Philosophy on 2-person serve receive


I had a question come in from a reader recently on the subject of serve receive. Here it is:

Do you have any thoughts, articles, philosophies about 2 person serve receive?  I am coaching a good 16s juniors team and would like to think outside the box some.

I have actually used a 2-man reception with a team myself. It was a boy’s team back in 1998 for a state tournament. I had two clearly strong passers – one an OH and one a RS. It worked out pretty well. We won the gold. :-)

At that point, though, the serving in the boys’ game wasn’t as tough as it’s become. We didn’t face any jump servers that I can recall. As a result, it was much easier for two players to cover the court than it likely would be today. It would be a challenge to go with only 2 passers in the women’s game because they physically don’t cover as much space as men and the flatter trajectory of the serves already makes them very challenging to pass.

I can still see value in a 2-person reception focus, though. By that I mean having two players take most of the court with one or more others having smaller, defined areas of coverage. You can actually see this sort of thing at work when a team wants to limit how much passing a front row attacker has to do. They push them toward the side line and let the libero and back row attacker take like 80% of the court.

Personally, I think there are always opportunities to put your best passers in position to take the most balls. You need to consider what sort of serves you’ll be facing and look at your rotations. There may be ways you can position non-primary passers to take certain balls. For example, a MB taking short serves in their zone. It’s all about maximizing what you have.

Snow in Svedala

So it turns out they get Winter here in Sweden. Who’d have thunk it!? :-)

On Saturday I attended our 2nd team match in the afternoon. It had been raining a bit when I walked into the sports hall. When I walked out a couple hours later it was snowing big, fat, wet flakes. It’s the first of the white stuff we’ve seen in Svedala where I’m at, though they’ve had some up north already.

Fortunately, I had just made a very well-timed parka purchase – literally on my way to the gym. I didn’t know about the weather when I put it on after the match ended to start my walk home, but I quickly snuggled in when I saw the 15+ minute walk I was facing. It kept my upper half quite warm. Jeans don’t do much to keep out the wet, though, so my legs were freezing by the time I got home.

There wasn’t much in the way of accumulation on Saturday, but by the time I got up on Sunday morning things looked a bit different.

First Svedala Snow

I didn’t even bother going out on Sunday. Figured it was a good day to spend indoors.

When I did finally go out on Monday morning it was an experience I haven’t had in a few years. There was ice everywhere. It wasn’t overly cold – at least not with my new parka and years of living in New England – but I don’t recall it getting that cold during my three Winters in England. I definitely didn’t have to worry about slipping on all the ice while I was there.

And so begins coaching Sweden in earnest. We have our first northern away match coming up on Saturday.

I can only imagine how my player from Atlanta reacted to it all. :-)

Coaching Log – Nov 23, 2015

Svedala Volleybollklubb

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

This being week 8 of the regular season, it’s the end of the initial weight training cycle and the program I gave the team. As a result, I had the players re-test their bench and squat weights for comparison and we did another set of physical evaluations at the start of Friday’s training.

There was only one league match set for this week. Örebro hosted RIG on Saturday, with the home team strongly favored. That will leave Örebro with the bottom team, Sollentuna, and Gislaved, who haven’t beaten any but the bottom two thus far, as their remaining schedule before the break. The Gislaved match is away, which could be tricky, but they still have an excellent shot at getting 9 more points, pushing their total to 21. That would certainly qualify them for Gran Prix.

That means it is very likely down to Engelholm, Hylte, Lindesberg, and Svedala as to who gets the other three places. Lindesberg has an edge in that they have matches against RIG and Sollentuna to pad their point total. All of us play each other at least once (we play Hylte twice), though, so we’ll decide things head-to-head – as you’d like it to be.

As usual, training started with a bit of talk about the prior match and our path forward. After warm-ups and a variation on volley tennis, we did a serving exercise. It focused on serving the seams, with the players have an objective getting to 10. To focus on making our mistakes long rather than in the net, serves that didn’t go over were a -1.

