Drill: Passing Triplets

Synopsis: This is a good drill to work on passing (and potentially serving) in a way with maximizes reps while having a game-like featuring in the ball coming over the net. It is also a good warm-up drill on multiple levels.

Age/Skill Level: This is a drill for all levels.

Requirements: Three players, two balls, a net.

Execution: Begin with a passer and target on one side of the net and a ball initiator on the other side. The initiator and the target each start off with a ball. The initiator sends the ball over to the passer, who passes to target. As soon as the first ball comes over the target tosses their ball to the initiator so they are ready to do the next repetition quickly. Continue until the passer reaches some defined number of good passes.

Variations:

  • The initiator can send the ball to the passer either by tossing or by serving.
  • In order to work different angles, the drill can be run on a diagonal rather than in a linear fashion. For example, instead of the initiator being in zone 1 and the passer in zone 5, the passer could be in zone 1.
  • If you have to use 4 players because of numbers you can add a player at the net as a second target with a ball. This could be quite useful for lower level players where there are more shanked passes, as it would allow the reps to continue while one of the targets chases down an errant ball.

Additional Comments:

  • If the initiation is done by an underhand toss with the ball allowed to roll off the fingers (USC called this bowling) it will imitate a topspin ball. If it comes from a 2-hand overhead toss it can be made to be like a hard, flat float serve. A simple underhand toss or underhand serve could imitate a freeball.
  • If the initiator serves from mid-court it can be a good way to warm up the shoulder while working on mechanics without having to also worry about power.
  • Having the two balls going is meant to keep the drill moving quickly as the idea is to maximize reps in minimal time, so make sure the players keep the tempo high.
  • Having the ball come over the net in a variety of ways (you could have the players go through several rotations varying up the initiation) helps the players learn to recognize and adapt to different types of balls, especially with the ball coming from over the net.

Required volleyball reading?

I did the last of my planned collegiate program training visits on Wednesday, this time at UCLA. Interestingly, when I got to the gym ahead of their training session I found them doing a review/discussion of the book Crucial Conversations. Assistant coach Stein Metzger told me it was something they were looking to use to improve on the communication front as that was seen to be a problem with the team last year. I haven’t read the book before myself, but it’s a best seller so clearly quite a few others have done. Might just give it a look to see what’s what.

I’ve got just about a week left in the States. While I don’t have any plans on visiting any more schools and their practices, I may yet get a bit more volleyball in before I head back for England. The University of Wisconsin will be playing at Pepperdine on Saturday evening. Pepperdine is supposed to be a beautiful campus (located in Malibu), so I’d like to go just to have a look. I happen to also know the Wisconsin coach from my days at Brown when he was coaching at Albany and they came to one of our tournaments. He’s definitely moved up in the world since!

I may also make a trip to the famous Manhattan Beach. I’ve been told there’s a fantastic little Mexican food joint there. Oh, and it’s known for some pretty good beach volleyball action too. 🙂

I think once I have some time to let everything settle and can reflect I’ll write a post looking back on my 5 campus visits and the different things I observed. Look for that when I get back.

Left the land of volleyball giants for a spell

Two days in near San Diego were a breath of fresh air, so to speak. It was four days at USC where the players made me feel like a shrimp, and Long Beach State, which isn’t too far behind. That made a nice change of pace visiting with my coaching friend Andrea Leonard at Cal State San Marcos. The team was ranked #20 in the NAIA preseason poll (the NAIA is an alternative US collegiate system to NCAA). Even still, those are players of mere mortal stature. No 6’4″ and above (there’s a bunch of 6-footers on the roster, but that’s more a function of typical volleyball height inflation than reality). In other words, I got to spend two days watching volleyball played much closer to what I saw day in and day out in England.

What that means is I saw a team where developmental needs are paramount. Andrea had a team with 11 new players out of 19. There were certainly some useful players on the San Marcos team. At that level the play, though, is dominated by scramble plays more than high powered attacks and massive blocks. It’s fun to watch the elite teams at work. The reality of coaching for most coaches, however, is that we do our work with non-elite teams. Of course that’s not to say we can’t learn things from how the coaches of elite level teams operate. That is exactly why I went on my little volleyball tour.

On Wednesday I visited UCLA, (ranked 12th in the preseason poll). That was my last practice viewing. I also talked some sand volleyball with Stein Metzger. I took in a match over the weekend as the NCAA Division I season kicked off (Wisconsin at Pepperdine), but no more training sessions after that.

