Coaching Log – Aug 28, 2015

Svedala Volleybollklubb

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2015-16.

The first training session is on Monday!

I’ll return to Svedala this weekend. Aside from getting my domestic affairs sorted out, my first priority before Monday evening’s initial practice is meeting with the three American players. I will have a first full team meeting before Tuesday’s training session, but I want to talk about a few things with Camryn, Chelsey, and Mo that relate specifically to them and their status as the foreign players in the squad.

Right now I’m planning to do a playing-only session on Monday, which is a 2 hour slot at our secondary facility. Tuesday we’ll have a team meeting before we do the first proper training session in the main hall. I’ve asked that any “just training” or “want to try it out before making a decision” players be at the Tuesday session at a minimum, and Monday too if at all possible. My main meeting focus on Tuesday will be what I expect to see in training (behavior, attitude, etc.) and what the players can expect from me. I want “guest” players to know what my expectations are going in because they will be held to the same standards as everyone else.

Wednesday we have our first session of weight training as a team before practice. I’ll probably focus that on assessment with regards to a couple key exercises. I need to find out what the exercise club we’ll be using has for equipment, etc. Thursday is an off day. Friday night and Saturday morning will be regular training sessions of 3 hours and 2 hours respectively, though I doubt I’ll go the full time on Friday.

My main point of emphasis for the whole first week will be on seeing where the team and individuals are at in terms of both play and fitness so I can then start plotting our developmental path forward.

I found out this week that the revised schedule has been set following the late withdrawal of a team I mentioned previously. The plan is similar to the previous schedule where we were to play most teams home and away, but two teams close to us geographically another home and away round. Only in this case it will be three teams we play 4 times each rather than two, with Hylte/Halmstad added to Engelholm and Gislaved. The playoff structure was still being decided at last check.

The schedule for the pre-season tournament we’re playing in Denmark the last weekend of September has been released. It’s an 8-team tournament featuring a pair of 4-team pools. Pool A is Holte, Brøndby, Hylte/Halmstad, and Fortuna. Pool B is Engelholm, Svedala, Team Køge, Amager. So we’ll get to see the three Danish teams we have as competition in the Öresundsligan I mentioned before. Engelholm is also part of that league. Fortuna and Team Køge are both also from the Danish top division.

The third Swedish team in the Öresundsligan is Gislaved. It looks like we’ll play them the weekend before the above tournament as a 1-off friendly. Unfortunately, the timing of that is a bit awkward, as two of my players have been called up to the Sweden U19 camp next month in preparation for the NEVZA U19 tournament in October. Both have played for Sweden at the U17 level. One of those players is a middle, of which I currently only have two in the squad. Could make things a bit tricky in terms of line-up decisions.

From this point on I expect to shift the timing of these log entries. I won’t do them daily the way I did with Exeter in 2013-14 and 2014-15. This is mainly a function of having training or matches 5 days a week for the most part. That would just be too many entries and wouldn’t leave much room to write about anything else. I might do some daily entries in the case of very specific items of broad interest, but beyond that I’ll probably stick to a weekly publishing calendar and maybe post on Sunday or Monday.

Setter considerations


Part of the USA Volleyball Coaches Accreditation Program Level II (CAP II) requirements is that coaches write an article for publication. One such article was recently posted on the USAV website titled Recipe for a Setter by Peggy Kane-Hopton. In it, Peggy presents what she considers the five key characteristics of a good setter:

  1. Athletic ability and touch
  2. Communication and leadership
  3. Mental toughness
  4. Game understanding
  5. Physical attributes

One might be inclined to merge #1 and #5, but I think pretty much they all capture the main elements. They basically match what I talked about in the post Picking a Setter.

In the first section Peggy says “The setter’s most important skill is the ability to get to the ball.” A quick touch is the next important thing. This reminds me of a question posed to me by a former teammate who is a long-time Division I assistant coach at our alma mater. He once asked if I would rate good feet or good hands higher for a setter. I said feet, and thus agree with Peggy. He said hands.

