Drill: 6-player Over-the-Net Pepper

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Synopsis: This pepper variation expands on the over-the-net version to allow for more players to be included, potentially allowing for increased complexity.

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

Requirements: 6 players, one ball, a net.

Execution: This extension of 3-person over-the-net pepper begins with 3 players on each side of the net – one off the net one at the net, and the last one off the back line waiting to come in. One side starts the drill by tossing the ball to the player off the net on the other side. The player digs/passes the ball to the player at the net who sets back to them to play the ball over the net on the third contact. The setter rotates out, the digger/hitter moves up to become the new setter, and the off player steps in to become the new digger/hitter. The pattern repeats and play continues for as long as the ball can be kept in play.


  • Depending on the level of your players you can have the 3rd contact ball be a free ball, down ball, tipped, rolled or controlled attacked ball.
  • You could have the off player doing something while they wait to enter the court – jumps, footwork movement, etc.
  • If you have the space, you could have 2 players in the off-the-net positions to create a kind of controlled 3′s game. In this case, the digger continues to attack and then swaps places with the setter.

Additional Comments:

  • While it is possible to add players to this drill, that generally isn’t recommended from the perspective of maximizing player contacts. Better to create additional smaller groups if the space permits.
  • By having two digger/hitters on rather than one you increase the complexity by forcing seem communication.
  • I saw this being run by German men’s professional team TV Bühl.

Giving players technical cues to self-coach


As I commented on in my recent Being reminded of the coaching similarities post, coaching at the various levels of volleyball isn’t as different as me might think. A perfect example of this is something I’ve seen a few of the professional volleyball players I’ve observed the last couple weeks have an issue with – namely using their arms too much in passing easy balls. Essentially, rather than use their legs while keeping their passing platform fairly stable, they swing their arms up to generate ball movement toward target. This isn’t a real issue if that movement is small, but if it’s more exaggerated then it can be problematic, likely indicative of poor movement.

There is a pretty easy way to diagnose when a player is using too much arm when passing. It’s the rotation of the ball. In theory, a free ball or float serve should come off a passer’s arms without much in the way of spin. When a player is using too much arm swing, however, there can be top spin on the passed ball. This comes from the player taking the ball somewhat high on their arms and it effectively rolling slightly along their arms as they direct it toward the net. This generally happens when a player lets the ball get too close to their body, oftentimes because they did not move back far enough on a deeper ball.

I bring this specific passing thing up for two reasons. One is to reinforce what I said earlier. Even professional players can have glaring technical issues coaches will want to try to address. The other is to offer an example of a way we can provide cues to our players that they can use on their own without us having to watch every repetition. In this case, a player who sees the ball they just passed rolling with topspin toward the setter knows they played the ball improperly.

The more of these sorts of cues we can provide our players, the more they can coach themselves. We don’t want to overdo things of course. Best to just given each player no more than a couple of things they can be on the look out for in their own play so as to avoid overwhelming them. Even doing just that little bit, though, multiplies our coaching many times and potentially allows us to focus on bigger picture elements.

Of course it’s not enough to tell a player to be on the lookout for something like topspin on a passed ball. You also need to diagnose the problem and tell them how to correct it.

Sample pre-hab pre-training routine

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Every day before they started training during my time at SC Potsdam, the German professional women’s team, I watched the squad go through a kind of pre-hab circuit. It’s fairly straightforward (especially compared to the one I saw at USC last year that included tight-rope walking!), so I figured I would share it here. It features 13 different stations.

1) Balance board: forward-backward
2) Balance board: side-to-side
3) Balance board: all-direction

These three basically involve the players maintaining their balance while doing slow squat movements. As you can imagine, the all-direction (basically, a platform with a half ball attached to the bottom of it) is the most challenging.

4) Bridges
5) One-leg bridges (right)
6) One-leg bridges (left)

Bridges are exercises where you lay on your back with your knees bent, then lift your butt up from the floor. The one leg version involves having one leg extended up in the air, so bridging using only the leg on the ground.

