Archive for 2013-14 Exeter University

Coaching Log – Jan 26, 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

Sunday featured a pair of regional league matches. One was against a team we played last week (beat 3-0) and the other against a team we played back toward the beginning of the season (beat 3-1). Neither were expected to be a major challenge, which turned out to be the case.

Only two of the players used in last week’s matches were on-hand this time around, and I left both our starting setter and team captain behind to allow some of the second team players to get playing time. We did still have most of our first team in action, though. For all but one of them it was their first chance at match play for 2014.

I was largely pleased with what I saw. The hitting was in line with how it’s been developing of late. The recognition of what’s happening on the other side of the court is growing nicely. The defense was solid. Blocking was generally positionally decent, though timing was an issue. There were a couple of instances of not expecting to have to play the ball and a few ill-timed missed serves. Beyond that, though, I was pleased. They team had to fight through a couple of ticklish points to come out with close set victories, as had to be done last week.

The win puts us at 10-2 in the league, with our losses only coming to the top 2 teams. Given the remaining competition, it’s very likely we’ll finish in 3rd overall.

We also stand 3rd in our BUCS league, with the last 3 matches of the regular season coming this week on Wednesday and Thursday. Win the one on Wednesday and we are assured of a top-3 league finish and a spot in Championships. Win them all and we’ll be assured at least a tie for first – with tiebreaks the deciding who ends up official winner for seeding heading into Championships..Our Wednesday competition is a team we’ve already beaten fairly handily. The other we haven’t seen yet. They have a losing record, but were able to take sets off the two other teams we’re up against for the league title, so we need to take them seriously.

Coaching Log – Jan 22, 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

We found out midday on Tuesday that the match we were expecting to have on Wednesday was being pushed off. Both myself and the team were quite happy to hear that. For my own part, it gave me a chance to work on some key team developmental issues.

I actually had a meeting with the team captain and starting setter during the day to address several things. Part of that was getting the players more focused on what was happening on the other side of the court to improve anticipation and general positioning.

After the dynamice warm-up, I started training with serving and passing triples, but going off tosses to get reps in faster. I then had them do some target serving. It was focused on hitting the seems rather than zones as had previously been the case. Not surprisingly, there weren’t many targets hit but it gave me an opportunity to reinforce the requirement for proper mechanics when focusing on a more narrow zone.

From there we progressed to the Get-2 serve receive drill. I ran it to a target of 30 3-passes, with a -1 on an overpass and the count resetting to 0 if a ball dropped with no move to play it. I think the team went back to 0 a total of 5 times, once when they had gotten to 28. A couple times it was failing letting a deep seem ball go between two players – the exact serve we were working on. This was obviously a frustrating drill for the group. I stopped it at one point to reinforce expectations. At the end I tried to moderate the frustration a bit by talking about how challenging our good serves were making the drill, especially in the beginning.

From there I had them do a couple minutes of hitting against the wall to work on mechanics, then we did a few minutes of hitting lines before moving into 6s. The latter featured first 6-rotations of the 22v22 game. Then I had them just play a regular game so I could take some video for them to be able to review.

During the 22v22 game both myself and my assistant had whistles to stop play if we spotted either positional errors or lack of proper reading of the play on the other side of the net. This included stuff like anticipating free/down balls, adjusting to sets outside the pin, failure to properly cover hitters, etc. It didn’t take long before the team – especially the starters – was fully engaged and making the correct calls and getting into the right spots. I’m not a big fan of stopping play, but it needed doing and there was an obvious improvement, so the overall focus and intensity level was actually better than it might otherwise have been.

We’ll have one more training on Monday, then finish up our BUCS league play with an away match on Wednesday and a pair of home fixtures on Thursday. Before then we have a day of regional league play on Sunday.

Coaching Log – Jan 20, 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

As I noted in the last log update, we found out that a league match has been scheduled for Wednesday. At this writing we still don’t know when, and there’s even some question as to whether the match will even be played or whether it will be postponed. Having to act as if we’re playing the match, I had no choice but to have a major 6 v 6 focus for the session to prepare the likely starters.

