Archive for Volleyball Games

Using 2-touch games to challenge your players

I’ve been going through some volleyball coaching blog posts I flagged months ago but never got back around to really contemplating. One of them is a post on the At Home on the Court blog, Hidden Motivation – The Sequel. The title refers to a previous post on the subject of understanding why players make certain decisions, but it’s the stuff at the beginning which caught my attention.

In the post, Mark talks about how in training he has his team play 2-contact small-sided games for a couple of reasons. One is to shorten the time between contacts. Another is to get them thinking about how to score (and prevent) points in a wide variety of situations. In fact, I’ve seen Mark’s BR Volleys team play games that while perhaps are not meant to be 1-touch, end up being that way. If you watch BR Volleys play you’ll see those guys aren’t afraid to attack from just about anywhere on the court.

As any of my players will tell you, I regularly use small-sided games and/or small court games to increase player contacts. I really like the idea of reducing the number of contacts as well. Too often I see players forgo opportunities to go for a kill because they feel like they need to play 3-contact volleyball. Just the other day I was watching some of my players in an open-gym situation playing triples and found myself asking one of them why he set a second ball that was passed in a perfect attacking position. Of course this is offset by those times when they send a first ball over that ends up being little more than a free ball! One issue at a time, though. 🙂

Granted, a great deal of time and effort is spent drilling the 3-touch mentality into young and developing volleyball players. At some point, though, we need to be training them to use their brains and to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them. One of the complaints about the shift to rally scoring in volleyball is that it’s made offenses more conservative and by extension more predictable (though at least in the men’s game things have improved considerably in that regard with the development of the bic). It’s up to us coaches to not only encourage our players to problem solve, but also to ensure they feel comfortable making the errors which are an inevitable part of the learning process.

Game: Neville Pepper

Synopsis: This is a game similar to Winners but with a fixed team on one side for a set period of time, and with the ability to focus players on certain training points.

Age/Skill Level: This is suitable for all levels

Requirements: 9+ players, several balls, full court

Execution: Divide your squad up into at least 3 teams. Place one team on Side A of the court with the other teams set up in waves playing through Side B (like Winners). After ball initiation, the teams play out the rally. The team on Side A stays there for a set period of time (2-3 minutes) while the teams on Side B wave through after each rally.The team on Side A is the only one to score points. After their time is up, a different team takes over Side A. The team with the most points when all teams have gone through is the winner.


  • You can vary the amount of time a team spends on Side A.
  • You can use fixed setters if you don’t have enough for each team to have one.
  • Points can be as simple as rallies won, or you could count them based on specific areas of focus (digs, block touches, certain types of attacks, serve receive pass quality, etc.)
  • The ball can be initiated in various ways, either to Side A or Side B, depending on what you want to have the players working on – defending, free balls, serve receive, etc.

Additional Comments:

  • If you want longer rallies you can shrink the court, opt for back row attacks only, and/or add more players. Whether longer rallies is desirable may depend on your training objective.
  • Along with positive points earned, you can apply point deductions for things like overpasses, lack of communication, etc.

Game: 7-point Rotations

Synopsis: This game focuses on serve reception and gives considerable attention to weaker rotations.

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

Requirements: 2 teams, full court, one ball

Execution: This game is actually played as a series of mini-games. In each game one team serves every ball and both teams stay in one rotation for the whole time. The first team to score 7 points wins the mini game and gets to rotate. They serve the next mini game. The losing team stays in their rotation and is the receiving team for the next mini game.


  • You can play for more or less than 7 points, depending on whether you want to lengthen or shorten the rotations.
  • Bonus points can be employed to focus on certain things. For example, 2 points can be given in the case of a stuff block, an ace, a successful quick attack, or a first-ball kill.
  • You can play until one team gets through 6 rotations, until both team get through 6 rotations, for time, or for some other objective.

Additional Comments:

  • Because this is a serve-initiated game it will tend to be played at a slower general tempo than games such as Bingo-Bango-Bongo where a new ball is initiated as soon as a rally ends. That could result in lower intensity levels, depending on the team. This is something which must be considered and accounted for in practice planning.
  • Since a team cannot rotate until it wins a mini game to 7, you can easily see situations where one side has to play multiple mini games in the same rotation in a row. This has the plus of concentrating reps on weaker rotations, but has the risk of frustrated players struggling mentally.
  • Also, because a team can win mini games as the serving side without ever having to do serve receive in that rotation, you may want to have a plan for making sure those “missed” rotations get at least some reps.

