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Archive for Volleyball Drills

Drill: 5-Player Passing and Movement

Synopsis: This is fairly simple group ball-handling and movement drill (though with room for increased complexity and/or intensity) that could be used as a warn-up.

Age/Skill Level: This is suitable for all levels

Requirements: 5 players, 1 balls, court, 3 cones

Execution: Place two players on one side of the court and three on the other. Behind the two players place one cone each, and place a third cone on the 3-player side in the middle of the court toward the back. What follows is a continuous ball movement exercise where the players on the 2-person side always pass the ball straight ahead over the net while those on the 3-person side always pass the ball diagonally. After one of the 2-person side players passes the ball, they circle around the cone behind them, while on the other side the passer loops behind the cone to switch to the other position.

5-player-pass-move-drill

Variations:

  • Players can be required to forearm pass or set the ball, or some combination.
  • The cones can be moved to challenge player movement to a greater or lesser degree.
  • A second ball can be introduced to increase tempo and focus requirement.

Additional Comments:

  • If using multiple balls in this drill you’ll probably need to have more than just the 5 players to keep the play flowing.
  • I saw this being run by German men’s professional team TV Bühl.

Drill: 6+ Player Diagonal Over-the-Net Pepper

Synopsis: This team pepper variation is good for working on both defense and controlled attack across the net.

Age/Skill Level: This is suitable for intermediate to advanced players

Requirements: 6+ players, balls, court

Execution: Place a setter on both sides of the net in target, along with players in positions 1 and 5 on both sides. Initiate a ball to one of the back row players to dig/pass to the setter, who then sets either one of the players on their side. That player hits a cross court standing attack (down ball) to the player in their same position (i.e. 1 to 1, 5 to 5). Play continues from there.

Variations:

  • If you have more than 6 players, the hitter/defenders can rotate by having the player who “attacks” the ball goes to the back of the court on the other side to eventually re-enter the drill there, with someone taking their vacated place.
  • Instead of hitting cross-court, players can hit line.
  • With more advanced players you can make it actual attacked balls, front or back row.
  • An additional defender could be added in 6, especially for less advanced teams to get more digs. If so, you can continue to have the players in 1 and 5 be the attackers, and have the player from 6 rotate in for the player who just hit the ball.

Additional Comments:

  • In order for this drill to work well, players must be relaxed executing a standing down ball. If they are not, there will be many, many errors.
  • Have balls on-hand to initiate them fresh quickly when a rally ends.
  • I saw this drill used in SC Potsdam training.

Drill: 5-player Pass and Set

Synopsis: This is a combination passing and setting drill, which can also incorporate controlled serving, and perhaps even hitting.

Age/Skill Level: This is suitable for all levels

Requirements: 5+ players, 4 balls, court, 2 cones

Execution: Place one player in each half of the back row, a setter near the net in the passing target zone, and one player each near the antennae as setting targets, with a coach on the other side of the net opposite the passers. The coaches alternate sending free balls to their passer. After a player passes the ball, they move to a cone set somewhere on the perimeter of the court and then back into position. The setter alternates setting forward and back. After 10 balls to each passer, they switch with one of the targets.

Variations:

  • Players can be used in place of the coaches to initiate balls to the passers.
  • Serves (from in the court or full) can be used in place of free balls.
  • Setter can either set the balls passed from position 5 to the target in 4, and the ones from zone 1 to the target in 2, or vice versa.
  • Rather than just catching the ball, the setter targets could hit.

Additional Comments:

  • Ensure your setter is always operating from your preferred target area to encourage passes directed there.
  • This drill can be run with just 4 balls by having each target start with a ball, which they then toss to the free baller (or server) after the latter sends a ball over the net to the passer.
  • I saw this being run by German men’s professional team TV Bühl.

Drill: 2-Task Ball-Handing Shuttle

Synopsis: This is a straight-forward small-group ball-handling drill, but with an added dimension which forces players to have teammate awareness and focus on their next duty.

