Archive for Volleyball Coaching Resources

Book Review: Volleyball Systems & Strategies

Volleyball Systems and Strategies is a book put together by USA Volleyball. It’s based on the work done in its Coaching Accreditation Program (CAP) – the US version of Volleyball England’s coaching certification sequence. It is a very comprehensive look at the next level of volleyball above that of individual skill. That’s how a team plays as a unit. To that end I think it has the potential to be very useful for new and developing coaches. It’s also useful for anyone thinking about how they can maximize the performance of their team given the types of players they have.

There are six primary sections to the book.

  1. Serve, Transition, and Serve Receive looks at the types of serves (float, jump topspin, etc.) and team serve receive patterns.
  2. Defensive Systems describes ways a team can set up in terms of both floor defense positioning and blocking.
  3. Defensive Strategies looks at different ways the systems above may be employed based on the strengths and weaknesses of your team and/or your opponent.
  4. Offensive Systems focuses on different offense configurations, such as the 5-1 or 6-2.
  5. Offensive Strategies discusses ways to employ an offensive system to put your team’s attackers at the advantage.
  6. Systems, Strategies, and the Team concentrates on developing good training plans and handling the team before, during, and after matches.

Each section of the book comprises chapters focused on one aspect of the bigger subject. These chapters generally feature five elements.

  • An initial description of the system or strategy
  • Personnel requirements
  • Advantages and disadvantages
  • Options for implementation
  • Coaching points

The final chapter of each section (except the last) lists drills to work on the system or strategy covered. There are as many as 20 drills listed. That’s plenty to work with.

There’s a companion DVD with the book. It covers the primary topics listed above, excepting #6. It also shows some of the drills included. Call it about an hour in length.

There’s a lot of material in Volleyball Systems and Strategies. I think it’s pretty safe to say that if the reader can grasp it all they will be well on their way to being able to find the right systems and strategies for any team they coach, regardless of competitive level.

Book Review: Aggressive Volleyball

Aggressive Volleyball is an excellent book. Full stop.

Even as an experienced coach there was plenty to get me thinking. For an inexperienced coach, or even for a player, there is loads of very useful material.

It’s probably worth noting that the “aggressive” part of the title might better be thought of as being proactive rather than what the term perhaps is normally taken to mean. It isn’t about things like hitting or serving the ball hard so much as playing volleyball with purpose, as opposed to playing in a reactive fashion. To that end, there is at least as much philosophy as there is technical and tactical discussion in the text. This makes for some dense sections of the book, but ones which give the reader plenty to think about.

After the conceptual introduction, the book is broken into seven sections:

  • Assessment
  • Offense
  • Defense
  • Out-of-System/Transition Play
  • Player Competitiveness
  • Communication
  • Match Coaching

There are collections of drills at the end of most sections (and some mentioned in the text as well), They are of the “Here’s how you can train the stuff I’ve just been talking about” variety. Where technical discussions are taking place there are also photos to provide visual support, and interspersed through the book are little stories from other coaches speaking to the importance of the particular subject being explored.

I honestly think this book has something for just about everyone. OK, maybe not if you’re Russ Rose or John Dunning, but for us mere mortal volleyball coaches Aggressive Volleyball is a great source of information and advice – maybe even inspiration – and reminds us of all the different facets there are to coaching volleyball successfully. It’s easy to forget them sometimes in the heat of a season. I can honestly see myself referring back to it again from time to time.

In short, get your hands on a copy, read it, and keep it handy.

Inside College Volleyball

Quick note here. In this case “college” is being used in the American way, which generally means institutions of higher education (2 or 4 year) beyond secondary school. That would be beyond A-levels, to provide an English comparison.

Inside College Volleyball is a book I published back in 2011. I worked with a fellow coach by the name of Matt Sonnichsen. Matt authored most of the content while I did the editing and publishing. He’d been blogging for several years as The College Volleyball Coach. At that time he was coaching at a Division I university in the States, having been working in the field for 15 years. Prior to that, he was a player of some note:

  • 2 time NCAA Champion at UCLA
  • MVP of the National Championship his senior year.
  • 3 time All American setter
  • USA National Team setter
  • 2 years playing professional volleyball in Europe
  • 5 year touring member of the AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour

Matt left coaching a few months after the book’s release and now consults volleyball families on the collegiate recruiting process. He continues to write regularly on his blog on recruiting subjects.

