Archive for Volleyball Coaching

Accidentally finding a useful new scoring system

Near the start of my second year in England I ran a small training session. It ended up being a trio of players from the Devon team that won South West Championships that year and a quartet of junior aged girls. The skill levels are obviously quite widely separated in a situation like that. As a result, there are limits to what you can do in terms of drills.

We did some fundamental work on ball-handing and serving and passing. Then I moved it to game play. I had the Devon players go against the four girls, playing on half a court to encourage rallies.

Obviously, we’re talking about teams which were quite imbalanced. In order to make things more competitive, I introduced a scoring twist. The young team used standard rally scoring, but the Devon team could only score on kills. Aside from keeping the game more competitive, there were some interesting side effects to using this system.

  1. Devon quickly started serving easily because they could only score if the ball came back over the net. That allowed them to run a transition attack.
  2. Devon started hitting the ball harder. They also attacked the ball from positions they perhaps would not have done so otherwise.
  3. The girls realized quickly that they needed to adapt their defense to deal with more aggressive play. That got them putting up a much more effective block to slow the Devon attack down.
  4. The girls were also freed up to play more aggressively than they otherwise would. After all, they couldn’t lose points for making errors.

The girls ended up winning 25-23. One of the Devon players and I were commenting afterward that the 23 kills they got in that game were more than many teams get in multiple games (even matches at certain levels).

I didn’t have all the side effects in mind when I decided to do that split scoring game. I was just looking for a way to even things out a bit. As I watched the play, though, I could see what was developing and it definitely gave me ideas for how I could use it in other training session.

In particular, one of the issues we had with the Exeter University women’s team in the prior season was putting the ball away. We played very good defense. That let us compete with even the top teams, but we just didn’t get enough kills. I saw that using this kind of scoring system for scrimmage play in practice could be effective in working on more aggressive attacking since there are no consequences for making hitting errors.

Parent decisions on volleyball coaches

An interesting SWVA post derives from a Sports Coach UK piece. The subject was how parents decide about the coaches their volleykids play for, and by extension the clubs they join. The information comes from a parent survey. Unfortunately, they only asked a few people, or they got few replies. I don’t really think 11 responses is enough to draw good conclusions, but let’s go with it.

The article says parents use personal experience and word-of-mouth to judge coaches. This is seen as problematic in that it fails to take into account qualifications.

Now, I can understand why there would be concerns about parents not taking certifications and such into account. This is especially so when governing bodies certify coaches. I would make the following point, though. Having a qualification only means you went through the program to earn it, That may indicate a certain level of knowledge about the sport and about coaching. It doesn’t necessarily mean that person is a good coach, however.

I think it’s totally fair for parents to use word of mouth to learn about a prospective coach for their child. You’d do the same sort of thing for other services, so why not coaching?

The problem comes with parents who don’t know the sport. This is obviously a significant consideration for volleyball in the UK. It’s not a cultural institution. That’s not the only place, though. Even in the US there are lots of parents with little knowledge of the sport. As a result, most parents don’t know enough about the game to understand whether a given coach’s team is playing in a manner which indicates good coaching. This tends to mean choice of club and coach ends up driven by other considerations (cost, location, etc.).

Personally, as much as word-of-mouth can be a very good resource – assuming the data sources are reliable – I think probably the best thing for a parent to do is watch a coach in training as well as in a match situation. This will provide an indication of their temperament, teaching style, and other things not necessarily related to volleyball which parents can assess better than sport-specific stuff.

What are your thoughts?

Volleyball Stretches

In my post about not wasting valuable time in your volleyball warm-up I think I expressed pretty clearly my view on stretching before becoming active. To my mind, we should outlaw jog-and-stretch. I have seen players take crazy amounts of time to stretch before even picking up a ball. A player on my Exeter team one year came to the gym 30 minutes before training just to stretch.

As this article notes, there is no evidence that stretching has any benefit in terms of preventing injuries or improving performance. In fact, the WebMD article I cited in that earlier post suggests there could be some negative effects. This Men’s Health article notes the following.

