Coaching Log – Jan 18, 2016

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

This week saw our focus shift back to Elitserie play, with our first league match of the second half on Saturday. That meant getting locked in on grabbing one of the top 3 spots for playoffs so we’d have the opportunity to choose our first round opponent. It seems likely that the top 2 seeds will come from ourselves, Hylte, and Engelholm. That would mean the other needing to hold off Örebro for third, which may not be easy given their schedule advantage.

Even before Gran Prix, I made a decision the prior week that I was going to change the way we did dedicated serve reception training. We were 6th in the official team passing stats, and were third best at GP. I was observing that things would be pretty good the first few minutes, then tail off. I decided that from now on, I would only do short, focused exercises and make them competitive. Basically, I’d do servers vs. passers. Each server would get X balls (maybe 5) and the passers would have to average 2.0 or better to win. This struck me as keeping things more focused (on both ends).

Monday
After playing 10 sets in less than 24 hours sandwiched between van trips of 10 hours on Friday and 8 on Sunday, I wasn’t going to do any training. I did want them to do something physical for recovery purposes, though, so I opted for a team lift (normally done on Wednesday).

Before the lift I had a team meeting to talk about our path forward. I told them ahead of time that I was going to have each player contribute their thoughts on how we can keep working on getting better, can be better than Engelholm and Hylte, who are clearly our two big rivals this season, etc. I told them that I would have them share their thoughts one-by-one in age order. I decided to go this way so that all the Swedish players would have their say before the Americans. The latter tend to dominate team discussions because of personality and experience.

Here are the main things that came up in the discussion:

  • The desire for more game-planning
  • More work on technical passing
  • Being less up and down in our play
  • Having a better understanding of defensive positioning and communication with the block

On the game planning, I brought up the Engelholm away match from back in October. We did a lot of game planning the week leading up, including having some guest players in to play the part of the opposition’s big OPP. I came away from the match, though, feeling like we’d focused too much on them and it contributed to us freaking out under pressure in the match. I explained to them that was why I’d backed things down to providing annotated video (which they were expected to watch) and having discussions based on them. The focus has been more on how we attack them rather than how we defend against them.

One of the players did comment that we should keep in mind that just like we’re game-planning, so too is the other team. The important thing is being able to make adjustments, which I feel like we do fairly well.

The funny thing about the game-planning request is that it came right after I’d just gotten done saying I wasn’t going to spend much time focused on our next opponent. By that I mean I want us focused on our own play rather than worrying about what they’re doing. We need to take a bit of time to get things on our side of the net cleaned up, especially with two important matches coming up next week.

Not surprisingly, given prior discussions, there was a fair amount of talk about doing more drills. Players always want more “reps”. The argument, “We came up doing drills,” was once more put forth. Of course just because you’ve done something in the past doesn’t mean it was the best thing to do then, or the best thing to do moving forward.

Interestingly, one player actually seemed to speak in favor of the game play focus we’ve had to-date. She made the comment that what she’s heard from other teams is that we make plays no one else makes. It was something she attributed to all the playing we’ve done.

Also, as much as they want more drills, they agreed with me that the way we’ve been doing serving and passing up to now needs to change. They liked the idea of making it quick and competitive. I suggested for the more individual aspect of passing, we could do it as part of our ball-handing warm-up. They liked that idea.

The fact of the matter is that at this point things are almost certainly going to have to be more “drill” oriented. I put that in quotes because I’ll still look to make things as game-like as possible.

The reality of the situation, though, is that our numbers and schedule are going to mandate some adjustments. As compared to the first half, the training-to-competition ratio is a fair bit lower. We have 12 matches in the next 8 weeks, as compared to 26 training slots. And with fewer bodies, it will be harder to do lots of game stuff as I’d normally like. They players need to stay fresh for our matches – of which the majority will be very competitive by the looks of things.

There was some talk about being more situationally aware. The example used was not missing our serve when our strongest line-up was at the net. It also extended, however, to hitters being more aware of their blocking match-up as part of my desire to get more effective when they call audibles.

A comment was made about being more positive in our huddles. The thought was that perhaps part of the reason we’re a bit up and down is that we have a tendency to focus on what we’re not doing well rather than on how we can increase our application of what’s working. It was felt that maybe that brought the team down rather than allowing it to sustain momentum. I understood this to be more an issue of the players talking with each other, but there may also be stuff said by staff.

At the end I posed a question to the group on serving. I’ve noticed that we have a tendency to perhaps get overly target locked on a particular passer we’ve identified as weak. The result can sometimes be better than expected passing because of relatively easy serves. I asked them how they felt about the idea of starting matches off taking more of a “best serve” approach (the players go with their best serve regardless of target), and then, if we identify someone passing poorly that day, really narrowing in on them.

