Archive for Volleyball Coaching

Coaching Log – May 8, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

Classes are now over. The players are going through finals this week, then the 2016-17 school year will be over. We did not do any direct work with the team last week as that is not allowed under NCAA rules. That doesn’t mean we weren’t busy, though!

The head coach finally came back to work in limited fashion last week. Her doctor gave her a partial clearance. No physical work, but she can at least now spend time on campus. Good timing since by the time you read this I may have already left for my trip.

Recruiting

We had a couple of recruit visits during the week. Unfortunately, with the team done for the semester, they could not workout with the players. As a result, these were basically campus and facilities tours and meet with the coach type visits.

I also did my final off-campus recruiting trip on Saturday to the North Texas regional Junior Nationals bid tournament. Mainly it was getting one last look at players this club season, though there were a couple new ones on the list.

Fund-raising

The biggest thing I did last week was fund-raising work for our Argentina trip. I attended the weekly meeting of the a local Rotary Club as a precursor to speaking with them in a few weeks about what we’re doing. I also connected with the city’s mayor to see if we could enlist his help. He had the idea to do a speaker-based event. That got us thinking about who from the volleyball community has a high enough profile or credential to not just attract volleyball people, but non-volleyball folks as well.

We also started our month-long clinic series. It runs three evenings per week for four weeks. While that is open to kids from latter elementary school through high school, we find that it draws mainly middle school aged players. The revenue will go toward the trip fund-raising. I don’t think we’ve so far had much cross-over to the paid clinic from the free one we did that I mentioned in my last update, but that’s not a major surprise.

That’s it for 2016-17!

Since the 2016-17 school year is now over, this is the last of my log entries for this year. When I return from Europe, I’ll start a new log for 2017-18.

Coaching Log – May 1, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

This was the final week we could do physical activity with the team. After finishing our five weeks of the non-traditional season, we were back to 8 hours. That mainly meant the players finishing up their strength and conditioning work. This was in the form of testing.

Strength & Conditioning final testing

On Monday they did standing vertical jump reach, and then shifted over to doing power cleans. Interestingly, gains on jump reach were limited. Our strength coach attributed that to how they were looking up while jumping. He thought that limited their reach. On the plus side, though, it looked like basically all the players made personal bests on the power cleans. It was fun to watch the players surprise themselves (at times) and cheer each other on.

On Wednesday they did more jump testing. This time it was broad jump. They then shifted to back squats max testing. I believe our top lifter – a Junior middle – did 250lbs. Thursday morning they wrapped up the testing with approach jumps.

Final practice

Our last practice of the 2016-17 year was 100% games. We had a recruit to mix in to make it 10 players. It started with Brazilian 2-ball volley tennis. After that, we played about 8 minutes of Winners back row 3s. From there we transitioned to narrow court Speedball 3s (fixed setters, teams of 2). Then it was on to 5 v 5. First was alternating 5-point games of 3-up/2-back and 2-up/3-back. We finished with a straight game to 25. Interestingly, both teams opted to play 2-up/3-back.

The whole session was about 90 minutes. Intensity was at a pretty good level. There might have been some lapses in focus, as you’d expect this point in the cycle, but generally the level of play was pretty high.

Administration

The players also had some administrative work to do on the week. All returning players had to complete some online paperwork and have exit physicals. We also had to hand out sheets for them to fill out related to random drug testing. The players must provide the Training staff with their Summer whereabouts. This is so testers can find them, if selected. It’s a pretty intense thing. If a player isn’t where they reported, and thus miss a test, that counts as a fail and means the loss of a year of eligibility. I don’t know what the odds are of volleyball players getting selected for testing (probably low), but the loss of eligibility is a big motivator. On top of that, there was another form related to doing workouts on campus over the Summer.

Of course we continue to work on fund raising and organization for the Argentina trip. We’re down to one more possible team addition for 2017 from a transfer perspective. So that’s still a work in progress. We’ve made our first couple of offers to 2018 recruits and no doubt more will shortly follow.

