set against Western, starting when we were up 17-14 through to the 23-25 finish. The other was the 4th set against Eastern. We watched from when we went up 17-11 through to the 25-23 conclusion. The idea was to look at our breakdown points with an eye toward being better in those situations. After that we did a review of our last match against Tuesday’s opposition.

The actual practice only went about an hour. Most of it was dedicated to serve reception to attack, which we’ve done a lot of lately. It started with just serving to a receiving group going up against some block. We eventually shifted to playing out rallies. Much of our focus was on expanding our options in Rotation 1.

Tuesday

We made our final conference road trip of the season to Texas Woman’s. As you can see from the standings, they were just one match ahead of us going in. A win would pull us level. Also, it would give us the edge against Woman’s as the first tiebreak is head-to-head (the recent win at Eastern ensured we also held the tiebreak against them).

Things definitely didn’t go as we’d have hoped. Our offense did quite well. We hit .269 overall, with both MBs, our OPP, and one of our OHs coming in at .300 or better. Unfortunately, our defense didn’t match that. We allowed TW to hit .310 overall. In two of the four sets played we allowed them to register 20+ kills!

Needless to say, the loss put us in a big hole in our quest to qualify for the LSC tournament.

Wednesday

The first set of Division II volleyball regional rankings for 2017 were published. The Lone Star Conference is part of the South Central Region. Not surprisingly, Midwestern State is not in the Top-10. If you scroll down to the bottom you’ll see a list of links to the PDF files for each Region. They are the complete rankings based on the RPI of each team. We currently sit at #14.

Before practice we showed the team a 5-minute video made up of photos from the season thus far. A lot of them were taken during the Buenos Aires trip. It was a reminder of how far we’ve come and all the work everyone has put in. We felt the team could use something like that after the disappointment of the prior evening’s match.

Practice featured a lot of serving. We felt our serves against TW failed to hit our targets well enough. We also did a lot of hitting into a defense with either no block or just a single one. Our middles struggled to close during the match, so we wanted to work on our defense playing in that kind of situation.

Thursday

We had a 2019 prospect in for a bit of a tryout with the the team. A little early perhaps, but a player the head coach wanted to see in our context.

Practice was heavy game play. We started with a competitive version of cooperative cross-court hitting. The idea was in particular to work on defense in a 1-block or no-block situation. We progressed on that team by then shifting to 5 v 5, as we did on Wednesday, with two pin hitters up and three defenders back.

The final game was a wash drill. In this case, the team that won the service rally earned the right to defend against a right side attack. If they won that second rally (initiated by a free ball), they earned the big point. Initially, we didn’t put any additional requirement on things. I didn’t like that the defending team knew the right side attack was coming, though. Too easy for them to put up a solid block. We eventually shifted and said they could only single block that first ball. It would probably have been better if we did something to encourage a right side attack, but not require it to make things a bit more realistic.

Friday

We hosted conference leaders Tarleton and national #14 this evening. Unlike the rest of the conference, they did not have a Tuesday match.

If you told me ahead of time that we’d lose 3-1 I would not have been surprised at the result given the opposition. The path to that result proved unexpected, however. We didn’t start well. Very mental. No composure. We forgot the things we’d just talked about in our scouting. Our serving was much too easy. More playing not to lose than playing to win.

Our starting setter came down on a foot early during the 2nd set, spraining her ankle. That meant we had to insert our 3rd setter, as our 2nd is out for the season after breaking a finger a few weeks back. As you may recall, our 3rd setter had her own injury issue not long ago thanks to a concussion.

In sports you sometimes see a team rally when a key player goes down. That definitely happened in this case. The team energy went up. Our defense became very focused, likely because they now had to defend behind a smaller block (not that our starting setter is overly tall either). We ended up playing some of the best defense of the season. We did not get our normal 2+ blocks per set (finished with just 3), but we averaged 22 digs per set. It helped us rally back late to win the 3rd set.

We could not hold on to that edge, though. That was thanks in large part to Tarleton playing some of the most ridiculously good defense I’ve ever seen. We attacked aggressively, but they seemed to get a hand on everything. Bodies were flying all over the place to make saves.

