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Archive for Volleyball Games

Accidentally finding a useful new scoring system

Last week I ran a small training session what ended up being a trio of players from the Devon team that won South West Championships this year and a quartet of junior aged girls. The skill levels are obviously quite widely separated in a situation like that, so there are limits to what you can do in terms of drills.

We did some fundamental work on ball-handing and serving and passing, then moved into game play. Then I moved it to game play and had the Devon players go against the four girls, playing on half a court to encourage rallies.

Obviously, we’re talking about teams which were quite imbalanced. In order to make things more competitive, I introduced a scoring twist. The young team used standard rally scoring, but the Devon team could only score on kills. Aside from keeping the game more competitive, there were some interesting side effects to using this system.

  1. Devon quickly started serving easily because they could only score if the ball came back over the net, allowing them to run a transition attack.
  2. Devon also started hitting the ball harder and attacked the ball from positions they perhaps would not have done so otherwise.
  3. The girls realized quickly that they needed to adapt their defense to deal with more aggressive play, which got them putting up a much more effective block to slow the Devon attack down.
  4. The girls were also freed up to play more aggressively than they otherwise would because they couldn’t lose points for making errors.

The girls ended up winning 25-23. One of the Devon players and I were commenting afterward that the 23 kills they got in that game were more than many teams get in multiple games (even matches at certain levels).

I didn’t have all the side effects in mind when I decided to do that split scoring game. I was just looking for a way to even things out a bit (we later mixed the groups for a regular game). As I watched the play, though, I could see what was developing and it definitely gave me ideas for how I could use it in other training session, with Devon or other teams, in the future.

In particular, one of the issues we had with the Exeter Uni women’s team was putting the ball away. We played very good defense, which let us compete with even the top teams, but just couldn’t get the kills we needed. Using this kind of scoring system for scrimmage play in practice could be effective in working on more aggressive attacking since there are no consequences for making hitting errors.

Game: Baseball

Synopsis: Also known as softball- this game concentrates on both serve receive and free ball play in a way which has one teams strongly focused on scoring while the other is equally strongly focused on not allowing a point.

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

Requirements: two teams, full court, 6 balls

Execution: This game begins Team A serving to Team B. If Team B fails to win the service rally an out is registered. If Team B wins the rally and gets a point (run). It then receives a free ball. If it wins that rally, it gets another point and receives another free ball. This continues until Team B loses the point, at which stage an out is registered. Team A then serves again. This continues until three outs are made, at which point Team B becomes the serving side. An inning is complete when Team A reaches 3 outs, at which time the teams rotate and a new inning starts. The team with the most runs at the end of six innings wins.

Variations:

  • The game could be played with fewer than 6 players, in which case there would be less than 6 innings, but you could double up to extend the game.
  • To increase focus on winning the serve receive rally you could make that worth more points and/or make a first ball rally win worth extra.
  • Similarly, you could make winning the first ball in a free ball rally worth extra.
  • And of course there’s plenty of room for bonus points if you want to encourage (or discourage) certain things.
  • You can add on an extra inning at the end which pits the best rotation from each team against each other either as a last inning or as some kind of winner take all.

Additional Comments:

  • Since only the team receiving serve can score points (kind of an opposite to sideout) there is the opportunity for that team to be more aggressive than might otherwise be the case. As a result, this can be a good game to use if you want to encourage the players to take chances hitting hard, using new plays, etc.
  • Keep the tempo up by having a new free ball initiated as soon as the rally is dead. This gets players focused on the next play and adds a conditioning element.
  • Consider the impact anything you might do with the serve receive rally to make it more meaningful will have on serving. Certainly if the receivers get more points for winning a first ball, for example, then the servers will quickly realize how penal a missed serve becomes – unless you don’t count that in the scoring structure.
  • If you play this regularly, you’ll want to consider how you set the starting line-ups for each side to either mix up the match-ups for balanced appraisal or to concentrate of certain rotations in different ways (like matching strong vs. weak).
  • This can be a quite helpful game in identifying problem rotations for further concentrated work. Unfortunately, the stronger offensive rotations will tend to get a lot more opportunities in this particular game. On the flip side, from the perspective of the serving team the rotations which struggle to stop points being score will actually tend to get more work.