We transitioned from there to serving and passing. Because of our struggles with Rotation 1, we focused on that. Hitters and setters rotated through, with the sets going to the MB or the hitter/passer in 4. In line with a concern I’ve had the last couple weeks, our passing wasn’t great. We’re having technical issues when we have to move for the ball. Platforms are just not holding their angle to target. The tricky part of it all is that we’ve had issues with serves that tend to drop short, which encourages playing shorter. That then means having to move back.

Training wrapped up with Winners 3s. We only went maybe 75 minutes all in all.

One of the core group was out sick, but we had three additional bodies to bring it up to 11. That’s not as many as I was expecting, but the additional players definitely made a difference – both in terms of allowing me to do some different things and in the overall energy of the session. One of the things I wanted to do was to keep the number of jumps down for certain players while still being able to work on developmental issues, so I structured things with that in mind.

After warm-up and prehab activities, I split the group out. The setters and MBs went on a side court to work on their connections while the libero and pin hitters were on center court working on passing. In the case of the latter, I had them do a version of the serving and passing triples. I wanted them to work specifically on having to move back for the ball, so I had the passer start at the 3m line and the server (who was only at about mid court) serving deepish balls. I set up the video delay to focus on the passers so they could look to check their mechanics.

This was then carried over when I brought the whole group together and had everyone else serving to the primary passers. Since there were four in the rotation, they could look to the replay as they stepped off the court after a pass. I felt like passing on the whole was better and the players did feel like having the replay helped them focus on their technique more.

Next up was the continuous cross-court digging drill. After some relatively static stuff – especially for the passers – I wanted to up the intensity while obviously also working on digging the ball.

From there we moved on to a variation of Speedball Winners on a narrow court. I had fixed setters and MBs, with the winners part being the 2 players playing with them. Along with continuing the earlier setter/MB connection work from earlier, it also got in some blocking and additional defense in preparation for the full team play which followed.

The last part of training was some 22 v 22 play. I had the team of 6 in Rotation 4, which has consistently been our weakest rotation in both point scoring and serve reception. We played one game with the 6 receiving and one with them serving. I then had back-up setter switch in and played one more with the 6 receiving.

I had a trio of players out of training for various health reasons, leaving me with just six. In talking with the captain we decided to just have them do their normal weight training session. In the end, though, they decided they wanted to do a bit of serving and passing work, with a little hitting thrown in for a couple of them. It probably went about 90 minutes all together.

I had two players out – one still sick and the other with a family emergency that arose right before practice (or at least that’s when she told me about it). We had a guest player to give us 8. As planned, we started with re-doing the physical assessments we did back at the beginning. That included a star type agility drill, a T test at the net, singled and triple broad jumps, and a sequence of medicine ball throws. We added a vertical leap test using the My Jump app on my iPad. This was my first time using it. Basically, it measures jump height by calculating time from takeoff to landing.

The first part of training wasn’t really impacted too much by the late player drop. I had them do some serving and passing. Unfortunately, both of the missing players are OHs, and thus primary passers, so that didn’t work out quite the way I had planned, but generally served the purpose.

After that I’d planned on doing a back row only Winners 3s. I shifted that to Speedball with teams of 2 on a narrow court. I then had them play a game to 15 in 4 v 4 fashion. This was still back row attacking only, though each side had a front row setter.

The last 30 minutes or so of training was dedicated to a constrained 4 v 4 with rallies initiated by alternating down balls. At first I had MB-OH-L-S on one side (Setter in 1) against MB-RS-S-DS with the DS in 6. I flipped the setters, and MBs around, and had the RS flip between front and back row. I later moved the DS from the second side over into 5 so the opposing side could hit cross court (but not to 6).

Thoughts and observations
Such a massive difference between training with 11 as we did on Tuesday and only training with 8 the rest of the week. Not only does it give me more options for developing training, there’s better energy. I’m doing everything I can to get more players in practice, but it’s a struggle.

