Archive for Volleyball Coaching

Coaching Log – September 19, 2016

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

Monday

Before practice we talked with the players about improving how we play on the second day. Now that we’re heading into conference play, it’s not something we can afford. We asked the players for their impressions why we came out flat in our first match on Saturday.

This was mainly a fairly slow-paced session. Aside from the warm-ups and a bit of serving, it was entirely a 6 v 6 practice. The biggest part of that was an offense vs. defense game where the ball stopped after the initial attack. The focus was mainly on serve reception technique, which is something we want to see improved. The replay camera was set so the receivers could look at themselves each time they passed. After that we played an out-of-system game.

Tuesday

In evaluating four of our recent matches I realized that our kill % on perfect passes in serve receive was surprisingly low. It was only 35%, which is a lot lower than most guessed when I asked. Part of that comes from the fact that we’re still developing parts of our attack. Another part comes from the fact that we don’t do a lot of work in practice on perfect pass situations. Many of our games are transition and out-of-system oriented. And even when we’re initiating with served balls, we’re encouraging our players to serve aggressively. As a result, we don’t have great passing in training.

That being the case, we decided to go through the reception rotations one by one. In each rotation the team had to get five first-ball kills out of ten. Any rotations which failed were repeated at the end. It was slow, and low intensity, but something we needed to do to help identify the best options and decisions.

Wednesday

We continued to work on perfect pass offense and problem rotations, but at a much higher intensity level. As a warm-up, we did a down ball version of the Cooperative Cross-Court Hitting drill. The players did a serving warm-up after that, followed by a serving and passing game.

After that it was 6 v 6 play. First up was a variation on the Bingo-Bango-Bongo game. In this version a team received a free ball. If they won it, they received a down ball from the opposing Zone 4. If they won that, they received a final ball through Zone 2. Winning all three balls earned the team a point. If at any point the team lost a rally, the other team received a free ball to restart the sequence. Thus, it was basically a near-continuous play game. In all cases, the balls were initiated by the opposing team. By that I mean if a free ball was required to go to Team A, we tossed a ball to Team B to send it over. If no one won a point for too long, we rotated players around. Otherwise, we made the switches at each point win.

We then played 22 v 22, and focused on Rotation 1 and Rotation 6. Those are the problem ones up to this point. A team automatically won the big point on a first ball kill, either off serve receive or in transition.

Class schedules cause us to lose players late in this practice. That being the case, we finished playing Winners 5. It featured fixed setters and three teams of four. Each team had a middle, who attacked front row. The other three were back row only players.

Thursday

The main part of practice was 6 v 6 playing first a wash game, then a standard game with bonus points. In the case of the former, the game featured alternating serves. To win a big point, a team had to win two rallies in a row. We played 3-point games and went through four different rotations. In the last game the bonus points were for off-speed shot kills when in-system. It’s something we don’t do enough of, so we want to start encouraging it more.

After practice (and showers for the players), we had a sports psychologist come in to talk with the team. He went over some personality-based communication stuff, cycling back to his work with the squad in Spring. The majority of the time, though, was focused on mindset elements.

Friday

This was our first Lone Star Conference match. We hosted the University of Texas, Permian Basin (UTPB). UTPB is a new member of the conference this year. The coaches and sports info folks picked them to finish last in the league this year in the preseason poll. We were picked to finish second to last, so this was a match-up of the two teams least expected to reach the conference tournament.

MSU Ligon

We won 3-0. The first set was pretty straight forward. We let them creep back up late, but won 25-19. Our offense wasn’t great (.161), but there’s was worse and we had four aces. The second set was more challenging. They got on top early, with a 5-1 lead. We clawed back fairly quickly, but it nip-and-tuck from that point on, and we didn’t really get on top of them until the very end for a 25-23 win. Our hitting wasn’t any better, and their offense improved some.

The final set started off like Set 2 with them putting pressure on us – particularly in reception with a few tough serves. They were ahead 9-13 at one stage. After that, though, we ran away with it to win 25-16. We hit .304 on the set, despite getting blocked number of times, while they hit .000.

It was the best match of the year so far for our MBs. Both hit over .400. As a team our kill rate was 47%, which is solid. Just made a few too many errors, though, so only ended up at .198 for the match.

Nice to get the first conference win under our belt after the team went 0-16 last year.

Saturday

In our second match of the week we hosted West Texas A&M. They ended up 4th in the preseason poll, after a 7th place finish in 2015. This is a team that dominated the LSC for several years before running into injury issues last season.

