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Cooperative vs. competitive for games and drills

Generally speaking, there are two types of games and drills you can use in your volleyball training. One is cooperative where the group is working together toward some objective. The other is competitive where you divide the group and pit one part against the other. Each type of approach has its uses.

Cooperative

Broadly, going cooperative means having a collective goal. That could be something like 20 good passes when doing a serving and passing drill. The Continuous Cross-Court Hitting drill is a game-play example of a cooperative drill.

I personally find these sorts of exercises most useful when working on decision-making. For example, the Hard Drill – and variations on it – is good to help players learn when they should attack aggressively and when they should keep the ball in play. It helps train a more intentional type of play, as well as control.

There is a drawback to cooperative activities, though. The players tend not to challenge each other as much. In serve and pass the serves are a bit easier. In drills with hitters attacking, the swings are not as aggressive. Even if you make it a point to only count the hard swings, they still won’t be consistently as hard as would otherwise be the case. It’s a trade-off. You have to weigh the benefits of the control elements against this.

Competitive

Any exercise where teams (or players) earn points and compare those points to someone else is a competitive one. That ranges from normal games and wash drills to things like servers vs. passers games.

Obviously, when you go competitive you help to further develop your team’s competitiveness. The tricky part can be making sure what you give points for is what you want the team doing. Players will inevitably figure out the most straightforward way to score. That might not always be the sort of solution you’re looking for to the problem you are trying to present them.

For example, there’s a competitive variation of Continuous Cross-Court Hitting where a team scores points for kills and blocks. Since the defense only covers half the court, however, an attacker could easily just hit the ball off the block and into the open part of the court to score. Certainly, from one perspective that’s a good thing. The attacker has figured out how to use the block. The point of the exercise, though, is to stimulate good attacking and defending sequences. Hitters going block-out all the time defeats the purpose.

That’s the sort of thing you need to keep in mind when setting up your games.

Also, you have to consider whether being competitive is appropriate or not based on the balance of the teams. It’s a real challenge, even when using modified scoring, to make an A-team vs. B-team scrimmage competitive if there is a meaningful ability gap.

Cooperative-competitive

There is actually a third way to go that blends to two primary approaches. It’s one that can help to overcome the more passive elements of cooperative exercises. The idea here is that the players are rewarded for challenging each other, not for simply playing the ball to a teammate.

Consider again the Cooperative Cross-Court Hitting drill. The objective there is to sustain a rally by hitting the ball at a teammate so they can produce a controlled dig. That’s fine when you want to work on general control. The hitter has a set of clear targets.

At a certain point, though, you want your hitters aiming for the holes in the defense, not the defenders. A cooperative-competitive version of the drill would be to count as successful reps only those attacks that are aimed at seams or open areas. That might not sound cooperative, but if the whole group is aiming for a certain number of good reps, that’s exactly what it is. They collectively gets points for trying to beat each other. And you could add points for good defensive plays so it’s not just about hitting.

Can you see the benefit? Now you have everyone working hard to challenge each other. Attackers are working to find new ways to beat the defense. The defense is working to get better about reading the attackers’ intentions. As coach you get to decide what counts.

Could you get the same from a competitive version of the drill? Yes and no. Obviously, in that case the hitters and defense are trying to beat each other. In normal point scoring, though, attackers can sometimes still score points even when they play the ball directly to a defender. That’s not really what you’re after.

Also you may have an imbalance in your groups, or you may want to help develop an overall team spirit. In those cases, a more cooperative approach might be best. It’s great to see players excited for the good plays of their teammates. That’s easier to foster within the collective group when those great plays benefit everyone explicitly.

Thoughts?

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.

2 comments

  1. KELLY DANIELS says:

    Really Good Post John,
    I say this because yesterday I introduced a full court team pepper drill that was cooperative. Three on one side plays the ball within three contact over the net. Immediately after contacting the ball the athlete hustles to the other side. The three must play the ball back over the net from the other side to three who have replaced the initial three. The initial three then leave the opposite side court after contacting the ball. The object was to have play to the empty side then back over to the awaiting three athletes to score a point. This continues until the team reaches the goal. Initially the score does not reset when the team did not get the ball back over the net. We will work score reset into the drill as the team progress and get better at the drill.
    Initially the drill was slow and the teams couldn’t get the ball back over due to the primary purpose of me introducing the drill. The lack of team communication and intention ball play. A lot of times the team is too quiet and just swings at the ball without trying to score. Passing and digging was just as clueless.
    Eventually without giving the team the ques to score, they figured it out themselves. When the first athlete crossed the net she announced where she was located on the other side. Then a really good development occurred. The waiting athlete start yelling how to play the ball and where it should be sent. They even reminded the athlete not moving to the other side who had just played the ball. I was amazed they did all this without encouragement to do so.
    The next phase of the drill the ball had to cross the net four times to score a point.
    The last phase was the ball had to be a jump attack to cross the net. I kept the goal low to get somewhat success, but at they get better in running the drill I will increase the goal.
    Eventually I am going to make the ‘garill’ Cooperative-competitive. We are not at the skill level yet, but working on it!

    Keep the good stuff coming and good luck with your college season!!!

    Koach Kelly
    Padua Franciscan HS Bruin Volleyball

    • John Forman John Forman says:

      Hi Kelly – From your description, I saw something quite similar when I was visiting Mark Lebedew’s Aussie training camp. One of the visiting coaches ran it as part of the warm-up. I think I took some video. Need to see if I can did that up.

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