Incorporating delayed video into training


One of the things I’ve been able to incorporate into my training sessions at Svedala is a video delay system. It’s something I’ve talked about using in my Coaching Log entries. I thought it would be worth sharing the specifics of what I’m using.

It starts with my iPad mini and the BaM Video Delay app. The app takes in video from either the forward or rear facing camera and allows you to watch a delayed video stream from it, with a delay you can set to whatever you like. I’ll admit, I’m still learning the ins and outs of BaM, but it’s pretty easy to use and suits the purpose.

The most basic way to use video delay in this fashion is to put the tablet on a tripod and have the players go to it after a rep to watch the replay. The more advanced approach would be to send the video feed to a bigger screen that would be easy to see, which is what I’m doing.

In our main gym at Svedala there is a projection screen on one wall that we can send the video to so everyone can look at it without having to come off the court. To get the video there, we have to send it to the video projector via a VGA cable input located near the stands. It’s conceptually similar to running the video to a TV or monitor. You have to get the feed to a device which plus into the output system, or sends it there wirelessly if that is an option.

The solution I have put together is to stream the video from the iPad to an Apple TV device. It will accept a mirroring feed from the tablet via either wifi or bluetooth. The Apple TV has an HDMI output, which can then be plugged in to most modern TVs and monitors. As I noted, though, the gym projector only takes a VGA feed, so I need a HDMI to VGA adapter to convert the signal to get it to the projector. Having the video feed transmitted to the projection system allows me to put the camera anywhere I like, and to move it around as needed.

Of course there is always the question of where to put the camera – both for angles and equipment safety. A standard tripod is one option. I have found, however, that one of the flexible tripod provides more options in terms of placement. Using a tripod requires a mount for the iPod.

This is not the perfect system by any stretch. For one thing, I’d love a somewhat better camera with more options in terms of zoom. We make do with the resources available, though.

Video delay is only useful if the players actually look at it, though. That’s something you’ll need to train them to do. Once they get into the habit, though, it provides excellent immediate feedback – and sometimes lots of laughs. :-)


A coaching requirement: Passion


In his Volleyball Coaching Wizards interview, Dutch National Team and Turkish club side Vakifbank head coach Giovanni Guidetti spoke a lot about the need to be passionate. He is definitely not the only one of the Wizards to make that kind of observation, though he may have done so in the most eloquent fashion to-date.

Alexis at Coaches Corner recently wrote a post on the subject which follows along the same lines. He suggests that passion is a requirement to be a successful coach. Moreover, he suggests that coaching is different from other careers in that regard – that in other occupations one can be successful without it.

This actually reminds me of something Alexis’ brother Mark once said. He suggested that non-coaches don’t really have job stress.

I think millions of folks around the world would disagree quite loudly!

Having worked in the non-coaching, non-sports arena for a fair portion of my life, I can say with some conviction that non-coaches definitely experience stress. Similarly, I can say that passion is a part of a lot more that just coaching.

Personally, I think you can be decent in just about anything based on having a reasonable level of proficiency – including coaching. A lot of people do just that. In order to really excel, achieve, and succeed over time, though, you need to have a drive and a motivation to push yourself to a higher level – and to keep doing so. That’s where passion comes it.

Passion is also a factor in keeping you in something for the long term. It sustains your motivation through the inevitable ups and downs. Those who are merely technically proficient are more likely to fall to the wayside when things become challenging. The passionate ones see the tough times as just more motivation to get better.

To answer the question posed at the end of Alexis’ article, what about a #3 option – passion for the sport and passion for coaching? :-)

Climbing Mistake Mountain

mountain climbing

There’s a recent post on the USA Volleyball Growing the Game blog which focuses on the subject of developing talent when you’re in a place where there isn’t a lot of talent to be recruited. The very first Lesson talks about the idea of “climbing Mistake Mountain”.