Tuesday
This was a heavy talking session. The main developmental points discussed in Monday’s meeting were the core priorities – serve reception, block-defense, and transition offense. The bulk of the time ended up getting spent on defense against attacks through 2 and 4. We went slowly. Blockers were focusing on proper positioning while defense was working on positioning around the block and reading the hitter.

We spent time after that basically flipped around with blockers against hitters, but no defenders. This was to work on the hitters making better audible decisions. The blockers were told to vary their starting position so the hitters would have to look at them before making a set call.

After that, I ran them through some 6 v 5 which started with serves to get some full game play in. We wrapped up with Winners 3s, back row attack only.

Wednesday
Apparently, Monday’s team weight training session was somewhat limited by the mass of folks in the fitness center motivated by New Year’s resolutions to get fit and/or lose weight. As a result, the players made a decision after Tuesday’s training to have a second team lift in their normal time slot. So basically the normal Wednesday schedule was followed.

We continued the work done on Tuesday in terms of working on block-defense and hitter audibles. I turned the order around, though, so hitter set calling got more attention. One of the things we talked about was the MBs giving the OHs more information on what they were doing so the latter could anticipate what would be called by the quicker hitters.

We also continued the serve reception work with the servers vs. passers game. Cooperative back row “team pepper” featured in the warm-up stages.

Friday
I was hoping to have an extra player, but it didn’t work out. That kind of limited things in terms of getting something like full game-play in. That was disappointing, but in many ways I was looking at Saturday’s match as a kind of live-fire training session.

After pre-hab, serving, and ball-control work at the outset, I had the players do some blocking technical work against hitters on boxes. I’m not a huge fan of that because it takes out much of the read aspect involved, but the focus was more on penetration and hand position. And in any case, a later exercise involved attackers essentially going against a team without a MB. That meant 1 v 1 swings against the pin blockers, with the defense in behind to work in their reading.

In between we did the Continuous Cross-Court Digging drill as a defensive preparation. I was actually pretty pleased with what I saw. Players are starting to expand their defensive range.

After the hitters vs. defense exercise, we played back court Winners 3s for the remainder. That was enough jumping and swinging, even though we finished in less than 2 hours all together. Even the players didn’t feel the need to do anything extra when I offered the opportunity.

Saturday
The day started with an early train ride up to the Stockholm area for the match against Sollentuna. The original plan had been to fly up and train back on Sunday, but in the end the cost decided that it was rail both ways (though still with a Saturday overnight stay).

Sollentuna’s men’s team had a home match as well, so our start was a bit later than usual at 5pm.

Sollentuna

We finally got a 3-0 win when our turn came. The first two sets we won comfortably. After getting out to a good lead in the third, though, we let them back in and only managed to win 27-25.

Serving was a big factor in both when doing well and when not. We ended up with 19 aces against 12 errors. Our two OHs each had 6 aces, and every starter had at least one. Now, that’s not a bad ace to error ratio at all. The problem was, a number of our misses came at bad times – after timeouts, when the other team had scored points in a row, etc. In particular, we started the second set by missing 3 out of our first 4 serves. That was something we’ve not had problems with for the most part in a while, which suggests either overly aggressive serving or a lack of focus.

Serve reception was better than average. Our pass rating was about 2.09. It was a bar bell type of distribution, though. The stats indicate 13 aces against out of 60 passes. That is much too high a percentage, but we had a lot of very good passes as well.

One thing I wasn’t pleased with was the set distribution. Our M2 and our OPP needed to have gotten more sets. I realize from a “want to win in 3” perspective that others were more likely to get kills, but this was a chance to spread the ball around and build depth in our attack that was missed. This relates to what I feel was a coaching mistake on my part in terms of substitution use.

We spent the night in Stockholm, with everyone basically given the night free. Then it was a 9:21 train back in the morning.

Thoughts, observations, and other stuff
Leaders Brøndby played a pair of Oresund Liga matches on the week. The first was a Danish league fixture vs. Amager on Thursday which counted toward both competitions. They won that 3-0. The second was a Saturday match against Gislaved. That one also ended 3-0. Those were the only two for the Liga this week.

The January schedule, in fact, is light. Only two more matches left on the month. Svedala doesn’t play it’s next match counting toward the Liga until February 10th.

The two wins sees Brøndby well clear of the pack at the top of the table. At this point, they are going to be very hard to catch. They are on 20 points while we only have 13 and Engelholm is on 10 (one fewer match played). Their remaining matches are against the stronger teams in the league – Holte, Engelholm, and ourselves – so it’s not a sure thing yet. We and Engelholm can only get to 22 points, though. That means if we both drop another match or Brøndby gets a 3 point win, they will be champions.

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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