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Archive for Volleyball Games

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?

Volleyball games for training and fun

On this blog there’s a whole category of posts dedicated to specific volleyball games. In this post, though, I want to share some ideas for a few different types of volleyball games that have broad use. They are also ones players enjoy!

Win to stay on volleyball games

This group of games is often called King or Queen of the Court, or Winners. The basic idea is that if you win the rally you get to stay on the court. If you lose, you go off and someone else comes on. Usually, the team that stays on gets the first ball to start the next rally.

Because you’re playing just a single rally before teams change, these games are fast-moving. Normally, you use small teams (like 3s). Also, you want to keep the number of teams low so no one sits out for long.

Players like these kinds of games because of the competitiveness and how fast things go. They also like that they can use all different skills and get a lot more contacts than is true when playing 6s.

From a coaching perspective, these types of volleyball games are great because they are very flexible. There are all kinds of ways you can adjust them to focus on what you want to practice.

  • You can start them with a serve, a free ball, or some kind of attacked ball depending on your priorities.
  • If you play 3s, you can require each player touch the ball before it goes over the net to work on communication and coordination.
  • Want to work on your quick offense? Designate a player who must run quick – such as the non-passer who isn’t setting.
  • Want your setters to get lots of reps? Fix them on the court or have them rotate separately from the rest.
  • Looking to work on out-of-system offense? Require a non-setter to take the initial second ball.

Just about anything you want to work on in a game play context can be incorporated into these sorts of games.

By the way, there’s a variation on the Winners idea where the losing team stays instead. The Belly Drill is an example.

Changing court size for volleyball games

Sometimes playing volleyball games on a full court just doesn’t work. This is especially true if you’re playing small-sided games and/or you have younger or less experienced players. If that’s the case, think about making the court smaller.

Here’s an example. When I have taught volleyball as a university P.E. class I always started with a narrow court – even if I had 5 or 6 players on a side. The students were relatively new to the game. They could not cover a lot of space. Putting them on a smaller court let them have more rallies, making things a lot more fun. It let me get them first focused on playing 3 contacts, then getting to the point of attacking the third ball. As their skills improved, I expanded the court.

For more experienced players, using a smaller court is a great way to increase rallies. The players have less area to defend, so they tend to dig more balls. That means more balls going back and forth across the net. Longer rallies tend to mean more fun.

You can also use a narrow court to force more blocking. A lot of times in small-side games like the Winners types games mentioned above, there isn’t a lot of blocking. We want hitters working on attacking against a block. By reducing the width of the net for the game we give the block more opportunity. You can then take things a step further to force players to block by requiring a certain number of them to be at the net.

For example, say you’re play 4 v 4 on a half court. If you require the teams to play with two at the net you increase the chances of attackers facing a decent block.

I should note that in many parts of the world younger players play small-sided volleyball games on smaller courts. For example, in England I saw them have U14s playing 4 v 4 on a badminton court. That way they get a combination of the benefits of having fewer people and less area to cover.

Varying the scoring for volleyball games

One final way you can mix things up and make games more interesting is by changing up how they are scored. There are two main ways you can do this. One is to use bonus points or to otherwise set rules for what counts as a point. For example, you could say scoring on a quick attack is worth two points rather than one. Or your could allow teams to only score on earned points – kills, blocks, and aces.

The other way is to use a wash type of scoring system. This way of scoring requires a team to win multiple rallies in order to get a point. One example of this would be if a team wins the first ball, they then get a free ball. If they also win that they earn a point. You could require 3 in a row, or 2-out-of-3, or whatever makes sense for what you want to do. Lots of different ways to do it.

Vollis

If you’re looking for a fun volleyball related game, you should consider vollis, to use John Kessel’s term for it. In Europe and some other places it’s referred to as bagherone or baggar tennis. Basically, it’s a volleyball form of tennis where you play 1-touch.

There are several different variations of Vollis. One is to play just inside the 3m lines, so short court. The most common way that is done is with one team on each side playing on a rotating basis. It’s a 1 v 1 game, but after a player touches the ball they go to the back of their team’s line and the next player steps in. You can also play the same way full court, and even add players to make it 2 v 2.

The variation of the game my teams seem to like a lot is what’s called Brazilian 2-ball. In this variation there are two players on each side and the initial balls are underhand served in, one from each side. They play until both balls are dead, then both teams rotate out. In order to win a point, one team needs to win both balls. It gets really competitive!