That phrase really caught my attention. It expresses an idea that I think many coaches and players need to get their heads around.

I often tell my teams that we are going to make A LOT of mistakes. It’s the nature of learning and getting better. In that context, mistakes aren’t a bad thing to be avoided and/or stressed out about. They’re a catalyst for improvement. This is something I’ve written about before here, here, and here, among other places.

The “climbing Mistake Mountain” idea takes that to another level in terms of expressing the “errors are OK” idea. It actually encourages making lots of mistakes as necessary to get better – and the faster you get into the process of making those mistakes, the quicker you’ll get to learning and improving.

Coaching Log – Nov 16, 2015

Svedala Volleybollklubb

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

Results in the Elitserie from the week ending November 8th offered up one surprise – Örebro needing five sets to beat Sollentuna away. That earned the home team their first point of the season. The other result was Gislaved losing at home to Engelholm. Given the form of the those two teams of late, not a shock result. Those outcomes move both the winners above us in the standings, but having played two more matches.


No teams are out of the running yet for Gran Prix. The qualification will be based on the first 10 matches, with the top 4 getting in. Sollentuna and RIG are certainly well off the pace, but play each other twice in the weeks ahead, so one of them could make a move up the table. Gislaved looks like they may struggle to qualify as their next four matches are no easy path. Lindesberg is the wild card at the moment, as they’ve only played three matches so far.

As for Svedala, with two matches in-hand, so to speak, we look to be well positioned. It won’t be a cake walk, though. We have two away matches against Hylte/Halmstad, along with trips to Lindesberg and Gislaved mixed in with this week’s home match vs. RIG and what is likely to be a tough one against Engelholm next month.

The above mentioned Gislaved – Engelholm match also counted toward the Oresundliga standings, entrenching the latter at the top of the table. The Danish teams all have a match in-hand.


We don’t have another match that counts toward this league until mid-December. That’s our last match before the holiday break.

The Svedala U23 team, featuring all of the Swedish players from the first team, took Silver at the national tournament. They lost in the final to Engelholm.

Sometimes the coach goofs and forgets the equipment closet keys at home. When you’re training in your main gym, that may not be so bad as it would be a quick turn around to go home and get them. When training in your gym 20 minutes drive away, that doesn’t really work. I’d hoped our manager had a copy of the key, but he didn’t and no one in the facility had one either. Basically had to scrap training. We talked a bit about some stuff I observed on video and how things went at the U23 tournament. Then I released the players to go work out.

We had six and a half players for training – the half being our starting setter who was recovering from her back injury. She did a little setting at points.

I started off talking with them a bit about some stuff I did on video for them looking at our defense, hitter transition, and blocking from the last match. In particular with the blocking, I saw that we were consistently late. We did prehab and I had them do a bit of partner 2-touch, which transitioned into a serving warm-up. I then had them to some deep serves with a focus on the ball being below the top of the antennae. When they reached the objective, they then shifted to short serves.

I then had them do a 3 v 3 version of the Hard Drill. Along with being a decent preparation for the hitting that was to come, it also worked on defense against back row attacks, which is something we talked about at the beginning in terms of positioning.

This was followed by some serving and passing. The servers were banging out some really tough balls, making the passers struggle considerably at times.

The rest of training was a sequence of hitters against block and defense. I started by having a blocker in 2 with defenders in 1 and 6. On the other side I had two attackers hitting in 4 plus the libero. The not hitter of the two attackers passed a ball that the libero then had to set. The defense needed to get 7 blocks or good digs. I rotated players around.

We did something similar with attacking through 2 against a blocker in 4, with defenders in 5 and 6. Since the libero was playing in 5, I had the setter set in this case. We also did attack in 4 with block in 2 and defense in 5 and 6.