This was a winnable match, but we were lacking on the mental side of things. One of our issues with previous Saturday matches was not coming out with good focus. That showed up in poor serve receive passing. In this case, though, that wasn’t the issue. We passed a 2.11 for the match, which was one of our best on the year so far. We had them under pressure as well, as they only passed a 1.75. The mental issues this time were on other areas. Several balls didn’t get played on defense because players weren’t expecting the ball. Balls to be set fell between players. We made some poor decisions.

As the opposing coach said after the match, both teams had pucker spells. We ended up going down in four: 25-21, 26-24, 26-28, 25-18. The result might have been different had we managed to hold on to a 20-16 lead in the second set.

Funny match. Neither team could stop the other very well out of serve receive the first set. Then in the second, neither team could sideout very well.

A nice bright point in the match was the play of our freshman OH. She’s been mainly used as a back row sub so far, but had to start this weekend because our red shirt junior is sidelined with an injury. She was probably our best hitter on the match overall.

Observations

One of the positives of the seasons so far has been the recognition by just about everyone internally how far the team has come. We got some external affirmation of that this weekend. One of the opposing coaches said to us after the match, “You guys are going to be f—ing good!” It’s a funny thing to get that kind of external comment. Internally, our tendency is to see developmental needs.

Coaching Log – September 12, 2016

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

Monday

This was a shortish, fairly technical practice. We talked about stats from the weekend, in particular the comparison of hitting effectiveness of different types of sets (see last week’s post). We also gave them some time to write in the journals their thoughts on our generally poor first sets. The plan was to actually talk about it on Tuesday.

We said this week’s focus is making improvements. The blockers worked on getting better net penetration while the liberos and smaller setters worked on defense. After that we mixed players up in a couple of serve & pass and middle transition stations. The setter-middle connection was a big focus for the week.

Next up was the Continuous Cross-Court Digging drill, which we put in for the first time. We had the players hit, which I also did at Svedala. It would have been better to see some stronger swings, but it was the first time running it, so it was fine. The point was to work on control digs better, especially on balls not hit directly at the player. Player hitting creates a higher degree of randomness.

We finished up with 6 v 6 play, with bonus points for an ace or 1-pass for the serving team, and 3-passes for the receiving team.

Tuesday

First up was a session watching video from the weekend. It was an opportunity to focus on a few things, and for the players to confirm that we just need to be better in certain areas. By that I mean no major overhauls are required to get where we want to go. After that we talked about the slow start issue. The general conclusion seemed to be that the 4 minute and 5 minute pre-game segments aren’t getting the job done. Players aren’t feeling physically ready, and if anything are mentally frazzled. Adjustments will be made.

The biggest single focus of practice was the connection with the middles. We played a couple of games where scoring was driven by effective middle attacks (e.g. bonus points for MB kills). More technically, we did some work on digging balls outside the body line, which is something we identified as an issue over the weekend.

One of the more interesting things we did was a dig-or-die back row game.

Wednesday

The focus on the setter-middle connection remained a theme for this practice. After doing some serving to begin, we once more split the team into stations, with one working on serve & pass and the other working on middle attacks. After that, we repeated the dig-or-die back row game as a prelude to playing 6 v 6.

Our starting OPP has to leave early on Wednesdays, so the first game we played awarded bonus points for right side and in-system back row kills. After that, we repeated Tuesday’s bonus game with respect to middle hitter attacks. In particular, because we wanted to develop the slide, we gave two points for a kill on that set.

Overall, we were quite happy with the middle offense. Our freshman setter took a while to lock in on going for the bonus points, but she eventually got there.

Thursday

We started practice off with some 2-touch games as a warm-up. After that, we progressed to our new pre-match warm-up routine for the 4 minute and 5-minute parts. They still needed to get smoothed out a bit, which we hope would happen during the tournament.

The rest of the session was 6 v 6 game play. First we did a game where they were only allowed to set back row in-system, and only the pins out-of-system. After that, we played 22 v 22, with the rule that if a team won the initial rally via a middle attack they immediately won the big point.

Friday

The day’s first match was against Fort Lewis from the Rocky Mountain Conference. Our focus with the team on getting better starts seemed to help. We didn’t have a perfect first set, but we did win, 25-22. We were behind late in the second, but came back to win 28-26, hitting a solid .298 with 20 kills. Fort Lewis failed to recover and we jumped out to a big lead in the third. A slip in focus toward the end, though, allowed them to narrow the gap some, but we still won 25-20. Serving in the match was very solid. We only had 3 aces, while missing 11, but put the opposition out-of-system consistently.