Game: Scramble

Synopsis: This coach-initiated game is good for working on a variety of out-of-system type situations.

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

Requirements: 2 teams, full court, several balls

Execution: This is a coach-initiated game. Each rally begins with the coach playing a ball to one side. The rally goes on per usual from there. When the rally ends, a new ball is immediately initiated.


  • Russ Rose at Penn State uses a variation in which he puts in 4 balls – with the ball going to either side – then has both sides rotate.
  • The balls can be initiated all to one side for some given period of time (30 seconds, 1 minute, etc.)
  • Score can be kept to make it a proper game that finishes with a specific objective being met.
  • This is suitable for small-sided play.

Additional Comments:

  • You can use this game to focus on certain aspects of the game that your players struggle with – balls off the court, balls in the net, etc.
  • To encourage full commitment to keeping the ball off the floor you can do something like adding time or extra balls if a team lets a ball drop without sufficient effort.
  • If you make the ball you initiate the first contact – meaning the players must get the ball over the net in only 2 contacts – you will have something akin to the Virus game.

Game: Virus

Synopsis: This is a game which encourages better out-of-system play and decision-making on one side, and good recognition of play development on the other side.

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

Requirements: 2 teams, full court, a few balls

Execution: This is a coach-initiated game. Rather than starting with the serve, the coach puts in a ball which represents either the first or second contact. The side receiving the ball then has the remaining contact(s) to get the ball over the net. Play is as normal from there.


  • The ball can either be initiated to the winning team to make it similar to standard game conditions (and to benefit the rally winner), or balls can be initiated on an alternating basis if there’s an imbalance between the teams.
  • You can rotate when a team wins a rally after having lost previously (like siding out) or after a specified number of rally wins.
  • Bonus points can be incorporated.
  • This game is suitable for small-sided play.

Additional Comments:

  • If a variable number of contacts is to be allowed to the receiving team, the coach should yell that out when initiating the ball.
  • Only allowing teams a single contact will tend to work on good free ball and down ball execution (assuming a good initiation). Allowing two contacts can bring in attacked 3rd balls if the initiated ball does not require too much scramble/chase.
  • If you’re looking to encourage aggressiveness in the 3rd ball (get a swing or down ball rather than free ball) make sure failure of execution is not overly penal.
  • If you’re looking to discourage certain types of plays (free ball to the libero, for example), you can have a penalty.
  • Make sure to not just focus on the ball-receiving side and what they are doing with the third ball, but also on the other side in terms of their recognition of free ball, down ball, or attack and the appropriate defensive positioning.
  • By only rotating when a team is able to win a given number of rallies, you can focus most of the playing time on the weakest rotations.

Game: Points for Passes Variation

I little while back I posted the Points for Passes game, which I’d seen at at University of Rhode Island training.It’s something quite useful for putting the focus on serve receive passing in a game play context.

As an experiment, I tried making it a 2-sided game. By that I mean rather than one side serving all the time, I ran it more like a regular game situation with each rally deciding which team serves the next ball. So basically what you have is a game that gives bonus points based on the quality of the serve.

Here’s the wrinkle, though.

Rather than having the rally winner serve, I had the loser serve. In other words, winning the rally gives you the right to receive serve and thereby gain more points from good passes.

So far the players seem to like the game, though the loser serving bit is a bit confusing at first. If you play to 25 points things will tend to go fairly quickly. That’s good if you want to play several games, mix things up, etc. If you want longer games, though, you can play to more points or maybe only give points for high quality passes (say 1 point for a 2 pass and 2 points for a 3 pass, or just 1 point for a 3 pass). You could even think about using negative points for things like overpasses of whatever you might want to focus on.

Game: Ice Hockey

Synopsis: Here’s a game you can use to concentrate your players on key coaching points executed within a game. It features a way to highlight how a player is disadvantaging the team by doing (or not doing) certain things.

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

Requirements: 2 teams, full court, 1 ball

Execution: This game is played in normal fashion. The variation comes when a player makes an error. That player is sent off the court to the penalty box (as in ice hockey) and may only come back when their team performs a designated play.