We had a guest player named Ellie in training for the first time. She’s an England Junior I’ve coached a bit at the NVL level. She’s going to attend our Monday trainings. From our perspective she brings hitting and blocking skills we don’t have in the squad, giving the players the chance to train against a higher caliber than what they normally see, including in our primary competition. The idea is to prepare them for the higher power teams we’ll see when getting to BUCS Championships. From her perspective, it’s added reps with a friendly group who works hard and has a good spirit in training. The level of play doesn’t match what she experiences elsewhere, but it comes with less stress and expectation.

I had a talk with the players before we got underway to talk about what’s to come. If we win the Wednesday match we guarantee no worse than 3rd in the league and a spot in Championships. I talked about not taking the team lightly as they’ve taken sets off our main rivals for the league title. At the same time, I reinforced that we want to remain aggressive and take it to them.

After the dynamic warm-up, we had to do a couple minutes worth of tardiness punishment. I then had the group do the Touch & Go game as a communication and light ball-handing warm-up. That was followed by a bit of serving. Then it was straight into 6 v 6 games with starters against second teamers. The first game was 2 in 2, which I picked because it’s got a strong serve receive focus. We did that through all six rotations, then switched to baseball to add in a bit more free ball and over-speed type work (by over-speed I mean rapid ball initiation after the completion of rallies).

It was a bit of a ragged session. At a certain point during the first game I had to stop things because there were simply too many bad errors being made (overly aggressive attacks, free balls put into the net, etc.). I hadn’t seen that sort of stuff in a long while and it seemed to me like there was a bit of tension in the gym not normally present. I don’t now if it was because of Wednesday’s match, having a new player in the gym, players trying too hard to earn/keep first team spots, or what. I encouraged them to relax and play smarter.

Things did get better, but it was still a bit of a struggle at points. In particular, there were more hitting errors than usual. It wasn’t something that I commented on at all, though. I want them to be aggressive in their attacks and that means at times I have to accept there will be misses.

The second team side was quite competitive throughout. Having Ellie in with them serving tough and pounding outside attacks at the starters helped. 🙂

At the end I talked with them about how I knew there must have been some frustrations about the quality of play. I told them, though, that this is all part of the developmental process. They are getting better as individuals and as a team, which means it takes more to score points against each other. There aren’t many short rallies in training. Hopefully this was one of those times where a poorish practice precedes a strong match.

In terms of future considerations, Ellie’s hitting definitely exposed the weakness in our blocking which needs to be addressed. That’s one of the reasons I brought her in, though.

Coaching Log – Jan 19, 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

Today brought the first matches of the second term. We played a pair of matches in the area regional league. Only six players took part. I was to have been seven, but our libero pulled up with a gimpy foot at the last minute. Of the six, just two of them were among those who last term were regular first teamers. This is not a bad thing as a couple of the other four are players who have been on the fringes of the first team and I got a chance to see how they are coming along outside the training environment.

Despite the depleted squad and the fact that the team’s only been back to training for two sessions, it was a strong performance. We took a pair of 3-0 wins, which moves us back up to 3rd in the league (one of the teams we beat was sitting just above us in the table). There was only one little spell of concern where some runs of ragged play forced the team to come back from behind a couple of times. I was actually happy they had to face that kind of adversity, and how they were able to overcome it successfully.

Overall, I was quite pleased with most of the play. The offense was nicely aggressive. Defense was strong. Passing was pretty solid. Serving was generally good – though there were a few of those when not to miss your serve moments.

The area of the play I focused on with the player was that of recognition. In particular, they were slow in identifying free ball situations and transitioning to the proper defense. This is not the first time I’ve talked with the team on this subject.The team captain today suggested the problem could be one of ball-watching rather than play-watching, which I thought made a lot of sense.

There are other ways lack of recognition comes into play, of course, and it’s clear I need to give some thought to how I can work with the players to better develop their abilities in that area. Naturally, just playing the game helps, but I want to come up with ways to accelerate that process and really shine a light on the issue.

Unfortunately, I don’t have as much training time as I’d like. I found out our next BUCS match will be on Wednesday, which was only decided on Friday. So just a single training session for me to (hopefully) get all the starters playing together beforehand.