Volleyball Games: Using Bonus Points Effectively

There is a major focus in volleyball coaching circles these days on making training as game-oriented as possible. That means moving away from rote mechanical training and incorporating the types of visuals, movement patterns, and situations one will see in a match. Obviously, nothing is going to be more game-like than actually playing. Let’s face it, though. The scrimmages and other volleyball games we do in training oftentimes drift away from the developmental focus we would like to have for that particular session.

There is a way to have your players concentrating on those key things, however.

By introducing bonus points, you can get your players focused on executing whatever skills or plays you want. For example, a bonus point for a 3-pass (see Scoring Serving and Passing Effectiveness) will have them concentrate more on passing, while a bonus point for a stuff block will get your blockers more intent on their task. You can have bonus points for more complex sequences like quick attacks or combination plays, or for scoring on the first ball in serve receive.

You can also have point penalties for undesirable plays. For example, if you want to curb the amount of 1-arm digging or passing that’s happening, a point deduction can be assessed for each time it happens. Maybe your team isn’t calling the ball enough. If so you can subtract points for failure to do so. Or if you want your players to send free balls only to zone 1 you can asses a deduction when it doesn’t happen.

Here are some things to think about in terms of employing bonus/penalty points in your games:

  • You can vary the points based on the amount of focus you want to give something – more points for key areas of focus, fewer for lesser ones.
  • You can have multiple bonus/penalty items in your game, but don’t get carried away. The players can only focus on a couple of things at a time effectively, and you can only track of so many different things, so keep it relatively narrowly defined.
  • Be careful of unintended consequences. You don’t want you players forcing things to try to earn bonus points. Make sure you structure your point system to avoid that.

You’ll know you have your player’s attention on where you want their focus when they start yelling out bonus point scoring in the middle of plays. That’s probably not the best situation in terms of their game concentration, but at least you know you have them thinking about the right things. 🙂

Game: Hard Drill Game

Synopsis: This is a game which offers the benefit of working on back court attacks and defense against them in game-like fashion with a cooperative element which focuses on control and a competitive aspect which brings in going for points.

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

Requirements: 6+ players, 1 ball, court

Execution: This game is based on The Hard Drill. Each play begins with a cooperative back court exchange which goes for 3 good pass-set-hit sequences. Once that number has been reached the rally becomes competitive with the teams now going for the kill. The winning team gets a point and a new play begins. Play a game to a number of points which fits the allocated time in your practice plan.

Variations:

  • For a wash scoring variation you could make the winner of the rally have to serve for point.
  • You can vary the number of good pass-set-hit sequences required base on the level of your team and/or if you want to play for a larger or smaller number of points.
  • This can be played with either 3 or 4 people on the court per side, though from a competitive perspective probably is best suited for 4-person teams.

Additional Comments:

  • One thing to think about in how you run this drill is how to arrange the players if you’re going to have 4 people on the court with one at the net. Normally in The Hard Drill you would have that person be just the setter. By introducing the competitive element with this game, though, blocking becomes a consideration. As a result, you may want to use middle blockers at the net, which allows them to work on blocking the back row attack and also to work on taking the second ball.
  • Obviously, it make sense to first introduce The Hard Drill.

Small-sided volleyball games

A long time ago someone in soccer decided it was better for younger athletes to play small-sided games. I recall this shift in my youth when we kids were playing in our town league. My sister was among the first to play 7 v. 7 on a smaller pitch (field) rather than 11 v. 11 on a standard one, which my brother and I had both played.

We’re seeing a similar sort of focus in volleyball. Volleyball England is dedicated to using small-sided games (primarily 4s) in the younger age groups. Schools in England are going that route, both in terms of teaching in Physical Education classes and in inter-scholastic competition. John Kessel of USA Volleyball is a big proponent of mini volleyball. I watched young players in Sweden play 4s when I coached there.