In the last section there’s a line that I think is so key – ” The setter must be able to move quickly to beat the ball to the spot.” Along with setters not actually getting to target, this is the thing I see violated by many setters. Instead of beating the ball and getting in a good position to execute the set, they time it and arrive at the same time as the ball. This means a less stable setting platform and almost certainly lower set consistency.

The one comment I would have that might be to the contrary of Peggy’s article is that sometimes the mental side of things can offset physical short-comings. A setter’s leadership skills and/or ability to read the game my make up for being undersized, a bit slow, or something along those lines.

Small squad volleyball training


I recently saw the following question posed by a volleyball coach. Most of us at some point in our coaching careers have to deal either with having a small squad or having limited numbers in training, so I thought it worth addressing.

I have 6-7 players, how can i create game like situation without enough to scrimmage each other? Our first game is on the 27th so I’m really needing this week to get them set up in their positions, learn where they need to go….etc. But hard without having another team to play the ball back over….

I can remember a situation in my first year coaching U16 Junior girls where it was just me and 6 players in training. I decided to play a little game with them at the end of the session which was me against them. I served every ball and if I could dig their attack with control, or they could not return the ball, I got the point. If they could get a kill, they got the point.

Funnily, after I had developed a solid lead mainly by digging their attacks (experience in reading an attacker has its advantages!), one of the girls said in exasperation, “Can we please stop hitting the ball right to John!?” :-)

I liked hearing that because it meant at least one of the players was looking for the team to try to problem solve so they could beat me. I’m pretty sure I still won the game relatively comfortably, but they did get more competitive.

I bring this story up because it’s an example of how a little bit of thought and creativity can lead to developing useful solutions. I’ve seen plenty of examples of a smaller number of players taking on a full squad. It’s just a question of finding rules and/or a scoring system that makes things appropriately competitive and sees the players focused on whatever the keys are for that particular exercise.

It’s also worth looking at ways you can train game situations with elements of the team. Playing a back-court attack only 3-v-3 game can be useful for working on defense against both the back row attack and a down ball. A game where you have an OH attacking into Zones 1 or 6 going against an OPP attacking into Zones 6 or 5 – or alternatively having OHs going against each other with cross court attacks – can be a highly game-like activity using a limited number of players.

A serve reception example of this could be to put two passers in to cover 2/3rds of the court (say Zones 1 and 6) and having a setter and hitting element incorporated. If you set it up so it matches a serve receive rotational situation (such a setter penetrating from 1 with the MB in 3), then you can work quite nicely on key aspects of that phase of play without needing 6 players on one side.


With games and drills like that, it’s a question of taking what’s going on in a certain part of the court. You basically exclude the positions which wouldn’t be involved the the game scenario you’re training, freeing those players up to be used for something else to facilitate the exercise.

It’s about more than just the coaching


Observing other coaches isn’t just about see what they do on the court.

It’s more than just watching the kind of drills and games they run. It’s more than seeing how they structure their training sessions.

Granted, it’s fine to want to look at those things, especially if you are a developing coach. They provide ideas you can evaluate for use in your own coaching. Even experienced coaches can take something away from doing that sort of thing.

If all you’re doing is making notes of the practice plan and the activities it encompasses, though, you’re missing so much other stuff. Here’s just some of the additional things you can watch during a training session:

  • How the coach interacts with the players during the down times
  • How the coach communicates during the activities
  • Where the coach stands and how they move around
  • Positioning and involvement of the assistant coach(es)
  • How the coaching staff interacts among themselves
  • The composition of the player group
  • The general environment of the session
  • The tone and energy of the players and the training

With a bit of thought about your own team’s training environment and processes you could probably think of a few other things someone from the outside could potentially observe.

Aside from being additional sources of insight, inspiration, education, and the like, taking all these other things in provides context to what we’re seeing in terms of what the coach has the players doing. No two teams operate the same way and a lot of that has to do with the combination of personalities (player and coach) and the environment which are involved. If you fail to consider the context in which something is being done, especially by an experienced and successful coach, you are likely to misapply what you’re seeing in your own efforts.

Also consider another layer of what you can potentially take away from spending time with other coaches. Here I’m talking about the more day-to-day sort of stuff they do to manage their teams. What do they do off the court? How do they interact with management or administrators? What is their recruiting process?

