Archive for Volleyball Coaching

Getting volleyball players to talk

I came across an assistant high school volleyball coach looking for advice. It was on the subject of player communication. They wanted advice with respect to both calling the ball and talking with each other on the court. This is a problem coaches of younger and developing players have on a regular basis. As such, I thought it would be worth addressing.

Here’s the scenario presented by the coach in question.

I am a varsity assistant coach at a private, all girl high school and the reason for my post is communication. No one talks. And I mean no one. It is a very small school & an intimate program with hardly any cuts being made. My head coach and I have tried EVERYTHING to get these girls to communicate and nothing has worked so far (except our spike in blood pressure) It is a struggle for us to get some girls to even call the ball, much less chit chat on the court (calling blocks, reading hitters, identifying players on the opposing team) or exude any excitement when they do something great! Being a player myself,

I don’t remember anyone teaching me to talk, we just knew we had to & wanted to. This is a big problem in our program on every level and all of us are stumped (AD included).

Calling the ball

Let me first tackle the calling the ball subject. I think it is probably more straightforward because it’s a pretty well-defined issue. I find a good way to encourage ball-calling is to attach consequences for not doing so. Mainly that means something like not counting a good rep in a drill if the player didn’t call the ball. The trick, though, is making sure it’s being enforced by the person counting. Players can’t let each other off the hook.

Alternatively, you could have some kind of reward for calling the ball. It could be a bonus point, or something along those lines. Whether positive or negative feedback works best in your case will likely depend on the player(s) involved. So-called “away from” motivation (avoidance of something negative) tends to be stronger than “toward” motivation (pursuit of something positive) for most people. It’s not for everyone in all situations, though.

Player-to-player communication

I like to tackle this issue by putting players in situations which inherently encourage communication by the structure of the exercise. At the HP Coaches Clinic I attended back in February, Shelton Collier talked about using “scramble” type games to quickly integrate players. Separately, Steve Shenbaum provided some activities you can use off the court.These, though, operate more from the perspective of getting to know each other by interacting 1-on-1 or in small groups.

There’s a famous – or perhaps notorious – example of this sort of thing in the movie Side Out. It involves the setter calling a number and the hitter replying with half of it as they hit the ball. So if the setter said “10”, the hitter replied with “5.” I’m not necessarily recommending this particular exercise (it was a beach pair using it and there was a bit of extra context), but the idea is there.

My point is, look for ways to introduce a communication requirement into the mix. It doesn’t have to necessarily be in a game-like situation to start. The priority is on getting players talking with each other on the court. Once you develop that foundation, you can go from there.

Let’s go back to the idea of consequences and rewards. A really simple way to get players talking to each other during play is to make it a factor in scoring. If you scrimmage in practice, stop the rally and award the other team the point if the players on one side don’t communicate as desired. Alternatively, give them a bonus point for doing a good job. The change in attitude you see when involving the score might amaze you.

Coaching Log – Aug 14, 2015

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2015-16.

Not too much to report this week. Since I’m in Germany, my interactions with the team and club are back down to pre-England departure levels. There is one piece of news, though.

We’ve officially now filled our allowed three foreign player slots. Recall that we signed a pair of former Washington State players at the setter and middle positions. We’ve now added a former Clemson outside hitter.

From the Clemson website

Mo Simmons was a 4-year starter who accumulated over 1000 kills and 1000 digs in her collegiate career. She was also selected to the USA National A2 squad in 2013, which offers an indication of her ability and talent. Her final season for Clemson was 2013 when she led the ACC in kills/set and scored nearly 600 points. Over the past year she’s been coaching and playing in the PVL. Here’s the story of her signing from the Clemson website.

The combination of Camryn, Chelsey, and Mo gives the team a lot of high level experience as all three come from Power 5 conferences. From that perspective, I think it may be the strongest trio of foreign players the club has ever had. I’m looking forward to getting into the gym in a couple weeks to see what we can make of things.

