Coaching Log – Nov 9, 2015

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

The prior weekend results basically went as expected. That saw Hylte/Halmstad on top with 12 points and us in second on 10. Örebro and Engelholm both sat on 8 points, with both having played 5 matches to our 4. Below that, Lindesberg and Gislaved were both at 6 points, with the former having only played 3 matches and the later up to 5. RIG still had only a single point and Sollentuna none, both after four matches.

The league schedule this week was light, with only a pair of matches midweek as there was a national U23 tournament over the weekend.

Our Wednesday match this week was Oresundliga, not Elitserie. Following last week’s win over Gislaved, we were tied on 7 points with Engelholm after 3 matches, though they with a better set differential.

I got a message from my starting setter in the morning that she was still in quite a bit of pain from the back issue she developed late in the last match. I told her to talk to the manager about getting it checked out. I was already mentally prepared to have to play our young Swedish setter in this match. She didn’t train that night, nor did one of my OHs who has been fighting a cough for a while.

With only 7 in training, there were limits to what we could do. My focus points were to give the young setter some reps with the hitters to prepare for Wednesday, to continue working on digging, and to work on passing in Zone 1, which also got us working on serving that zone as well, which we probably could stand to do a bit more. The motivation for working on passing in that area is an observation in our passing stats that in most rotations the passer there is well below 2.0.

I started out talking with the team about some stuff I observed from Saturday’s match. Top of the list is the fact that we did rather poorly when digging the ball well. We only got kills 1/3 of the time and made errors or got blocked 27% of the time when digging a 3-ball. When digging a 2-ball, by comparison, we got kills 50% of the time with no errors or blocks. Overall, our error/block rate was around 20% for the match, which was notably higher than in the prior match. I wasn’t too worried about that given we were working on speeding up the attack and introducing some new elements. We did talk, though, that maybe we got a bit too excited on those good digs (we had 57% kills on 3-passes in serve receive). The set stats showed that while the first two sets saw us pass relatively poorly (well below 2.0), our sideout % for both was quite high. Conversely, in the last two sets we passed well, but were only around 50% in siding out.

We also talked about a potential adjustment to our serve reception formation in Rotation 1, which might give us a few different/better attacking options. Making a shift in our defensive strategy was something else we discussed in light of the setter switch for Wednesday’s match. Both were things I left to get into more when we had more bodies in training on Tuesday.

After warm-ups we did a bunch of positional digging with hitters on boxes. Serving and passing was next, with passers in Zone 1 and 6. I started that off with the setter as target to get some reps. Later I rotated her out and the two MBs through so they could get a few setting reps as well as in our system they take many of the second balls if the setter plays the first. We finished up with some hitting.

In looking once again at our rotation-by-rotation performance, I realized Rotation 1 wasn’t the worst one in terms of sideout % as I’d been thinking. It actually ranked 4th, well above Rotations 4 and 6. Obviously, those two need more focused attention. Rotation 4 is also the weakest in terms of point scoring, partly because our OPP has a higher than average service error rate. Generally speaking, we’re just above 50% point scoring in each rotation, with 4 being a little below there and 6 being notably above. My view is that getting better in block/defensive will give us more point scoring opportunities, and being a bit more clinical when we get good digs will raise the kill %.

Training featured 9 players. The starting setter was on the sidelines again, though appears to be only a relatively short-term loss (she was evaluated in the afternoon). One of our part-time players was on-hand, though.

After warm-ups, prehab, and some ball-handling, I had them do the cooperative cross-court hitting drill. One side had the setter fixed with the others rotating through 6, 5, and 4. The other side had the libero fixed in 5 with the others rotating through 6, 4, and setting. We haven’t done that in a while and I felt like it would be a good “live hitter” defensive exercise.

From there we moved on to serving and passing with the setter and the MBs working on middle attacks. One MB hit against one blocking, with the other serving. They rotated after 5 good swings.

Next up was a quick exercise to work on point scoring in Rotation 4. Our OPP served to start. I then gave a free ball to the 3 players on the other side. That ball was set by a MB to either pin and they played out the rally. If the serve was an error or the serving team lost the rally it was a -1. If they won it was +1. The objective was to get be at +2 after 10 balls, or to get there if by the 10th ball they hadn’t achieved the goal. I think they were at 0 after 10, but then scored the next 2 to finish. The lack of a full team on the other side really took some of the challenge out – but only if the serving team could get a dig. What I wanted to do was to put a bit of pressure on the OPP to be more consistent with her serves. She ended up only missing a couple. The bigger issue seemed to be the offensive team tooling the block on sets to position 4. One thing at a time, though.

From there I did a series of 4 v 5 games. The first time around the setter was on the 4 side. The second time through she was on the 5 side. The first round the 4 served the 5, then received a defensive ball after the initial rally. The second round the 5 served the four and then got the second ball. We played games to 10, rotating MBs and OHs along the way. On the team without the setter, a MB took the second ball.

