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Archive for 2013-14 Exeter University

Coaching Log – Mar 16, 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

The first order of business on the day was finding out the tiebreak procedure to be used in the case of a 3-way tie between teams in our group. As I noted in the last log entry, things were set up such that if we beat Bournemouth in our last match and King’s beat Cambridge, we would all be tied at 1-2 and level in the head-to-head comparison after having beaten each other.

Upon getting to the tournament site I asked the tiebreak question of one of the event managers. He said sets between the teams would be the next tiebreak. That meant if we won 2-0 we’d get second in the pool and a spot in the semifinals by virtue of being the only team among the three with a positive set differential.

I’d spoken with the captain about this prospect, but we both thought it was best not to say anything to the team. As I noted, there was already some signs the day before about getting a bit tense when things were on the line Saturday. The players already had enough motivation to draw on to get psyched up to want to beat Bournemouth. Adding a spot in the semis to that mix would have had nothing but downside to it.

I used the same line-up as the one which narrowly lost to Cambridge in the second match on Saturday. We got off to a good start in the first set and carried that through to a fairly comfortable win. The second set was much closer all the way through. We fell behind a bit, then dragged ourselves back level. The teams traded points for long stretches. At one point we missed 4 out of 6 serves, which irked me. In the end, though, we did managed to close it out and take the 2-0 win.

From there it was all about the King’s-Cambridge match. That one went 3, but King’s managed to win it in the end. We still hadn’t really said anything definitive to the players just in case I hadn’t understood the tiebreak procedure correctly. I was coaching the guys’ team in the 7th/8th playoff match when the team got the news they made the semis. Much celebration ensued! 🙂

Our semifinal opponent was Northumbria – defending BUCS champions. If anything, they looked a stronger team this year than the one I saw play a year ago. We didn’t stand a chance (only one other team in the competition did), so my focus was on getting playing time some way for all my bench players.

The first set had a very rough start. We gave up a string of points in a row with barely a challenge. I went with the starters to begin, and I honestly think they were a bit too keyed up for it. They knew what they were up against, but really wanted to make a few plays. Eventually, I was able to get them to settle down a bit during a timeout, but it was a rocky start and we never broke single digits. Northumbria used its bench in the second and I used all of mine as well. We managed to get I think 15 points in that one, so the team walked away happy.

We’ll have a couple of training session before the term ends, but this will be the last of log entries since the season is complete. After things have settled a bit I’ll post a season review with my thoughts on how it all went and what I thought of my coaching.

Coaching Log – Mar 15, 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

First day of the BUCS Final 8s tournament in Edinburgh.

Our first match was against King’s College, first place team from the South Eastern conference. The team was in a pretty good mental space to start things off – maybe a bit of to-be-expected nerves at the start, but not scared at the occasion or the competition. We didn’t play poorly, but lost the first set by a reasonable margin. I made a couple of line-up shifts for the second – namely swapping our MBs in the rotation and bringing in a new OH. I think the latter was the more meaningful change as it injected some energy into things, which helped us win the second set. Unfortunately, King’s took the third. The team handled it well, but there wa a bit of tentativeness that worked its way into the team’s play in the latter stages which was a little concerning..

The second match was against Cambridge. We saw video of their first round match, so had an idea of what they were about. With Kings it was a “glad to be here” type of attitude in the team. With Cambridge, though, the focus shifted more to winning. That, I think, maybe led to a bit more mental pressure being felt by the group. They didn’t play with as much positive energy. It was a match of long rallies. We dropped the first set and struggled at the start of the second, but got in turned around and won that one. Unfortunately, we lost the 3rd.

At the end of the day we had a team meeting that focused on on-court energy. One of the players was really struggling with negative body language and poor energy. It was dragging on the team. Unfortunately, she wasn’t someone easily replaced in the starting lineup. A couple of the senior players had a lot of strongly worded comments on that, and we also talked about continuing to be aggressive and play positively.

We ended the day thinking we were going to play Bournemouth in our last pool match to determine 3rd/4th place, but I realized late we might still have a shot at 2nd. Bournemouth had beaten Cambridge the previous day, so if we beat them it would create a 3-way tie. I didn’t know the tiebreak procedure, though.

All-in-all, not a bad first day. We could have gotten a better result against Cambridge, but we were competitive in both matches. Coming from an attitude of having attained our primary season goal of reaching Final 8s and secondary one of showing we deserved we belonged, this was a solid outcome.

Coaching Log – Mar 12, 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

The last training before Final 8s was one I wanted to use to send the team off on a positive note. By that I mean good intensity mixed in with some of the drills/games the team seemed to enjoy.

Following dynamic warm-up I had the team moved to into serving. Once they’d warmed up I had the play the Amoeba game. I put a twist on things, though. I told the teams they had to only serve into deep or short zones, meaning the team had to select either the last 2 meters of the court or in front of the 3 meter line and could only have player targets inside those areas. The teams opted for deep zones the first couple rounds, but I made them go short for the last one. Energy was good and they seemed to have fun.