Coaching Log – Jan 15, 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

There were a couple of things I wanted to get out of this training. First, I wanted it to be physically demanding with a fairly high tempo either individually or for the group collectively. Second, I wanted to bring both blocking and individual digging into the fold since we didn’t do that last training. Lastly, I wanted to get in a bit of technical work on hitting and take some video for players to reference.

Tardiness was an issue last term that we addressed in the meeting on Monday. Everyone was in the gym on time for the session, but a couple weren’t dressed and ready to go, so after the team went through their dynamic warm-up I had them do 2 minutes worth of calisthenics as reinforcement of the new policy.

From there I had them pair up at the net with one partner playing the attacker and one the blocker. The latter worked on properly fronting their attacker while the former worked on good approaches. Some of the players approach too square to the net, so I make it a focus for them to make sure their hips are open.

After the blocking I had them do over-the-net pepper in groups of 3 or 4 to get lots of ball-handling touches. They did some serving after that and then I had them do some attacking arm-swing work. It was hitting against the wall to reinforce some technique work I’d done with them last term, but with partners tossing. I wanted them working on adjusting to the ball. After that we did some hitting lines, first standard outside sets and then 2nd tempo middle balls. I took video of some of those reps (and of serving previously).

I then put them through the cross-court digging drill with myself and my assistant hitting from benches over the net for the first time. Generally speaking, it went pretty well. There weren’t a ton of overpasses, though there definitely needs to be work on getting platform angles right.

Bingo-bango-bongo was the first 6 v 6 game. Actually, since I only had 10 in training it was 5 v 5 played with 3 at the net and 2 back and zone 6 out of bounds for attacked balls. After going through several rotations I then switched to a standard game, but with each team serving three straight balls. I finished with run serve receive.

The feedback on training was that it might have been the best they’ve experienced so far – this year or last. From my perspective there were a few things that could have made it better, but it wasn’t bad. I think the players liked the physicality and tempo of it. Also, they are really growing in confidence and aggression in their hitting, so they enjoy doing that more and more.

We should have more bodies in training next week as there were a couple of players missing this week. Blocking needs a lot more work and will be a focus.

Coaching Log – Jan 13, 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

The first training session back from the break began with a brief team meeting in which we started by reiterated the team’s goal – making BUCS Final 8s. All I had to do was ask if that remained the goal and look around at all the eager faces and shining eyes to see that the players all remain on board. That made it easy to then have the conversation about higher expectations this term, something I’d already began talking about at the end of last term. Specifically, I will be on them about maintaining their focus without lapses, and we’ll continue to build on the aggressiveness that slowly developed through last term, particularly on offense.

My focus for training was just to shake off the rust, see where the players were at physically, and to reinforce some basic stuff. Since it was a more technical practice session than a team one, it let me do a bit more in terms of technical feedback, which is something the players talked about wanting in the feedback survey they did (that’s something else we talked about in the pre-training meeting during which I told them my focus thus far had been on bigger picture, more team psychology oriented things).

I started them off with speed pepper to get fast reps after their dynamic warm-up, and progressed to more full pepper. They did their serving warm-up and then some target serving. After that, I had them do serving and passing triples then stepped that up to.the Get-2 serve receive drill. After doing some hitting, we spent the remainder of training playing the 22v22 game.

Not surprisingly, there were a lot of issues with foot movement – and of course timing after about a month off is never going to be perfect. Still, I was generally happy with how the session went. In particular, I liked the aggressiveness of the hitting. There were a lot of really good swings. Defense in the 6v6 part of the session at the end was also quite good. Definitely a good starting point.

I’ll pick up the intensity in the next training session, bringing in individual defense and otherwise putting them in situations where they are forced to always been in the play and not checked out.

Coaching Log – Dec 4, 2013

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

For the last proper training session of the term we had 11 players. I had them do rotating pepper as a way for them to mix up working together given that three of those there last night will not be back for the second term (exchange students). After doing a bit of target serving, I then had them do hitting lines working on 2 balls (meter or 2nd tempo sets), with an eye toward adding some complexity to the offense next term. I extended that into Winners 3s with the requirement that the non-digging/passing player run the 2 while the other player was the high ball outlet. It wasn’t pretty, but I didn’t expect it to be right away. From there I moved it along to 6 vs 6, first going with 22 v 22, and then finishing with a standard scrimmage.