Radio interview

Late on Friday one of our Sports Information guys came into the office and told me I’d be doing a radio interview on Saturday morning. It was for the local ESPN Radio affiliate in Wichita Falls. This was something that came about after an article about the trip was posted on the MSU website. They do an MSU sports update. My interview was on the back of that.

It wasn’t my first interview, though I hadn’t done one in a while. It went pretty well, I think. We talked about the motivation for the trip and why we opted for Argentina. Of course we also pitched the sponsorship and fund-raising needs.

Free Clinic

On Sunday we ran the first of three free clinics for area kids grades 3 to 6. This is part of the outreach project our Graduate Assistant is doing to fulfill his CAP III requirements. He went around to all the area elementary schools and gave out flyers. We ended up with 35+ kids, which was a bit more than he actually anticipated. 🙂

We’re hoping these kids will eventually take part in our paid clinics and camps, and become part of our Ponies in Training program (our mascot is a Mustang).

Coaching Log – April 24, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

This was the last week of our non-traditional season. That means our last week where we could put in a total of 20 hours. Unfortunately, that was cut a bit because we had the annual year-end sports banquet on Wednesday when we would otherwise have had team practice.

The major development influencing things was the birth of the head coach’s baby late the prior week. Unfortunately, a c-section was required. That means very light duty while she recovers from the procedure. Fortunately, it’s a part of year when the time out of the office doesn’t hurt much. She’ll have plenty of time to get back up to full speed ahead of pre-season.

Still, that means I had to handle the on-campus stuff – coaching and administration. One of those duties was doing a recording for the sports banquet. Sports Information needed me to talk about our nominee for one of the awards. I thought it was just an audio recording, but not so much! They videoed me after a morning beach practice. I had a zip hoodie on. Very stylish! A friend told me I was like Patriots football coach Bill Belichick. 🙂

Not everything is so glamorous, of course. I also had to chase players up about grade checks and doing their year-end physicals. There’s stuff for Argentina planning as well, and getting incoming players sorted out.

Training

Monday’s team practice included a pair of recruits visiting campus. The session was almost completely game play. We wanted to continue the focus on playing the seams, defensive tenacity, playing around the block, and the block being stable.

I had them start out with Brazilian 2-ball as a fun (explained here), competitive warm-up. We haven’t played that in a while. From there it was a progression of small-sided games, ending in 6 v 6. It started with Winners Back Court 3s. From there we shifted to Speedball 3s with the three setters in their own rotation, and everyone else in four teams of two. I opted for narrow court (about 2/3rds) to increase rallies, but to still require defenders to play around the block.

After that we shifted to Winners 4s. This was also narrow court, though a little bigger than the prior game. We made it small enough that two players could just about block the width of the net. The two back court players then worked on playing around the block and in the seams.

Practice finished with 6s. I set it up with one setter playing back row on one side. One of the others set front row on the other side, with the third playing defense in Position 1. We had three pin hitters, plus a DS that we sometimes use as a hitter in training. They split time in two OH positions an one OPP. We played several short games (mainly to 9) so I could flip the hitters and setters and round, and let the DS’s switch between 5 and 6.

Tuesday’s sand sessions followed our regular pattern. That meant a lot of ball-handling, especially in terms of shot control. In support of our indoor focus, we also concentrated a lot of defensive reading. It’s been fun watching the players improve on the sand. When we started, they really struggled just to put the ball in the court when attacking or serving. Now we’re seeing some really challenging serves, legit hard swings, and lots of smart shots. Importantly, that stuff has also carried over into their indoor play, which is the whole point.

Thursday they played their last day of doubles competition in round-robin fashion. Friday was out final indoor team session of the 5-week period. It followed a similar pattern to Monday’s, though with fewer bodies. That mandated 5 v 5 play rather than 6 v 6.

Banquet

The annual sports banquet was about what you’d expect. These events have a pretty standard pattern. We didn’t have anyone win one of the two primary awards, but had several players earn academic recognition. It was actually interesting. Three of our players made Dean’s List (3.50-3.74 GPA on a 4.0 scale), one was Provost’s Honor Roll (3.75-3.99), and three more were President’s Honor Roll (4.0). That’s nearly half the team!

