BUCS 2014 Volleyball Final 8s to be in Edinburgh

BUCS announced on Thursday that the 2014 edition of the volleyball Final 8s will be held at the University of Edinburgh. I’m not familiar with the gym and can’t find a photo of it online, but the press release says it’s been “…used several times for BUCS Home Nations events and again, an Olympic training venue.” That at least makes it sound better than the gym at Leeds Met where the 2013 Finals 8s were held. That place was widely reviled by the participants for having insufficient service area or overhead space, lacking in air circulation, having a dance studio as a warm-up area, and generally being a tight squeeze for the 16 teams playing on the two available courts.

That said, Edinburgh is by no means centrally located. That likely will mean added travel costs for everyone involved. Last year, for example, the Western league sent 4 teams to Finals 8s – Bournemouth men & women, Bristol women, Exeter men. Leeds was already a lengthy trip from down in the South West. Edinburgh would require just about all day travel via ground transport.

It will be interesting to see the scheduling on this. At Leeds the last time around they did alternating men’s and women’s waves of play on the two available courts. Literally, the Pool A men would play two matches, then the net would be lowered and the Pool A women would play two matches. Each team plays 4 matches – 3 pool + 1 cross-over. If Edinburgh has 4 courts then at least the pool play can be done on Saturday. That would leave just the cross-over matches to be played on Sunday, allowing teams an early departure time.

About hitter training and the myth of the wrist snap

There’s a post worth reading on the USA Volleyball blog (hat tip to Coach Rey). It looks at hitter training and focuses on getting players to execute skills in game-like fashion as often as possible. In other words, getting away from “block” training which breaks the skill down and works on its components individually. That’s a major focus of modern training for coaching volleyball. There are some worthwhile things to think about toward that aim in this piece.

The “myth” of wrist snap

At the end of the blog post is an interesting exchange about the mechanics of hitting a ball with topspin, whether that’s a spike or a topspin serve. You need to read that section from the bottom up to properly follow the flow, as the sequence of the discussion is in reverse chronological order (like an email exchange).

The major take-away from that topspin conversation is that wrist snap has nothing to do with it. Your hand is not in contact with the ball long enough for it to wrap over the top the way it looks to do when you execute in slow motion.

So do we stop coaching wrist snap? Or does it actually serve a purpose?

My August Volleyball Coaching Developmental Traveling Plans

Back in Summer 2013 I planned a trip back to the States for August. In part it was my plan to get in some academic meetings in support of my PhD work. Mainly, though, I was looking at it as an opportunity to reconnect with the US collegiate volleyball game. I was away from it since the end of 2006. I watched a number of matches on television in the interim. Aside from attending a UCLA vs. Standford match in September 2011 and a Harvard vs. Princeton match later that season, however, I was out of the gym entirely for nearly 6 years.

A big reason for that was the feeling I needed to concentrate on my new corporate job for a while. My concern was I wouldn’t be able to resist the coaching urge if I didn’t stay away. Even doing so, there were times when I felt the pull to get back into it. Given how strongly everything came back when I started coaching the Exeter teams in 2012-13, I think I was correct in my assessment.

Now, with the coaching bug fully infecting me, I looked at this trip back to the States as an opportunity for some professional development and networking. The plan was to spend a couple of days with a few different teams as they go through their pre/early-season training.

Two significant programs on the plan
The two schools I knew from the start I’d go were the University of Southern California (USC) and Long Beach State (properly known as California State University at Long Beach – CSULB). You may know Long Beach State from one of it’s most prominent alumnae, Misty May-Treanor. She was a setter in her collegiate playing days.

The coaches of those two programs are among the legends in the game. Mick Haley at USC rose to prominence when is University of Texas team became the first non-West Coast squad to win a volleyball NCAA Division I championship. He won two titles at Texas, and then two more at USC. He had with four years as coach of the USA women’s national team (up to the 2000 Olympics) in between. Before Texas he was a very successful Junior College coach as well.

Brian Gimmillaro at Long Beach has 3 national championships to his credit as well, and has long been one of the leading lights in coaching education. He readily shared his methods through videos and seminars for many years. His 1998 team became the first ever to go undefeated for a whole season (36-0).

I also arranged to meet up with Stein Metzger. That year he coached the UCLA Sand Volleyball team and was an assistant for the women’s indoor team. Stein played on the pro beach tour and has coached a number of other pros (including Devon’s own Denise Austin).

Others to be determined
A few other schools got added to the list later, but that was all still in the works.I provided updates when things got finalized. I also did post updates from the road to share what i saw and heard.

