Can you use the same drills across levels?

The following question was once posted in a volleyball coaching group.

I have a question about how you guys coach your teams differently based on the level. As in if the team you have in any particular year is younger, less experienced, less motivated ect. Do you use the same drills but let them out of the drill early if they dont get it or do you explain the importance and stick with a drill even if it takes all practice?

Let’s first address the question of whether you use the same drills and/or games across different skill and age levels. The answer to that is in some cases you can, and in some cases you can’t. The easiest example of this is a drill highly reliant on ball-handling ability. If you have a team which has not yet reached the point where they can pass or set well enough to make the drill work, then you have to go with something a bit less complex.

By that I mean this. There are games and drills which are simple in that they involve only one or two skills. A target serving drill, for example, only requires the players to perform one skill – serving. If you do serve reception, then the players perform two skills – serving and passing. As you add additional skills, you increase complexity. For example, if you add hitting to the serve reception you bring in the additional skills of setting and attacking.

Low complexity drills can be performed by just about any group. Your target level for completion may be lower, though, for the less-skilled ones (for example, a lower number of 3 passes required to finish a serve reception drill). It’s the higher complexity ones which require more skill and thus may not be suitable for lower level and/or younger groups.

As for whether you run a drill to completion, even if it takes all practice (or longer!), that depends. If you have three priority items for that training that you really want to hit, then put a time limit on any one activity. That way you are sure to have time for everything.

If that game or drill represents the single most important thing you want to focus on that session, then you may want to consider letting it run to completion. Be careful, though. You don’t want to lose the players. If they get too frustrated they might just shut down. Once that happens, nothing afterwards is worth anything in their development. If you see the focus starting to slip, I would suggest either altering the game/drill or cutting it short and going back to it later to finish.

Beyond what you do with your games and drills, I definitely think you coach teams differently. This isn’t just about their level of play, etc. Even teams of a similar level are different and require a slightly different approach.

John Forman
About the Author: John Forman

John currently coaches for an NCAA Division II women’s team. This follows a stint as head coach for a women’s professional team in Sweden. Prior to that he was the head coach for the University of Exeter Volleyball Club BUCS teams (roughly the UK version of the NCAA) while working toward a PhD. He previously coached in Division I of NCAA Women’s Volleyball in the US, with additional experience at the Juniors club level, both coaching and managing, among numerous other volleyball adventures. Learn more on his bio page.

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