The second match of the day was against Dallas Baptist from the Heartland Conference. This was the team, going in, we thought would be our strongest competition. On the day, at least, they probably were the better of the two teams. We rolled out to a pretty easy first set win, 25-16, keeping DBU to -.050 hitting. There was a LONG officials delay at the start of the second set, which may have impacted our performance somewhat. Things got a bit sloppy and we ended up losing 21-25. Things turned around in the third, though it was still tight. We managed a 25-22 win. Our serve was really on form in the fourth set, and we rolled to a pretty easy 25-19 win.

Saturday

The first match of the day was against  St. Edwards from the Heartland Conference. Unfortunately, this was not a good match. We didn’t come out well. It was quite a bit like last weekend in terms of passing poorly and making a lot of mistakes. We managed only six kills in the first set, against seven hitting errors. Things improved dramatically after that. We won the second set, but it remained a struggle the rest of the way and we lost in four.

Our final tournament match was vs. Southeastern Oklahoma State from the Great American Conference. In stark contrast to the first match, we jumped on this team with a relentless assault from the start, hitting .438 in the first set with 19 kills. Things cooled off considerably in the second set, but our block/defense kicked in to allow us to win. The offense returned to form in the third with even better defense, and we won going away.

Observations

The Rocky Mountain and Heartland Conferences are both part of the Division II South Central Region. That also includes the Lone Star Conference, which is the one we play in. That means our matches against those teams counted toward our regional rankings. At this writing, the first set of regional rankings for the year have not been posted. They will eventually be updated here.

We didn’t really do much in the way of video prep for this tournament. We showed the setters some footage of three teams, but that was it. We’ll do more moving forward.

All in all, it was a good tournament in terms of our development. In particular, the middle attack was much improved. It’s a long way from being where we want it to be, but the progress was clearly evident.

That’s it for the pre-conference action. Now on to Lone Start Conference play!

High school block and defense

This is the time of year when many coaches are problem-solving with there teams. Here’s one of them via a recent email.

Hi, I coach a varsity high school team. We are not very good at blocking. I am wondering if there are drill to work specific timing, and/or what defense would you suggests for weak blockers?

There are a couple of elements involved here. Let me try to address each.

Not good at blocking

Saying you’re not very good at blocking is a little too broad. That could mean we’re a short team, or it could mean we have technical problems. The request for a drill to work on timing tends to suggest the latter is what this coach is worried about. Since I can’t really help a coach with a short team, I’ll talk training ideas.

Unfortunately, timing isn’t a mechanical issue. You can’t break it down into positioning or movement patterns. It’s basically a decision based on judgement of the hitter’s attack. As such, there isn’t a drill to fix it. Players have to develop timing by blocking against hitters, and any drill or game where that happens will do.

The real issue is feedback, which is where coaching comes in. You have to first make the blocker understand they are not jumping on time, and then work with them on reading the cues to improve that timing. For the former, video is a very good tool. Set up your camera (a tablet will do) and either record them or use one of the video delay apps.

Recognition of block mistiming might be enough to fixed the problem, but if it isn’t you have to train your blockers how to judge the timing. That means knowing the hitter’s hitting power, seeing how far they are off the net, and reading the play to know if the hitter is likely to attack aggressively or use a shot.

Defense behind a poor block

The point of back row defense is to have players where the ball is most likely going. It’s a probability game, plain and simple. Yes, there are read based adjustments, but those are based on starting points and general areas of responsibility. This basic idea does not change based on block quality.

What does change, however, is placement of defenders. The block takes away a certain part of the court – or at least it’s meant to do that. The defense then is positioned around it in the areas attacks are likely to go. If your block is ineffective, though, you need to shift your defenders.

So that leaves us with a question: At your level of play, if there were no block, where would the hitters most likely hit the ball?

Answer that question and you have the answer to how to arrange your defense.

Coaching Log – September 5, 2016

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

Preseason has ended. School’s started. Now the real fun begins!

Monday

We started by getting the players to think about their own personal objectives and values. This will feed into the goal setting they do in conjunction with their upcoming individual meetings.

Practice began with a 4 v 4 cooperative downball, then jumping attack, drill. That was followed by target serving, after which we split the primary passers and the setters and MBs. The former did serving and passing with a specific focus on seam management. The latter focused on transition patterns for the middles.

We went on from there into a couple of 6 v 6 games. The first continued work on transition play. One team was given a pair of free balls to initiate a controlled attack to the other side (diggable balls). That was followed by a serve by the attack-receiving team. We kept track of how many off the attack-receive points were won by that team. If they then won the serve rally they would get that rally point, plus the other points. Otherwise, they got zero. That means they could earn between 0 and 3 points. After the serve rally the sequence was repeated for the other side, then both teams rotated. We played to 15.