These aren’t the sort of things you are likely to see just going to watch some training sessions. You need to spend time with other coaches away from the gym. For me where I’m currently at taking over a professional team for the first time, as much as the on-court stuff remains interesting, the off-the-court area is where I feel I have the more pressing developmental need.

That’s a big part of why I decided to return to Germany before getting things started in Sweden. I can talk with the coaches, and even members of the management team, about a wide array of non-training things in the context of what they are doing with the team and generally see how they operate.

The point is, while it’s definitely a good idea to get out there and watch other coaches in action and interact with them (this comes up a lot in the Volleyball Coaching Wizards interviews!), it’s important to use the experience to go beyond the Xs and Os and to take a deeper look at things.

Advice for a pregnant volleyball player?


A little while ago I got an email from a young volleyball player that presents a case I honestly haven’t had to deal with before. I’m posting it here in hopes of getting some thoughts from the volleyball coaching community.

I’ve played 6 years of volleyball starting in 7th grade and playing club. My 11th grade year I was in the process of being recruited and looked by college coaches to play on there team… But unfortunately towards the middle-end of my senior year… I got pregnant & will be having the baby in January of 2016. I was going to start college in the fall but now I’m. Taking off this 2 year to have the baby & I’m currently taking online classes so I won’t be too behind. But the next following school year I plan on going back to a university in the fall of 2016. Would it be possible for me to try out for a volleyball team with a child if I work for it? Or how would that work? I loved playing volleyball more then anything and I don’t want to let having a baby come in the way of my dream.

I certainly applaud this young woman and wanting to continue to pursue her dream of playing in college. It’s certainly a challenging situation.

Because there’s a big recruiting aspect to this question, I sent it along to Matt at The College Volleyball Coach as he focuses a lot of college recruiting questions. His response wasn’t very upbeat:

I cannot think of any college volleyball coaches who would make accommodations for a player with a baby, unless she was unreal good.  Not because the college coaches are heartless people, but rather, they can easily recruit the same talents without the distraction of being a new mother.

Her only realistic option of transitioning to a college volleyball team would be with NAIA/JC, and with the full time assistance of a parent or adult to provide supreme care for the new child.

I’m not inclined to be quite so negative as Matt. I suspect there are NCAA Division III options available as well. Division I or II may be a bit much because of the increased demands from a more year-round schedule, greater travel, etc.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on the subject, especially if you’re a coach who has had a college player with a young child in your team. Please leave a comment below.

Thanks in advance.

Coaching Log – Aug 21, 2015

Svedala Volleybollklubb

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2015-16.

Just 10 days now until the first training session with the team!

I’m still in Germany, so not a whole lot to report on the Svedala front. I talked with our new foreign signing the other day. Not surprisingly, she had several questions – mainly about non-volleyball stuff. I think I was actually able to answer most of them! :-)

I found out on Tuesday that one of the clubs has been forced to withdraw from the Elitserie. Here’s the story. This likely means the schedule will have to be completely redone about 6 weeks out from when the season was set to begin. I’m not sure how that is going to be handled.

We’ve officially added a seventh Swedish player to the squad. She comes from another club where she was used as a utility player. I talked with her a bit during her decision-making process. She talked about wanting to be able to focus on one position – preferably not setter. We’ve already got two setters in the team, with the prospect of maybe adding a third, so that’s not an issue. At this point, odds probably favor her focusing on playing OPP, where we only have one other in the position.

There are a couple of additional Swedish players still in the mix to potentially join the squad. Some decisions may not be made until September.

On a different subject, it sounds like the club has found a place for me to live at last. There might be a significant wrinkle, though.

Volleyball coaching a distraction


Does this sound like you during the volleyball season?

Am I the only one that can’t get any work done during the day because I continually get distracted by thoughts of today’s drill schedule?

I know I certainly have struggled with keeping my focus on things that are supposed to have my attention (work, studies, etc.) at various points and times. While I was coaching at Exeter my days were frequently sidetracked by volleyball issues, even when I wasn’t coaching that evening. I can remember in my early days of coaching college volleyball spending time developing practice plans while working my day job.