Just to make things even more interesting, our 3rd setter took a blow to the face at one point. That had us looking around for who we could possibly have set. Fortunately, it didn’t turn out to be serious.

Saturday

It was #23 Angelo coming to town for an early start. We normally play at 2:00 on Saturdays, but because of other events we had to shift it to a noon start. Angelo hosted Kingsville on Tuesday, winning 3-0, then played at Cameron on Friday where they won in four.

We got off to a good start, working our way out to a 16-9 lead in the first set. Pretty much from there, though, it was all down hill. We did a good job limiting their top hitter, but we couldn’t do much about the rest of them. Definitely not the same level of defensive performance as what we put together on Friday. Our serve reception had periods of struggle. The result was a definite struggle to generate much in the way of attack.

Coaching Log – October 30, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

Many of the Lone Star Conference teams played three matches last week, so lots of results to potentially impact the standings. The most interesting result was probably Angelo beating Commerce 3-0. Here’s how the standings were to start the new week.

Ninth place is just outside the conference tournament places, so we need to make a move. Given the congestion in the standings, it’s not out of the realm of possibility for a team to make a big move in a short time. Obviously, making the tournament is most important, but we’d rather avoid a repeat of last season. We went in as the 8th seed, meaning a first round match up against then #1 Angelo, who hosted the tournament. Tarleton is looking favorite to host this year, and we’ve already played them at their place once.

Monday

After the busy weekend of play, we gave the players the day off from practice. They did lift in the morning, but otherwise we just reviewed video. That started with our normal weekly stats discussion. The interesting observation we made was that our transition hitting numbers were not very good. This was a surprise as we did well in that phase of the game earlier in the season.

In terms of the video review, we began with a review of our home match vs. Western NM. It was one of the real disappointments of the first round. We lost despite earning 15 more points than them by way of kills, aces, and blocks. Watching the match was a combination of refreshing our memory about an upcoming opponent and reinforcing how much better we have played in recent matches.

After watching that video all together, we split the team into groups to watch more recent footage. The middles and setters, pin hitters, and liberos/DSs each watched a set from a different match. They then all came back together to share their observations.

Tuesday

This was our last training Tuesday of the regular season as we have matches on the remaining ones. Back to the split groups. The focus remained on our attack, with a combination of in-system and out-of-system work. There was a lot of serve reception as well.

Wednesday

Practice started with a simple 4-person pepper to work on controlling 3rd ball contacts being sent over the net. We extended this by playing a 2-contact game. By that I mean a team only had two contacts on their side to return the ball rather than three. That forces a lot of “bad ball” situations. Each rally started with a coach hitting a down ball over the net. This was to avoid the players trying to pass serve in an attackable fashion.

Next was a narrow court (about 2/3rds width) 5 v 5 game. We set it up so it was MB/OH vs MB/RS. The side with the RS also had an OH as a third blocker, but not an eligible hitter. The side with the OH attacker had the setter up. Defensively, we then had a middle back and line defender. The intention of these games (we played three games to 10) was to put the attackers in a situation where they faced a lot of good blocks. Thus, it became a major problem solving exercise. How do I score? It also resulted in a lot of hitter coverage work.

We shifted back to 6 v 6 for the rest of the session. First we played 22 v 22. As we did last week, the 2nd ball was initiated at the setter to create an out-of-system play.

The last game was a normal one – sort of. We played a 20-point game where once a team reached 15 points they could only score if they served. In other words, they could not just side out to finish the game. They had to earn “real” points, or break points, or whatever you want to call them.

We did some target serving to finishing the session.

Thursday

We had an early morning practice (6am) before hopping on the bus at 8am for our longest road trip of the season. The session was very much serving and passing oriented, with lots of pass-to-attack work. We only went for about an hour, though. All together, our trip too better than 13 hours.

Friday

The weekend’s first match was at Western New Mexico. We came in never having won their place and never having beaten them in conference play. This is also a team we played poorly against at home. In other words, lots of motivation to want to beat them. They had an away match at Eastern New Mexico during the week, which they lost 0-3.

Western play much better in this match. We definitely had our chance to take them down. After losing the first, then winning the second set, we were ahead in the later stages of the 3rd, but couldn’t close it out. It was a 3-1 loss in the end. Our middles did well, but could not get it done well enough on the pins. We hit only .136, despite a very good night in terms of serve reception. On top of that, our defense didn’t get the job done, allowing Western to hit .227.

