I recently came across an assistant high school volleyball coach looking for advice. It was on the subject of player communication. They wanted advice with respect to both calling the ball and talking with each other on the court. This is a problem coaches of younger and developing players have on a regular basis. As such, I thought it would be worth addressing.
Here’s the scenario presented by the coach in question:
I am a varsity assistant coach at a private, all girl high school and the reason for my post is communication. No one talks. And I mean no one. It is a very small school & an intimate program with hardly any cuts being made. My head coach and I have tried EVERYTHING to get these girls to communicate and nothing has worked so far (except our spike in blood pressure) It is a struggle for us to get some girls to even call the ball, much less chit chat on the court (calling blocks, reading hitters, identifying players on the opposing team) or exude any excitement when they do something great! Being a player myself,
I don’t remember anyone teaching me to talk, we just knew we had to & wanted to. This is a big problem in our program on every level and all of us are stumped (AD included).
Calling the ball
Let me first tackle the calling the ball subject. I think it is probably more straightforward because it’s a pretty well-defined issue. I find a good way to encourage ball-calling is to attach consequences for not doing so. Mainly that means doing something like not counting a good rep in a drill if the player didn’t call the ball. The trick, though, is making sure it’s being enforced by the person counting. Players can’t let each other off the hook.
Alternatively, you could have some kind of reward for calling the ball. It could be a bonus point, or something along those lines. Whether positive or negative feedback works best in your case will likely depend on the player(s) involved. So-called “away from” motivation (avoidance of something negative) tends to be stronger than “toward” motivation (pursuit of something positive) for most people. It’s not for everyone in all situations, though.
I like to tackle this issue by putting players in situations where communication is inherently encouraged by the structure of the exercise. At the HP Coaches Clinic I attended back in February, Shelton Collier talked about using “scramble” type games to quickly get players integrated. Separately, Steve Shenbaum provided some activities you can use off the court.These, though, operate more from the perspective of getting to know each other by interacting 1-on-1 or in small groups.
There’s a famous – or perhaps notorious – example of this sort of thing in the movie Side Out. It involves the setter calling a number and the hitter replying with half of it as they hit the ball. So if the setter said “10”, the hitter replied with “5.” I’m not necessarily recommending this particular exercise (it was a beach pair using it and there was a bit of extra context), but the idea is there.
My point is, look for ways to introduce a communication requirement into the mix. It doesn’t have to necessarily be in a game-like situation to start. The priority is on getting players talking with each other on the court. Once that foundation is developed, you can go from there.
Let’s go back to the idea of consequences and rewards. A really simple way to get players talking to each other during play is to make it a factor in scoring. If you scrimmage in practice, stop the rally and award the other team the point if the players on one side don’t communicate as desired. Alternatively, give them a bonus point for doing a good job. You might be amazed at the change in attitude when the score is involved.