Getting a US collegiate volleyball coaching job

A U.K. coach asked me for advice on getting a collegiate volleyball coaching job in the States. It is no surprise that someone with professional coaching aspirations wants to explore the U.S. job market. There are, after all, something north of 1000 college volleyball programs. They provide a great many opportunities for one to get paid to ply their trade. Not that all coaches are overly well-paid, mind.

Different structure, different rules

Landing one of those jobs isn’t an easy thing to do, though. It’s a big challenge for someone with little exposure to the U.S. system, players, etc. The structure is quite different, for one. The U.K. the system is a club model, but in the U.S. school teams are run by the universities and colleges. That means coaches are school employees rather than engaged by a club. This has implications for coach behavior. The expectations of institutions of higher learning regarding employee interaction with students are very strict (especially since most are government funded). Relationships must be professional. Just the hint of impropriety is enough to get a coach sacked. Moreover, it makes it hard for them to get another job.

For example, it is generally unacceptable for a coach to drink with their players. In most cases, said players are under-aged to begin with. In any case, most schools have rules against alcohol being included in any school-related activities. And forget about going out with players socially outside of the school environment. As I’ve experienced first-hand in my coaching experience in England, the expectation is quite different.

Anyone looking to hire a foreign coach to a U.S. volleyball program – be it an Athletic Director for a head coach job or a head coach for an assistant position – will want to know that the candidate both understands the system and will comply with the expected behaviors. Their own jobs are on the line should some kind of scandal develop. As a result, they won’t take the risk, even for a strong candidate.

And of course on top of that. any coaching candidate must demonstrate that they can work with and develop American players. There are definitely cultural differences, both in terms of society in general and in volleyball specifically.

So how does one get there?

I chatted with USC Women’s Volleyball coach Mick Haley on this subject. He said there are two ways to go for a foreign coach to demonstrate their worth to prospective collegiate volleyball employers. One is to coach Juniors volleyball. Collegiate coaches pay a lot of attention to what’s happening in the Juniors ranks. That’s where they get most of their recruits. As a result, they know which coaches are doing well developing players and having competitive success. Make a name for yourself as a Juniors coach and it will open collegiate coaching doors.

The other way to go (which potentially could be done in parallel with coaching Juniors) is to work as a volunteer assistant coach for a college team. This would provide the chance to demonstrate your knowledge and abilities in the that environment directly, and to get the understanding of the US system you’ll need. Do well and it could lead to paid employment down the line.

Beyond that, I recommend looking at the job listings you can find linked to from the volleyball coaching jobs page. They will give you an idea of the specific criteria schools are looking for in coach candidates (you’ll notice knowledge of NCAA rules, etc. tends to be high on the list).

Game: 22 v 22

Synopsis: This game features 6-v-6 play, but with a major focus on serve receive offense, winning points in a row, and finishing a set.

Age/Skill Level: This game is suitable for all levels.

Requirements: two teams, full court, several balls

Execution: One team is the designated offensive team. The drill starts with one team serving the other with play running as usual for that rally. If the receiving team gets a first ball kill they get a point. If not, that rally is a wash, though the winner of it will serve the next ball. Before that, though, a coach initiates three balls to the offensive teams. If either team wins all three rallies they get a point. If not, no point is earned by either side. The game continues until one team reaches 25. Repeat all six rotations.

Variations:

  • To make getting the wash mini game point (the 3-ball part) a bit easier, you can award the point to the team which wins 2 out of 3 rallies instead of all three.
  • The coach can initiate the ball as an attack, a downball, or a free ball.
  • To have a more concentrated focus on serve receive you can have the non-offensive team serve all balls.
  • To make sure to give weak rotations more time, you can require a team to win the game before rotating, with the first team to go all six rotations winning overall.
  • This could be used just as easily for small-sided games.

Additional Comments:

  • I saw this game played at USC, though I may not have all the details exactly correct.
  • The focus here is obviously on first ball serve receive kills, and secondarily winning points in a row. The way the coach initiates the three balls also creates an opportunity to work on some other types of offensive play (e.g. free ball attack).
  • If you do have only one team serve you’ll want to allow for miss serves (but not two in a row) to encourage aggressive serving.

Drill: Dig and Set Back

Synopsis: This is a useful drill which focuses on both controlled digging and setting an out of system ball.

Age/Skill Level: This is a drill for intermediate to advanced players.

Requirements: Coach, 2+ players, balls, half court

Execution: Begin with a coach in either the OH or RS position at the net, in the diagonally opposite defensive position, and one more players waiting to come in behind. The coach hits a ball at the player, which that player digs to themselves and then sets back toward the coach. Continue for time or a number of good reps. (Saw this at USC)

Variations:

  • With two coaches this drill could be run in both diagonal directions on the same side of the court.
  • At advanced levels players could replace coaches.
  • If the players are sufficiently skilled the ball they set back could be hit by the coach to the next player in line to keep the drill continuous.
  • The coach(es) could hit from over the net on a box.

