Coaching Log – April 9, 2018

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

This was arguably the central week of the MSU Spring season.

Monday

Because we were playing on Saturday, and NCAA require two days off per week, we did not do the normal small group sessions this day. The day off also applied to team weight training in the morning, so the players were free to lift on their own.

Tuesday

The focus for this week was getting ready to play on Saturday. As such, we started with a heavy team oriented session. We warmed up with 3 and 4 person over-the-net pepper, and then seam serving. That was followed by Winners back row 4s with fixed setters.

Next up was an unscored 5 v 5 exercise. Both sides had three front row attackers. In the back row, though, one had a setter and an outside hitter (OH) playing defense while the other had two liberos. We alternated initiating three down balls to each side. For the team with the setter, they had to set one to the OH, one to the middle hitter (MB), and one to the right side (RS). They could set wherever they wanted once into the rally, but the initial ball had to follow this requirement. Since the other team had no setter, they just did high balls to the hitters – with some 2s to the MB. After 9 balls to each side, we swapped hitters around.

About the last hour of practice was a series of 5 v 6 games. They were mainly serve initiated, but with a second ball twist. After the serve rally finished I initiated a down ball to the receiving team. We wanted to get some extra work in on defending against RS attacks, so the first attack off the second ball had to come from the right. After that, though, the set could go anywhere. Each team served three straight balls, then we rotated the team of 6. When we got through three rotations we swapped players around.

Not surprisingly, it was a bit rough at times technically after four days off. There was some interesting problem-solving during the 5 v 5 exercise, though.

Wednesday

Our senior MB was available to practice with us, so I made 6 v 6 play a central part of the practice plan – literally and figuratively. Our sophomore RS was to arrive about 30 minutes late due to class, while one of our freshmen MBs had to leave about 40 minutes early. So we had something like a 35 minute window in which we could play 6 on 6.

I used the first part of practice, before the RS arrived, as a serving and passing progression. We started with a partner serving warm-up. That then progressed to 5-player Serve, Pass, Set drill. We finished with a servers vs. passers game. By that point, the RS had arrived, so we could move on to game play.

Unfortunately, we perhaps only got about halfway through the time available for 6 v 6 action. At that point, the same RS injured her ankle on a play at the net. We had to finish up with a 6 v 5 exercise.

The last part of the session was a MB/RS vs. MB/OH set of 5 v 5 games.

Thursday

This was a shorter, lower intensity session after a pretty intense one Wednesday, and ahead of a strong play-oriented session on Friday. Two players were late arrivals for academic reasons. So while we waited for them to join us the seven available did some over-the-net pepper, serving, and a variation of Speedball that had four players on one side (two teams of two) and three on the other (they rotated).

Once the two latecomers arrived we jumped into a serve-pass-to-attack exercise. This was basically just a lower intensity way for us to work on serve receive offense ahead of Saturday’s play.

Unfortunately, the last part of practice had to be given over to team punishment. There was an infraction of Athletic Training Room rules – a very serious one.

Friday

We had the first of our 2019 recruiting prospects on campus – an OH. Between that and getting things ready ahead of Saturday, it kept things busy.

I had to split our last practice before the tournament to both prepare the team and to evaluate the recruit. We again had our senior MB with us. I didn’t want to go too hard knowing what was coming on Saturday, so it wasn’t as intense a session as it could have been.

We started with Brazilian volley tennis for some fun and competition. Next up was some serving. After warming up their arms I had them simply work on being aggressive with their go-to serves. No specific targets this time.

We then did some pass-to-attack out of serve reception. This was to give the hitters some reps generally, but also to let the recruit get a sense of the set tempo. That was followed by back court 3s Speedball.

The last hour was given over to basic play. I had them do 15-point games. We fit in four of them, using different player combinations on the “starting” side, which just means the side with our setter. I told them to do slow (rather than quick) ball collections in between games and let the water breaks linger longer than usual to not over work them.

Unfortunately, Men’s Basketball also had a recruit on campus and needed to use the main gym after us. That meant we couldn’t set up the courts for Saturday after we finished practice. I got some basketball help do it after they were done, though.

Saturday – Spring Tournament

We hosted a 5-team Spring tournament. It was supposed to be a 6-team event, but we heard early in the week that one of the teams couldn’t come because they were down to only 5 players due to injury. That meant a complete format change. We shifted from each team playing three 50-minute timed matches to everyone playing four 45-minute matches with a 25 minute break in the middle. Because we only had one MB available, I scheduled our matches with breaks in between.

We played all or part of 9 sets and only lost one of the partials. The two full sets we won over our conference rivals, Cameron, at the end of the day were quite satisfying. I didn’t do a lot of actual coaching of the team over the course of the day. I did, though, talk with players on the bench about different parts of their play. Mainly, I just stood back and watched them work together to problem solve. It was good to see a lot of the stuff we’ve been talking about and working on put into action.

Long, busy day for me. I had to run things solo for the day as our other assistant coach was off coaching his Juniors team at a big tournament.

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John Forman
About the Author: John Forman
John currently coaches for an NCAA Division II women's team. This follows a stint as head coach for a women's professional team in Sweden. Prior to that he was the head coach for the University of Exeter Volleyball Club BUCS teams (roughly the UK version of the NCAA) while working toward a PhD. He previously coached in Division I of NCAA Women's Volleyball in the US, with additional experience at the Juniors club level, both coaching and managing, among numerous other volleyball adventures. Learn more on his bio page.

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