I wasn’t pleased with the coverage in the 6s play, particularly from the team’s new setter. She needs to develop the habit of following her sets. There was quite a bit of positional discussion, as well. Part of that was because of the new player who joined on Monday, but some of it wasn’t, which is frustrating.

Monday the team will have a mixed session with the guys squad as their last bit of court time before we get back into training in January.

There are some matches going on with other teams in the league happening this weekend. I’ll post another log entry after those results come out with thoughts on how we’re positioned for our goal of reaching Final 8s – and by extension the new premier league starting next season.

Coaching Log – Dec 2, 2013

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

Had a bit of a surprise in terms of numbers at training last night – 17 total, including a new prospect for the second team group. A couple of players who have been carrying injuries were unexpectedly in the group, along with all but one of the players we will lose at the end of the term when their exchange stays end. That caused some quick thinking about what to do on the day.

The idea going in was to focus on skill work, but with so many bodies in such a small space, I had to adjust a bit. We did some ball-handling at the start, then some serving. I then split the the court and had one side doing the Continuous Cross-Court Digging drill while the other was working on setting from ball passes, combined with good hitter transition and footwork.

I was involved in the hitting for the digging drill while having an assistant working on the other side, so I don’t really know how the setting stuff went beyond some comments from the team captain based on her short stint over there before coming over to dig. In terms of the digging, it could have been better – especially in the overpass area. My big frustration, though, was poor ball circulation among the players not in the drill and I used that to make a coaching point about the need to always be switched on – which ties back in with the observation I made from Saturday’s play.

The last half hour of training was Winners 4s. I was quite pleased by the hitting from a couple of the players – though frustrated about the lack of seeing those swings two days back! I took the opportunity a couple of times to make broad points – particularly on digging technique – while also being able to pull individuals aside to make specific comments.

At the end during the meeting with the players I told them of my intention to raise the challenge level because their improved play demands it. The reaction seemed positive and at the times during the session when I raised my voice they looked to have accepted it. Getting them fully switched on all the time clearly is going to have to be a major training focal point moving forward, so I’ll need to give some thought to how I can do that effectively.

Coaching Log – Nov 30, 2013

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

Generally a pretty good day’s performance. The second team won both their division 2 matches, which likely means they will end 2nd in the table (they only have 4 league matches, but also have a cup competition starting in February). My assistant was with them, so I didn’t actually see them play, but the reports back were positive.

The division 1 team continued their progression. They aren’t where they can be yet, but it’s getting closer. I decided to go with the player I dubbed Setter B in my last log entry. While her stats weren’t much better in the last training, she’s a better defender, handles balls close to the net better, is an effective attacker when she needs to take the third ball, and is generally a more stable court personality – especially in pressure situations.

We beat the league leaders in a tight match to start the day, handled one of the teams from the lower half of the league without a lot of trouble, but lost a tight one against the defending league champs (who we beat a couple weeks back). The results on the day mean the three top teams in the league (including us) are all on 2 losses. We have three matches left with teams in the lower part of the table, while the other two title contenders have to play each other one more time. That means if we win out we can finish no worse than 2nd, with first place maybe coming down to tiebreakers.

The thing the last match of the day highlighted, though, was the need to stay aggressive in the attack. When the tentativeness crept back into our play for spells it cost us. Fortunately, I think the team is recognizing that. There were also some elements of not staying completely switched on all the way through plays, resulting in stupid points being given up. Serving has definitely come along quite well and is putting teams under considerable pressure. The defense also played well and I was pleased to see adapted to the other team’s attack. We do need to get better blocking, however.

There are two more training sessions before we wrap it up for the term. I will use them as an opportunity to work on more technical stuff than I’ve had the opportunity to do in recent weeks. Hitting mechanics will be part of that to keep improving that side of our game. As that comes along it should challenge our blocking to get better, though I may need to find some ways to expose them to better hitters to accelerate the development there.