Although it’s often prescribed as an injury-prevention measure, static stretching before a workout might be the worst of all strategies. Because it forces the target muscle to relax, it temporarily makes it weaker. As a result, a strength imbalance can occur between opposing muscle groups. For example, stretching your hamstrings causes them to become significantly weaker than your quadriceps. And that may make you more susceptible to muscle strains, pulls, and tears in the short term.

So basically, static stretching before training or matches isn’t just a waste of time which you could put to better use. There’s a chance it’s actually harmful!

But I am NOT saying stretching in general is useless.

All three of the articles mentioned do include suggestions that one stretch regularly to maintain range of motion, increase flexibility, etc. The Men’s Health article actually goes further. It says that one should stretch twice a day to work on generally flexibility. Just don’t do it right before exercise. Here’s the rub, though. You have to stretch twice a day or the gains you make won’t be retained.

So when should players do volleyball stretches?

Well, after training and/or match play is a good time to get one of those 2/day sessions in. The muscles are warm, which is when stretching should be done. As a coach it gives you the opportunity to monitor what they are doing. If needed, you can provide instruction and focus. Be aware, though, that the research indicates no real anti-soreness benefit to stretching after training according to this article. Soreness comes from overworking the muscles. A bit of stretching isn’t going to fix that.

But of course if you’re not doing two-a-day training with your team, the after practice volleyball stretches won’t cover the suggestion of getting them in twice/day. The players will have to be responsible for themselves getting it done.

I know. That’s a horrifying prospect for many of us. 🙂

What volleyball stretches should players do?

I think a better question might be, “On what areas should volleyball stretches be focused?” I think we can all come up with the main ones like shoulders, quads and calves – the major drivers of volleyball action. There are a couple of places which tend not to get enough attention, though:

  • Achilles tendons
  • Hip flexors
  • Hamstrings
  • Pectorals

The Achilles relates to jumping ability. The others, though, spend much of the time in a volleyball match in a flexed state and not often in an extended one.

For example, there is very little long-stride sprinting in volleyball. As a result, the hamstrings don’t get much extension – or exertion, for that matter. That means they can shorten up and be relatively weaker than the surrounding quads and calves. This imbalance can create issues. This is why not only is it good to stretch those muscles, but also to make sure they’re included in strength training.

In the case of the pectorals, they do get stretched a bit when serving and hitting. Otherwise, though, a player’s shoulders tend to be rolled a bit forward (think passing and blocking mechanics). This can result in a slouch, which is a muscle imbalance. Not only should the pecs be stretched, but players need to ensure the opposing back muscles are worked for balance. Or you can walk around poking your knuckle between players shoulder blades. A strength coach I knew did that to get them in proper posture. 🙂

So what I’m saying is make sure the muscles and whatnot opposing the primary ones are getting at least as much attention as the main ones. Think of things like the core muscles and how most players will do a lot of twist reps in one direction due to hitting and serving.

USA Volleyball posted a series of stretches used my the Men’s National Team you can use as a reference.

This goes for coaches too!

Keep in mind that as a coach you run the risk of creating imbalance situations as well because of the way you initiate balls. In any given training session you may actually do more torso twisting and shoulder work from hitting, serving and such than your players. One of the things I have done to try to counter that is to try to do lefty reps either hitting or throwing (I’m a righty) to work the twisting and such in the opposite direction for at least a bit of balance.

Use dynamic as well as static stretches

I mentioned in my other post (and provided some examples) how dynamic stretching has become popular in volleyball over the years. Static stretching is good for extending maximum range of motion, but dynamic stretching develops effective functional range of motion.

Planning your volleyball strength and conditioning training

There were a couple of articles posted on the subject of volleyball conditioning. Volleywood had one on developing endurance. Volleyball Magazine had a Q&A with several strength & conditioning coaches who work with top collegiate programs.

