One Spring day at MSU we had the last of the off-season practice sessions with the team before they went on Spring Break. After the break we were shifting into the non-traditional season (Spring Training). Those with an NCAA background know we could only do 2 hours of on-court work in the off season. All the players had done an hour already earlier in the week – either individually or in small groups. This session, though, featured everyone. As I had recently found out, that was allowed in Division II. It wasn’t in Division I when I coached that level.
Since we only had two practices before our first Spring tournament, the head coach wanted to give the players a chance to go 6 v 6 for the first time in a long while. We therefore decided to devote 30 minutes to that. The first 30 minutes was build up to it.
Here’s one of the tricks of maximizing your time with the players in this kind of situation. Get them to warm-up on their own before you get into the gym. That way you can go right to work. By the time we got there, the players were already into playing back row Winners 3s.
We had 12 players with just one court set up. The first thing we did was to have them play 3 v 3 on a narrow court. In other words, we had two games going on next to each other. We grouped the players by position, then did a count-off to decide their teams. We ran two rounds of play, with winners playing winners and losers playing losers for the second one. If I’m remembering correctly, it was a back row attack only game. The games went to 8.
The second activity is something I did at times with my Svedala team. I developed it as a kind of a Belly Drill or Speedball variation in teams of 4 (counted off as above). Two teams were on the court with one off waiting to come on. The teams on played out a 4 v 4 rally (all hitting options available). At its conclusion, the waiting team replaced the losers while a coach initiated a ball to the winners (down ball over the net).
This is a fast-paced game. The players don’t get much down time. We played for 15 minutes and the teams kept track of rally wins. I think it was something like 27, 25, and 20. So we got in at least as many points as you’d get in 1.5 sets in less time than it generally takes to play a single one. This is more rallies we would have seen in Winners 4s, with the inherent delay of teams waving through to the winners’ side.
The last half of the session was simple game play. We divided the players by position. That created some imbalances and caused some funky rotational requirements. One of the assistants jumped in to balance out the hitting, while a pair of defenders split time playing back row for one team. They got into a second set before the hour was up and decided to keep going after we left.
Let’s think about how much we included of the various skills in this short session.
- The 3 v 3 game and the 6 v 6 both included serving, though in the latter case not everyone ended up doing it because of the team compositions (some players front-row-only).
- Serve reception was part of both the 3 v 3 and 6 v 6.
- All of the games included setting, though it was only in 6 v 6 where the setters specifically took all the second balls. In the other games sometimes they did, but often times it was other players.
- Hitting was included in all three games from a variety of locations.
- Blocking was included in all three games, though only in the 6 v 6 was their regular double blocking.
- Defense was included in all three games, with the 4 v 4 essentially starting each rally with a defense ball (down ball from the other side of the net).
So you could say the balance was skewed toward the “open play” type of skills – setting, hitting, blocking, defense – with a bit less in serving and passing. We could have boosted the serve reception by having the assistants serve a ball to start the next rally in the 4 v 4 game.