Coaching Log – April 17, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

This, the fourth week of our non-traditional season, was a short one as Thursday and Friday were school Easter Break holidays.

Monday and Wednesday were indoor sessions. The head coach was away getting ready to have her first child, so I ran both. Our focus this week was on the things we highlight during our video session the prior week. Namely, we want to continue relentless defense and improve our seam play. We also want more discipline in our individual blocking so we can better play around it. In large part that means line blockers not reaching out toward the pins.

Both days of practice were heavily game-play oriented, especially small-sided games. We did a serve and pass game focused on the servers attacking seams. We played different types of 3s, and we played 5 v 5 and 4 v 5 variations of different sorts. My feedback concentrated on our focus points throughout.

On Tuesday we were on the sand once more. The head coach’s sister ran both the small groups as a guest coach. She coaches beach at both the college and club level in Southern California. Much of the focus was on shots. Mainly that came from game play.

Away from the court there was lots of admin work to do. Our other assistant was hustling to get recruit visits scheduled while we still have the opportunity for them to work out with the team during practice. I spent much of my time on the Argentina trip planning.

We spent the weekend recruiting at the Lone Star national qualifying tournament. That’s our biggest one of the year. It was two days of bouncing around from court to court to court evaluating dozens of different players. Our focus was 2018, though we did look at a handful of 2019s.

Practice Planning Question – Single skill focus sessions

Volleyball Coach

A question came in from an avid listener of the Volleyball Coaching Wizards Podcast. It was on the subject of practice planning. Here’s the initial inquiry:

I was wondering how you plan mesocycle and microcycles for youth volleyball with 2-3 practices per week?  Would there be any reason to go an entire practice without serving, for example?  I know it’s important not to train athletic abilities back to back but is it true for volleyball specific skills too?  I just think because we only practice 3 times a week there is enough rest between practices that I could work on every skill every practice if I wanted to.  The U17 coach I am assisting this season has “serve receive days” and “defense days” where almost every drill that practice will be centered on whatever skill we are working on that day.  I’m not sure which method is better.

I do agree that fatigue should not be a problem for players when only practicing 2-3 times a week. There might be outside circumstances which challenge that, but generally speaking players won’t have any issues performing all skills each session. I asked for a bit of clarification about what a typical week of practices looks like in terms of skill focus. Here’s the response.

For example on Sunday would be conditioning day where the players spend 30 minutes doing non volleyball specific conditioning – box jumps, squats, etc. and the rest of the practice would be gameplay. Tuesdays would be defense day where the players will play kajima and wash type drills where all drills are initiated from a free ball, no serves.  Thursdays would be serve receive day where players will spend more than half the practice either serving or serve receiving, never playing the rally out.

I think there are a couple things to address here.

Conditioning during practice time

First, if I only have three practice sessions a week, I use them for volleyball. I don’t use them for strength and conditioning work, especially if I’m time constrained. If I’m doing my job they will get plenty of conditioning in practice. If I want to do additional work (like jump training), I do it outside of practice time – preferably on an off-day, if possible. That lets me maximize the time I have on-court.

Also, you need to do more than one strength and conditioning session per week to have any real impact. One very likely isn’t enough.

That said, game play after strength and conditioning is not a bad idea. It’s harder to work on technical skills when already fatigued.

Single skill focus practices

As for the main thrust of the question, I definitely can think of better ways to structure the week’s training. Now, this is not to say you can’t have a single focus for a given practice. You certainly can. That is probably best achieved, however, by concentrating your attention and feedback on that focal point across a variety of activities rather than in just one narrow set.

Let’s use serve reception as an example. Any game or drill that starts with a serve is an opportunity to train passing. That can be something as simple as serving & passing triplets. It could be more of a team serve receive like 8-person serve & pass, or a servers vs. passers game. Moving up the complexity, it can be a team serve receive drill where the ball is dead after the receiving team attacks. And of course there are many games that start with a serve. In the 22 v 22 game one team receives every serve in a single rotation until someone wins.