Needless to say, for the sake of our employment, grades, relationships, or whatever, this is probably not something we should be in the habit of allowing to happen. :-)

Probably the best way to tackle this issue is to set aside some specific time during the day when you permit yourself the volleyball distraction. It’s probably not a good idea to just cut it out cold turkey.

On a related subject, a while back I realized that developing a practice plan was taking basically all the time I was allowing myself to do it. By that I mean if I started working on it 2 hours before training it would take 2 hours, and if I gave it 30 minutes it took 30 minutes. To address this situation I wouldn’t start putting together the actual training plan until a certain time each day.

That isn’t to say I wasn’t thinking about what I wanted to accomplish that session prior to that, as that process began pretty much as soon as my last contact with the team ended. It’s just that I was being more efficient in writing up the actual plan itself.

Who takes the second ball on a setter dig?


A volleyball coach recently posed a decision they are looking to make with respect to where to position their libero. In this case it is being considered from the perspective of who takes the second ball if the setter has to play the first.

I am toying with the idea of moving the Libero to middle back. This way my outside/ds can hand set the ball to a hitter while in front of the attack line. Has anyone made the switch who would like to report on their level of success with this? My biggest hesitation is the statistical fact that most outside hitters hit the ball cross court most of the time. Therefore, having the Libero in that position (left back) seems to make the most sense. Just weighing which would serve the team better.

If I were speaking to this coach on the subject, I would ask a few of questions.

  1. How many first balls do you expect the setter to take?
  2. How many of those setter digs end up in front of the 3m line?
  3. How much better are your OHs’ hands than your libero’s bump set?
  4. How much difference is there in the digging ability of your libero and your OHs?

Another consideration in here is the defensive strengths of the players involved. By that I mean certain types of players are more oriented toward playing forward, which tends to suit playing defense in 5. Other types of players are better suited to moving laterally, which suits playing in 6 when thinking in terms of a standard perimeter defense system.

And of course there’s the question of offense. Would having the setter taking the second ball negatively impact the team’s ability to score in transition.

Early season practice planning


Practice planning is – or at least should be – a major part of any coach’s efforts. Generally speaking, the wisdom goes that you should probably spend about as much time developing a training plan as executing it. That said, the question still remains what elements you should include. This is the subject of a question I saw posted the other day, in particular with respect to early season plans.

How do you generate an effective practice plan? I struggle in the beginning of the season when I see new faces, different levels of talent, a need to work on fundamental basics for some girls but not others, pressure to throw a lineup together for an active preseason, and it’s just me.

The approach I generally take with a team at the start of the season is to first try to evaluate where we’re at in all the major facets of the game. By that I mean I want to get an idea of where both individual players singularly and the team collectively are relatively to where I think they need to be. Having that information lets me develop my training priorities – both short and long term.

That being the case, I like to develop initial session practice plans which incorporate a bit of everything – serving accuracy and consistency, serve reception, offense, and defense. Of course I try to do that in as game-like a fashion as possible, but I don’t mind stepping back from that if there’s something I feel like I need to look at more directly. You need to see enough repetition for each player to have a sufficient basis for analysis, which may require more of a “block” than “random” focus in some respects.

The key thing to keep in mind here is that the top priority is assessment. Training is a secondary priority, of course, but for these initial sessions it’s not the most important thing to be thinking about. Once I’m done with the assessment process, training takes over as top priority.

Let me offer an example.

In a couple weeks I’ll start training with Svedala. It will be my first time working with these players and in almost all cases the first I see them on-court in person. Before I can figure out what to prioritize for training I need to know where the players and the team is at from a number of different perspectives. My plan is to have them spend the first practice basically just playing a number of different games to get a general overview. Then, in the subsequent sessions, I’ll narrow the focus down to look at certain things more closely based on what I saw in that first session.

Having said all this, chances are there are certain things that you know you’re going to need to work on in training. For younger and developing players, serving and passing are usually right at the top of the list, as an example. You can easily incorporate training of the things you know will be priorities right from the start, and build in opportunities to assess other areas around that.