7) Front plank
8) Side plank: left
9) Side plank: right

On the left/right planks, you have have the players do a dip by letting their hip drop toward the floor, then returning back to the start position.

10) Crunches
11) V-Twist

The crunches I saw done were legs straight up in the air with the toes pulled back toward the torso, but you can mix it up. For the V-twist, from a semi-piked position (legs and torso off the ground), players twist from side-to-side. This is best done with an object such as a medicine ball which can be moved back and forth.

12) Opposite arm/leg raise: right
13) Opposite arm/leg raise: left

These raises are done either from a prone position or on hands and knees. The player simultaneously raises the right arm and left leg (or left arm and right leg).

As you’ll notice, there’s a heavy core focus, with the balance board stuff essentially work on lower body stability. Each of these exercises is done for 20-30 seconds, with a break of a couple minutes after each full circuit. The team usually did 3 circuits. I don’t share this routine to say this is what you should do with your team, but simply to provide some ideas for a framework – and to reinforce the idea that core can/should be done every day (or nearly so). You can modify as desired.

Finally an answer on coaching style


When I did the Volleyball England Level 3 coaching course last year, there was a part where we had to do a practical exercise which involved developing and implementing a practice segment. After I did mine, one of the others on the course – a Slovakian or Slovenian, I can’t remember which – made the comment that even if he never heard me talk, he would have known I was American because of my coaching style. For the longest time I had no idea what that actually meant.

I finally got an answer!

The other night, on the way to a dinner with the SC Potsdam coaching staff (there was a birthday involved), the subject came up in a conversation I was having with head coach Alberto Salomoni. He described the American style as being positive, not overly emotional, and I think willing to explain things but not excessively talkative. Karch Kiraly was put forward as a good example of all this. Hearing it put that way made some sense to me. I think I get it now, and it does make some sense.

Of course I have certainly seen my fair share of coaches in America who do not fit that style idea – some of them quite high profile. My guess is they aren’t the coaches most folks outside the US get to see very often – especially in volleyball where basically the only coaches anyone beyond the borders see are those in charge of the national teams.

So, does this match up with your view of the American style of coaching? Do you even have a view of what American style coaching is like?

Drill: 5-Player Passing and Movement

Synopsis: This is fairly simple group ball-handling and movement drill (though with room for increased complexity and/or intensity) that could be used as a warn-up.

Age/Skill Level: This is suitable for all levels

Requirements: 5 players, 1 balls, court, 3 cones

Execution: Place two players on one side of the court and three on the other. Behind the two players place one cone each, and place a third cone on the 3-player side in the middle of the court toward the back. What follows is a continuous ball movement exercise where the players on the 2-person side always pass the ball straight ahead over the net while those on the 3-person side always pass the ball diagonally. After one of the 2-person side players passes the ball, they circle around the cone behind them, while on the other side the passer loops behind the cone to switch to the other position.



  • Players can be required to forearm pass or set the ball, or some combination.
  • The cones can be moved to challenge player movement to a greater or lesser degree.
  • A second ball can be introduced to increase tempo and focus requirement.

Additional Comments:

  • If using multiple balls in this drill you’ll probably need to have more than just the 5 players to keep the play flowing.
  • I saw this being run by German men’s professional team TV Bühl.

Warm-up philosophy affirmation


One of the early posts of this blog was a bit of a rant I did against some of the “traditional” warm-up methods being employed by volleyball coaches and players. That article – Are your warm-ups wasting valuable time? – is one of the most frequently visited on the site month-in and month-out. Among the warm-up activities I talked about in that post is the way players can often be seen to throw the ball back and forth and hit the ball into the floor to loosen up their shoulders. I don’t like it for reasons I mentioned in that prior post – particularly from the perspective of the lost opportunity to get in additional ball contacts.