The book was developed as a collection of the best of Matt’s blog. It is structured in a useful way to discuss the recruiting process and to provide answers to some of the most commonly asked questions. There is some discussion of life as a collegiate volleyball player, and Matt shares some of his opinions (he has many strong ones!), but mainly it’s about recruitment.

College volleyball is well established in the US, but less so elsewhere. As a result, there is interest in playing volleyball at a university in the States among foreign athletes. The opportunities to do so are considerable (there are over 300 schools in women’s Division I alone), with the potential to get a scholarship. This may be a very worthwhile option for some of the better international Juniors players. (Note: men’s volleyball in the U.S. is much smaller than women’s, so the opportunities are more scarce – at least in terms of scholarships.)

Having coached BUCS volleyball in England, and NCAA Division I and Division II volleyball in the US, I can tell you there is definitely a major difference in the caliber of play. The Northumbria and Durham teams I saw play in the 2013-14 BUCS championships were at a comparable level, in large part thanks to having a number of former US collegiate players. Aside from those two teams, though, the caliber of play in BUCS is well below that seen in the States. I’d venture to say that many teams in Division II and probably the better ones from Division III (and the NAIA as well) would be a stiff challenge for the top UK sides.

No real surprise there. The US teams train and/or play up to 6 days a week for a 3-4 month season. In the upper divisions there is also a secondary “non-traditional” season. That about 6 weeks in the off-season when teams can train full-time. Players also do individual or small group sessions, and have strength & conditioning work just about year-round. All of this is after most of them spent four years or more playing/training 5 days a week for 3 months for their high school teams then going through a 5-6 month Juniors volleyball season where they may have been playing/training up to 3 days a week.

In other words, for the player looking to train and compete at a level higher than can be achieved in the UK, and with the desire to get a good education at the same time, attending university in the States is something very much worth considering. Meg Viggars, setter for Team GB, has recently gone that route. With US programs adding beach volleyball into the mix as well, there may be even more opportunities.

I’m always open to answering questions about US collegiate volleyball recruiting, but Inside College Volleyball is a good starting point for you and any of your players/parents interested in exploring that option. The book is available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. The reviews to-date have been very good.

Book Review: Volleyball Drills for Champions

Published in 1999, Volleyball Drills for Champions is a collection of chapters authored by some of the more prominent US collegiate coaches (current and past). Each author (or in two cases a pair of them) focuses on one particular subject area: Serving, Passing, Setting, Attacking, Blocking, Digging, and Drill Design.

Right at the beginning of the book is a handy guide listing all the drills included. The 2-page table includes the primary and secondary skill(s) covered by the drill. It also includes how many players it incorporates and how many balls are required. This makes for a nice quick reference for a coach looking to develop a practice plan.

Each primary skill chapters averages 12 drills. The drill descriptions include a:

  • Purpose describing the intention of the drill
  • Procedure outlining the execution of the drill
  • Key Points to help both the coach and player focus on desired outcomes
  • Variations discussion to make the drill more or less challenging or focused
  • Equipment Needed section listing the requirements for running the drill.

At the beginning of each section is a couple of pages worth of preliminary material. This is where you find the variation from different contributors. Some of the sections are technical while others are more philosophical. One of the short-comings of this arrangement is that where things get technical there are no visuals.

There are a few dated references in some of the discussion. This is understandable. The book was published before the introduction of rally score in US collegiate volleyball for more than deciding games. None of these references, though, have any real impact on what is being talked about in the text.

The bottom line is this is a drill book intended to act as a reference source. You will no doubt be familiar with some or many of the drills. That doesn’t devalue the book, though. My experience is that coaches forget about drills not used in a while. It’s nice to have a refresher for those times when you need to change things up or are working with a different caliber of team or player.

Along the same lines, the intros to each of the drill sections are quite useful. They are brief (as is the last section on designing drills), but act as reminders of the key coaching points for each skill. Some even provide a bit to think about in terms of how you approach a given facet of the game with your team. For example, will your focus be on aggressive serving or minimizing errors?

Overall, I’d say Volleyball Drills for Champions is a pretty good reference to have on your bookshelf.