From there I went on to Continuous Cross-Court digging. This was a chance to have the players digging higher velocity balls than they might do during scrimmaging, helping to prep for the higher level play to come. It’s also a good intensity drill.

To prepare for the 6 v 6 play to come, I then moved on to Winners 4s with fixed setters and back row attacking only. It gave the team a chance to work on good attacking swings and general defense, with serve receive mixed in.

I then moved on to 22 v 22. Big points were awarded for kills, blocks, and aces. We ran through all six rotations before finishing up with a couple rotations of Scramble for maximum speed and intensity.

It was a good training session overall, one which achieved exactly what I’d intended. Next stop, Edinburgh!

Coaching Log – Mar 10, 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

For the first time in a long time I had a full squad in training. That let me finally get the full first team squad working together and I took advantage of that to go heavily on the 6-v-6 action. My intention was to have things be positive and aligned toward fostering intensity and success.

After dynamic warm-up I had the team go straight into serving. I gave them an objective to get 10 serves deep in the court, and if they got them all then to switch to short serves. I was pleased to see that by the time I called the end of the drill just about everyone seemed to be working on short serves.

After serving I had the team play Winners 4 with the two setters staying in (winning setter goes to/stays on the winning side). Initially it was back row attacking only. I did that to get them warming up their hitting in terms of focusing on good reach and deep swings. There were some quite good hits, which was a positive. During the last couple minutes I let them hit on the net.

From there I shifted to the 7-point rotations game. I set bonuses for real points – kills, blocks, aces. This worked the team on serve receive, as I wanted, though it could have gone better in some ways. Things were not helped by one of the B-side players going down with an ankle injury relatively early on.

From there I shifted to a game where the B-side served every ball and the A-side rotated after a good play, then finished with regular game play.

During the 6-v-6 I had the whistle out to stop play when I saw positional errors, lack of coverage, lack of focus, etc. I didn’t end up having to blow it very often, and almost not at all after the first few minutes. The play over all could have been better, and some of the intensity slipped as training went on. The earlier injury may have been a factor. I do plan on bringing back some of the over-speed type drills for Wednesday’s training to ratchet things back up.

Coaching Log – Mar 9, 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

The team played it’s last round of South West league fixtures on Sunday. There is yet another round to be played this Sunday to come, but since the team will be in Edinburgh for Final 8s, the club will bring up some of the Intermediates to fill out a squad. Two relatively straightforward wins puts the team atop the table on points, though they won’t stay their when the presumptive champs catch up in terms of matches played. Odds are we’ll finish the season in 3rd place.

It’s been an impressive run, especially considering the chopping and changing of line-ups we’ve had through the campaign. I don’t think we’ve had the same group of players two fixture dates in a row and I’ve often juggled line-ups around match-to-match and even set-to-set during any given triangular round of play. For example, yesterday I had our two squad setters each set one match and play OPP the other. The team is 14-2 in the league and has won 10 straight without dropping a single set. Since losing our last BUCS match of first term, we’re 11-0 overall in all competitions, with a 30 set win streak. Not a bad way to enter Final 8s from a confidence perspective.

My one concern is that we haven’t played any really challenging teams in quite a while now. Yes, they get at each other pretty well in training, which is a big reason they’ve had things relatively easy this term, but that’s not quite the same as facing tough external competition. Had we not got a bye in the Round of 16 it would be a different situation. As it stands, I’m pondering maybe getting some of the guys to come in to bolster the B team a bit for 6-v-6 action this week.

In terms of what came out of yesterday’s matches, there again was some very good serving. I have to give very serious thought to using the second team setter as a serving specialist at Final 8s. A couple of the hitters took the opportunity to work on a few things, which of course produced mixed results. Defense was generally solid, but passing could have been better. My plan for this week will be to have serve receive incorporated heavily into the games and drills.

Between matches yesterday I continued to give some thought to how I might be able to maximize the amount of talent – both mental and physical – we had on the court. I played around with line-up ideas and came up with one that could work. It’s definitely non-traditional, but I think it could be quite useful. The problem is one of the players motivating a look at the change hasn’t been playing quite up to the level I’ve seen her at for some reason. Makes me wonder if it’s worth giving this line-up a shot in training this week because I certainly don’t want to spring it on the team at Final 8s.

Coaching Log – Mar 5, 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

Not my best training session in the context of where we are in the training. I was down a few players for various reason, so wasn’t able to quite do the team training stuff I’d have normally done. Instead I had the team working on a few other things.

After dynamic warm-up they did the Touch & Go game. I followed that up with 3 and 4-person over-the-net pepper and then had them do some serving. From there I moved them to the hard drill. I set the target at 5, but they weren’t able to achieve that. There were some good rallies and some nice hits, but the mix of players didn’t make for a group who was going to handle things as well as if we’d had a couple others. I eventually shifted things on the net in the form of cooperative cross-court hitting. The result was similar. After a bit more serving, I finished training with a round of 3-serve mini games.

Those two cooperative drills are ones I decided to do based on the number of players I had and how they can work on multiple aspects of play – hitting, defense, playing intelligently, etc. They are good drills from that perspective, but in this situation where I want to be building the players up for Final 8s and I didn’t have the group which was going to have the best chance of success they were probably not the best choice. That puts a premium on doing trainings next week that have a much more positive vibe to them.