Small-sided games for everyone!

Small-sided volleyball games aren’t just for young and/or new players, though. They can be quite useful in many ways for training more experienced groups as well.

And I’m not just talking here about running something like Winner’s 3s, which many teams do. That is certainly a game played with fewer players, but it’s played on a full-sized court in most cases. What we’re looking at here is smaller teams on a smaller court. For example, British school kids play 4s on a badminton court.

Consider the purpose of this. Fewer players means more touches per player, while the smaller court means less area for them to cover leading to more rallies (the latter was the reason for FIVB shrinking the beach volleyball court). The net result is lots more contacts for all the players.

I used small-sided games a great deal in training both the EUVC and Devon Ladies teams in England. I also used them coaching Svedala in Sweden. No doubt I will keep doing so with teams moving forward. In addition to all the added touches, I like that working on a smaller court forces players to be more precise in their serving and attacking, and to do more problem-solving in terms of finding ways to score when there’s less court to aim at.

The other nice thing about small-sided games is that you can integrate just about anything you want to focus on into the play. This makes them extremely flexible.

For example, if you want to work on the quick offense, or conversely defending against a quick offense, you can introduce bonus points for kills from quick attacks. If you want to work on hitting against a potentially well-formed block you can have teams playing 4s use a 3-up/1-back formation, putting 3 potential blockers at the net against each swing. And of course you can use some kind of wash scoring system as well.

These days making training as game-like as possible is a major focus of volleyball coaching. Small-sided games offer the advantage of being able to do just that, without having to sacrifice contact frequency.

Game: Newcomb

Synopsis: This is a great way to introduce the basics of volleyball play to new players and can be very useful in working with teams on positioning and movement.

Age/Skill Level: This game is suitable for beginners and lower to intermediate level teams.

Requirements: Court, two teams of players. This game does not require a proper net, just a rope or something else strung at an appropriate height.

Execution: This is volleyball played with throwing and catching. There are (or have been) some rules specific to the official game of Newcomb, but the primary ones are balls must be caught (not hit, blocked, patted, etc.), no steps are permitted by the ball-holder, there is a 3-second holding limit, and throws must be made from the ground.

Variations:

  • For more advanced groups things like throwing from in the air (alley-oop style) and blocking may be permitted.
  • For developing groups a mixture of Newcomb and proper volleyball contacts may be allowed.

Additional Comments:

  • The game can be used to work teams on movement and positioning for things like offensive and defensive transitions.
  • If played competitively, this game can also get players thinking about finding open areas on the court in advance of working on skills like setter dumps, tips, roll shots, etc.
  • Played at a sufficiently high level, this could be a good warm-up.

Game: Touch & Go

Synopsis: This is a good warm-up game which gets players thinking, communicating, and working on ball-handling precision across a variety of skills.

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

Requirements: Full court, 6+ players.

Execution: This is a short-court game played inside the 3 meter line (anything beyond 3m being out), so split the squad accordingly. Serves must be executed from behind the 3 meter. Play is otherwise as normal, with one exception. After each contact, including the serve, the player touching the ball must run to the back of the court and then return. If a player fails to do so, then subsequently touches the ball again it is a point of the opposing team.

Variations:

  • Space is a consideration, but ideally for higher level athletes you should make the point at which the players have to run far enough back to force them to sprint to get back in to play and not leave large areas of court exposed.
  • Play the game to a number of points which fits in with the amount of time you want to allocate.
  • Bonus points can be designated for skills/plays you want to encourage (tips, roll shots, quick attacks, etc.).

Additional Comments:

  • This is a good game to encourage communication as the players will fall into a habit of reminding each other to run. They will also quickly learn to talk about where they are on the court, especially after having just done a run.
  • Because they are playing short-court, this game really forces players to work on fine ball-control skill, particularly when serving and attacking.
  • The one thing you hope to see (though you may have to motivate the players to think about it) is players intentionally attacking weak points in the opposing team’s defense.
  • You may need to encourage more aggressive play from your better players so it is not just a progression of easy tips and free balls over the net.