We finished up with hitters against defense to work on employing the rotation defense (defender in 1 comes up to cover tips, 6 rotates toward the line, 5 goes deep corner, 4 takes outside the block). Basically, I just tossed balls to a trio of attackers in 4. Not exactly the sort of thing I’d usually do, but so be it.

We played at home against Danish side Amager. This is a team we played in our second match on the Saturday of the preseason tournament. We won relatively convincingly. I remember them as being an aggressive attacking squad, though one prone toward errors when under blocking pressure (perhaps because of youth), and not quite as good defensively as the other Danish teams we’ve faced (which tend to be very scrappy).

The result was a disappointment in that we lost 0-3, but it was a very competitive match with every set decided by only 2 points.

One big niggle was that we were up something like 18-10 in the first set and ended up losing 24-26. I don’t know if it made any difference at all, but at the point where we had the big lead I subbed out my Swedish starting OH after she finished serving. I wanted to give my back-up OH a chance to play the rest of the way in what looked like a relatively low pressure situation. The back-up didn’t do anything wrong. She passed a couple of good balls in reception (which the other OH had been struggling to do) and didn’t get any swings in attack. I eventually put my starting OH back on in the front row (she had been hitting pretty well) after using my two timeouts to try to stem the other team’s comeback, but to no avail.

The most glaring thing to come out of the analysis of the match is that we just couldn’t stop them siding out. We were generally our usual selves, siding out at about 57% even while only passing a 1.81 on the night. We just couldn’t stop them doing it (they were 61%). Partly, we weren’t serving effectively enough – 4 aces against 10 errors, with some of those errors coming at unfortunate times. Partly they made a good adjustment to attack over the top of our undersized back-up setter. We tried to make a couple of adjustments, both in the block and defensively, but just weren’t good enough.

I asked our injured starting setter her impression as she sat on the bench through the whole match. She felt like once again the team was playing not to lose.

We had a productive talk before training about Wednesday’s match and general developmental needs moving forward. I had each player share their own thoughts as a way to get broader contribution to the conversation and to avoid the stronger personalities (read the Americans) dominating. Increased and better communication was a theme from the players – partly to improve information flow, but also to increase engagement and intensity between the players. There was also some talk about being better digging the ball in terms of more taking a step and less lunging with the arms.

I brought up our troubling slide in performance in terms of scoring points when we have serve. It’s been trending lower from the beginning of the season. I talked about how this correlates to increased technical work on defense. I didn’t say there’s a causal link, but I did talk about the need to work on defense in a more integrated fashion – which means more game-like training.

The issue there, as I said to them, is our small squad size. We just don’t have the bodies at present (though we’re hoping to bring in more for at least training) to be able to go high intensity for long periods. I talked about how we’ll have to adapt things to be able to get the training intensity we need to work on the transition game properly.

I also brought up the need to have more awareness of what’s happening on the other side of the court. I asked the players which of them actually pays attention to player movements and how a play is developing and doesn’t just watch the ball. Not surprisingly, the three Americans (the most experienced players) raised their hands, but I saw a lot of sheepish looks from the rest. The players then related that back to being more vocal on court during play.

With all but the Americans heading off for a 2-day national U23 tournament over the weekend, I kept training relatively light. After warm-up and pre-hab, I had them play Amoeba Serving for fun. I then gave them 5 minutes to work on aggressive serves. From there we shift to serving and passing quads (2 servers, 1 passer, 1 target), but only for 5 good passes per player.

Next I had them play a variation of the cooperative cross-court hitting drill. Instead of attacking cross-court, though, I had them attacking line. I had the primarily left side players (the three OHs and the Libero) against the Setter, OPP, and MBs. On the OH side the libero was fixed and everyone rotated around her to play setter in 3, defender in 6, and attacker in 4. On the other side the players all rotated through 3, 2, 1, and 6.

After a few minutes to develop a rhythm and have some good rallies, I shift it to a competitive game with blocking. The teams did their rotations after each rally rather than after they sent a ball over the net. Rallies were begun with alternating free balls, which kept the tempo quite high. It was a good exercise for working on hitting against a generally strong block and hitter coverage. They played 2 games to 11, both of which were tightly contested.

Training finished up with Speedball Winners in teams of 2 playing on half court.

Thoughts and observations
Once more the team responded positively to a loss in terms of examining their developmental needs and coming up with solutions.

During the last two exercises on Friday, the starting setter – still sidelined because of her back (though it was improving) – did a really good job of getting our O2 and OPP focused on transitioning and making good approaches. It paid off in some much better swings and well-disguised roll shots. I actually made a similar point to our young setter about her jump serve approach, as she was slowing it down when she wanted to short serve. These are things we’ll have to remain focused on moving forward – with those players and others.

Other stuff
The manager had a talk with our 2nd team coach about using some of his players in our training. Five names were discussed. He was going to speak with them over the weekend.

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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