Coaching Log – Mar 3, 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

I started this training with a talk about expectations for Final 8s – namely that I go into it not fearing any of our prospective competitors. Will there be some good teams? Absolutely. Do I expect us to win all our matches? No. But I do think we can be competitive in all of them and make the other team work for it. I explained that starters are likely to get the majority of the playing time, but that non-starters could get time as well, depending on how things go.

After the meeting, the players did their dynamic warm-up. There was some tardiness which required several minutes of punishment before we got into the volleyball. That commenced with the serving warm-up, finishing with target serves. A positive was that everyone completed the assigned serves in the allotted time. I think that was the first time all season!

From serving I moved into a split court situation. I divided the court lengthwise and had the OHs and OPPs on one half and the MBs, Setters, and Libero on the other. The hitter group did some serve receive and passing and hitting with my assistant. The MB group worked on quick attacks off a free ball pass. The latter showed a bit of success, but still needs a lot of work – particular in a game-play situation.

Because of the tardiness punishment, time got crunched, so I couldn’t do quite all the stuff I wanted to do. My plan had been to first do Bingo-Bango-Bongo and finish with a 3-serve wash game to get some work on both transition and serve receive. Instead, I did a few rotations of Scramble, then B-B-B.

I wasn’t happy with the focus in play, generally speaking. The players looked at least mentally tired, if not physically tired. The calisthenics they had to do for punishment may have been contributory, but I made a point after training to tell them I expect better next time.

Coaching Log – Feb 24, 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

With a Cup quarterfinal coming up this week, the main thing I wanted to focus on with this session was serve reception – something I’ve talked about spending more time doing recently. This being a shorter session (90 minutes), I had them go straight into serving work after dynamic warm-up. This was about getting shoulders loose for what was to come, so once they’d gotten warm I just has them serve 10 good deep balls, timed.

From there, since we had even numbers, I had them do a servers vs. passers game. I split the team in half with passing skill in mind. I then had one side serve to the other, with the latter having 3 passers and a target on the court (passer becomes target, target moves to the line to fill in to pass). Each of the servers did five serves, making it 30 total in this case. I kept a running score based on the passing score system, with missed serves equal to a 3-pass. After both teams went through as passers, I had the losing team do court sprints equal to the difference between the scores (1 point difference = 1 sideline-to-sideline sprint).

I actually had the team go through the servers vs. passers game a second time to spend a bit more time on passing. Interestingly, the servers got more aggressive the second time around, and it resulted in markedly lower scores for the passers.

I spent the rest of training with a 6 v 6 game. It was something new I’d thought up which would have a heavy serve receive focus rather than the more over-speed and wash type games we’ve done a lot of in recent weeks. I had the team play 7-point mini games. A rally win was worth a point, but if a team got a kill on a first ball (initial serve reception for the passing team, initial defended ball for the serving team) or got a stuff block they got 2 points. One team served every ball. The first team to 7 rotated and became the new serving team. What I liked about this structure was that it forced more work for serve receive rotations where a side was struggling.

Generally speaking, I think it went well. There were some frustrating elements for the players, as you’d expect when a team is stuck in a rotation. Of course the intensity and tempo of a strictly serve-initiated game isn’t going to be the same as one where scramble or other type balls are fed in quickly on dead balls. The players operated at a good intensity, though, and I was pleased about that.

This game also gave me a chance to take long looks at certain rotations to get some ideas for improvements in serve reception formations, etc. I intentionally didn’t optimize things in this drill for player developmental purposes, but as we approach Final 8s in a couple weeks I’ll be working on just that sort of thing.

At this point I’m waiting to find out what’s going to happen with the second team’s Cup match this week. Might be Wednesday. Might be Saturday.

Coaching Log – Feb 23, 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

It was back to South West regional play today. We had a triangular with one of the bottom teams and one from the middle of the pack. Both ended up in fairly easy wins. Out of the six sets played, four of them saw us keep the other side to single digit scores. Even against the better team the two closer sets were more a function of us getting sloppy and making mistakes in a row rather than them doing anything particularly special. The results on the day put us temporarily top of the league due to having played more matches than the two teams likely to finish above us when everything is said and done.

I only had six player on the day, and one was the new girl brought up from the club’s intermediate group for last Wednesday’s training. Two of the six were regular first team starters, but the rest were either second team players or ones who bounced back and forth between the squads over the course of the season. I had my first and second team setters each take one match and play OPP in the other.

Overall I was pretty pleased. I’d have liked to see less in the way of multiple errors in the same play (hitting the ball into the net after there’d been a bad pass or set) and there were a few instances of players expecting others to play the ball (not all of which were the result of having a new player in the mix), and I’d have liked some better passing in transition. They remained focused throughout, though, despite the poor quality competition. Serving was a definite high point. I told them at the start to use the opportunity to get aggressive and they did so to good effect. That’s something would could come in quite handy in the important BUCS matches to come.