Volleyball Strength

It used to be that strength training for volleyball, as with most other sports, involved pretty standard weight lifting exercises such as bench press and squats. Those still have their place. The use of so-called Olympic lifts have come into common practice, however. They use the whole body rather than just one primary muscle group. These include exercises like power cleans and the snatch, clean, and jerk. The Volleyball Magazine article talks about different useful exercises. It brings up the requirement to work on opposing muscles as I discuss in my Volleyball Stretches post.

Volleyball Conditioning

Beyond strength training is the conditioning which is the core aspect of volleyball fitness. It’s a sport of high intensity bursts with intervals of rest. That takes a certain type of training. It is the type featured in the sample volleyball conditioning program. In it you’ll notice the progression toward shorter, more frequent exercises as the program gets closer to the start of preseason training.

Of course volleyball training and playing in and of themselves are forms of conditioning. If you train and/or play regularly at a high intensity then you’ll likely not need to do further conditioning through the season. If, however, your training is only 1-2 times per week with matches only a couple times a month (especially if they aren’t high intensity affairs) it’s a different story.  You’ll want to add a conditioning element to your work. That will make sure you to achieve maximum preparedness for those highly competitive matches. More importantly, it increases your training capacity.

Peaking

You may need to think about in how you structure your training with respect to your season configuration.

In the US system (both collegiate and youth) there is often a structure which goes from non-conference play to conference play to post-season. In that sort of situation the team wants to be peaking into the post-season. That will give it the best chance of success. Teams in many professional leagues can think the same way. So can one facing a relegation/promotion play-off at season’s end.

For those playing in a structure where league play is the primary focus there isn’t the same sort of desire to build toward optimal end of season performance. In this case it is about reaching a certain level and sustaining it. This can be a real challenge. Having said that, though, there can be points during a season where you want to be running on all cylinders. A key rivalry match is an example, or a tournament.

The UK university season I experienced can combine elements of both the post-season and league consistency focus approaches. There was the need to do as well as possible during BUCS league play to get maximum points, earn promotion (or avoid relegation) and/or qualify for championships. That’s more of the consistent effort focus. On top of that, though, there were cup competitions. A team may want an early-season peak for the Student Cup qualifiers and another for the finals, should they advance. And for the top teams there’s Final 8s at season’s end. Even teams below that level have play-off matches for competitions like league cup and championship/trophy knock-out rounds.

In other words, the structure of your volleyball season will have a lot to say about what sort of strength and conditioning work you do and when you do it.

 

About hitter training and the myth of the wrist snap

There’s a post worth reading on the USA Volleyball blog (hat tip to Coach Rey). It looks at hitter training and focuses on getting players to execute skills in game-like fashion as often as possible. In other words, getting away from “block” training which breaks the skill down and works on its components individually. That’s a major focus of modern training for coaching volleyball. There are some worthwhile things to think about toward that aim in this piece.

The “myth” of wrist snap

At the end of the blog post is an interesting exchange about the mechanics of hitting a ball with topspin, whether that’s a spike or a topspin serve. You need to read that section from the bottom up to properly follow the flow, as the sequence of the discussion is in reverse chronological order (like an email exchange).

The major take-away from that topspin conversation is that wrist snap has nothing to do with it. Your hand is not in contact with the ball long enough for it to wrap over the top the way it looks to do when you execute in slow motion.

So do we stop coaching wrist snap? Or does it actually serve a purpose?

My August Volleyball Coaching Developmental Traveling Plans

Back in Summer 2013 I planned a trip back to the States for August. In part it was my plan to get in some academic meetings in support of my PhD work. Mainly, though, I was looking at it as an opportunity to reconnect with the US collegiate volleyball game. I was away from it since the end of 2006. I watched a number of matches on television in the interim. Aside from attending a UCLA vs. Standford match in September 2011 and a Harvard vs. Princeton match later that season, however, I was out of the gym entirely for nearly 6 years.

A big reason for that was the feeling I needed to concentrate on my new corporate job for a while. My concern was I wouldn’t be able to resist the coaching urge if I didn’t stay away. Even doing so, there were times when I felt the pull to get back into it. Given how strongly everything came back when I started coaching the Exeter teams in 2012-13, I think I was correct in my assessment.