Adding Mo to the roster gets the squad up to 9 confirmed members. Five are returners from last season (S, MB, OPP, OH, L), and we have a player from the 2013-14 squad returning (L/OH). We have another player who will join the squad from another club pending finding a place to live, another potential returner from the 2013-14 squad, and maybe 1-2 other younger players.

What is this statistic really measuring?

Mark from At Home on the Court once posed a question on Facebook. It went like this:

What does number of transition attacks divided by number of serves measure? If anything.

After a bit of discussion, Mark made the following clarification:

So now I have removed service errors and direct block points. I am left with transition attack attempts divided by number of times the attack gets past the block. What am I measuring now?

So we have this formula:

Transition Attacks / (Opponent Attacks – Blocks – Hitting Errors)

My response at the time was to say that broadly speaking you are measuring dig %. After all, you must dig the ball to get a transition swing. If you consider Transition Attacks to be something other than simply playing the 3rd ball over the net, then you are effectively deriving a “good” dig %. The first requirement of attacking back at the opposition is a settable dig (or, in theory, hittable on 2).

I’d be curious to hear what you would say in response to Mark. Beyond that, though, I wanted to point out the importance with regards to statistics of actually understanding what you’re measuring. It might not be the same as what you think you’re measuring.

A sample weight training program

Here is a sample weight training program currently being used by a men’s professional volleyball team. I present it for your information and maybe to provide some ideas for your own purposes. I’m not suggesting it should be used as-is for your own team.

Each sessions starts with a warm-up of 5 minutes or so on a stationary bike

After that is a series of core and shoulder stability exercises, which vary from session to session. In the case of shoulders, they do three sets of 12 repetitions of a couple exercises with either dumbbells or bands. For the core exercises, is three exercises for 40 seconds each, twice through. Obviously, this is adjustable.

The preparatory phase ends with a leg circuit of leg extensions, leg curls, and calf raises. These are meant as warm-up, so lighter weights – 3 sets of 8.

There are three rotating lifting routines.

A – Cleans, Squats, Bend Press, Low Row
B – 1-arm Rows, Lateral Raises, Chest Butterfly, Curls, Shoulder 8
C – Front Raises, Standing Rows, Triceps Extensions, Forearm Curls, Back Raise

The routines are alternated A-B-A-C-A. The team lifts 5 days per week. The sets and repetitions are adjusted over time.

Beach training for indoor?

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m visiting TV Bühl for the next couple of weeks. The team just started training on Monday. Unfortunately, the club doesn’t have a gym available for the early part of pre-season. It’s a function of the community facility situation vis-a-vis school break.

So what do you do?

In the case, the coaches are making use of some local sand courts. What they did was take some circuits they would have done indoors and do them in the sand. The first circuit included core exercises, shoulder stability, and lower body work. The second circuit focused on volleyball movements. The first comprised 10 stations, while the second had 5 (2 players per station in that case), and they did both twice through. Imagine how much harder doing that sort of stuff is when you have to deal with sand as the platform for pushing off, changing direction, etc.

After that the guys played a 4 v 4 game. As you might expect, that was a bit more fun and serious.

The team begins weight room training this morning, with more sand stuff for evening training. The hope is that we’ll be able to be in the gym by the latter part of the week.

Coaching Log – Aug 7, 2015

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2015-16.

It’s less than a month to go before we start pre-season training at Svedala. The last week has been an interesting one.

The club’s Sports Director posted the full season calendar for everyone to review (though it is subject to some changes still). Along with the league fixtures (see my previous entry on that subject), it includes most of the matches that will be part of what is being called the Öresundsligan. That translates to “Sound League” and includes Svedala, Engelholm, and Gislaved from Sweden along with Amager, Bröndby, and Holte from Denmark. We will count two of our Elitserie league matches each against the other Swedish teams toward the Öresundsligan, and will play each of the Danish teams home and away, which adds 6 matches to the competitive schedule. The Gran Prix, if we qualify, will be the second weekend of January. The final league match will be March 12th, with the playoffs following from there.