The fact that every one of those exercise includes serve reception means you have opportunities in all of them to focus on that skill. Your concentration of feedback and coaching is what determines focus more than drill choice. Obviously, the drills must include the desired skill. Beyond that, though, everything is possible.

Structuring skill training over the week

I personally want to have serving and passing in every practice in some fashion. It might not be the focus of that practice, but at least the players are still practicing the skill. This is particularly important when you only have a couple practices each week. I would not want my players going 3-4 days without serving and passing if I can avoid it.

One other point I would make is this.

While serving is the one skill in volleyball that you can train quite well in block fashion because it is closed-chain (completely player initiated), too much of it in one block tends to have diminishing returns. First of all, it can get really boring. Second, fatigue becomes a factor, especially for jump servers. The result of both is a drop off in concentration and effectiveness as time goes on. Better to mix it in throughout when the players are more fresh and can produce higher quality reps. Plus, game-like serving situations are always better than rote serving in terms of preparation for match conditions.

Coaching Log – April 10, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

Three of our five “non-traditional season” weeks done. Two more to go from here.

Recruiting

We had 2018 recruits on campus for both our Monday and Wednesday practices. They were all hitters, which is nice since we have so few in the squad at the moment. No recruiting trips this week, but of course we continued to receive plenty of prospect emails.

In terms of 2017, we still want to add one more attacking player – an older MB or OPP. As it turns out, we may have found one in our own backyard. We’ve had some positive conversations and hope to get a commitment shortly.

Team Training

Monday and Wednesday were once more team indoor training sessions. Both followed a similar pattern to the ones I outlined in my last couple of updates. By that I mean some ball-handling, serving, and passing in the first phase, but then lots of game play after that. The primary focus remains on the defensive side of the game, as well as developing player communication and problem-solving. I once again rain Wednesday’s session.

Tuesday and Thursday continued our beach training. As in prior weeks, Tuesday’s training was in small groups and heavily focused on ball-handling, while Thursday was all doubles play.

We replaced Friday practice with a video session from last week’s tournament. First and foremost, we wanted to let the team see themselves in action. It gave us a chance to reinforce things we have been working on all Spring. Second, it gave some heavy legs a break.

Other Stuff

As always, there’s plenty of other stuff going on. We continue to work on the planning and fund raising for our prospective Argentina trip. The end of the school year is rapidly approaching, which means events like the annual sports banquet. We had to submit award nominees for that. There was some tedious online training we all had to do. The assistant coaches had their monthly meeting with the Athletic Director and the other senior administrators.

Coaching Log – April 3, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

Spring Break has come and gone. We’re now into the “non-traditional season” where we are back to 20 hours per week.

Recruiting

I mentioned in my last update that we are looking to bring in one more transfer player for next season in MB/OPP role. That remains an on-going process, but we may have found someone for the position. Hopefully, more will follow on that shortly.

Looking at the 2018 class, we had another setter in to practice with the team on Friday. With only three more weeks left in our Spring season, we are trying to get in as many good prospects (in all positions) as we can so we can see then in the context of our team.

Team Training

We did not practice on Monday because of the 2-days-off rule given that we were playing on Saturday. Tuesday and Thursday we continued with the sand training – smaller groups doing drills one day, then doubles competition the other. Friday we had a recruit in practice with us, so we dedicated much of the session to working through line-ups and rotations ahead of the next day’s competition.

Wednesday I actually ran the session. The head coach is due to have her baby in the next week or so, and wanted to use the lack of having a recruit working in with us to get the team used to me directing things for when it’s likely to happen later.

My practice plan

I developed the primary structure of the practice plan for that session as well. The focus was to continue the work we’re doing in the beach training in terms of defensive tenacity, reading, and ball-handling.