Saturday

It was Eastern NM for the second match of the weekend. After beating Western NM earlier in the week, they also beat Cameron on Friday. After losing our prior match, this was a big one for our chances to make the conference tournament.

We jumped on them well in the first two sets. Our offense – led by our middles – was strong, while our defense held them to sub-.100 hitting. Eastern looked listless, like they didn’t even want to be there. It was a strange thing to see in a home team. They definitely turned that around, though. Our offense wasn’t as potent and we struggled to stop them. The result was a tight loss.

Probably not surprisingly, that gave the opposition some momentum. They used that to jump all over us to start the 4th set, going up 5-0. We managed to rebound, and then to get well ahead. We had a breakdown mid-set, though. A 5-point lead melted away rather quickly, and we let Eastern get ahead going into the later stages. We eventually got back on track, though, and squeezed out the win. I would have been very worried about a 5th set had we lost.

In the end we hit .230, thanks to another strong night from our middles. Our OHs had good moments, but not consistently enough. In parts it was being too conservative and in others it was making bad errors. Once more, our passers did well. So did our servers. We probably missed too many, but we tallied 11 aces and consistently had them out of sorts. That helped us on defense. We blocked them 12 times and they hit only .125 – keeping them below .100 in three of the four sets.

Large group volleyball drills and games

As coaches, we sometimes find ourselves in situations where we have to work with a large number of players. This is especially true in tryout situations, in clinics, and in lower level more participation oriented groups. This is when you need large group volleyball drills.

There are two philosophical concepts that are key here. One is to keep the players moving as much as possible. We don’t want them standing around for long periods of time. The other is to maximize player contacts.

So how do we do this?

The first is to avoid line oriented drills. These are things like hitting lines. There are two reasons for this. First is all the waiting around. Second is how few players take part. Think about it. In a standard hitting line, one hitter tosses to a setter. That’s just two active players. And it’s only one if a coach tosses to the hitter!

How can we make that better?

As a starting point, we can add in a block. In fact, we can make that two blockers. Just depends what you want to accomplish with the drill, though. We can add in a passer. And while we’re doing that, we can add in a tosser or server as well. What about someone playing defense?

Now we have six or more players involved in each repetition. That doesn’t mean they all touch the ball each time, but just taking active part means they get reading reps.

Another way to get more players involved in large group volleyball drills is to make effective use of your space. For example, the 2-sided Serve & Pass drill puts servers and passers on both sides of the net. That effectively doubles the number of players involved at any one time.

You can do the same sort of thing by using narrow court arrangements. Think about whether what you want to do can be done on half a court, or even a 1/3 of a court.

That brings up the subject of small-sided games. The classic example of this is Winners, also known as Queen or King (or Monarch) of the Court. Most people play 3s or 4s in this game. Why not play that on a half court? That way you can run two games side-by-side and double the number of players active. Player Winners is another variation that you could possibly run on 1/3 of a court.

Of course what we like about Winners is the fast pace. Players move in and out quickly. We can actually speed that up, though, by using the Speedball version.

Related to that, you can use quick substitutions to manage court time in large group volleyball drills. One example of this used at times at MSU is 6 v 6s. This idea is to make the substitution cycles quick. Ideally, a player is on more than they are off, if that is possible to arrange.

For example, if you have three players you want to play across two positions you can rotate them on a plays or point basis. One is in Position 1, one is in Position 2, and one is off. After some number of plays or points, they rotate. Position 1 goes to Position 2, Position 2 goes off, and the off player goes to Position 1. That means each player is on the court roughly twice as long as they are off.

As always, it is important to start off with a clear set of priorities. What do you want to accomplish? From there you can think about the types of drills and games you can use with the group, and look for ways to keep wait times down, maximize the number of players involved, and to move things along quickly.

Have a favorite large group game or drill? Share it with your fellow readers in the comment section below.

Drill: 6 v 6s

Synopsis: This is a 6 on 6 drill/game that you can use to keep many players active and not sitting out for long periods of time.

