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Archive for Volleyball Drills

Large group volleyball drills and games

As coaches, we sometimes find ourselves in situations where we have to work with a large number of players. This is especially true in tryout situations, in clinics, and in lower level more participation oriented groups. This is when you need large group volleyball drills.

There are two philosophical concepts that are key here. One is to keep the players moving as much as possible. We don’t want them standing around for long periods of time. The other is to maximize player contacts.

So how do we do this?

The first is to avoid line oriented drills. These are things like hitting lines. There are two reasons for this. First is all the waiting around. Second is how few players take part. Think about it. In a standard hitting line, one hitter tosses to a setter. That’s just two active players. And it’s only one if a coach tosses to the hitter!

How can we make that better?

As a starting point, we can add in a block. In fact, we can make that two blockers. Just depends what you want to accomplish with the drill, though. We can add in a passer. And while we’re doing that, we can add in a tosser or server as well. What about someone playing defense?

Now we have six or more players involved in each repetition. That doesn’t mean they all touch the ball each time, but just taking active part means they get reading reps.

Another way to get more players involved in large group volleyball drills is to make effective use of your space. For example, the 2-sided Serve & Pass drill puts servers and passers on both sides of the net. That effectively doubles the number of players involved at any one time.

You can do the same sort of thing by using narrow court arrangements. Think about whether what you want to do can be done on half a court, or even a 1/3 of a court.

That brings up the subject of small-sided games. The classic example of this is Winners, also known as Queen or King (or Monarch) of the Court. Most people play 3s or 4s in this game. Why not play that on a half court? That way you can run two games side-by-side and double the number of players active. Player Winners is another variation that you could possibly run on 1/3 of a court.

Of course what we like about Winners is the fast pace. Players move in and out quickly. We can actually speed that up, though, by using the Speedball version.

Related to that, you can use quick substitutions to manage court time in large group volleyball drills. One example of this used at times at MSU is 6 v 6s. This idea is to make the substitution cycles quick. Ideally, a player is on more than they are off, if that is possible to arrange.

For example, if you have three players you want to play across two positions you can rotate them on a plays or point basis. One is in Position 1, one is in Position 2, and one is off. After some number of plays or points, they rotate. Position 1 goes to Position 2, Position 2 goes off, and the off player goes to Position 1. That means each player is on the court roughly twice as long as they are off.

As always, it is important to start off with a clear set of priorities. What do you want to accomplish? From there you can think about the types of drills and games you can use with the group, and look for ways to keep wait times down, maximize the number of players involved, and to move things along quickly.

Have a favorite large group game or drill? Share it with your fellow readers in the comment section below.

Drill: 6 v 6s

Synopsis: This is a 6 on 6 drill/game that you can use to keep many players active and not sitting out for long periods of time.

Age/Skill Level: This is a drill for all levels

Requirements: 12+ players, one court

Execution: Set up one side of the court with a team of 6. The rest of the players are on the other side. Six are on the court, with the rest ready to come in. The 6s side serves and the teams play out a rally as normal. On the next serve, a new player serves and bumps the player or players in their position. For example, if an OH serves, they bump the current back row OH up to front row, and the front row one goes off to become a server. Thus, a new player comes in at the start of each rally, and one goes off.

Variations:

  • If you want your pin hitters to attack both on the left and on the right, they can do something like a middle back to left front to right front rotation.
  • You can fix certain positions, for example setter.
  • You can can have certain positions rotate separately without serving, for example middles.
  • If you have enough numbers, you could do the same substitution pattern, or about the same, on both sides of the court and make it 6s vs 6s.

Additional Comments:

  • This drill is something you can use in a situation where you want to work on your starting rotation, or if you want to work on certain serve receive rotations.
  • You don’t have to score the play if you don’t want to, but there are a number of ways you can use scoring. In the most basic way you can play games to X number of points as an indication of when to change things up on the 6 side – be it turn the rotation or swap out players. If there’s something specific you want to work on, you can use some kind of bonus point scoring.

Cooperative vs. competitive for games and drills

Generally speaking, there are two types of games and drills you can use in your volleyball training. One is cooperative where the group is working together toward some objective. The other is competitive where you divide the group and pit one part against the other. Each type of approach has its uses.

Cooperative

Broadly, going cooperative means having a collective goal. That could be something like 20 good passes when doing a serving and passing drill. The Continuous Cross-Court Hitting drill is a game-play example of a cooperative drill.

I personally find these sorts of exercises most useful when working on decision-making. For example, the Hard Drill – and variations on it – is good to help players learn when they should attack aggressively and when they should keep the ball in play. It helps train a more intentional type of play, as well as control.

There is a drawback to cooperative activities, though. The players tend not to challenge each other as much. In serve and pass the serves are a bit easier. In drills with hitters attacking, the swings are not as aggressive. Even if you make it a point to only count the hard swings, they still won’t be consistently as hard as would otherwise be the case. It’s a trade-off. You have to weigh the benefits of the control elements against this.