Now, with the coaching bug fully infecting me, I looked at this trip back to the States as an opportunity for some professional development and networking. The plan was to spend a couple of days with a few different teams as they go through their pre/early-season training.

Two significant programs on the plan
The two schools I knew from the start I’d go were the University of Southern California (USC) and Long Beach State (properly known as California State University at Long Beach – CSULB). You may know Long Beach State from one of it’s most prominent alumnae, Misty May-Treanor. She was a setter in her collegiate playing days.

The coaches of those two programs are among the legends in the game. Mick Haley at USC rose to prominence when is University of Texas team became the first non-West Coast squad to win a volleyball NCAA Division I championship. He won two titles at Texas, and then two more at USC. He had with four years as coach of the USA women’s national team (up to the 2000 Olympics) in between. Before Texas he was a very successful Junior College coach as well.

Brian Gimmillaro at Long Beach has 3 national championships to his credit as well, and has long been one of the leading lights in coaching education. He readily shared his methods through videos and seminars for many years. His 1998 team became the first ever to go undefeated for a whole season (36-0).

I also arranged to meet up with Stein Metzger. That year he coached the UCLA Sand Volleyball team and was an assistant for the women’s indoor team. Stein played on the pro beach tour and has coached a number of other pros (including Devon’s own Denise Austin).

Others to be determined
A few other schools got added to the list later, but that was all still in the works.I provided updates when things got finalized. I also did post updates from the road to share what i saw and heard.

Needless to say, I was really looking forward to this trip – and not just for the SoCal sunshine! 🙂

Volleyball Games: Using Bonus Points Effectively

There is a major focus in volleyball coaching circles these days on making training as game-oriented as possible. That means moving away from rote mechanical – block – training. Incorporating the types of visuals, movement patterns, and situations one will see in a match is better. Obviously, nothing is going to be more game-like than actually playing. Let’s face it, though. The scrimmages and other volleyball games we do in training oftentimes drift away from the developmental focus we would like to have for that particular session.

There is a way to have your players concentrating on those key things, however.

By introducing bonus points, you can get your players focused on executing whatever skills or plays you want. For example, a bonus point for a 3-pass (see Scoring Serving and Passing Effectiveness) will have them concentrate more on passing. A bonus point for a stuff block will get your blockers more intent on their task. You can have even bonus points for more complex sequences. Think of things like quick attacks or combination plays, or for scoring on the first ball in serve receive.

You can also have point penalties for undesirable plays. For example, say you want to curb the amount of 1-arm digging or passing that’s happening. Assess a point deduction each time it happens. Maybe your team isn’t calling the ball enough. If so, you can subtract points for failure to do so. If you want free balls sent only to zone 1 you can asses a deduction when it doesn’t happen.

Here are some things to think about in terms of employing bonus/penalty points in your games:

  • You can vary the points based on the amount of focus you want to give something – more points for key areas of focus, fewer for lesser ones.
  • You can have multiple bonus/penalty items in your game, but don’t get carried away. The players can only focus on a couple of things at a time effectively, and you can only track of so many different things, so keep it relatively narrowly defined.
  • Be careful of unintended consequences. You don’t want you players forcing things to try to earn bonus points. Make sure you structure your point system to avoid that.

You’ll know you have your player’s attention on where you want their focus when they start yelling out bonus point scoring in the middle of plays. That’s probably not the best situation in terms of their game concentration, but at least you know you have them thinking about the right things. 🙂

Volleyball Set Diagram

Below is a volleyball set diagram. It outlines the different sets we used when I coached collegiately at Brown, and how we defined them. This is based on a system popularized by the USA men back in the 1980s. They divided the net into 9 zones of 1 meter each. On top of that they added set heights ranging from 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest (fastest). The zones and heights were then combined to provide a two-digit specifier for each set. Thus, a standard high set to the outside (left) hitter is a 14 – zone 1, height 4. A middle quick is a 51 – zone 5, height 1.

