Coaching Log – Jan 4, 2016

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2015-16.

Although we didn’t have anything official going on between December 17th and 26th, that didn’t stop the organizational stuff. The Sport Director and I exchanged a number of messages about planning for Gran Prix, player stuff, and thoughts on training scheduling moving forward. As top seed for Gran Prix, our semifinal is second at 12:30 rather than at 10:00, which is probably a plus. We get 45 minutes on the court from 8:45.

Sunday
The team had coaching (in the case of the Americans) and organizational duties at the big youth tournament the club ran (it’s an annual event). Long day for all of us, made even longer by the fact that the day began before the sun came up (circa 8am) and ended well after darkness set in (around 4pm). Along the way, I found out that I probably won’t be moving into a new place any time soon. That’s fine from the perspective of it being a decent place to live, but it is problematic from a transportation perspective. I’m 6k out of town and there isn’t any regular public transit service.

Monday
We had to training in a different gym due to our normal Monday one having something else booked. We had 11 for the session – our 8 core players (now that we’ve lost our 3rd OH – though she’ll be with us next week), the sister of our American setter, a former teammate of our American OH (who happens to also have played in Sweden before), and one of the other coaches in the club who has become a regular at training to help with our lack of numbers.

My intention was that this would mainly be a fun, shake off any rust, reconnect with each other session after 10 days off. The two young players on the team actually played in Sunday’s tournament as part of the club’s U21 team – winning that age group. One of the others also got in some training at her old club while she was home for Christmas. The rest (hopefully) at least got in their workout program.

I had them start with volley tennis for something fun and competitive. After doing a bit of pepper and serving to get warmed-up, we then shifted to Player Winners. We had one group of 5 and one group of 6 for that. After about 5 minutes I had the top 3 from the 6 player court swap with the bottom 2 from the 5 player court, and ran it again. The games were played side-by-side on the same court – each going half width, full depth.

From there we moved up to another Winners variation. This time the setters were fixed. Since we had three MBs, I had them do their own winners rotation (losing MB went out, the one waiting came in). that left the rest of the group in 3 teams of 2 as the main rotation. We played on a slightly narrow court (about a meter in on each side). I liked this as it mixed the players around a lot.

We finished with two games of 5 v 6.

Tuesday
I had a team meeting before training. After warning them of consequences being forthcoming should tardiness continue (there were late arrivals), we moved on to talking about our path forward. That started with a discussion of our match against Brøndby two weeks back. We talked about our struggles in terms of dealing with the bigger block and getting our block-defense more integrated and effective.

I talked about how we’d like to push our kill % up a little bit higher as we remain a little lower than our competitors (though our error % is on par). Part of that – and dealing with bigger blocks – involved working on getting the OHs going faster. We all generally agreed that our tempo there had slowed down a bit as the season progressed, making things predictable for the opposition. We also talked about moving the OHs in and out more to make them harder to anticipate.

Blocking remains a focal point moving forward. There was a lot of talk about needing better communication between blockers and defenders and making adjustments more quickly. I mentioned my continued focus on wanting our blockers to improve on reading hitter approach angles and getting positioned appropriately.

Serving was another topic of discussion. We have done well, with an ace-to-error ratio of about 1 to 1.2, which is generally considered good. We lead the league in aces per set. I talked about working on improving our ability to take better tactical advantage in situations where we can put the other team in maximum pressure.

The other area of discussion was serve reception. Once again, the fact that we sideout very well (near 60%) despite not passing all that great came up. Statistically, we rank #6 in the league in that category (for that those numbers are worth). I told the team that we’re doing a good job communicating and making adjustments. We now need to work to improve on the technical side of things.

We had 10 for training. After prehap, I had them split into two groups. Setters and MBs in one, and the rest in the other. They did 1 v 1 2-touch pepper to warm-up. I then had the setters and middles working on block to transition attack on one court. The others I had do what was basically a 6-person pepper over the net (3 per side). The focus, though, was on the passing/digging side of things. They had a target of 50 perfect. Once they completed that, I had them do some proper serve receive, with the passer hitting a back row set so they were passing with hitting in mind.