Although this wasn’t a particularly high intensity session, it was physically demanding for the hitter/blockers, who got a lot of jumps. I wasn’t worried about fatigue given we didn’t train on Monday and wouldn’t go again until Friday. Along with working the defense and block, it was also a good exercise for the hitters working against the block. On top of that, it was an opportunity for the libero to work on putting up hitable balls. This is something we need to develop with her, as she’s not confident in that role.

No training today as the 2nd team had a home match. I attended and spoke with five of the players from that team afterwards about coming to train with the first team – probably Tuesday and/or Friday when they don’t train with their team. They mostly seemed eager. I told them they would be expected to turn up, work hard, make aggressive mistakes, and listen to the older players. I think we’ll have them with us on Tuesday.

Our starting setter was back to more or less full training. She avoided going to the floor on defense, but otherwise did everything else, including blocking. That gave us 9 in training with our two young players back from their school trips.

We talked at the beginning about focus points for training and Sunday’s match. I told them increasing in-rally defensive communication is the thing I want the whole team focused on, and that each should pick something individual.

After warms ups I had them do the last part of the Twenty-one drill, which is basically 3-person over-the-net pepper with a goal of getting 21 straight pass-set-dig sequences. I don’t know if it was the lack of training this week, or something else, but the players seemed to lack a bit of focus. It took them longer than usual for a group to actually reach the objective.

I had them do some serving to get their shoulders warmed-up a bit further, and to prepare for later activities. I used the opportunity to video one of my MBs, who is working on on jump float serve.

From there we moved to a variation on Winners I haven’t used before. In this case, rather than waving through the winners side, the team losing a rally stepped off to be replaced by the team waiting to come on. While that was happening, a ball was played over to the winning team to start the next rally. In this case we did back row 3s with no tipping in front of the 3 meter line. The focus was on reading the attack, adjusting the defense properly, and communicating throughout. I liked how it went.

Serving and passing with the MBs and setters getting reps came next. I had two of the pin hitters passing with our libero, with one setter and one MB running sets off the passes. After 5 good attacks, the MBs switch. After both MBs got their 5, I switched the pin hitters passing and swapped setters.

The last main element of training was a series of 4 v 5 games. On one side I had a setter in 2 along with a MB in 3, an OH in 4, the libero in 5, and another OH in 6. Set against them was our RS in 2, setter in 1, MB in 3, and OH in 6. The team of 4 served. After the initial rally played out, that team received a down ball. Games were played to 10 points. I rotated the setters back and forth, and flipped the setter and RS on the team of 4 so both played front and back row. I rotated the OHs through all three positions, and had the MBs switch sides.

Those games were generally pretty competitive. Because they were basically played just in one half of the court (though the team of 4 could attack Zone 2 where the setter was defending), at the end I ran a version where we played cross-court attacks. I wasn’t overly pleased with it, though. Need to rethink how that one works for future use.

The players wanted to get in some work on some different things at then end, which led them to basically do serving and passing with a couple of attackers based on who wanted to do what. The serving was a bit less aggressive than earlier, though.

At the end, along with administrative stuff, I talked with the players about bringing the strong serving I’ve seen in the last couple weeks of training into Sunday’s match.

Home match against RIG, which is basically the Swedish national volleyball academy – meaning all high school aged players. You may recall we had a couple of them in training with us two weeks back – one of whom is the leading point scorer so far. Coming into the match, they only managed 1 point from their first four matches. They actually hadn’t played a match in the league since October 21st for various reasons.

My philosophy on playing against younger, less experienced teams is that you generally want to try to be as clean on your side of the net as possible. They will tend to be prone to errors and you don’t want to bail them out by making a lot yourself. That said, though, it’s also an opportunity to work on developmental needs. The latter was more my focus going into this match.

Perhaps not surprisingly given we only trained twice on the week and just once as a full group and our starting setter was just back from her injury, our first set was an ugly one. We didn’t pass well. Our serving was mixed. We made a lot of mistakes. It cost us the set. We progressively got better and ended winning comfortably after that, but not without a lot of issues along the way.