With that as a backdrop you can imagine how much I enjoyed seeing one of the professional coaches I’ve been visiting with immediately stop his players from doing that stand-by warm-up routine. It happened during one of their initial trainings sessions when the players were instructed to warm-up their shoulders. As soon as he saw them start the throw/hit thing he stopped it forcefully. He told them in no uncertain terms that what they were doing was a waste of time and opportunity and that instead they should do a hit and dig-to-self routine.

You have no idea how happy this made me. Not only does it prove I’m not some crazy lone voice on the subject, but I can go back to my university players (the men in particular) and say “This is what the pros do.” :-)

On a related subject, I’ve recently seen a variation on this idea where one player hits and the other catches. I am not a fan of this. The coach encouraged the catching players to move and position themselves as if they were digging, but the reality is that catching and rebounding/redirecting are very different skills.

Book Review: Little Black Book of Volleyball Coaching


The other day I finished reading Little Black Book of Volleyball Coaching by John L. Betcher. It’s not a book I would have bought for myself, but I added it to my Kindle collection before making my way to Germany as something I could read during down times for review purposes. Hopefully, my small investment of time and money saves you some of your own as this isn’t a book I would recommend.

There are a couple of interesting and worthwhile bits in the book, particularly in the area of developing a coaching philosophy. I don’t agree with some of it personally, but that isn’t why I’m not a fan of this book. It’s the fact that so much of the book is just weak – and we’re talking a book of only a bit over 100 pages.

A major part of the text involves defining and describing the phases of transition play. The author claims he included it because he’s not seen it specifically done in other books. I say there’s a reason for that. There’s no need. If there was an in-depth exploration of transition attack – play calling, training methods, etc. – then we might have something interesting, but that’s not the case here. Instead, we get a long-winded explanation of what I think most coaches already grasp pretty well.

The one thing this book does offer is a number of coaching anecdotes. I think these might actually be the most interesting and potentially valuable parts for the reader. Beyond that, there’s about enough meat for a couple of interesting articles, not a full book. A much better option is Coaching Volleyball Successfully by Sally Kus.

What do you say to the last kid cut?


Here’s something I thought was worth tossing out to my fellow coaches to see what kind of advice they would offer up in this situation. The other night I got the following message from my brother:

So, what do you do when your daughter, who is younger than everyone else at tryouts is the last cut as a freshman? What can she do? Where can she play to get better? She’s upset and feels like its pointless to tryout next year.

So what would you tell the parent of a young player who just missed out on making your school team?

Addendum: John Kessel has a post on this subject on the USA Volleyball website. It is written basically as a letter to a cut player, which includes the following:

“The fact is, ending that dream is your choice really, and not in the control of the coach who just cut you. If you like playing, then simply come up with other ways to play until the next round of school or club programming.”

Drill: 6+ Player Diagonal Over-the-Net Pepper

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Synopsis: This team pepper variation is good for working on both defense and controlled attack across the net.

Age/Skill Level: This is suitable for intermediate to advanced players

Requirements: 6+ players, balls, court

Execution: Place a setter on both sides of the net in target, along with players in positions 1 and 5 on both sides. Initiate a ball to one of the back row players to dig/pass to the setter, who then sets either one of the players on their side. That player hits a cross court standing attack (down ball) to the player in their same position (i.e. 1 to 1, 5 to 5). Play continues from there.


  • If you have more than 6 players, the hitter/defenders can rotate by having the player who “attacks” the ball goes to the back of the court on the other side to eventually re-enter the drill there, with someone taking their vacated place.
  • Instead of hitting cross-court, players can hit line.
  • With more advanced players you can make it actual attacked balls, front or back row.
  • An additional defender could be added in 6, especially for less advanced teams to get more digs. If so, you can continue to have the players in 1 and 5 be the attackers, and have the player from 6 rotate in for the player who just hit the ball.

Additional Comments:

  • In order for this drill to work well, players must be relaxed executing a standing down ball. If they are not, there will be many, many errors.
  • Have balls on-hand to initiate them fresh quickly when a rally ends.
  • I saw this drill used in SC Potsdam training.