  • The error or errors which get a player sent to the penalty box can be anything the coach desires.
  • Likewise, the play(s) used to get the player back on the court could be any number of options.
  • You could replace the performance of a designated play to get a player out of the penalty box to a fixed number of points (either total or against their team).
  • In a case where you are playing A team vs B team you could have different “fouls” and or player return criteria for each team to balance things out.
  • This game is suitable for small-sided play.

Additional Comments:

  • The larger the number of potential “fouls” you have which send players off, the faster they should be able to get back on. Otherwise, you could end up with severely depleted teams.
  • Ideally, you should use the priority points you have designated for that training session to determine what’s a “foul” and how a player returns. For example, you could send a player off for not covering a hitter properly if that’s a focus point, and you could require a quick attack to get a player out of the penalty box if you’re working on the offense.

Game: Cross-Court 4s

Synopsis: By allowing you to narrow the focus of play you can use this drill to work on specific elements of hitting and/or defense, as well as on player assessment in both attacking and defending.

Age/Skill Level: This game is for intermediate to advanced groups.

Requirements: 8 players, full court, 1 ball

Execution: This game turns the cooperative cross-court hitting drill into a competitive game. The teams are comprised of a setter, an OH, a left back in 5 and a middle back in 6. They can only score into the opponents cross-court half of the court, making it a kind of OH vs OH competition.


  • This 4 v 4 could easily be adapted to run as RS vs OH and/or RS vs RS
  • The setter could block or not
  • MBs could be added for a double block with the setter.
  • Players can be required to rotate after they send the ball over the net, or remain in specialized positions.
  • This could be run in a Winners fashion.

Additional Comments:

  • This can be a good game to evaluate not just hitters, but also defenders.
  • By including a MB and creating a double block, an limiting play to only high outside sets, you will force hitters to problem solve on the attack, such as encouraging going high hands or wiping off the block. To that end, though, you may have to introduce some kind of wash rule about touches off the block into the uncovered part of the court (like area 1) not counting as a point because of the lack of defenders there.
  • If you look to do a winners variation, make sure to consider the accuracy of your servers. Lots of missed serves will slow the game way down, so you may need to account for that with where players are allowed to server from or by introducing the ball to the winners in some other fashion (free ball, down ball, etc.)

Game: Hitter vs Hitter Challenge

Synopsis: This is a good game to help assess hitters in a ranking fashion while also encouraging competition intra-squad.

Age/Skill Level: This game is probably best suitable for intermediate to advanced groups.

Requirements: Two teams, full court, 1 ball

Execution: Identify two hitters to go against each other and set a fixed rotation line-up for each team which matches – for example, setter up on both sides. The only way points can be scored is if the designated hitters are part of the play. In other words, to score they must get a kill or a block, and they will concede a point on an error. Plays by others will only suffice to win/lose a rally, not a point. Thus, if a non-featured hitter gets a kill, their team wins the rally, but it is a wash in terms of points. Rather than earning the right to serve by winning a rally, however, the team earns the right to receive serve. In other words, the losing team serves, not the winning team. Play to a determined number of points.


  • The primary types of hitter match-ups would be OH vs. RS/OPP and MB vs. MB so the hitters are blocking against each other. One could also do a variation which sets backrow attackers in opposition.
  • You could potentially add in bonus points if you want to encourage actions or behaviors in the focal hitters.
  • This could be used just as easily for small-sided games.

Additional Comments:

  • The advantage to using this sort of assessment exercise rather than some kind of hitting line situation is that it puts the players in game situations rather than in some kind of rigid structure. That will allow you to better judge how they will be in games, and also their influence on the team overall. For example, there may be a hitter who doesn’t get a great many kills, but is a massive positive influence on their team that they end up winning anyway.
  • Ideally, you’ll want to try to make the opposing teams as closely balanced as possible for a fair judgement. You can also have the hitters flip teams to that end.
  • Having consequences for losing (for the whole team, not just the hitter) may help to encourage competition and keep the supporting players motivated and focused.
  • Depending on how many players you have and what you need to do, this might be a game you can use in a try-out situation.
  • I saw this game used by CSU San Marcos.