After that, I brought the group together for some target serving. I had them working on serving 1 to 5 and 5 to 1.

The rest of training was working on transition play, 6 v 4. The 4 received a free ball to start each play. If there wasn’t a rally from there, I attacked a ball at the 6 so they could play one out. Only the initial ball counted toward the score, which we started 18-20 in favor of the 4. We went through all the rotations, and repeated rotation 4 twice more because we struggled there. I believe the 4 side won each game – or at least almost all of them – which is not overly surprising given the advantage of starting with a free ball. Doing it again I think I’ll start with a different score.

Wednesday
Believe it or not, we has 12 players for this session. The funny part is that 4 of them were middles and we only had 3 outsides. My main focus priorities for the session was working on the tempo for the outsides and blocking with the MB and RS players.

As generally is the case, the team had weight training before the session. We did partner over-the-net pepper (3-touch) for a couple minutes, then I shifted that to a 2 v 2 competitive 2-touch game (half court), which I rotated a couple of times.

From there I split things out. One of the setters and the OHs, plus the libero, went off on one court to work on speeding up the tempo of the outside sets. Basically, they did a pass-to-hit drill. The other setter and the rest of the players when on the other court to work on blocking. I wanted to focus particularly on blocking against the outside attack at the pin and on inside balls.

I’m not a huge fan of doing blocking work with hitters on boxes, but that’s what I decided to do in this case, largely because of what would be coming next. I had one of the box hitters at the pin and the other a bit inside. I stood behind the blockers (MB and right), and signaled the hitters which one to hit. We had the video delay set up so the blockers could look at themselves on the big screen. About halfway through, I had the setters switch.

I then brought the group back together. We did a kind of 5 v 6 game. On one side where the two OHs, the libero, a setter, and an RS attacker. The other side had six on the court, plus a server. Basically, the idea was to take advantage of having the extra size with the spare MBs (plus a male OH) to have the pin hitters working against the bigger blocks. The game started with the serve from the 6-person side and they played out the rally. The 5 continued to work on the set tempo and I instructed the setter to focus on getting more sets to the RS attacker, particularly in the back row, which is something that I’ve wanted to see more of to extend our width. On the 6 side the MBs and server rotated around each five balls.

From there we went into Bingo-Bango-Bongo to work on transition offensive in an effort to improve on the point scoring side of things. We did all 6 rotations (4-1-5-2-6-3). We actually had to move on from 2 because it was taking too long, so we circled back to it at the end. Still couldn’t finish it, but it was time to wrap things up. The players were clearly fatigued, which wasn’t surprising given the lifting they’d done beforehand.

Thursday
This was a morning session after a tough night one on Wednesday, so I kept it fairly low intensity. I even lightened up on the jumping aspect of the pre-hab exercises. I had them do some target serving at the beginning, then shifted in to pass and serve. A couple of the players did take a few swings during the process. From there we did some digging from hitters on boxes (line ball, cross ball). The last part was back row Winners 3.

Friday
No training this day. We originally had a session scheduled, and nothing on Thursday, per our normal schedule. Our Sports Director moved things around to give everyone a chance to enjoy their New Years.

Saturday
We did a “player’s choice” session. One of the players had to work and another was having a bit of a knee niggle, so was refraining from jumping. That left us with 6 fully involved as unfortunately we didn’t have any guest players. After we did pre-hab, I gave the players a chance to decide what they wanted to do. Not surprisingly, they opted for serve & pass to start things off. After doing that for a while, they played a couple of back row games with fixed setters. The second string setter set for one side and one of the middles set the other side. The last part of the session was spent playing Winners 2s.

Thoughts, observations, and other stuff
While Wednesday’s session was at a really good intensity, and the first half of the week was generally decent, the lower intensity of the second half of the week (per force) was less than optimal. That means we’ll need to really get the competitive focus back up right away to start the new week’s training. We just have two sessions with the match on Wednesday and then the Gran Prix over the weekend, which we depart for on Friday.

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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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