Archive for Volleyball Coaching Q&A

Volleyball coach seeks help with motivating a beginner

A reader asked the following question. It relates to motivation of a beginning player, which is different from motivating players to win. I share a few of my own thoughts below, but would love to hear what others think.

How do I get a shy quiet girl moving. I had a guest coach over teaching and one of my girls walks up to her spike. The coach made her do it again but she went a tiny bit faster. I put this child on my team as per a request of her mom that says she is a couch potato. I try to teach her everything I know but still no happiness in this child or a smile or hustle, nothing. Help, how can I make her a player?

This sounds like a very challenging situation. If the mother is forcing the girl to attend, there’s a major motivation hurdle to overcome. It’s even more so if she is not naturally a physically active kid. You have to get her to be eager to be active and to want to improve her skills. It’s not an impossible task, but it’s a hard one for sure.

Motivations vs. confidence

The first thing you need to try to figure out is if this is a case of “don’t wan’t to” or “can’t”. The former is about just not being interested. The latter is about thinking you’re not good enough or talented enough or whatever to be able to do what is asked. Be aware that sometimes “don’t want to” masks “can’t” as the individual puts up a protective front.

If it’s a question of “can’t”, then your job as coach is to find out where the perceived issue is. Then you start to build confidence. That could be a question of showing the player someone like her who is successful. It could be about breaking things down a bit more so you can focus on elements where the player has a comfort. Then work back up from there.

If the problem is “don’t want to”, then you have a different challenge.

For most beginners, the key factor to keep them coming back and interested in getting better – at least to a point – is fun and enjoyment. When it comes to those of the female gender, the social element is a big one. If this girl isn’t socially connected with the others in the group, try to find ways to encourage that. If she does have a connection, maybe you can use that to help you motivate her a bit more.

Another way to go is to try to find out the girl’s interests. There might be stuff you can do to link what you’re trying to teach her in volleyball with other things she does or likes. That also might give you the opportunity to do some role-modelling with her. Pointing out someone she can watch with whom she has things in common.

Why does my volleyball team miss serves?

The title of this post comes from a search query which brought someone to the website. When I saw it I was immediately struck by how often that question must get asked by coaches in any given season. They certainly ask it inside their own heads! I know it flashed through my head a number of times in years when I watched teams miss several serves in a row – often costing us momentum in the process.

So let’s think about why players miss their serves.

Poor mechanics

The first area we have to look at in addressing serving is the mechanics of the servers. The specifics there are best left for another time. Suffice it to say, players lacking good mechanics are very likely to be inconsistent (at best) with their serves. Much of the time it’s the toss which is the biggest culprit. Sometimes, however, mental issues can creep in which lead to faulty mechanics in an otherwise competent server (see below).


Nervous players make mistakes. I had a player a while back who demonstrated clearly in training more than sufficient power to get the ball over the net. Once she was put into a situation where there was some kind of pressure (drill or game), though, everything changed. Suddenly she could barely get the ball to the net. That’s an extreme case, but I see many players make mistakes serving because they are trying to avoid mistakes. This tends to manifest in poor ball contact coming from a weak arm swing and/or a soft hand rather than a firm one on impact (this happens a lot in hitting too). If you’re seeing a lot of balls come up short, you could have a problem in this area.

Overly Aggressive

The reverse of tentative serving is being too aggressive. Balls hit hard into the net or flying well long are symptomatic of this issue. You as a coach have to define what is appropriate aggressiveness, as you will naturally see more missed serves when you ask your team to serve tough than would likely otherwise be the case. Of course there are also the cases of players just simply trying to hit the ball too hard (often boys).

Poor Situational Awareness

Players need to know when it’s acceptable to take risk and when they really need to focus on getting the serve in (see When the Serve Needs to Be In). If players are missing serves at bad times, it is up to the coach to get that corrected in training by making sure there are consequences for that sort of thing in drills and games.

Insufficient skill

Sometimes players simply are being asked to do something for which they lack the skill required. This is most likely to manifest when a coach calls a serving target either by zone or player (“Serve #2”). Players who just simply can’t consistently target their serves will often miss more serves in trying to do what the coach wants.

I think this list covers miss serve causality pretty well. If you can think of something else that should be here, though, definitely leave a comment.