We started with 3-person over-the-net pepper as a ball-control warm-up. In this version each group has to get 7 consecutive pass-set-X sequences, with only one “wash” allowed. A wash was a rep where they either just kept the ball in play or didn’t execute well enough on their X. They had to do down ball, push-tip, roll shot, and back row attack as their X. So, basically they had four sets of 7 sequences to complete. There was an 8 minute time limit.

After pepper we gave them five minutes of target serving, which we haven’t done in a while. The targets were deep 1 and deep 5. I told them their goal was 7 serves to their favored zone and 4 to the other.

We then played a Servers vs. Passers game. This is one we started using in the Fall. The servers earned points by hitting seams (between players or sideline), but lost them for serves in the net. The passers earn points by good passes. Each round the servers served 5 balls (misses did not count). When a round was complete, passers and servers changed places. They combined their serving and passing scores for an aggregate. We went through twice.

Next up was Player Winners. We did this half court, so had two games going on side-by-side. After each round, the players with the most points on Court B moved up to Court A, and those with the fewest on A moved down to B. Rounds were five minutes long. We played a total of four rounds. The last one ended when one person reached five points.

The last part of practice was 5-on-5 play. We played 5-point games, alternating between 3-up, 2-back and 2-up, 3-back. This was to give our middles a break and to let them play a bit of defense.

Tournament

We hosted a 6-team tournament on Saturday. It featured a trio of area junior colleges along with two other Division II teams along with ourselves. One of the latter was fellow Lone Star Conference member West Texas. We did not end up playing them, though. Instead, we played two of the JUCOs and the other Division II team. It was a schedule that saw us play progressively tougher matches, which was a good challenge. The format was 50-minute rounds. That generally worked out to two full 25-point games and part of a third.

As you do in Spring tournaments, we used multiple line-ups in our matches. There were three of them we rotated among. One was a straight up 5-1. Another was a modified 5-1 where our taller setter played front row and our shorter one played back row. The other was a 6-2 in which our taller setter played OPP when she was front row. This allowed us to mix things up with our three pin hitters, one of whom also played as libero. And of course our one MB had to play full time. We set up an on-off-on-off-on schedule to help keep from running her down.

Overall, it was a pretty good day. Naturally, there’s a list of stuff that we could have done better – some bigger, some smaller. Given our current active roster, there were always going to be some soft spots in our play. We were much better in defense than was the case back during season, though, and generally scrapier in all aspects. Those have been big focus points this term, so it was good to see that playing out against other teams.

It’s worth noting that one of the common themes in the player’s comments after the tournament was communication. They said it was really good on the court. I think this comes from all the non-structured situations we put them in over these last however many weeks. They haven’t had a lot of defined roles and positions. As a result, they were forced to work things out amongst themselves.

Coaching Log – March 27, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

Spring Break has come and gone. We’re now into the “non-traditional season” where we are back to 20 hours per week.

Roster

We had a returning player quit at the beginning of the week, dropping our current active roster to 10. That’s not counting our grad student going only part-time this semester so she will be eligible in the Fall. The departure was unusual in that you don’t often see 2-year starters leave in the middle of Spring, but in the grand scheme of things we were not totally surprised. She said she basically doesn’t love it anymore.

We did get the commitment from the 2017 middle prospect I mentioned in my last update.That gets us up to five incoming freshmen, plus a transfer for the Fall. Obviously, that also helps pick up the slack from our latest departure. The head coach was thinking to bring in one more pin hitting transfer. Now that might be more of a MB/RS type player.

In other news, our top OH from last season finally got a diagnosis on her knee problems. The result is surgery, though not the sort expected to keep her from being ready for the Fall if everything works out.

Schedule

The player who quit was one of our two Middles, which put us in a bind. Our original plan was to play tournaments on March 25, April 1st, and April 22nd. We couldn’t see how that was going to work with just one MB and thin ranks on the pins as well. There aren’t really any rules about line-ups and stuff in the Spring, so our remaining middle can just stay permanently in, but that’s a lot to ask – especially when you add in travel. As a result, we decided to pull out of the first and third tournaments. We’re keeping the one for April 1st, though, as that’s the one we’re hosting. We’ll find a way to make it work – probably by spacing out when we play to give our one MB a break.

