Archive for 2013-14 Exeter University

Coaching Log – Feb 19, 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

It was a bit of a messy session due to a combination of equipment issues and players late arriving. We also had a new player in training who had been brought in from one of the lower level groups of the club as both a potential fill in for our second team and as a prospect for being in the team fully next season. The net result was that I wasn’t able to get in all the stuff I’d planned, though we did get the key elements done.

After some pepper and dynamic warm-up I had them do the serving warm-up and then targeting of all 6 zones. I transitioned from there into two-sided 3-person serve receive with the coaches serving with a target of 30 and then 3/4 person serve & pass.to get more individual passing reps because the first drill went faster than I’d expected. Because I was focused on serving I don’t know if that was a function of generous targets, easier serves, or what.

I finished up with 22 v 22 to again get serve receive into game play. I had wanted to do either Scramble or Bingo-Bango-Bongo at the end, but we needed to do tardiness punishment at the end, so I couldn’t. I was generally quiet happy with the volume of communication (even with the new player, who was relatively quiet) and the intensity. Still a few mental lapses that need to be erased, and there could have been stronger attacking, but overall I’m pleased with how things are coming along with the group. Given the bye into Final 8s and the amount of time there is until the first team plays it could have been an issue at this point of players not being as seriously motivated.

Coaching Log – Feb 17, 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

I’ve been looking to work more on serve receive offense in training of late and I used this session to get some focus on that. The practice plan was fairly simple. After dynamic warm-up I had them go right into a serving warm-up and then do a little target serving. From there I shifted into the Get-2 serving & passing drill with an overall team target for 3-passes of 30. I then went into back court Winners 4s as a game and hitting warm-up of sorts before shifting to a mixed squad 22 vs 22 for about the last 30 minutes of training. This was our shorter session (only 90 minutes), so it went quickly.

The serve receive drill could have gone a bit better. Several of the players struggled with their footwork – oftentimes moving too aggressively, which resulted in having to play the ball too high and close to their body. They also had to go back to zero a couple of times for letting balls drop for insufficient effort. It was on the other side of the net from where I was target, so I didn’t see what was happening. The players didn’t get too frustrated with each other, though, which was a positive.

In the 22 vs 22 game I added a quick set and blocking focus. Normally a team wins a big point by either getting a 1st-ball kill off serve receive or a 1st-ball transition kill. Otherwise a second ball goes into the rally winner. This time I said a quick attack kill or a stuff block would get them a big point. There was a block or two, but no quick set kills. In fact, after a brief flurry in the beginning there were precious few quick set attempts. That will have to continue to be a focus in future game play drills.

I was very pleased by the intensity in the 6 v 6. It was some of the best, if not the best, of the year so far. There were still some moments of players not being fully switched on and communication needs to continue to improve, but the overall play was quite good.

Coaching Log – Feb 12, 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

We had several players missing from training, which forced me away from some things I would have otherwise done – in particular the team serve receive that I’ve talked about wanting to get some work on in practice. I had wanted to make it a mentally challenging session, though, and I was able to do that. When I say mentally challenging, I mean putting the players in situations where overcoming frustration and adversity is a major feature. This sort of thing happens just about each session on an individual basis, but sometimes you have to do it on a team basis as well to help develop the supportive nature of the group and to help them learn to figure out how to overcome difficult situations.

After dynamic warm-up, I had the team work on blocking footwork and then run-throughs. The latter is playing up a ball that is going to be short using a “J-stroke” technique to keep the ball on your side of the net.

We moved from there into serving. After warming up I had them serve the 1/6 and 5/6 seams. Then I had them do the serving and passing butterfly drill with a target number of 3-passes. Missed serves in a row was a bit of a problem, which I addressed.

The first of the really mentally challenging elements of training was the Hard Drill. This was the first time putting the team through it this season as it’s something hard to run with larger numbers of players. It took about 30 minutes to reach the objective of 10 hit-dig-sets without the ball dropping. That’s longer then I might have liked, but I wasn’t overly upset given it was the first time through. I did have them huddle up together at one point to take a short break and reconnect with each other. Overall, though, they didn’t show as much frustration with themselves or each other as other teams I’ve put through the drill, which was good.