Competitive

Any exercise where teams (or players) earn points and compare those points to someone else is a competitive one. That ranges from normal games and wash drills to things like servers vs. passers games.

Obviously, when you go competitive you help to further develop your team’s competitiveness. The tricky part can be making sure what you give points for is what you want the team doing. Players will inevitably figure out the most straightforward way to score. That might not always be the sort of solution you’re looking for to the problem you are trying to present them.

For example, there’s a competitive variation of Continuous Cross-Court Hitting where a team scores points for kills and blocks. Since the defense only covers half the court, however, an attacker could easily just hit the ball off the block and into the open part of the court to score. Certainly, from one perspective that’s a good thing. The attacker has figured out how to use the block. The point of the exercise, though, is to stimulate good attacking and defending sequences. Hitters going block-out all the time defeats the purpose.

That’s the sort of thing you need to keep in mind when setting up your games.

Also, you have to consider whether being competitive is appropriate or not based on the balance of the teams. It’s a real challenge, even when using modified scoring, to make an A-team vs. B-team scrimmage competitive if there is a meaningful ability gap.

Cooperative-competitive

There is actually a third way to go that blends to two primary approaches. It’s one that can help to overcome the more passive elements of cooperative exercises. The idea here is that the players are rewarded for challenging each other, not for simply playing the ball to a teammate.

Consider again the Cooperative Cross-Court Hitting drill. The objective there is to sustain a rally by hitting the ball at a teammate so they can produce a controlled dig. That’s fine when you want to work on general control. The hitter has a set of clear targets.

At a certain point, though, you want your hitters aiming for the holes in the defense, not the defenders. A cooperative-competitive version of the drill would be to count as successful reps only those attacks that are aimed at seams or open areas. That might not sound cooperative, but if the whole group is aiming for a certain number of good reps, that’s exactly what it is. They collectively gets points for trying to beat each other. And you could add points for good defensive plays so it’s not just about hitting.

Can you see the benefit? Now you have everyone working hard to challenge each other. Attackers are working to find new ways to beat the defense. The defense is working to get better about reading the attackers’ intentions. As coach you get to decide what counts.

Could you get the same from a competitive version of the drill? Yes and no. Obviously, in that case the hitters and defense are trying to beat each other. In normal point scoring, though, attackers can sometimes still score points even when they play the ball directly to a defender. That’s not really what you’re after.

Also you may have an imbalance in your groups, or you may want to help develop an overall team spirit. In those cases, a more cooperative approach might be best. It’s great to see players excited for the good plays of their teammates. That’s easier to foster within the collective group when those great plays benefit everyone explicitly.

Thoughts?

Shifting from cooperative to competitive

I like to use cooperative drills like this, this, and this with my teams for a couple of reasons. One is that they give players a lot of quality – meaning game-like – contacts. They sustain longer rallies, so the ball crosses the net more often. Another is that they help train players to make good decisions in situations you want less aggressive play to just keep the rally going. You can potentially add in a couple other things as well.

At MSU we sometimes run a competitive version of the rotating cooperative cross-court hitting drill. Obviously, instead of having the players keep the rally going, they play to win each one. In this variation, points can only be scored actively, not on opponent error. Basically, that means you get a point for a kill or a block, but nothing for an opponent hitting error. At the end of a rally, a coach initiates a new ball (over the net) to the winning team (whether they earned a point or not).

The team plays 4 games to eight points – 4 vs 4, 4 vs 2, 2 vs 2, 2 vs. 4.

On the face of it, this might be a nice way to work on cross-court defense and things like that. At one point, though, I was tempted to call a time out and see if I could get the hitters to think about the easiest way to score.

Have you figured out what that would be?

Consider this. You have one blocker in position 2. You have defenders in 4, 5, and 6 basically covering half the court. That leaves half the court wide open. Yes, it’s technically out of bounds. But if you can tick the ball off the block …

If the players were to get smart enough to realize this, then the drill/game kind of falls apart – at least from the perspective of wanting lots of touches from more sustained rallies. On the other hand, it could be an interesting exercise in getting hitters thinking outside the box and working the block.

My broad point in all this – like using other scoring systems and/or bonus points – is that you definitely need to make sure you think about the potential implications involved. Specifically, what might the scoring incentivize above and beyond the basic level?

Just something to consider in your planning.

A reasonable hitters on boxes vs blockers set-up

I’ve never been a huge fan of blocking against hitters on boxes. My big problem with it are that the way these drills are often run is that they very often eliminate the read/react element of things and/or operate at a tempo that isn’t very game-like. This version is perhaps the best I’ve seen, though. In having a live setter working off a pass, the blockers are forced to try to read and react. Plus, the tempo of the attacks is pretty much game speed.

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Now, that said, there is still a big short-coming. It’s one that is tough to get around with hitters on boxes. I’m talking about the lack of a hitter read for the blockers. They basically know exactly where the hitter will attack the ball, so there is no reading of that. In other words, it trains the blockers to simply go to a spot, which is a problem I see all the time.