Our base plan for the five weeks of our Spring season is to practice Monday through Friday. If we have something on Saturday (like our home tournament) we take one day off to abide by the 2-days-off rule. The team also does strength and conditioning work three days per week.

Team Training

This week we did indoor team practices on Monday and Friday, with beach sessions on Tuesday and Thursday. Wednesday was off. Originally that was because we planned to play in a tournament on Saturday. When we had to cancel that, we scheduled some morning community service hours. So we still needed to give the team the midweek day off.

The beach sessions were of two different sorts. On Tuesday we broke the team into two groups of 5. They did a lot of ball-handling oriented work in the sand for about 90 minutes. On Thursday we just had them play beach doubles. We set up a schedule where most teams played three games to 21, with one team playing four. It was extremely windy, so the players faced real weather challenges aside from having to adapt to the difference surface, the smaller court, etc.

Because we are bringing in so many new players (6-7) in the Fall, we aren’t doing any real team play type work at this point. The focus instead is on ball-handling, improved reading and reacting on defense, and generally becoming more tenacious. The beach sessions are aimed at working in those areas, and we’re taking the same sort of attitude with what we do indoors. That means doing a lot of things like team pepper, serving and passing, and small-sided games.

Weighted pool format for volleyball tournaments

When you are a college volleyball coach you spend a lot of time at Juniors tournaments. Most of them have a pretty standard format. They feature four teams and the progression is such that the top seeds play the bottom seeds in the early rounds. This can make for some pretty lopsided matches. I’d love to see more of a weighted pool format for volleyball tournaments.

What do I mean by that?

In a standard tournament you use a zig-zag or serpentine to fill the pools. It looks like this for a 16-team tournament with four pools.

standard pool format

In this method the top ranked team (1) is the top seed in Pool 1, with the #2 team top of Pool 2, and so on. If you add up the rankings of all the teams for each pool you’ll notice it adds up to 34. That tells you they are about equally competitive – in theory.

There are a couple of problems with this structure, though.

First, the degree of theoretical competition for finishing spots in each pool vary considerably. For example, a 1 v 8 match to decide who wins Pool 1 (assuming other results go to plan) is generally not likely to be as competitive as the 4 v 5 match to decide Pool 4. You can flip that around for the competition for 2nd/3rd place in those pools. An 8 v 9 match is probably a tighter one than 5 v 12. Obviously, how widely split the teams are in terms of caliber has a lot to do with it.

The second issue is progression after pool. A lot of tournaments cross over the top two from each pool for the playoffs. In some cases the others are done, while in other tournaments all the 3rd place teams play each others, and the same with the 4th place finishers. What I see happen is teams end up having a hard time moving in the rankings once they are initially set because they are stuck playing the same competition all the time.

Probably the worst issue with this format is the that top teams might only get one decent match during pool play. Flipping that around, the bottom teams may get beat up in two out of their three pool matches. What’s the point of that? Don’t we want everyone playing as many competitive matches as possible?

The solution: a weighted pool format.

What do I mean by a weighted pool format? I mean instead of setting up the pools equally, as shown above, we weight the pools by rankings. The better teams are in the upper pools and the weaker teams are in the lower pools. The Tour of Texas follows this path based on its qualification procedure.

Here’s an example of what a weighted pool format could look like:

weighted pool format

In terms of playoffs, you could so something like have the top two teams in Pools 1 and 2 go into the gold bracket, the bottom two teams from Pools 1 and 2 join the top two teams from Pools 3 and 4 in silver, and the bottom two teams from Pools 3 and 4 be bronze. Of course there are other ways to work that, and there are other ways to set up the pools. The main idea is to 1) create more in-pool competition for all teams, and 2) get more information for team rankings by seeing teams play more against similar competition.

A weighted pool format may not be the way you want to go for a qualification tournament or something like that. For other events, though, it’s a good alternative to give teams a higher quality experience.