I had been thinking to do the Cooperative Cross-Court Hitting drill after that, but we were getting short on time, so instead I did Run & Serve. The idea there was to keep up the mental pressure, but shift it to serving. They didn’t get through that drill as swiftly as they’ve done before, unfortunately. That only left a short amount of time, which I filled with straight up 2/3rds court 4 vs 4 play.

At the end of training I talked with the team about overcoming frustration and adversity, talking with each other on the court, and not making the little mistakes which can be the difference between closely matched teams. I also talked about keeping the training focus and intensity up even though we don’t have any matches (especially the 1st team) for a while now.

Coaching Log – Feb 10, 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

This training session started with an announcement. We got official word earlier in the day that we’ve been granted a bye for the round of 16 of the BUCS Championships. This was a stunning development, and we’re not entirely sure how we got to be the beneficiary of this particular bit of league largess, and I’m sure there are other teams out there wondering why us. Regardless, we’ll go directly to Final 8s, meaning we’ve achieved the objective we had from the beginning of the year. It also means we have qualified for the new BUCS Premier League next season.

Naturally, that took up a bit of the start of training, shortening the effective session length. Given the announcement, I didn’t plan for a particularly hard or focused session, so instead did something a bit mixed with some fun elements.

After dynamic warm-up, I had the players do over-the-net pepper, using two groups of 4 and a group of 3. I rotated players around periodically to offset the harder work done by those in the group of 3. From there we went into serving. After warming up, I had them play amoeba for a bit of fun and competition. We did a best-of-5 as individual games with this group don’t tend to last very long.

At this point I had originally thought to do some hitting, but time remaining was starting to get limited, so I instead went with Continuous Cross-Court Digging, which I know the players like. After that, knowing we’d do some 6 v 6 play, I had them play Winners 3s on a 2/3rds width court as preparation. I then asked them which game they wanted to play. The two leading choices were Bingo-Bango-Bongo and Scramble. That should tell you a lot about how much this group likes to work in training since both those games are essentially continuous action. Scramble ended up winning out, and I had them go through six rotations.

At the end of the session I talked with them about key focus points moving forward – namely being more composed in scramble situations, playing with purpose, and being aggressive in our hitting. All of this is stuff that will be important come Final 8s. I also talked about the upcoming schedule for the second team, as they will have their Cup quarterfinal near the end of the month. Due to the injury last week, there needs to be some adjustments to personnel. I plan on bringing the serve receive work I mentioned previously into full force for next training.

Coaching Log – Feb 5, 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

I wanted to work on a couple of things in this training. Specifically, I wanted to continue the focus on blocking which I’ve been developing in the last couple of weeks. I also wanted to introduce a rotational defense as something we could want to go with in the Championships (we’ve been playing a fairly standard perimeter defense thus far).

After dynamic warm-up, I had the team do serving and passing triples to get a bit of light ball-handling in. I then walked them through the rotational defense and did some positional digging for MB and OH players to have them work on the movement patterns. I didn’t extend it further than that because that was leaving many players out.

I followed the defense work with positional hitting and blocking. I had the OHs hitting up against the OPPs and MBs, then the OPPs vs the OHs and MBs. I picked on two major points of focus. One was block positioning, as I’ve witnessed the pin blockers often failing to properly adjust the position of their block based on set location and hitter approach angle. The other was timing as latest was a regular problem in our matches last week. My assistant coach took video to show players what they were doing.

I wrapped up the hitting by having the MBs work on quick attacks of a pass. This meant having much of the team on ball-retrieval duty, but they did a good job of being supportive and cheering on the hitters.

After that we did winners 3s, but only using 2/3rds of the court, width-wise to encourage rallies. I did that to prepare for full-team action to follow.