The other 6 v 6 game was a standard one, but with a bonus. We gave them 3 points for winning a rally lasting at least 4 trips of the ball across the net. Unfortunately, only one rally went long enough for a bonus. It was a really good one, though.

Tuesday

We started with narrow court cooperative 2 v 2. There were four players on each side which swapped in and out each time the ball crossed the net. The first objective was 8 consecutive balls back and forth with good 3-touch execution, finishing with a down ball. They then moved up to doing 6 reps with a jump-and-swing.

From there we progressed to competitive 4 v 4 play – still narrow court.

Next was 5 v 5 v 5. One team of 5 served both sides. They got a point for aces and 1-passes, but lost points on missed serves. The other teams set up with 3 back row players and two front row. Initially, that was MB + RS vs. MB + OH, but we did a second round with just pin hitters. The two teams on-court earned points from rally wins, and the winning team received the next serve. The teams rotated through and cumulative points were kept.

From there we shifted to 6 v 6, using a version of bingo. Each team had two ways to score bingo points, which we changed halfway through the game. We kept two scores – one for bingo points, the other for normal rally points. The latter defined game length. The most combined points won.

The next game was 6 v Sixes. That’s where one side is fixed and receives every serve. The other side rotates players through on each new serve, based on the server’s position. That was played for time before mixing up the players on the fixed side.

Lastly we played dig-or-die. That’s game where points are scored in normally fashion, but if a team fails to at least touch a defensive or hitter coverage ball, they lose all their points. Rallies start by alternating down balls over the net. A front row/back row switch is made about halfway through.

Wednesday

We started practice by going through our pregame warm-up routine. We’ve done this a couple times now, but just wanted to make sure things go as smoothly as possible come Friday’s first official matches. Of course, the pregame warm-up is rather long, which means it ate into practice time. We played 6 v 6 almost the whole rest of the session, though.

In a continuation from what started on Tuesday, we shuffled around variations of what might be the weekend starters. I kept hitting stats to look both at individual hitter performance and to take a collective view with respect to setters.

Thursday

We traveled to Topeka, KS for our first road trip of the season. After a quick meal upon arrival in town, we had an hour long court session at hosts Washburn University. Unfortunately, one of our players got an ankle injury during the session. That’s the first of the year, so far.

Friday

Our first match of the day was against Pittsurg State from the MIAA. They were second from bottom last year, so not the strongest of opposition. We got off to a slow start, losing 25-18. We made a personnel adjustment at outside hitter going into the second set, and proceeded to win the next three sets rather easily: 14, 13, and 15. After a very weak start, our offense came on very strongly, with a hitting efficiency in the last two sets about .400.

The day’s second match was against hosts Washburn, who finished 4th in the MIAA last season and ended the year #18 ranked. This year they start #16 in the polls. In other words, a tough match. The first set reminded me of the Exeter women against Northumbria in the 2014 BUCS semifinals. We just got totally blitzed, 25-6.

The players recovered well, though. They were more aggressive and confident, in particular in serve. We didn’t get any aces, but we went from serving 1.2 in the first set to serving just shy of 2.0 in the latter two. It totally changed the complexion of the match. Washburn still won in three, but the last two sets were 25-19 and 25-23. We could have actually won the third. We went from hitting -.217 to .297 to .361 while taking them from .625 to .314 to .135. The loss of the third was probably because we had a few too many service errors (7).

Saturday

It was an early start, with our first match at 9:30 against Emporia State. They finished #8 in the MIAA last season. We felt we could win this one based on what we saw the day before. Our start was poor, however. We didn’t pass well at all in the first two sets (both below 1.8), so of course we didn’t hit well either. In the second set we were only 24% in sideout. The result was a pair of losses, 25-17 and 25-13.

We swapped setters for the third to give our freshman a chance. Things turned around from there. We won the next two sets fairly easily, 25-16 and 25-19. Unfortunately, we struggled a bit in the 5th, and lost 15-10.

The final match was against Missouri Western, who finished 5th in the MIAA last season. They are a solid team (received votes in the Coaches Poll), though not quite at Washburn’s level. We returned to the prior starting setter to begin, but once more suffered from a poor first set. After that, we put the freshman back in. We didn’t serve nearly aggressively enough in either set. As a result, they sided-out easily. It was 93% in the second set! We lost the first two 15 and 14.

Serving was much better in the third set. Our defense and block performed much better as a result. We still lost the third, 25-23, though, because of a few too many attack errors.