Age/Skill Level: This is suitable for all levels

Requirements: 5+ players, 1 ball per each player but one (so 4 balls for 5 players)

Execution: Begin with two short lines of players with balls on either side of the net, and one player without a ball near the net on one side. The first player in line on the side without the player at the net (P1) tosses the ball over the net to the player first in line on the other side (P2) then moves to the net on their own side. As the ball is crossing the net P2 tosses the ball they are holding to the player at the net (P3), then plays the incoming ball back over the net to the next person in line (P4). P3 catches the ball tossed to them by P2, and moves to the end of the line on their side of the net. After passing the ball to P4, P2 moves to the net. As the ball crossed back over the net toward them, P4 tosses their ball to P2 and the cycle repeats.

Variations:

  • You can specify how players play the ball over the net – forearm pass, overhead passe, pass to set and tip, etc.
  • The player at the net can be required to execute some skill with the incoming back (e.g. set to self) before going to the back of the line.
  • You can run the drill for some number of balls over the net or time without a ball hitting the floor (including the tossed ones).

Additional Comments:

  • You will observe two primary causes of balls hitting the floor beyond simple errors in balls played over the net. One is bad tosses to the target player near the net because the ball just gets thrown in a panicky fashion. The other is balls not caught by the target player because they were too busy ball-watching. The primary motivation of this drill is on those two points of contact.
  • If run in multiple groups, it could be made into a competitive drill.
  • I saw this run at England Cadet/Junior National Team trials.

Volleyball Camp Drills and Games

Summer is, of course, prime season for volleyball camps. As anyone who has ever run one knows, camps present their own set of challenges for drill and game selection. When you’re designing a plan for a practice session you at least know the level of the players, the distribution of players in the various positions, and things like that. Camps are more akin to try-outs. You’re trying to employ activities which can accommodate for a number of variables.

Actually, in many camps there is a sort of try-out process at the beginning. That’s to assign players to courts or teams for the remainder of camp based on position, skill level, etc. It requires drills which can be used to handle large numbers of players efficiently. If you’re in a position like this, have a look at the Volleyball Try-Out Drill Ideas post.

Warm-ups

It is very easy in a camp situation where you’re dealing with potentially a lot of players to get lazy and do something like jog & stretch. Please don’t do that! You can see my thoughts on warm-ups in general in the post Are your warm-ups wasting valuable time? Suffice it to say, I think you can do better, even if it’s just adopting some kind of dynamic warm-up. Depending on the age and skill level of the group, consider a ball-handling and/or footwork oriented warm-up.

Lots and lots of touches!

Part of running a camp is making sure the campers are happy and feel they got something out of it. Standing around for long periods doing nothing doesn’t help with that. You want to keep them active as much as possible. The more ball contacts you can get them the better. The best way to do this is to put them in small groups. That allows you to run ball-handing shuttles (like 21) and/or pepper variations such as 3/4-person in-line or over-the-net. You can also play small-sided games. Maybe do it in a tournament format to add a competitive element.

Inclusive rather than exclusive

Be careful about drills or games where players who make a mistake are bumped out for long periods of time. An example of this is the common serving drill where you have players on both sides serving back and forth and missed serves cause players to have to go sit on the other side until a teammate hits them with a serve. That sort tends to see the weaker players spend the most time sitting on the floor. A better option would be the Amoeba Drill, which flips that around (always a popular one, by the way).

Emphasize connecting with new people

Unless you’re running a team camp, you’re going to have a bunch of players who don’t know each other. That means as you design activities for the campers you need to incorporate a “getting to know your fellow campers” element. There are loads of different icebreaker exercises out there that can help. Many can be incorporated into volleyball work.

Talk as little as possible

The campers are there to work on their skills and play games – and be social. They are not there to attend a series of lectures. Spend as little time as you can get away with having them listen to coaches talk and as much time as possible on the court.

Be creative and make it fun!

Creativity can go a long way toward making for a positive camper experience. As much as we coaches might want to spend loads of time on fundamentals, the kids can only tolerate a limited amount of ball-handling work before they start to lose focus. By all means, do lots of fundamental work in your camp, but think about ways you can do it without the kids realizing you’re doing so. Using different types of games can help that, especially since the kids will be eager to play anyway.

Whether you are running a camp or just part of the coaching staff, keep in mind that as much as we might like it to be otherwise, camps are at least as much about entertainment as making players better. If you want players to come back again and/or tell their friends about it, they have to have a positive experience. This is something different than coaching a team or a training session where the focus tends to be more on challenging the players. Keep the fun element in mind and you’ll tend to end up with more satisfied campers.