Unfortunately, one of the MBs hurt her thumb during the blocking, so we only had 10 available to play 6s. I hadn’t planned on anything which really required proper 6-person teams, but it did force me to keep the two available MBs in the front row the whole time while I could flip OHs and OPPs and Setters around. The first game I played was Second Chance so I could encourage aggressive hitting and work on other weaknesses.

After that I moved to the Scramble Game. This was the first time I’ve used it for this team. My decision to do it was so that I could reinforce some ideas like playing with composure in frantic situations and covering teammates and open court areas. I went with a variation where I introduced balls to one side for a minute – adding 15 seconds if they ever didn’t go for a ball. After each side scrambled I did a positional flip which effectively meant we played four “rotations”. We kept score and it ended 31-30, so I guess I did a good job picking even teams. 🙂

Things wrapped up with the Pit Drill – a.k.a. coach-on-1. This is also something I’ve not done with the players before, so I wasn’t sure how long to go. I opted for a conservative 30 seconds, but immediately realized 45 seconds probably would have been the better choice.

Unfortunately, on the very last ball to the very last player we had an ankle injury. Otherwise, I felt like the training did a good job of building in intensity and working on the key focus points. I need to come back around to the rotational defense to have it used in actual game situations, which I couldn’t really do this training, but should be able to do next week. Likewise with getting quick attacks into the play consistently. Blocking seemed improved and I was generally happy with the hitting.

One thing I do have to get much more involved in training next week is serve receive. It’s something I haven’t given a great deal of focus to recently, beyond some serving & passing drills. I’ll need to get it into the flow of the 6s work rather than starting play with free balls, scramble balls, etc.

Coaching Log – Feb 3, 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

We’re in wait-and-see mode now after last week’s action. We should find out next week who we’ll face in the round of 16 of the Championships. We ended the regular league season tied at the top of the table, but technically come in 2nd on a tiebreak.

The absence for various reasons of 4 players from training limited the options for the sort of things I could do with practice. I hadn’t intended on doing a lot of 6 v 6 in any case, so it wasn’t a major issue. The focus was a bit more on individual skills, which works well in the 90 minute slot.

After dynamic warm-up and a minute of tardiness punishment, I had the players go through rotating pepper, since I had even numbers and a lower body count to allow for better movement. I transitioned from there into a serving warm-up, followed by target work. Next up was the Get-2 serve receive drill. The team target was 30, with an overpass a -1 and a insufficient ever ball sending them back to 0. Only one of the latter happened. The team handled the drill relatively efficiently, especially considering we generally have a solid serving group.

From there I had them do hitting lines. First they did back row swings to get them working on reach and topspin. I then had them swing on the net. After that, we did a bit more target serving and ended with the Belly Drill, which featured teams of 3, 3, and 4. Working with three groups makes for a good drill since there’s limited time for any group on the sideline.

Overall, not the highest intensity practice, though that’s to be expected given the sorts of things we worked on. I’ll expect more next training when I should have more like the full squad – including the team captain.

Coaching Log – Jan 30, 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

Sometimes the hardest part of playing volleyball is staying focused against lesser opposition. That was certainly the case in our final two league matches last night. They were played against the same team because of some scheduling issues and after the first set it was pretty clear how things were going to turn out.

Our opposition on the night had a bit of a block and a couple of players who could hit a bit given the opportunity. They didn’t have much else. After a bit of a shaky period early on when there were some nerves, we settled down and effectively dismantled them. The second set of the first match ended 25-8 and things didn’t get a lot more competitive after that.

My main coaching focus after midway through the first set was keeping the focus and intensity up. Talking dropped off, especially in the second match. It cost us points in a couple of places, but not to the point of ever making things tight. In such a lopsided match those sorts of things aren’t punished, but obviously we can’t afford that in what’s to come. The team captain was saying as much after the match while talking with one of her teammates.