Serving was a big frustration. We had 13 aces against 15 errors. That’s not a bad ratio, all in all. The vast majority of those errors were in the net, though, so not positive errors. This after a couple of weeks of pretty good serving in practice.

Thoughts and observations
I really wanted to use Sunday’s match to get some playing time for my bench, but things didn’t quite work out. The did both get in, but not as much as I’d wanted. In part it was because the sets went too fast and my substitution plans never came to fruition.

I had a thought to play the second setter to give the starter a break here and their given her return from injury. The starter, though, was legitimately worried about tightening up if she came out, so I couldn’t really risk it – especially after we lost the first set. Also, her two weeks of not playing or really training until Friday really were obvious. She wasn’t clicking great with the MBs and her accuracy wasn’t there on some of the pin sets. Basically, she needed the reps.

Defense and blocking were better. We ended up with 13 blocks and dug a lot of balls. That contributed to a much improved point scoring percentage – 58% and 60% sideout. Admittedly, though, RIG does not feature quite the offensive capability of other teams we play. They really struggled with our offense as well, as we were close to 50% kills according to the initial cut of the stats (compared to their 31%).

Other stuff
The other results in the league from the weekend were not really surprising. Hylte won to go back top of the table. Our win moves us up into 2nd, and still with matches in-hand against the two teams immediately behind us. Lindesberg beat Gislaved, which likely means the latter is out of contention for a Gran Prix spot now as they’ve already played 7 fixtures and are 5 points adrift of 4th place.

We are back in action a week from Tuesday when we head to Hylte for a big clash.

My team had a long rally to start a recent match

I shared this the other day on Facebook. In case you didn’t see it, though, or in case you’d just like to see a good long rally again, here’s the first point from my team’s most recent match.

For those who are interested, the Americans in the squad are #6 Mo Simmons (Clemson) and #12 Chelsey Bettinson (Washington State). Unfortunately, our starting setter Camryn Irwin (Washington State) was out with a back injury for this match. The setter for our opposition, Amager, is also American. That’s Jordon Fish who played for Virginia Tech (which means she played against Mo in college).

Yes, that’s our home court. The ceiling is a bit low, but otherwise it’s a decent place to play.

Your mandate and situation influences your coaching approach


A recent post by Coach Rey explores the anti-Moneyball idea with respect to Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost. It references a NY Times article on the subject which talks about how Yost doesn’t operate based on analytics, for which he has regular been criticized. The general thrust of both the blog post and the article seems to be that you can win without relying on the stats.

Here’s my own takeaway, though.

Yost specifically talks about making long-term decisions with respect to player development. He wasn’t trying to win every game. As was his mandate in both of his most recent two jobs was to develop young teams. When that is your priority, you make different types of decisions than you do when trying to win the largest possible number of games.

The same sort of thing can be said to apply in the type of situation some of us are in where how we play at the end of the season is more important than how we play today. Mark Lebedew in his time at BR Volleys had the luxury of being able to mix up his lineup from match to match in German league play because he knew his team was stronger than others and it was all about the playoffs. That allowed him to spread playing time and develop they younger guys.

I’m in a similar sort of situation at Svedala in that this season every team makes the playoffs. Yes, there’s an advantage to finishing higher in the regular season standings. Yes, we also are looking to qualify for the mid-season Gran Prix event by being in the Top 4 after 10 matches. The big objective is going after the league championship, though, so I am able to take a somewhat more developmental than “win now” attitude at this time of year.

Obviously, not everyone has that luxury. When I was coaching at Brown there was not conference tournament. It was just the regular season schedule. When I was at Exeter for the first two years we needed to finish in the top three in our league to reach Championships and were VERY motivated to not finish 3rd to avoid having a first round playoff against one of the winners of the other leagues. In cases like that, winning now is very important.

What about you? What sort of situation do you operate in?