Age/Skill Level: This is a drill for all levels

Requirements: 12+ players, one court

Execution: Set up one side of the court with a team of 6. The rest of the players are on the other side. Six are on the court, with the rest ready to come in. The 6s side serves and the teams play out a rally as normal. On the next serve, a new player serves and bumps the player or players in their position. For example, if an OH serves, they bump the current back row OH up to front row, and the front row one goes off to become a server. Thus, a new player comes in at the start of each rally, and one goes off.

Variations:

  • If you want your pin hitters to attack both on the left and on the right, they can do something like a middle back to left front to right front rotation.
  • You can fix certain positions, for example setter.
  • You can can have certain positions rotate separately without serving, for example middles.
  • If you have enough numbers, you could do the same substitution pattern, or about the same, on both sides of the court and make it 6s vs 6s.

Additional Comments:

  • This drill is something you can use in a situation where you want to work on your starting rotation, or if you want to work on certain serve receive rotations.
  • You don’t have to score the play if you don’t want to, but there are a number of ways you can use scoring. In the most basic way you can play games to X number of points as an indication of when to change things up on the 6 side – be it turn the rotation or swap out players. If there’s something specific you want to work on, you can use some kind of bonus point scoring.

Coaching Log – October 23, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

The first half of the season is over. Thanks to the weekend results, it looks like at least some stuff is starting to settle out. Other stuff, though, remains a bit muddled. This latter bit was helped by Angelo losing both their matches – each in 5 – on the road at the New Mexico schools. For our own part we would have preferred they won both. It would have kept things tighter in our vicinity.

Tarleton continued to roll, with wins at both the New Mexico schools, and Commerce picked up wins at West Texas and UTPB to firm up their position at #2 in the standings.

A look at the statistics tells the story of our position in the standings. Our offense has not been nearly good enough. While we’re 4th in terms of opponent hitting efficiency, we’re 10th when it comes to our own attacking. Part of the defensive side of things is that our block ranks 3rd in terms of blocks/set. We rank 5th in aces/set, but not helping our offense is that we’ve suffered more aces/set than anyone else.

Last year we managed to get into the conference tournament with 6 wins, but that was by the skin of our teeth. I suspect we need to have 7 or 8 to get in this year given how tight things are in the middle of the standings. That means we need 4 or 5 wins in the second half of the season. Unfortunately, the schedule does not help us in that regard. We have to go to the New Mexico schools, and we also have away matches at Commerce and Texas Woman’s. That’s three out of four against teams we’re battling for a place in the tournament.

On the plus side, we get Angelo and West Texas at home. Neither of them has played all that well on the road. Obviously, we must beat the two teams below us, and we get both of them at home as well.

Monday

As per usual, we started with a look back. In particular, we went over the stats for the first half of the conference season. We talked about where we need to get better (offense), and we talked about where we’ve done well (block/defense). As for serving, we talked about how we can probably get a little more aggressive. One of the observations was that our middles have the highest error % among our attackers with the exception of one. Definitely not what you want to see!

After the statistical evaluation, we took a look at video from our last match against Tuesday’s opponent. Then we spent some time looking at the things we’ve accomplished this year and the things we could yet accomplish. This was from the perspective of history – things either not done in several years or not done at all in program history.

Practice was less than 90 minutes. Our concussed setter was finally back in training. We started them off with a short game of Brazilian tennis, then moved into some pass-to-attack offense off serve reception. Worked on our attack in line with our need to get better in that facet of the game. We allowed the defending side to run middle attacks back in transition as an extension. An out-of-system game followed to continue to work in aggressive attacks in that phase. We wrapped up with a game of 5 v 5 where we played 3-up/2-back.

Tuesday

The first match of the second half of the LSC season was at Commerce. Obviously, as you can see from the standings above, they are doing well this season.Their only two conference losses were away to Texas Woman’s and away to Kingsville.

We didn’t play particularly well against them the last time out. This time was very different. In the end, it was a 3-2 loss, with a 15-13 final set, but it was probably our best collective performance of the season. We didn’t hit for a high percentage (just .154 for the match), but kept them even lower (.123). Our serve was serve was effective through most of the match. Our block continued to cause problems for opposing hitters, and our serve reception was generally solid. We actually outscored Commerce 102-100 overall, and 72-65 in terms of earned points.