Additional Comments:

  • Along with being able to control the hit ball, this drill focuses on being able to put up a hittable ball to the hitter at the net diagonal from the digger. This is what you would want to see rather than the player trying to set the ball to the net in front of them (for example from zone 5 to the OH in zone 4) where the angle is extremely disadvantageous to the hitter.
  • This can be a good pre-match warm-up drill.

Technical Coaching at the Top Level

This update comes just after I completed phase three of my summer volleyball adventure. It featured two days worth of observing Long Beach State going through the last of their 2-a-days for the 2013 season. Coach Gimmillaro (now retired) is well known as a very technical coach. He spent many years producing coaching videos and doing clinics all over. His training sessions those two days were no exception.

In particular, ball control technique was a major focus of his in the gym. It all starts with the unique warm-up Long Beach used – both in training and pre-match. Here’s a sample of it:

It definitely didn’t stop there. Coach Gimmillaro was very active and hands-on in working with his players. He got them playing both serve receive passes and dug balls in a very specific fashion which focused on footwork and platform.

I chatted with Coach about the Long Beach sand program implementation (they won the 2013 National Team Championship). We also talked jump float serve mechanics, some volleyball business stuff, and a few other things. He even expressed a willingness to travel to England to run a clinic if there was an interest in doing so (I was coaching Exeter at the time).

Naturally, I got some drill and game ideas from watching training, which I have shared since. It is worth noting, though, that there was very little actual variety in the training sessions. The clear dominant focus was on really working serving and passing – building the foundation for everything else.

Game: 7 in a Row

Synopsis: This game features normal play, but with the use of bonus points and a focus on scoring points in bunches.

Age/Skill Level: This game is suitable for intermediate to advanced players.

Requirements: two teams, full court

Execution: This is a 6 vs 6 game which operates normally in terms of service initiation and the play thereafter. The difference is in the objective and the scoring system. Teams are aiming to score 7 points in a row. Any rally win is a point. A bonus point, though, is given for first ball kills. Thus, it takes at least 4 straight rally wins for a team to win the game (three first ball serve receive or transition kills and a rally win). If at any point a team loses a rally its points revert to zero.

Variations:

  • You can alter the bonus point earning process to focus on whatever you prioritize – like certain types of offensive plays, aces, stuff blocks, kills on off-speed shots, etc.
  • You can even have smaller or larger bonus points (say 2 for a first ball kill and 1 for a 3-pass), especially if you find the 7-point target a bit too challenging for your team.
  • To create a more intense focus on serve receive offense you can assign one team to serve to start every play.
  • There should be no problem running this as a small-sided game.

Additional Comments:

  • The main focus here is on scoring points in a row, and conversely preventing the other team from scoring points in bunches. As a result, it would be best if the bonus points you employ support that cause.
  • I saw this one used by USC, though I might have it presented here in a slight different fashion than it was run.
  • If you do have only one team serve you’ll want to allow for miss serves (but not two in a row) to encourage aggressive serving.

Drill: 3-Person Pepper (Over the Net)

Synopsis: This is fairly simple multi-player pepper drill which can be used for warm-ups and general ball-handling practice.

Age/Skill Level: This is a drill for all levels.

Requirements: Three players, one ball, a net.

Execution: Begin with 2 players on one side of the net, with one player at the net and one off, and 1 player on the other side. The single player toss the ball to the play off the net on the other side who passes it to their partner on the net. That player set the ball, then moves off the net, swapping positions with their partner. The passer hits a roll shot to the original tosser, then steps under the net to become their setter and the cycle continues.

Variations:

  • At lower levels the hitter can do a standing down ball, or even execute a set over the net rather than doing a jump and roll shot.
  • A tip can replace the roll shot if you want to work on that skill or perhaps work at a lower level (tipped balls generally going higher).
  • Advanced players can actually hit the ball at something approaching full power if they have sufficient control
  • Advanced players can be required to jump set
  • You can run this with 4 players, in which case players stay on their own side and the hitter and setter simply switch positions when the ball goes over rather than the setter ducking under the net.

Additional Comments:

  • This is obviously an extension of the 3-person in-line pepper drill, with the addition of the net giving it a more game-like aspect.
  • In the 4-person variation you basically have a co-operative version of small-court doubles play, so this drill could be used as a lead in to something like that, or in a similar fashion to something like the Hard Drill Game.