Game: Winners (a.k.a. King/Queen of the court)

Synopsis: Winners is a a rotational game which can be a good warm-up and/or a way to get a large number of players playing for assessment and other purposes.

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

Requirements: Full court, 9+ players, 3 balls.

Execution: Designate one side of the court the winners side. Have one team of three start there, with everyone else on the other side – the challenge side – with one team on and the rest waiting. The team on the challenge side serves, and the teams play out the rally. If the team on the winners side wins, they stay, otherwise they exit and the challengers move to the winners side and a new team steps in on the challenge side. Continue for a set period of time or until some objective is reached.

Variations:

  • For lower level teams where serving is inconsistent, the coach can initiate the ball to start each rally.
  • On a missed serve one can either say the whole team loses and switch in a new team, or just the server can be replaced.
  • Fixed teams can be used if there are the right numbers.
  • Lower levels players could go with 4s rather than 3s
  • To increase rally length (and thereby touches) play could be limited to only part of the court.
  • Attacking can be limited to only certain types – back row for example – or anything goes.

Additional Comments:

  • This is a good game to use when you have so many players that 6vs6 becomes limiting, and in tryout type situations when you’re trying to get general playing impressions for a number of players without having the constraint of set positions.
  • By incorporating requirements into the play – must have 3 contact, all players much touch the ball, bonus points for quick set kills, etc. – you can adapt the game to work toward the training objectives you have for the session.
  • If you are playing 2s or 3s on a full court you likely want to use beach rules in terms not allowing open-hand tipping and requiring sets to be straight forward or back (no sideways dumps over the net). Alternatively, you could just not allow such attacks in front of the 3 meter line.

Game: Bingo-Bango-Bongo

Synopsis: Bingo-Bango-Bongo is a 6 vs. 6 transition oriented game which gets players focused on scoring points in a row using a little point/big point type of structure.

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

Requirements: Two teams of 6, two coaches/players, half a dozen balls.

Execution: Start with two teams of 6 on the court and one coach (or spare player) on the sideline on either side of the net with balls. One coach initiates a free ball across the net and the teams play through a rally. When that rally finishes, the other coach initiates a free ball in the opposite direction. The coaches then continue to alternate.

When a team wins a rally they get Bingo. If they win a second rally after that, it’s Bango. A third rally win in a row produces Bongo. At that point the team with Bongo serves for a point. If they win the service rally they get a point and the teams rotate. If not, the cycle begins again fresh with a free ball to the serving team.

Note, when one team wins a Bingo, the other team resets back to nothing.

Variations:

  • In order to give middle blockers a break, you can flip the teams back to front rather than rotating when a big point is scored. I often do something like 1-4-2-5-3-6.
  • You can rotate/flip both sides on a big point, or just the winning side if you want to maximize time working on weaker rotations.
  • For lower skilled teams (or when you want to move things along more quickly) you can do Bingo-Bango and have Bongo be the big point. In other words, the serve for point would happen after just two rally wins in a row rather than three.
  • This could be done with smaller groups, like 4v4, in a smaller space.

Additional Comments:

  • The coaches should initiate balls as quickly as is safe to do so to keep the tempo high. This forces the players to maintain focus and adds a conditioning element.
  • Any players not involved in the game should be alert to keep balls out of the way so things can move quickly – and no one risks injury.
  • Since this is a free ball initiated game, it offers opportunity to wok on specific free ball plays for teams having advanced offenses.
  • Coach should make sure the team not receiving the free ball is quickly getting to defensive base as the ball is being initiated.
  • While playing the game with smaller groups like 4v4 would limit the ability to working on full-team free ball offense, there would still be the opportunity to work on elements of it. For example, the setter and middle hitter could work on first tempo balls.