Needless to say, I was really looking forward to this trip – and not just for the SoCal sunshine! šŸ™‚

Drill: Continuous Transition

Synopsis: This drill is great for working on the transition from blocking to attack, with a definite conditioning element involved.

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

Requirements: 6+ players (including 2 setters), a full court, two tossers, lots of balls

Execution: Start with two groups of three front row players on either side of the court at the net. There will be a coach with a supply of balls on each side in the back court. One side starts the drill by transitioning off then net. A ball is tossed to the setter and the offense is executed. If the ball gets by the block on the other side, that team transitions and attacks. If the ball is blocked or hit into the net, the same team transitions and attacks once more.

Variations:

  • The drill can be run for a certain amount of time, a set number of balls, some goal objective, or on a scored basis as a game.
  • You can run this with the setter as one of the front row players, or having to penetrate from their back row position.
  • If sufficient players are available, they can be used in place of the coaches to toss.
  • You can have a fixed play for each side, have players audible their sets, have the setter call a play, or have a/the coach call a play.

Additional Comments:

  • Done properly, this will be a very tiring drill, so make sure to account for that when deciding how long to run it for and how many rotations to put players through – especially middles.
  • Especially when working with less advanced players you’ll want to make sure you’re paying attention to their transition footwork.
  • Because of the required tempo of the drill and close proximity of lots of running and jumping players at risk of having a ball underfoot, it is imperative that ball retrieval is handled quickly and efficiently.
  • The inclination may be to include defensive players into the drill to dig and/or pass the first ball to the setter rather than for it to come from a toss. In most cases this probably won’t work as it will tend to slow the drill down and introduce a lot of timing variability as if the ball isn’t dug, or is dug poorly, a ball will still have to be introduced on a toss.

Volleyball Games: Using Bonus Points Effectively

There is a major focus in volleyball coaching circles these days on making training as game-oriented as possible. That means moving away from rote mechanical – block – training. Incorporating the types of visuals, movement patterns, and situations one will see in a match is better. Obviously, nothing is going to be more game-like than actually playing. Let’s face it, though. The scrimmages and other volleyball games we do in training oftentimes drift away from the developmental focus we would like to have for that particular session.

There is a way to have your players concentrating on those key things, however.

By introducing bonus points, you can get your players focused on executing whatever skills or plays you want. For example, a bonus point for a 3-pass (see Scoring Serving and Passing Effectiveness) will have them concentrate more on passing. A bonus point for a stuff block will get your blockers more intent on their task. You can have even bonus points for more complex sequences. Think of things like quick attacks or combination plays, or for scoring on the first ball in serve receive.

You can also have point penalties for undesirable plays. For example, say you want to curb the amount of 1-arm digging or passing that’s happening.Ā Assess a point deduction each time it happens. Maybe your team isn’t calling the ball enough. If so, you can subtract points for failure to do so. If you want free balls sent only to zone 1 you can asses a deduction when it doesn’t happen.

Here are some things to think about in terms of employing bonus/penalty points in your games:

  • You can vary the points based on the amount of focus you want to give something – more points for key areas of focus, fewer for lesser ones.
  • You can have multiple bonus/penalty items in your game, but don’t get carried away. The players can only focus on a couple of things at a time effectively, and you can only track of so many different things, so keep it relatively narrowly defined.
  • Be careful of unintended consequences. You don’t want you players forcing things to try to earn bonus points. Make sure you structure your point system to avoid that.

You’ll know you have your player’s attention on where you want their focus when they start yelling out bonus point scoring in the middle of plays. That’s probably not the best situation in terms of their game concentration, but at least you know you have them thinking about the right things. šŸ™‚

Book Review: The Volleyball Debate by Vinnie Lopes

Vinnie Lopes authored and published a book titled The Volleyball Debate. You may know Vinnie from the Off the Block blog focusing on US men’s collegiate volleyball, recently. The book is essentially a history of the Ball State men’s volleyball program. For those who don’t know, Ball State has long been a dominant program in the Midwest. It is one which has compiled over 1000 victories. Only one other men’s volleyball program has reached that mark – UCLA. Unlike UCLA, though, Ball State has yet to win a national championship.

The book starts with a bit of back story history about the early years of both volleyball and Ball State. From there it goes on to the initial formation of the men’s volleyball club. That was during Don Shondell’s time as a Ball State student (he graduated in 1952). Things really get going, though, with Shondell’s returnĀ to Ball State as a faculty member after his military service. This is when he re-formed the club, which had gone away in the interim. The story then focuses on the period from 1960, when it played its first matches, until 1964. That’s when, after a couple of years of battling, the team was granted varsity status. It ends with a bit of a look at the history of Ball State men’s volleyball since then. Think of it as a kind of a where are they now view.