Our primary training schedule will be 6-8pm on Monday, 7-10pm on Tuesday, 7:30-10pm on Wednesday, and 5-8pm on Friday, with Thursdays off. We’ll have a couple of Saturday sessions during preseason, and we’ll lose some midweek sessions to matches at times along the way.

We’re looking at playing some preseason friendly matches at a tournament at Bröndby the last weekend of September. The specifics are still being sorted out, though. That’s a week ahead of our first league match, so a good time to get some competition mixed in.

Also on the calendar is a 2-day weekend team building activity the second week of preseason. This is something being arranged by the Sports Director. There is also a 30th anniversary dinner for the club we’ll be attending in October.

Getting to know the players
The young Swedish middle in the squad (who took 2nd in a U19 beach tournament last weekend) has expressed an interest in exploring opportunities in US collegiate volleyball. It’s a bit late in the cycle at this point, but I told her I’d help out with putting together a video, etc. We got together for some video editing last evening.

I met up with last year’s team captain early in the week and had a really good conversation. She’s decided to shift her focus to beach volleyball and to generally cut back her commitment, but expressed an interest in both taking part in training from time to time and in helping out on the coaching side of things. We talked about a lot of different subjects with respect to the club, the area, players, and more. She could be a good resource for me moving forward.

As I mentioned the other day, I went and watched a player-run training session. Only one of this year’s players was there, along with one of last season’s (she’s moving). The rest were from other teams in the club. In the process, I met one of the club’s youth team coaches.

Speaking of other coaches from the club, I also got a bit of a tour around Malmö from the club’s 2nd team coach, who also works with Juniors players. Malmö is the closest city to Svedala. It’s only about 20 minutes away. Unfortunately, we had a car issue and had to be towed back. 🙂

Filling out the squad
I was told that a player I liked for the remaining foreigner spot (OH) is both available and interested. Hopefully, that means we can sign her and get that part of things wrapped up. The last word I got is we’re close.

In terms of the Swedish players, there are still a few open questions. It looks like that could remain the case right into preseason. There’s at least one player I’ve been told is looking to come along to the early trainings and see how things go. It could be more than that. There’s also a couple of other players the club is talking with.

Away for three
That’s just about it for this initial spell in Sweden. On Sunday I head to Germany to spend almost three weeks with Bundesliga men’s team TV Bühl. That’s in southern Germany near Baden-Baden, and not far from the French city of Strasbourg and the Swiss border. You may recall that I spent about a week and a half with them last year at this time. I’m looking at it as a kind of coaching preseason before I get started with Svedala.

Sample volleyball team playing guide

After taking up coaching duties for the Exeter University Volleyball Club in 2012, I realized the need to put together a sort of playing guide. I was dealing with a lot of relatively inexperienced players. I was also working with players from an array of different countries (about 25 all together). The guide was something to give everyone the basic structure in which we’d be playing. With only a couple of training sessions each week, and not much time between the conclusion of tryouts and the start of competition to get things done, it was a way to speed up the process of developing team play.

The guide goes over a few primary areas of focus:

  • Rotation-by-rotation set up for a 5-1 system.
  • Rotation-by-rotation primary serve reception formation (with notes and observations)
  • Rotation-by-rotation secondary serve reception formation (with notes and additional ideas)
  • Additional points of emphasis for serve reception.
  • Diagrams for base defense and notes
  • Diagrams for perimeter (middle back) defense against for attacks through zones 4, 3, and 2
  • Notes and thoughts on defense implementation
  • Free ball and down ball defense

Overall the guide is 9 pages long. Depending on the your team and players, you might find it useful in helping introducing the 5-1 offense and/or the basic ideas of the perimeter defensive system. I think it’s a pretty comprehensive look at things, but because it was written for a specific situation there may be things which are more or less applicable for you and your own team/program.

If you want a copy, fill out the form below.

Volleyball hitter coverage strategy

I had a reader email asked whether I had any volleyball hitter coverage diagrams for both the 5-1 and 6-2 offensive systems.