The two match wins sees us finish our BUCS league season 8-2 overall. That puts us atop the league table at present. Our two title rivals play each other on Saturday. One of them also plays the team we hosted last night. The likely scenario is that we end up in a 2-way tie for 1st (though there is a way for the other two to end up with 3 losses apiece). From there it comes down to the tiebreak as to who officially gets top spot.

I huddled the team together after we shook hands and told them how proud I was of them. I’ve been pushing them hard (and will continue to do so) and they’ve willingly accepted it. They ripped apart lesser competition this week, which is what top teams do. We need to get better in the blocking department and I want to see us hitting harder, but the foundation is there.

My biggest challenge over the next few weeks is nailing down our strongest line-up. We’ve got an OH who is pushing very hard to get into the starting 6 and some other considerations on positions and personnel that I’m going to have to evaluate. That’s why I get paid the big bucks, though, right? 🙂

We don’t have anything on the schedule now until February 23rd, which is our next regional league date. Then it will be our round of 16 play-off match the week following.

Coaching Log – Jan 29, 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

Although it was meant to be a home match for us, we were on the road for our 8th match of the BUCS league campaign. Fortunately, it was to our nearest rival, so not a particularly hard trip. Nor was it a hard match – at all. Our opposition looks very likely to finish in last when all is said and done. We could have, and probably should have, held them to single digit scores in both sets, but didn’t quite accomplish that (it was 24-9 in the second when we inexplicably gave up several points in a row before finally closing it out). The match lasted about 45 minutes, though we played a third set to get the bench a bit of playing time (they won fairly comfortably as well).

Our play could have been sharper. There was a bit of tentative hitting and I wasn’t happy with the way some off-speed shots were being played low to the net rather than getting up over the block. Covering our hitters could have been better and there were a few moments when players made some panic plays. I do have to account for a very slippery floor, however, when assessing the team’s play. It made it hard to play off a stable platform or get accelerated into a spike approach. And of course the level of play was poor. On the plus side, it did give the starters a chance to work out some of the bugs since they haven’t played all together in a match since the end of November.

The win assures us of finishing no worse than 3rd in the league and thus gives us a spot in Championships. Next up is a double-header against the one team we haven’t seen yet thus far. They have managed to take sets off our league championship rivals, but have only won thus far against the team we beat last night. On paper these are very winnable matches. If we take both we’ll at worst be in a tie for first in the league, though whether we end up top could come down to tiebreaks.

Coaching Log – Jan 27, 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

The men’s team was given the opportunity to do joint training with the local NVL men’s side, so the women had the opportunity to go a little longer than usual this session. I took advantage of that to mix the squad up a bit more for 6 v 6 play than I might have otherwise done. I did this because I wanted to give the starters the chance to play against each other a bit rather than just playing against the B team.

After the dynamic warm-up I had them do the Twenty-One drill in groups of four to get in some ball-handling and additional warm-up. I then put them through some individual digging of balls myself and my assistant hit over the net. After that we did some target serving, and from there I moved them in to winners 4s. That hadn’t been my original plan, but I did it to accommodate a player development, to mix the players up in game play, and to prepare them for playing 6s.

After that I did 4 rounds of the 22 v 22 game. I split the players up such that each team had one line of starters and one line of second teamers. In the first round I matched up the first team front rows. After that I flipped the lines in an alternating fashion so all four combinations were played. From there we went on to starters vs. second team playing Bingo-Bango-Bongo. At the end I had them finish with some short serving.

It wasn’t an easy session. The players were clearly flagging toward the end in terms of energy and focus. Following Sunday’s long day for 8 of them, it wasn’t a major surprise. From my perspective, it was quite a frustrating practice. I’ve been harping on a lot of mental stuff, and got on them when they weren’t doing things like covering properly. I also got on them about panicky play, in particular just putting balls back over the net and giving up unnecessary free balls.

At the end of the session I talked with them about my frustrations. I told them how I felt, but that it was a reflection of increasing expectations as the team has gotten better. They will eventually get there. I’m basically training them for Championships and they know that. I will be much more positive with them on Wednesday when they play their next league match.