Now, for practical purposes most teams do not use the two digit calls in play. They tend to shorten them up to call sets quickly in a fast-paced play. In our case, we used letters to call the 4 different types of quick sets we used. You can see below how we did this, as well as the back row zones system we used based on colors – white, brown, and red from left to right as you’re facing the net.

Sample volleyball set diagram

volleyball set diagram

This, of course, is just one system and one volleyball set diagram. There are loads of variations. In my coaching at Svedala in Sweden, for example, the “rip” was equivalent to the 31 from the chart above. A 3 was the 32 set, which is pretty common usage. Our A was a 71 (back quick). We called the “hut” a “go” (which is what a lot of teams call the fast outside set these days). In contrast, at MSU the “rip” is a back row attack in Zone 1.

I have always found, though, that the underlying 2-digit base structure makes it very easy to work out different types of naming approaches or hand signals.

Volleyball Conditioning – A Sample Program

Here is a sample volleyball off-season/summer workout program. It comes from my days coaching at Brown and was given to our players in 2004 for their use during the summer months. To provide a sense of timing, we began our pre-season about August 25th each year, so the program is timed out with that in mind. Obviously, this is just one example of a workout plan, and perhaps not the best for any given team or player. It does provide something from which to work, though.

This vballsummer spreadsheet features two tabs. One is weight training. The other is conditioning. The latter actually features a calendar layout with what to do each day of each week, including the weights program. The other tab provides the specifics of each week’s weight training work.

The BIKE_WORKOUTS spreadsheet is exactly what is sounds like. It includes eight workouts ranging from 15-25 minutes with specifics for how each section of the ride should be done.

The General_Conditioning document describes all the running, agility, and other types of exercises which are indicated in the vballsummer spreadsheet.

Here’s the introductory letter our strength coach at the time included with the packet. It provides a bit of advice on implementing the program.


SUMMER WEIGHT TRAINING

The attached spreadsheets outline your summer lifting schedule. The weight training is divided into 3 x 4-week training blocks. The basic design of the program is a 3-week build-up followed by 1 week reduced load and/or active rest. As a general rule, when the repetitions decrease, the loads lifted should increase for your core exercises, however, you should pay close attention to the assigned percentages as well.

The percentages given for each session are for your major exercises only and are a percentage of your max. If you don’t know your max for a specific exercise, refer to the Nebraska Scale in your manual. This scale allows you to estimate your max by doing a heavy set of 2-3 repetitions. Choose a weight heavy enough that you can only get 2-3 good reps, then refer to the scale to estimate your 1 rep max. Use the number given on the scale to calculate your percentages for the summer program.

Please remember; as the program progresses, your strength will improve. If possible, you should re-test your estimated max halfway through the program and recalculate the weight. If the percentage for the session is 90-95% and your sets are easy, you should add weight and re-test your max.

If you have any questions about the program or cannot remember a specific exercise, ask a trainer at the gym where you workout. If you are uncomfortable performing a specific exercise and cannot get proper instruction, please try and substitute another exercise that targets the same muscle group.

There is a training calendar provided with an example of the optimal training split for your summer program. However, in the instance that you want to train on weekends, it is acceptable to spread the workouts over 7 days instead of just 5. Never lift weights more than 2 consecutive days without a day off in between. It’s OK if your training split is different from the calendar provided you rest properly and get all the sessions completed within the week.

SUMMER CONDITIONING

The training calendar also includes options for summer conditioning. There are 4 conditioning sessions listed along with your weight training. The basis of most of your summer conditioning is interval training. You can follow these workouts precisely, or use them as guidelines for training. If you have more than 2 club sessions each week in addition to this program, substitute the 3rd session for one of your conditioning workouts.

Descriptions of the summer conditioning sessions are provided in the summer manual along with several other options. Bike workouts, volleyball (club) workouts and spinning classes can be substituted for conditioning sessions as long as you are working with the principles of interval training in mind. However, these workouts were designed specifically for your summer training and should be followed as closely as possible.

If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact me by email at anytime. GOOD LUCK AND TRAIN HARD!