Be creative with your volleyball games

I’ve offered up a few different ways you can mix things up to play different types of volleyball games. Really, you’re only limited by your imagination. Think about what you want to work on and how you can mix things up to keep it fresh, fun, and exciting.

Got a favorite type of volleyball game? I’d love to hear it. Tell us about it in the comment section below!

Game: 2 v 2 side switch

Synopsis: This is a fast-paced, small-side game based on a Winners model, but with a major wrinkled that creates lots of movement and encourages player communication and problem-solving.

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

Requirements: 6+ players, full court

Execution: Play starts with 2 players on the “winners” side and two on the “challengers” side. One of the challengers serves to start the rally. The winners team has three contacts to attack the ball at the challengers, but the attack must come from the “challengers” side of the court. That means they must play either the first or second ball over the net so it can then be played for a final contact back to their starting side. Meanwhile, the challengers run over to the winners side to defend. When the winners play the ball back into the winners side of the court, they then have to do the same process (play the ball back to the challenge side and attack from there). So the ball is always attacked (or otherwise played over on a final contact) from the challenge side after first being received/dug on the winners side.

Whoever wins the rally becomes/stays the winners. The losing team rotates out and a new pair of challengers begin a new rally. A team earns a point by winning a rally when they started on the winners side. Play to a predetermined number of points.

Here’s some video of what it looks like in action. I recorded this in May 2017 during the training camp for the Australian Men’s National Team.

Variations:

  • If you don’t want to score the game you can play for time.
  • You can play with teams of 3. More than that would probably be too many people moving back and forth on the court, though.
  • If you don’t have the right player count to make fixed teams you can have each player keep individual score.
  • You can have the players stay on the ground (at least to start) if you want to use this game as a warm-up, as was done in the video.
  • You can require the teams to use all three contacts, or make them only use two.
  • For younger or less-experienced players you can require certain types of ball contacts. For example, the third contact must be a down ball.

Additional Comments:

Game: Win 2 Out-of-System Rallies

Synopsis: This is a wash type of game which puts the focus on attacking in a setter-out or out-of-system situation. It can be very useful for getting pin hitters (or back row attackers) to make good decisions when not put in the best of attacking situations.

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

Requirements: 12+ players, full court

Execution: Initiate a setter-out ball (attack a ball at the setter, or otherwise require a non-setter to take the 2nd ball). Play out the rally. After the first ball, play is as normal. If the team receiving the initial ball wins the rally, they get a second ball in the same fashion. If they win both, they rotate. If they lose either the first or second ball, it’s a wash and the other team gets the setter-out ball. Play until one team rotates all the way around.

Variations:

  • You can keep a rally score tally going (each team gets a point for a rally won, regardless of who got the initial ball). If you set a score cap (like 25 points), then it will let you put a rough time limit on how long the game goes.
  • To encourage positive errors rather than negative ones, and hitter coverage, you can have a team rotate backwards if a pin hitter hits an out-of-system ball into the net or is stuff blocked.
  • Once a rotation is earned, you can either restart with a first ball to that team, or give the first ball to the other team.
  • As an alternative to initiating a setter-out ball, you could toss in a ball that is the first contact, and require a certain player (or position) to play the second contact off of it.

Additional Comments:

  • Be aware the players can be stuck in a rotation for a while in this game. In most cases it requires a team to win three straight rallies (stop the other team, then win two setter-out initations). This can be further exacerbated by having to reverse back on bad errors. You may want to consider doing rotation flips (1,4,2,5,3,6) rather than going sequentially as a result. Either that or have system to rotate players around to keep some (like MBs) from being in or out longer than desired.
  • This could be used in a small-sided game situation.

Game: Dig or Die Back Row Speedball

Synopsis:  This is a variation on the Speedball Winners idea as applied to a game with back row attacks only. The difference is that point scoring is collective and defensive intensity is highly encouraged.

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

Requirements: 12+ players, full court

Execution: Players are split, with half on each side. Those teams are then split into at least two groups. One group from each side starts on the court, with one of them serving to begin the rally. Once the rally plays out – back row attacking only – the losing team rotates out, with a new group from that same side serving to the winners and coming on. Points are earned for rally wins, with each side being a single team on the score board. If a team lets a ball drop without a touch, they lose all their points and go back to zero.

Variations:

  • For a higher tempo game you can start each play with a coach-initiated ball.
  • Depending on your numbers and training focus you can have fixed setters or not.
  • Again, depending on your level of play you can loosen up the must touch the ball requirement to must make a legitimate effort.

