Coaching Log – Nov 16, 2015

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

Results in the Elitserie from the week ending November 8th offered up one surprise – Örebro needing five sets to beat Sollentuna away. That earned the home team their first point of the season. The other result was Gislaved losing at home to Engelholm. Given the form of the those two teams of late, not a shock result. Those outcomes move both the winners above us in the standings, but having played two more matches.

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No teams are out of the running yet for Gran Prix. The qualification will be based on the first 10 matches, with the top 4 getting in. Sollentuna and RIG are certainly well off the pace, but play each other twice in the weeks ahead, so one of them could make a move up the table. Gislaved looks like they may struggle to qualify as their next four matches are no easy path. Lindesberg is the wild card at the moment, as they’ve only played three matches so far.

As for Svedala, with two matches in-hand, so to speak, we look to be well positioned. It won’t be a cake walk, though. We have two away matches against Hylte/Halmstad, along with trips to Lindesberg and Gislaved mixed in with this week’s home match vs. RIG and what is likely to be a tough one against Engelholm next month.

The above mentioned Gislaved – Engelholm match also counted toward the Oresundliga standings, entrenching the latter at the top of the table. The Danish teams all have a match in-hand.

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We don’t have another match that counts toward this league until mid-December. That’s our last match before the holiday break.

The Svedala U23 team, featuring all of the Swedish players from the first team, took Silver at the national tournament. They lost in the final to Engelholm.

Monday
Sometimes the coach goofs and forgets the equipment closet keys at home. When you’re training in your main gym, that may not be so bad as it would be a quick turn around to go home and get them. When training in your gym 20 minutes drive away, that doesn’t really work. I’d hoped our manager had a copy of the key, but he didn’t and no one in the facility had one either. Basically had to scrap training. We talked a bit about some stuff I observed on video and how things went at the U23 tournament. Then I released the players to go work out.

Tuesday
We had six and a half players for training – the half being our starting setter who was recovering from her back injury. She did a little setting at points.

I started off talking with them a bit about some stuff I did on video for them looking at our defense, hitter transition, and blocking from the last match. In particular with the blocking, I saw that we were consistently late. We did prehab and I had them do a bit of partner 2-touch, which transitioned into a serving warm-up. I then had them to some deep serves with a focus on the ball being below the top of the antennae. When they reached the objective, they then shifted to short serves.

I then had them do a 3 v 3 version of the Hard Drill. Along with being a decent preparation for the hitting that was to come, it also worked on defense against back row attacks, which is something we talked about at the beginning in terms of positioning.

This was followed by some serving and passing. The servers were banging out some really tough balls, making the passers struggle considerably at times.

The rest of training was a sequence of hitters against block and defense. I started by having a blocker in 2 with defenders in 1 and 6. On the other side I had two attackers hitting in 4 plus the libero. The not hitter of the two attackers passed a ball that the libero then had to set. The defense needed to get 7 blocks or good digs. I rotated players around.

We did something similar with attacking through 2 against a blocker in 4, with defenders in 5 and 6. Since the libero was playing in 5, I had the setter set in this case. We also did attack in 4 with block in 2 and defense in 5 and 6.

Although this wasn’t a particularly high intensity session, it was physically demanding for the hitter/blockers, who got a lot of jumps. I wasn’t worried about fatigue given we didn’t train on Monday and wouldn’t go again until Friday. Along with working the defense and block, it was also a good exercise for the hitters working against the block. On top of that, it was an opportunity for the libero to work on putting up hitable balls. This is something we need to develop with her, as she’s not confident in that role.

Wednesday
No training today as the 2nd team had a home match. I attended and spoke with five of the players from that team afterwards about coming to train with the first team – probably Tuesday and/or Friday when they don’t train with their team. They mostly seemed eager. I told them they would be expected to turn up, work hard, make aggressive mistakes, and listen to the older players. I think we’ll have them with us on Tuesday.

Friday
Our starting setter was back to more or less full training. She avoided going to the floor on defense, but otherwise did everything else, including blocking. That gave us 9 in training with our two young players back from their school trips.

We talked at the beginning about focus points for training and Sunday’s match. I told them increasing in-rally defensive communication is the thing I want the whole team focused on, and that each should pick something individual.

After warms ups I had them do the last part of the Twenty-one drill, which is basically 3-person over-the-net pepper with a goal of getting 21 straight pass-set-dig sequences. I don’t know if it was the lack of training this week, or something else, but the players seemed to lack a bit of focus. It took them longer than usual for a group to actually reach the objective.