Observations

First let me talk about the competitive level. Obviously, we will not really focus on stuff like RPI this year as we rebuild the MSU team. Still, four matches against teams in a strong conference (4 teams currently ranked, and one just outside the Top 25) can’t help but provide an RPI boost. That’s unlikely to impact us at all in terms of this year’s post-season. A year-over-year rise in the overall rankings is the sort of thing external evaluators like to see.

Now to talk about the offense. One of the major observations on Friday was the massive difference in performance between when we spread the attack and when we did not. In both matches the vast majority of balls in the first set went to the outside. Not surprisingly, they struggled to be effective. Once we shared the ball around better, the OHs were much more successful.

Our biggest offensive issue was in the middle. At times it went well, but too often the connects were just off. Some of it was hitters not going fast enough. Some of it was inaccurate sets. Slides, in particular, were just not on at all. This will need work.

We also needed to get the right side more involved on Saturday.

Passing wasn’t bad overall for the tournament, but especially on Saturday we had too many 2-passes an not enough 3s. Defense was solid when we got teams out of system, though we need to do better digging harder balls outside our body line.

Bottom line is we got exactly what you hope to get out of your first tournament – to try a few things, see how the team performs in different situations, and get a clearer view of your developmental needs. Importantly, I think the team saw what sort of things they need to do to be successful. Now we just have to reinforce that.

On player communication

In his post Calling For The Ball – What If?, Mark Lebedew makes a counterpoint argument to a post of mine. I wanted to continue that discussion.

Calling the ball challenge

The post in question is Getting young players to communicate and move. In it I talk a bit about some ways to encourage players – especially new players – to talk to each other. In his article, Mark makes the very valid point that another level of training needs to come in as soon as multiple players are on the court. Namely, there must be a shift from the technical aspect to the organizational one.

In other words, we have to coach the players on their areas of responsibility. Mark’s argument is basically if player’s already know which ball is theirs, they don’t really need to talk to each other about it. Are we doing a good enough job of coaching that from the early stages of player and team development?

Serve receive is where this is probably most often considered, though it applies to the transition phases as well. It’s a question of seam management. Who gets the short ball? Who gets the deep ball? Which player takes second ball if the setter digs the first?

Actually, on that subject, I’m curious to hear the rules coaches use with their teams in this regard. Please leave a comment below with your own philosophy, in particular with respect to seams.

Pushing back

I’m going to push back at Mark in a couple of areas.

First, he’s got a quote from a colleague about a group of 14-year-old girls trying to come to a unified decision and how long it takes. I get the idea that’s trying to be put forth, but it’s a poorly constructed argument. Complexity, and thus time, increases exponentially as the number involved increases. It is not reasonable to compare a group decision, which likely is under relatively little time pressure, to a 2-person decision made when time is very much a factor.

The other thing I will push back against is Mark’s end note comment, “A team should be structured in such a way that all areas and phases of the game are covered and that players have specific roles in each situation that provide the BEST outcome for the team.”

I don’t know if technically volleyball has an infinite number of potential scenarios, but it’s for sure a very large number. We cannot possibly have a plan for every one of them. Yes, for standard situations we certainly can, and should. It’s when things veer away from standard that the need for what I will call “responsibility communication” (calling “Mine””) comes in to play. This mainly comes into play when players are not fully aware of the position or situation of their teammate(s).

It’s not just about responsibility

I’ve written about this before, so I won’t go into it too deeply here. I’ll just say that communication between players isn’t just about defining responsibility. In fact, I’d venture to say it’s not even mostly about that – largely speaking to Mark’s point about players knowing which balls are theirs and which aren’t.

Teaching Volleyball Log – Fall 2016 Initial Entry

Part of my duties as Assistant Coach at Midwestern State University is teaching volleyball via an activity class offered through the Exercise Physiology department. I should note the head coach also teaches an Ex-Phys class each semester. You see this type of set up in the lower NCAA divisions. It’s how some athletic departments fund full-time coaching positions.

I teach two 1 hour and 20 minute sessions per week. The schedule is set to avoid conflicts with practice and/or team travel.

First day teaching volleyball

Today I started my first class. Whether I was going to do so was an open question for a while. I only have eight registered students. Technically, that’s below the normal cut-off. Apparently, however, the Provost decided to run the low-enrollment activity courses regardless.

Get this. I have a Grad Assistant!

Definitely didn’t expect that. She’s got some volleyball experience, so she can mix in with the students as needed.