Additional Comments:

  • Playing multiple shorter games is probably better than playing one longer game. That way a single ball dropping isn’t quite so demoralizing (think being at 20 and going back to zero).

Game: 4 v 4 Out-of-System Winners

Synopsis: This is a variation on Winners 3s or 4s which narrows the attacking options. That should produced more rallies while getting in good work on defense against live hitters and out-of-system offense, among other things.

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

Requirements: 12+ players, full court

Execution: This game features 4 players on each side, two front row and two back row in a box type of formation. The two front row players are pin hitters, with the two back row players as wing defenders. The area within 6′ (2m) of the hitter’s line is declared out (so if the hitter is attacking in 4 then zones 1 and 2 are basically out of play. In other words, the hitter must attack middle or cross-court. The game is played like Winners in terms of having a winning side, rally initiation by a serve, etc.

Variations:

  • You can change up which areas of the court are out. If you exclude the middle of the court, then you make the hitters attack line or cross. If you exclude the cross court you force the hitters to attack middle or line.
  • You could eliminate the Winners element and just have the two sides playing each other with the sides rotating each time they send the ball over the net.
  • You can have positional specialization either by keeping players in fixed positions, or by left side players just playing on the left and right side players just playing on the right.
  • You can require that one of the back row players take the second ball.

Additional Comments:

Scoring System: 25 or reset

Here’s something you can use if you want to work on your team closing out a set. It’s a scoring system we’ve used at Midwestern State, and a variation on stuff I’ve seen in other places and have used myself.

In our case we start the scoring at 19-19 for a 6 v 6 game. The sides alternated receiving down balls until one side reached set point. When that happens, they serve for set point. If they fail to win the point, their score resets to 19. Play continues until one side wins on their serve. We ran this game by rotation as in this version there is no rotation.

There are a number of potential variations:

  • You could start with a different score. You can even use an uneven score if you have unbalanced teams, for example.
  • You can make it a regular game by having rallies start with a serve and normal rotation
  • You can incorporate bonus points if there’s something you want to have as a focus, though you would still want the winning point to only come via the service rally.
  • You can use this scoring system for small-sided games, and not just for 6 v 6.

These are just some possible ways you can tweak things to do what you want to do. I’m sure you can think of others.

Shifting from cooperative to competitive

I have liked to use cooperative drills like this one, this one, and this one with my teams for a couple of reasons. One is that they give players a lot of quality – meaning game-like – contacts because rallies are sustained and the ball goes over the net a lot. Another is that they can help train players to make good decisions in situations where less aggressive play is demanded to keep the play going. You can potentially add in a couple other things as well.

The other day at MSU we ran a competitive version of the rotating cooperative cross-court hitting drill. Obviously, instead of having the players keep the rally going, they were looking to win each one. In this variation, points could 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 new ball was initiated by a coach (over the net) to the team that won (whether they earned a point or not).

The team played 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.

Game: Positional winners

As volleyball coaches, most of us are aware, and make regular use, of the game Winners – also known as King or Queen of the Court. There is a variation of the game much favored by John Kessel from USA Volleyball which is known as Speedball, though that one requires the right numbers to do properly. I have also used yet another variation in which it is individual players rather than groups (teams) of players who operate in the winners fashion.

Something which I started doing with Svedala team this season was another variation on winners that allowed for more positional specialization. It started by having fixed setters, but otherwise playing winners around them. Simply put, the setter who won the rally went to/stayed on the winners’ side.

In order to have the middles and setters working directly with each other – and against each other – at times I also had the MBs fixed. So like with the setters, the MB who’s team won the rally went to/stayed on the winners side.

Now, I only had two setters and two MBs in the team, so the switches were pretty straightforward. Just two players swapping places.

There were times, though, when I had some extra players in training. In those cases when I wanted to do the fixed MB system I basically had them rotate through like a more normal winners idea. The middle who won the rally was the winner, the losing middle came off, and a middle waiting on the side came in on the challenge side.

So basically what this turned into is a triple Winners rotation. The setters were on a rotation. The middles were on their own rotation. Finally, the rest of the players where in the bigger rotation. Usually, in those situations I was having the game played in 4s. That mean there was a pair of players from the collection of OHs, OPPs, and Liberos joining up with an MB and a Setter in each team.

I came to like this winners variation because it allowed for more specialized positional work.