I had them do some serving to get their shoulders warmed-up a bit further, and to prepare for later activities. I used the opportunity to video one of my MBs, who is working on on jump float serve.

From there we moved to a variation on Winners I haven’t used before. In this case, rather than waving through the winners side, the team losing a rally stepped off to be replaced by the team waiting to come on. While that was happening, a ball was played over to the winning team to start the next rally. In this case we did back row 3s with no tipping in front of the 3 meter line. The focus was on reading the attack, adjusting the defense properly, and communicating throughout. I liked how it went.

Serving and passing with the MBs and setters getting reps came next. I had two of the pin hitters passing with our libero, with one setter and one MB running sets off the passes. After 5 good attacks, the MBs switch. After both MBs got their 5, I switched the pin hitters passing and swapped setters.

The last main element of training was a series of 4 v 5 games. On one side I had a setter in 2 along with a MB in 3, an OH in 4, the libero in 5, and another OH in 6. Set against them was our RS in 2, setter in 1, MB in 3, and OH in 6. The team of 4 served. After the initial rally played out, that team received a down ball. Games were played to 10 points. I rotated the setters back and forth, and flipped the setter and RS on the team of 4 so both played front and back row. I rotated the OHs through all three positions, and had the MBs switch sides.

Those games were generally pretty competitive. Because they were basically played just in one half of the court (though the team of 4 could attack Zone 2 where the setter was defending), at the end I ran a version where we played cross-court attacks. I wasn’t overly pleased with it, though. Need to rethink how that one works for future use.

The players wanted to get in some work on some different things at then end, which led them to basically do serving and passing with a couple of attackers based on who wanted to do what. The serving was a bit less aggressive than earlier, though.

At the end, along with administrative stuff, I talked with the players about bringing the strong serving I’ve seen in the last couple weeks of training into Sunday’s match.

Sunday
Home match against RIG, which is basically the Swedish national volleyball academy – meaning all high school aged players. You may recall we had a couple of them in training with us two weeks back – one of whom is the leading point scorer so far. Coming into the match, they only managed 1 point from their first four matches. They actually hadn’t played a match in the league since October 21st for various reasons.

My philosophy on playing against younger, less experienced teams is that you generally want to try to be as clean on your side of the net as possible. They will tend to be prone to errors and you don’t want to bail them out by making a lot yourself. That said, though, it’s also an opportunity to work on developmental needs. The latter was more my focus going into this match.

Perhaps not surprisingly given we only trained twice on the week and just once as a full group and our starting setter was just back from her injury, our first set was an ugly one. We didn’t pass well. Our serving was mixed. We made a lot of mistakes. It cost us the set. We progressively got better and ended winning comfortably after that, but not without a lot of issues along the way.

Serving was a big frustration. We had 13 aces against 15 errors. That’s not a bad ratio, all in all. The vast majority of those errors were in the net, though, so not positive errors. This after a couple of weeks of pretty good serving in practice.

Thoughts and observations
I really wanted to use Sunday’s match to get some playing time for my bench, but things didn’t quite work out. The did both get in, but not as much as I’d wanted. In part it was because the sets went too fast and my substitution plans never came to fruition.

I had a thought to play the second setter to give the starter a break here and their given her return from injury. The starter, though, was legitimately worried about tightening up if she came out, so I couldn’t really risk it – especially after we lost the first set. Also, her two weeks of not playing or really training until Friday really were obvious. She wasn’t clicking great with the MBs and her accuracy wasn’t there on some of the pin sets. Basically, she needed the reps.

Defense and blocking were better. We ended up with 13 blocks and dug a lot of balls. That contributed to a much improved point scoring percentage – 58% and 60% sideout. Admittedly, though, RIG does not feature quite the offensive capability of other teams we play. They really struggled with our offense as well, as we were close to 50% kills according to the initial cut of the stats (compared to their 31%).

Other stuff
The other results in the league from the weekend were not really surprising. Hylte won to go back top of the table. Our win moves us up into 2nd, and still with matches in-hand against the two teams immediately behind us. Lindesberg beat Gislaved, which likely means the latter is out of contention for a Gran Prix spot now as they’ve already played 7 fixtures and are 5 points adrift of 4th place.

We are back in action a week from Tuesday when we head to Hylte for a big clash.

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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