I have seven females students and one (short) male student. The latter has apparently played some beach volleyball, but clearly hasn’t had much in the way of training. The women, though, all indicated at least high school experience.

After taking care of the admin stuff (syllabus, expectations, etc.) I spent the rest of the class just going through skill activities to see where they’re at. Not surprisingly, ball-control is an issue. At least they mostly have the right mechanical sense, though.

Moving forward

Now that I have a sense for their current level, I can better think about how to progress the on-court side of things.I told them that at times I would set up the video we use in team practice so they could see themselves in action.

I also need to work on off-court volleyball knowledge – history, current events, etc.

At some point I’m going to have to develop a plan for the midterm, which isn’t going to be a written test. It’ll be more game oriented – including knowledge games.

Future log entries

I’m not sure how frequently I’ll update this teaching log. I was originally expecting to be working with real beginners, which would have made for an interesting change from my normal coaching. That won’t really be the case here, except perhaps for the one male student. Still, I can see the value in reporting on the types of games and drills I use. Maybe I’ll do weekly updates as with my coaching log. We shall see.

Coaching Log – August 29, 2016

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

Monday

The day started with weight training.

Our theme for the day was block/defense. Specifically, we wanted the players reading, reacting, and going for the ball.

The morning session started with cooperative cross-court hitting. That progressed to backrow 4s played Speedball fashion. We then had them do some target serving for the first time, after which the passers did a sever & pass session while the MBs and setters worked on their connection. Next was some hitters vs. blockers. We finished with two games. One was an out-of-system game where we had two pin blockers in 2 and 4 on each side, plus back row players in 1 and 5. Sets had to go to the pins, so there was always a firm double block. We finished up with 6 v 6 having each side serve 3 balls before rotating. A team got a bonus point for a first ball sideout.

As has been typical, we did a lot of game play in the second session. We did, however, have one servers vs passers game where we focused the camera on the passers for instant feedback.

The day ended with a team discussion about season goals. They came up with a group of outcome goals (where we ended the season), as well as several process goals (things we will do along the way to get there).

Tuesday

We started the morning session off with a serving warm-up and then some zonal target work. After that, they played a competitive version of the cross-court hitting drill. We did some servers vs. passers games, and also a Neville Pepper like game where the fixed team tried to score via back row attacks. It probably wasn’t the best way we could have done that, all things considered.

We did a pair of 6 v 6 games to finish. The first used a combination of normal rally scoring and points for passes. Teams earned points for winning rallies, as usual. They also earned points for serve reception passes – 2 for a 3 pass, 1 for a 2 pass. He’s the catch. If they were aced, their accumulated pass points went back to zero. The game was played to 25. The final game featured bonus points for digs (or free/down ball passes) to target.

Between sessions we had Picture Day. Yay!

Our afternoon session was a somewhat shortened one. We had the players play Brazilian 2-Ball tennis (something my Svedala team did regularly), then had a Servers vs. Passers game. That was followed by an out-of-system game. We finished up playing an old-school sideout scoring game to 15 to put a bit of onus on siding out.

The day ended with a Fall Sports Kick-off event which combined volleyball with the two soccer teams.

Wednesday

The day started with weight training. We had no morning training as the team did some youth work in the community. In the afternoon we scrimmaged at a local junior college. Not surprisingly, the results were mixed given it was our first external competition and we used a variety of line-ups. The teams split the four sets played, though we held the edge in points.

On the plus side, our serve reception was solid. It wasn’t the 2.3 the team targeted as their goal, but it was a respectable 2.15. And it was consistent. I think only one of our primary passers was below 2.0, and even then just barely. To be fair, the other team didn’t serve all that aggressively, though they were solid in terms of targeting.

In the mixed category was our offense. The sets to the MBs were a bit erratic in height and tempo, though we still high for a high efficiency. Over all we were at about 40% kills, which is good, but were were also at about 20% errors, which is not so great. Some of that was poor decision-making, but some of it was just being aggressive. We’ll take that as this stage. Actually, the fourth set really pulled the hitting numbers up. In Set 1 we hit about .125. It was a little over .200 in Set 2, then dipped back down to about .165 in the third. In the last set we were just shy of .400. Overall, one of our OHs hit .400 for the match, which is great. We also ran an effective back row attack.

In the could be better category was our defense. Mainly, that was about block placement and reading/anticipation. Things, especially in terms of the block, got better as the match progressed. We need to get much better in picking up the cues from the other side of the net and adjusting, though.

Thursday

We started the morning session with a discussion of the Wednesday match. We wanted to see how the players felt they did, not just in terms of their play, but also in terms of the off-court attitude and energy. Of course we also talked about taking what we learned and moving forward.