That being the case, as much as I think this is a better version of blockers vs. hitters on boxes than most, I would still be inclined to only use it infrequently to work on very specific things (penetration, communication, movement, etc.).

Drill: 3 v 3 All-Touch Transition & Attack

Synopsis: This is a good game-play exercise that gets every player lots of touches and works especially on transition hitting.

Age/Skill Level: This is a drill for intermediate and higher levels.

Requirements: 6+ players, a ball, a net, extra antennae

Execution: Attach the spare antennae to the net to create a channel for attacking in Zones 2 and 4 (similar to what’s discussed here). Place three players to a side, with one at the next in Zone 2 (opponent’s Zone 4), one as the OH, and one as back court defender. One side starts the attack with a set to 4. The opposing player at the net blocks line, so the two others defend the angle. If the back court player digs the ball, the blocker sets the OH in Zone 4. If the OH digs the ball, the back court player sets the blocker in Zone 2, in which case the OH hitter on the other side blocks and the other two play defense. In this case the pattern is same in that if the front court player digs the ball, the back court defender sets the blocker, otherwise the blocker sets the OH. In other words, every player touches the ball each play. Continue until the ball goes dead, then the players rotate.

BertrandDrill

Variations:

  • This can be done cooperatively to encourage longer rallies.
  • The antennae can be adjusted to alter what the hitters have available to swing at around the block.

Additional Comments:

  • This drill is from England Junior National team coach Bertrand Olie and was posted as part of an interview with him on the Volleyball England website.
  • As a cooperative drill this could be used as a warm-up.

Working on attacking the block in games and drills

During one of the on-court sessions at the HP Coaches Clinic, someone presented an idea about hitters attacking the block. They put an antenna on the net about a meter in from the left side pin. Basically, it defined the zone in which the OH normally attacks. The hitter then had to hit the ball between the antennae. That obviously makes it harder to hit around the block. This forced the hitter to work the edges of the block. Or they could attack seam, if that option was available. The blockers took line or cross to work on things more narrowly.

This sort of thing can be used in the Pin Hitter Challenge game they demonstrated at the clinic, if you have two sets of antennae. It also works in the Hitter Tourney drill, the Hitter vs. Hitter Challenge or High Ball to Receive games. Basically, use it in any game or drill with hitters against blockers with lots of sets to the attackers in focus.

Of course training the attackers in this fashion also benefits blockers as well. They can work on good hand position and angles to avoid hitters tooling them.

Drill: 1-2 Serve & Pass

Synopsis: This drill allows passers to work on receiving hard serves, and servers on serving them, but without lots of missed serves leaving passers standing around.

Age/Skill Level: This is a drill for intermediate and higher levels.

Requirements: 6+ players, 3 balls, a net.

Execution: Set up three players in serve reception on one side of the net, with a target, and 2 or more servers on the other side. The servers work in sets of three good serves. The first one is an aggressive serve to any of the three passers. The second and third serves are controlled balls to the two players who did not pass the first ball. For example, Server A serves a hard jump serve to the passer in Position 6, then Server A and Server B serve standing float servers to the passers in Position 1 and 5.

Variations:

  • Passers can rotate after each trio of serves, or stay in assigned positions if working on specialized training.
  • If you only have one properly aggressive/tough server, they should always serve the first ball, otherwise the first ball can be done in some kind of rotation.
  • If a server misses their serve they can either go again immediately, or the next server can go.
  • You can go for time, for some number of good passes, specifically for a target number of good passes off the aggressive serves, or make it a servers vs. passers game.
  • If you have sufficient players, you could run this drill 2-sided with servers and passers on both sides of the court.

Additional Comments:

  • This drill was introduced by Laurent Tillie at the HP Coaches Clinic.
  • This is a good drill to allow for aggressive serving without the common problem seen in most serving & passing drills where there can be lots of missed serves and/or balls going largely to the same passer/zone.

Drill: 2 vs. 0, or 2-Player Over-the-Net Pepper

Synopsis: This pepper variation takes the standard two-player version and introduces playing the ball over the net, putting a real premium on ball control and smart ball-handling.

Age/Skill Level: This is a drill for all levels.

Requirements: 2 players, one ball, a net.

Execution: This variation of 3-person over-the-net pepper begins with one player on each side of the net, one with a ball. The player with the ball (Player A) hits it over to the other player and immediately runs under to the other side. The second player (Player B) passes the ball as normal. Player A sets the ball up to Player B and ducks back under the net. Player B plays the ball to Player A, and ducks under to the other side to set Player A. And so on.

Additional Comments:

  • I saw John Kessel (USA Volleyball) describe this pepper variation over breakfast at the High Performance Coaches Clinic.
  • You could use anything that can be set high enough for players to duck under (string, rope, etc.) for a “net”, allowing you to use just about any space.