My personal philosophy on hitter coverage is that the three players closest to the attacker should be the ones doing the close coverage. The two players furthest away have deep cover. Normally, for a set to the left front attacker hitting in Position 4, that is going to look like the diagrams below. The one on the left is for when the setter is front row. The one on the right is for when the setter is back row. Really, though, they are both pretty much the same.

Volleyball hitter coverage for pin attack

The above assumes the middle hitter is running a 1st tempo (quick) in front of the setter. Since the middle is already at the net, the setter moves off the net to fill the area between them. The left back then comes in to cover behind the outside hitter (OH). If the middle is running a slower tempo (i.e. a 2 ball), then the setter goes along the net and the middle and setter coverages are reversed. In both cases, the middle back player and the remaining right side player would split the rest of the court between them in deep positions.

The trick comes when the middle runs something behind the setter – especially the slide. In that case, they are likely to be one of the furthest away from the attacker. That means someone else needs to move in to provide close coverage. The right back player is an option, depending on how close they are to the net.

The diagrams below show the ideal coverages for middle and right side attack. In the former case, it’s quite a bit like defense for a middle attack. In the latter case, it looks like a mirror of what is shown above for an attack through Position 4. There’s one catch, though. Because the setter has vacated right back, the middle back player has to get over to provide the third person in close coverage.

Volleyball hitter coverage for middle attack

All of the above is ideal scenario. Realistically, though, unless you’re playing a relatively slow offense (lots of high sets) you probably won’t see exactly these sorts of configurations happening very often. That’s why I said at the beginning the general idea is for the three players closest to the attack – whoever they may be – to find a good position near the hitter and handle the tight cover, leaving the other two for the deeper areas of the court.

The place where this tends to break down most frequently is with whichever attacker ends up in Zone 2. That could be it the right front player or the middle running the side. For whatever reason, they often get lazy about getting into the coverage.

Another tricky situation is on the middle slide. The setter is, as usual, going to turn and follow their set. The right back comes up to cover close behind. That leaves the left front, left back, and middle back players. One of them needs to try to take the short, with the other two staying deep. If there’s a libero on the court, they will likely be the choice. If you run a pipe attack it factors in to things as well, though.

As for back row attacks, generally speaking I like the front row player closest to where the ball will cross the net to be directly under the block. This is especially true at lower levels where the attack power isn’t that great.

Coaching Log – Jul 31, 2015

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2015-16.

I have to confess that I’ve actually done more relaxing and chilling out over the last week than actual work. That is particularly true of last weekend. After being really wound up in the lead up to the move out of Exeter, it was a much needed few days break. I think this is the longest I’ve gone without posting something to the blog, though I did put up a number of things to the Facebook and Twitter feeds.

There’s still lots for me to do, of course. Just yesterday I submitted a draft of my thesis to my PhD supervisor for review after a couple days working on it in the Svedala library. It’s less than 2 months to when we’re aiming to submit, so a bit of pressure there. I also have some other content type stuff on my to-do list and this little break in things is a good time to get it done.

I met with most of the club’s Board on Monday evening. Basically, it was just an opportunity for them to get to know me since they were not directly involved in my hiring. It was kind of like a group interview in a way. We talked about things like my coaching style and philosophy. The feedback I got afterwards was that they were impressed. Good way to start things off I guess. 🙂

I’ve been told some of the local players have begun doing a bit of training in our main practice gym. I’ll admit to being tempted to pop in on them at some point. I don’t want them to feel any kind of pressure having Coach watching, though. I will try to at least meet up with them at some point before I head off for Germany next weekend, though.

I’ve had both setters post their set terminology in the team’s Facebook group. Not surprisingly, they aren’t the same – and neither matches the sample set diagram I posted a while back. The one the Swedish setter outlined seems to have a mix of naming conventions. We’ll have to sit down and work out a single approach.

We’re still trying to land an OH to fill the third foreign player spot.