Thoughts on the Coach vs. Defense Drill

A drill you’ll see a lot of in volleyball pre-game warm-ups is coach vs. defense. By that I mean players are on-court in their defensive positions with a coach attacking at them from near the net. For example, the coach is in position 2, there’s a setter in position 3 with defenders in positions 1, 6, and 5. The coach hits the ball at the defenders, they dig to the setter, and the setter sets the ball to the coach to be attacked again.

There are any number of variations on this structure. You could have fewer or more defenders on the court. There are different ways to have players sub in and out. Sometimes players rotate based on who plays the ball. Regardless, the basic idea is to give the players a defensive warm-up. Maybe there is work on covering exposed space and communicate.

Volleyball-Coach-Vs-Defense

I ran these drills during my earlier collegiate coaching days. I tended not to like them – especially in pre-match warm-ups. In that specific situation I found it only has a downside risk with little in the way of upside. I don’t remember any times when the players finished up coach vs. defense with an improved attitude. I can recall many times when it was a somewhat frustrating experience, though. Maybe they weren’t playing balls in seams properly. Perhaps the intensity level wasn’t as high as it should be. Maybe they were being lazy in their transitions. Whatever the case, it didn’t feel like a good preparation for the match to come.

Beyond that psychological element, I have a few other gripes.

The attack angles aren’t realistic: Unless the coach is very tall, the ball being hit at the player is coming from too low relative to the net for realism. Plus, the coach is significantly closer to the defenders than an attacker would be. This is less an issue for the deeper defenders. For those close by (line), though, it creates real reaction and anticipation issues. It also and/or forces the coach to hit the ball softer.

Lazy movement and transition: Too often when I watch this drill going I see players barely moving on defense. They are meant (in most cases) to work on going from base to defense and back. A lot of time, however, they stay just in defense. Why? Because the ball is always going to the same location. As a result, they don’t need to worry about reacting to the set location.

Too many of the wrong sets: Most of the time in these drills the setter must back-set to the coach who attacks from Zone 2. This is fine for the defenders since it replicates sets to Zone 4 on the other side. It’s a lot of reps for the setter to an area that will probably represent the minority of sets in game situations, though. Firstly, the majority of dug balls will get set to the OH in Zone 4. Secondly, by forcing the setter to set Zone 2 from all angles, you require them to set at difficult angles for would-be hitters. For example, a ball dug toward Zone 1 is generally not a ball a setter should set to a right side attacker because of the angle. This is especially true for a right-handed hitter.

Cutting things off after the dig: In a match situation after the back row players dig, they need to be moving to prepare to cover on a set to a front-row player. In this drill, though, the players instead are immediately looking toward the next attack.

Coach-centric: How you look at this aspect of the drill depends on your focus. The coach is the main driver of this drill in most set-ups. That means they can control things quite a bit – for better or worse. If you’re the only coach, being an active participant in the drill means you’re going to have a hard time watching the fullness of what’s going on. It also means that if you want to make a coaching point you have to completely stop the drill. Not good if you just want to talk with one player.

Getting to success: Many of the ways coaches run coach vs. defense don’t have a positive objective to them. One example a player or a group of players rotate out on an error or the ball hitting the floor. That’s not the kind of confidence-building experience you want the players to have pre-match.

Of course every drill has drawbacks. Whether you use any given one depends on whether the value your players get out of it offsets the negatives. There are a few ways you can potentially improve the coaching vs. defense drill for your purposes, though.

1. Take yourself out: If you have an assistant coach, great! If not, consider using a player in the attacker role. The the latter introduces some other potential issues, but the general idea is to allow you to step back and observe. That will let you coach without necessarily having to stop the entire drill to do so.

2. Have a goal: Instead of running the drill for time or until someone makes a mistake, give the players an objective to reach before they sub out or rotate or whatever. It could be a number of good dig-set reps or a given amount of time without the ball dropping, or whatever suits the needs of your team. The idea here is to give the players a feeling of accomplishment at its finish rather than a sense of failure or punishment.

3. Add in a second attacker: In order to force players to be more disciplined about their defensive movement, make it 2-hitter drill by having hitters in both Zone 2 and Zone 4. Giving the setter two options forces the defenders to return to balance between plays.