So why did we lose? Well, our out-of-system hitting produced a lot of errors. Of our 28 total hitting errors, half happened while out-of-system. Given how well our defense did, we would have been well served keeping those balls in play. There were a couple of patches where they gave us trouble in serve receive.

Beyond that, though, it just came down to timing. We missed a really poor serve into the net at 7-7 in the 5th. At 9-8 our freshman middle hit a quick just inches wide. Even after that, we came back from 11-8 to take a 13-12 lead. After Commerce sided-out, though, our senior DS, who otherwise passed well on the night, had a serve go right through her hands to set up match point.

Wednesday

The head coach had to be away from campus at that time, so I got to attend the bi-weekly (I think) athletic luncheon in her place. Basically, it’s a group of the older supporters of MSU Athletics getting an update on things from each of the in-season sports. I told them about our recent performances and what we were looking forward to for the upcoming weekend.

We watched some video before practice as part of our prep for Friday. The first part was looking back on our first time playing West Texas. The second was looking at their match from Tuesday night.

Practice itself focused on out-of-system attacking. We did three main activities. The first was a repeat of the pass-to-attack vs. a defense type work we’ve done a lot of lately. From there we moved on to a continuous 3-up/2-back game. The ball was initiated at the setter to force an out-of-system first attack. From there the rallies proceeded normally. Lastly, we played 6 v 6 with bonus points for out-of-system kills.

While we definitely worked on necessary things, the concentration could have been better. But for the day after a tight 5-set match on the road, it wasn’t horrible.

Thursday

Out-of-system attacking continued to be the big theme. After warming up with a spirited game of Brazilian tennis, we got right into it. The first drill was a dig-set-attack exercise. A ball was initiated at a wing defender. The dig was then set to one of the pins by the other wing defender, and was attacked from there. An elastic was run between the antennae to encourage the hitters to swing high.

We followed with a repeat of the 3-up/2-back game from Wednesday. After a few rounds of serve receive to attack, when then played 22 v 22 to finish up. To keep working on out-of-system hitting, we initiated the second ball to the winning side’s setter.

All in all we were pretty happy with how things went. We saw some strong swings.

After practice the team did some community service time at a local middle school. We then had Homecoming activities in the evening.

Friday

We hosted a tri-match this day. The first was the return match against West Texas. They came in at 7-5 in conference after beating Eastern NM earlier in the week.

We finally broke the streak! MSU had not won against WT in 34 tries before this match. Not only did we win, we won 3-0 in convincing fashion. Our offense wasn’t stellar (.175), but we did the business in serve and defense. We tallied 8 aces and they only hit .082.

Our second match of the day was against Newman, from the Heartland Conference. They were picked 4th in the pre-season voting after finishing 2016 tied for 3rd. They played West Texas before playing us. The result was a 3-0 loss without much challenge after the first set. That followed a loss Thursday night at Lubbock Christian (making them 3-4 in conference).

Unfortunately, we did not quite repeat WT’s earlier performance. We struggled mentally. The result was some not so great play – poor decisions, failing to make adjustments quickly enough, etc. To their credit, Newman fought us hard and gave us fits defensively. They hit .236 for the match. Fortunately, we hit .291. Our middles both hit near .400. The final result was a 3-1 win, but it was really tight until the fourth set.

The Newman win put up to 7 non-conference victories for the year. That’s better than the 6 we got last season. It’s also the most since 2013, and the first time since then that we’ll having a winning non-LSC record.

Saturday

We played UTPB for the second time. They lost a 5-setter to Western NM on Wednesday. They also lost a 5-setter at Cameron on Friday night.

In the early stages we had our struggles. UTPB has a couple of powerful attackers and it took us a while to come to grips with them. I mean that both in terms of choking off their opportunities through serving pressure and in our blocking. In the end we won comfortably, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing.

Offensively, we did OK. Our hitting efficiency was just below .200. Our servers tallied 7 aces and our block got 9 stuffs That contributed to UTPB only hitting .061. Interestingly, our big OPP got no blocks. They basically set away from her. Our OHs put in a pretty good performance there, though, taking part in 5 blocks on that side of the net.