The session itself had reading and anticipation of the main themes. We used Brazilian 2-ball once more as a first warm-up activity. After that, it was some target serving. Then we split into two groups. I took the setters and middles to work on slide and 1-ball connections, which were an issue in the scrimmage. The rest did serving & passing games. They then played back court 2 v 2 (half court – 8 simultaneous games). After that it was 6 v 6. First, we played a game where one side was only allowed 2 contacts (3 if it was a really scramble) to increase the speed at which balls came back at the 3-touch side and to encourage more anticipation. We finished with a straight 15-point game.

The afternoon session started with work on our pre-match warm-up routine. We did part of it before Wednesday’s scrimmage, but wanted to smooth out the rough spots in especially the full court portion (NCAA women do a 4-4-5-5-1 protocol). After that it was all game play. We repeated the 2-contact game from the morning with a change in it’s structure. I like the effect it seemed to have on getting the team to read better and anticipate more. We’ll probably keep doing it.

We also did a kind of controlled entry initiation game. The idea was to replace coaches on boxes hitting at players to start transition play with live hitters to make things more game-like. It’s something we need to iron out a little bit, but it could be be useful to work on transition play. We ended with a normal game to 25.

Friday

The day started with weight training once more.

The first session was a little slow in the early phases. We had them do some short-court games to start, then shifted to doing a bit of technical work on blocking. The main focus there was wing blocker positioning. Competitive cross-court hitting was next to bring in game play, and that progressed into some offense vs. defense. We finished with a regular game, but with the players getting whistled for not getting to defensive base, leaving too early, and/or failing to cover their hitters.

The final session of pre-season was all about competition. We put the players into two teams and played a series of games (though the three middles shuffled around, as we’ve had them do the whole time).

Saturday

No training. The players had to attend mandatory Life Skills sessions during the evening.

Sunday

Off day.

Observations

I think overall we’ve been pretty pleased with how things have gone up to now. There was a little bit of an internal conflict flare up midweek related to playing time and fitness tests, but it seems to have been smoothed out. The group ended the week full of energy and positivity. Obviously, we’re a long way from where we want to be. There are a lot of rough patches in our play that need to be sanded down, which is to be expected in what is still a pretty young team. We can see the glimpses of what we’re capable of, though, and some of it is really exciting.

Substitution strategy when winning big

During their 2016 Olympic semifinal, the USA men got out to a huge lead over Italy in the third set. I wrote about the idea of coaches on the losing end of blowouts like that subbing out players to give them a break. Italy did exactly that. The likes of Zaytsev and Jauntorena were pulled out midway through the set.

This sort of strategy is something you see in high level professional volleyball. You also see it at the international level.

Interestingly, though, you don’t see it very much (if at all) in American volleyball. I’m talking about college volleyball and about the national teams.

Maybe that reflects an American mentality to always keep fighting. Maybe it’s just a certain lack of sophistication.

I’ve already written about the reasons for following this kind of substitution pattern. Here I want to focus on the other side. By that I mean the dominating team. I’m not talking about when you are clearly the much better team. I’m talking about when you’re in a match with a roughly equal competitor.

Countering the substitutions

If you watched the Italy – USA match, you saw Zaytsev rip off a string of service points at the end of Set 4. Did sitting out the latter part of Set 3 contribute to that? Perhaps. We’ll never know for sure.

The question I have is whether it would have been good for the Americans to sub out players like Anderson. You’re up 10+ points and cruising. Is it a good idea to give your top players a breather? You know your opponent is probably going to play better in the next set. Would sitting someone a few minutes improve their level of play in the future, or will it slow them down?

I don’t know the answer to that question.

My feeling is that coaches leaving players in in that sort of situation are making the conservative call. They don’t want to risk losing the set or allowing the other team to develop momentum for the next one. Clearly, the amount of drop-off there is between starter and sub is a factor.

Still, often the conservative call isn’t the right one.

I’d love to hear some thoughts on the subject.

Coaching Log – August 22, 2016

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

This probably won’t be the most detailed of weekly entries. Normally, I’d be filling in my thoughts and observations as the week went along, but all my spare time last week was taken up watching Olympic volleyball!

Our general schedule on training days was to have one session in the morning that finished at 11:00, with a second in the afternoon finishing no later than 5:00. Start and stop times varied from day to day based on what we were doing and how long we planned to run the sessions.

NCAA Division II rules permit no more than 6 hours of activity per day, with at least three hours break between physical sessions. Additionally, you are allowed only 5 hours of physical activity.