4. Attack from over the net: This isn’t something you’ll be able to do in pre-match warm-ups, of course, but it might be something you can work-out in training. Done efficiently, it will allow you to incorporate more realistic setting situations for the setter and coverage movement for the defenders if done effectively.

Those are just some thoughts I have. What do you think? Do you use a version of coach vs. defense that you like? How can we make it better and more realistic?

Drill: Hitter Tourney

Synopsis: This is drill which can be used to put hitters into a competitive situation for the purposes of assessment..

Age/Skill Level: This is suitable for intermediate to advanced players

Requirements: 7 players, 1 ball, full court

Execution: Place three back row players (including a setter) and a blocker on one side, and a setter, a defender, and an Outside Hitter on the other side as per the diagram below. The 4-player side serves every ball to either the defender or OH. The teams then play through a rally. On the receiving side the OH must attack every ball (if possible). On the serving side, only back row attacks are permitted. Play out 10 rallies and keep track of how many times the OH’s team wins.

OH tourney volleyball drill

Variations:

  • You can run a similar drill with right side hitters, or even back row attackers.
  • Since the serve is only going to the D or OH on the receiving side, you can have the Setter start in any zone to work on movement to target.
  • The setter on the serving side could also be the Blocker, allowing for the insertion of a third defender in the back row..
  • You could potentially alternate OHs on a rotation rather than having one player go through 10 straight reps.

Additional Comments:

  • This drill was described by USA National Team setter Courtney Thompson in a seminar at the 2013 American Volleyball Coaches Association annual convention.
  • For the most fair assessment of hitters, have them work against the same defensive group and have the same setter and defender on their side. That doesn’t prevent you mixing things up and running the drill for multiple cycles.

Volleyball Coaching Concept – Build-up drills

I previously discussed the idea of planning your volleyball training sessions from the end back to the start. The thought there is to be able to build toward a desired training focus or outcome, and also to create a progression of lower intensity and more technical work toward higher intensity, more tactical action. The same can be done for drills by progressively adding complexity.

For example, let’s start with a simple hitter vs blocker type drill – one RS blocker, a setter, and perhaps a few hitters attacking through 4. The starting focus can be on the blocker properly positioning themselves and executing technically sound blocks.

The next step would be to add in a middle blocker. We’ve now just raised the complexity by introducing the need for the pin blocker to sync up with the MB.

The next step could be to add a quick middle attack on the hitting side. This will keep the MB from cheating toward the outside attack and make for a more game-like situation.

Next we can add in one or more defenders working on playing around the block. There are also various options for adding in passers and different types of ball initiations to further extend both the game-like quality and the complexity.

This sort of build up is something you can do if you want to move toward working on something specific. In this instance it might be a defensive system in which you’re integrating the blocking scheme with the floor defense. You can do the same sorts of progressions to work on offensive systems and plays.

Progression drills do not have to be for working on complex play, though. You can use them just as well for working on more fundamental aspects of play. For example, turning a standard hitting line from something where a toss goes into the setter to one where a pass is required is a progression. You could then step up the complexity by taking it from a free ball pass to a down ball pass to a serve receive pass or maybe to a dig. By doing so you are increasingly linking game actions together so players are not working just on skills in isolation.

Drill: 2-and-1 Pepper with Movement

Synopsis: This is a nice 3-person pepper variation which could be used as a warm-up drill and/or to work on ball control in general terms.

Age/Skill Level: This is suitable for all levels

Requirements: 3 players, 1 ball

Execution: Have two players off the net and one at it (or otherwise put the players somewhere on the court with a bit of space). The player at the net attacks the ball at one of the pair off the net. The non-digger takes the second ball and sets it back to the hitter. The two diggers then switch positions before the next attack. Continue for time or a given number of successful dig-set reps.

Variations:

  • For lower skill levels the player at the net can substitute a passed or set ball for a hit.
  • The hitter can either hit to the same spot each time (meaning players alternate digging) or can randomly pick which direction to hit.

Additional Comments:

  • A potential coaching focus point is the footwork used in the position change.
  • Players should be able to problem-solve preparing for the set and giving themselves time for transition before having another hit come their way, but less experienced players may require a bit of nudging in the right direction.