Sunday

This was basically a meeting day. We met with the team for about 2 hours to start the process of defining the program and team identity. It was a process we coaches guided via the questions we asked. Beyond that, however, it was the players doing the thinking and talking. The players were broken up into groups of three, then brought back together to share what they talked about.

We went from the meeting to dinner at the house of a local player. Then it was back to campus for the players’ Compliance meeting. After that, they picked up their practice gear.

Monday

The day started with a fitness test – the first part of a 3-part test. This part was the suicide test. Players had to run 5 total suicides with a minute’s break between the two. The objective was to run the first in under 23 seconds, the second in under 24, and the final three in under 25. A player was considered to have passed if their total time was no more than one second over the total allowed time.

Our morning session focused on game play. We did a series of small-sided games to give the players a chance to start the process of working together. It was also a chance for use to do some initial evaluations.

In the afternoon session we started to work on skills – in particular serving and passing.

After the afternoon session we spent about 30 minutes continuing Sunday’s work on team culture.

Tuesday

This day the players did the second of their fitness test parts. This one was a three element jump-rope exercise. The requirement was to do 155 rope skips in a minute. They also had to do 55 cross jumps. Those are ones where you cross your arms over in front of you (left hand on right side, right hand on left side). The final element was 30 double-unders where the player spun the rope under their feet twice on one jump.

Our strength coach introduced the players to a set of pre-hab exercises to be done once or twice a week. The different positions were provided with their own plans.

We had the setters and liberos/DS’s come in early for the morning session to work on individual skills. I ran the setters. My main focus was to take a look at their mechanics and start the process of making corrections where necessary. Later in the day we put the setters together with the OHs to work on the tempo of the outside sets.

The rest of the day was spent working more on individual skills in the morning, and more team stuff in the afternoon. Competitive opportunities were incorporated throughout, however. They came either through competitive drills like servers vs. passers, or via actual games.

Wednesday

This day started with the last part of the fitness test, which was the timed mile run. The objective was 7 minutes. The players were allowed to run it either outside (2 laps around the building) or inside (11 laps around the coliseum stands).

One of the things we identified as a developmental need in the team was being more intentional on first ball contact. To help with that we played a 2-touch game with four players a side. It seemed to have a real impact.

This day we also spent time with the setters and MBs working together on middle sets. There was more serving and passing, of course, to include taking passing stats throughout. As in prior days, lots of competitive opportunities.

In the evening we had a team dinner hosted by a local friend of the program. She had the players watch the following video, with a bit of a discussion afterwards.

Thursday

Not surprisingly, there were some heavy legs and tired bodies for the morning session. Focus was a bit of a struggle for at least a handful of players during the first half of the practice when the tempo was a bit slower. That mostly picked up as things got more game oriented and up-tempo, though.

We continued working on serving and passing, naturally. Our defensive focus increased this day as well. That included blocking, which we’d started working in prior days.

We also worked on hitters attacking the block. This was mainly done via a game where we used extra antennae to create outside attacking zones. Points could only be scored through them.

We gave the players an extra hour between sessions this day, then spent nearly the whole afternoon session in 6 v 6 play.

Again, we spent about 30 minutes continuing our cultural work. That basically wrapped up what we wanted to do in terms of the broader themes.

Friday

The day started with the first weight training session of the year.

The MBs and setters got to do some work together again in the morning session, while the rest worked on serving and passing. This time the focus was mainly on transition attacking.

Another thing we worked on collectively was running faster back row attacks. Importantly, we also worked on running back row attacks only in-system and forcing the ball to the pins when out-of-system.

We continued to collect passing stats off serve reception. On this particular day, however, we encouraged more aggressive serving by allowing players to re-serve if they missed their first attempt. This looked to have a very meaningful negative impact on the passing numbers. Obviously, from a serving perspective that’s exactly the point.

Saturday & Sunday

Days off.

Observations

The first week with a team is always a mixed bag. Some things are better than expected. Some are worse. We were pretty happy with the general level the players were at in terms of their play. That reflects, I’m sure, the fact that many of them were in the area over the Summer, getting some playing time in together. They did a lot of small-sided game type stuff, as far as we were aware.

Of course when you play mainly 3 v 3 and 4 v 4 then the nuances and higher precision of 6 v 6 play won’t be there. Not surprisingly, that’s what we saw.

There are plenty of things we need to work on and sharpen up. We’re in the process of looking at our priorities and seeing where we want to focus our primary efforts. One of the things we’re really pleased with, though, is how competitive the group is. They love to play and they love to compete!