Don Shondell went on to coach the team until 1998 when he finally retired. During that time he compiled over 750 wins. He was also actively involved in volleyball management and development, having helped form the Midwest Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) and acting as its first president. He co-edited The Volleyball Coaching Bible.

Probably the most notable of Shondell’s former players is Mick Haley. Haley is probably best know for coaching the USC women’s team from 2001 to 2017, but has a long history of coaching success going back to his days as a junior college coach. He was the first coach to lead a non-West Coast team to a National Championship when he led the University of Texas women to the title in 1988 (I remember watching that match). He also coached the US women’s national team in the 2000 Olympics.

In terms of my feelings about the book, I think if you like reading about the history of the sport, you may find The Volleyball Debate interesting. As a I noted, it has a bit about the general history of volleyball in the US as well as the specific history of Ball State men’s volleyball. For my peers in UK volleyball where the fight to develop the sport is ongoing, there is probably a fair bit to which one can relate. That could make it an interesting read in and of itself.

I must make one negative comment about the book, though.Ā It is in massive need of an edit. I’m not talking about there being loads of typos and such, as there really isn’t. Rather it’s the frequent repetition of things already mentioned which bothered me. It seemed the chapters were separate essays rather than proper planned out chapters. The author is also clearly showing Ball State volleyball in the best light. His enthusiasm for the subject is pretty obvious. But that’s understandable as he’s an alumnus of the university (though not as a player)

Volleyball Set Diagram

Below is a volleyball set diagram. It outlines the different sets we used when I coached collegiately at Brown, and how we defined them. This is based on a system popularized by the USA men back in the 1980s. They divided the net into 9 zones of 1 meter each. On top of that they added set heights ranging from 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest (fastest). The zones and heights were then combined to provide a two-digit specifier for each set. Thus, a standard high set to the outside (left) hitter is a 14 – zone 1, height 4. A middle quick is a 51 – zone 5, height 1.

Now, for practical purposes most teams do not use the two digit calls in play. They tend to shorten them up to call sets quickly in a fast-paced play. In our case, we used letters to call the 4 different types of quick sets we used. You can see below how we did this, as well as the back row zones system we used based on colors – white, brown, and red from left to right as you’re facing the net.

Sample volleyball set diagram

volleyball set diagram

This, of course, is just one system and one volleyball set diagram. There are loads of variations. In my coaching at Svedala in Sweden, for example, the “rip” was equivalent to the 31 from the chart above. A 3 was the 32 set, which is pretty common usage. Our A was a 71 (back quick). We called the “hut” a “go” (which is what a lot of teams call the fast outside set these days). In contrast, at MSU the “rip” is a back row attack in Zone 1.

I have always found, though, that the underlying 2-digit base structure makes it very easy to work out different types of naming approaches or hand signals.

Volleyball Conditioning – A Sample Program

Here is a sample volleyball off-season/summer workout program. It comes from my days coaching at Brown and was given to our players in 2004 for their use during the summer months. To provide a sense of timing, we began our pre-season about August 25th each year, so the program is timed out with that in mind. Obviously, this is just one example of a workout plan, and perhaps not the best for any given team or player. It does provide something from which to work, though.

ThisĀ vballsummer spreadsheet features two tabs. One is weight training. The other is conditioning. The latter actually features a calendar layout with what to do each day of each week, including the weights program. The other tab provides the specifics of each week’s weight training work.

TheĀ BIKE_WORKOUTS spreadsheet is exactly what is sounds like. It includes eight workouts ranging from 15-25 minutes with specifics for how each section of the ride should be done.

TheĀ General_Conditioning document describes all the running, agility, and other types of exercises which are indicated in the vballsummer spreadsheet.

Here’s the introductory letter our strength coach at the time included with the packet. It provides a bit of advice on implementing the program.


SUMMER WEIGHT TRAINING

The attached spreadsheets outline your summer lifting schedule. The weight training is divided into 3 x 4-week training blocks. The basic design of the program is a 3-week build-up followed by 1 week reduced load and/or active rest. As a general rule, when the repetitions decrease, the loads lifted should increase for your core exercises, however, you should pay close attention to the assigned percentages as well.

The percentages given for each session are for your major exercises only and are a percentage of your max. If you donā€™t know your max for a specific exercise, refer to the Nebraska Scale in your manual. This scale allows you to estimate your max by doing a heavy set of 2-3 repetitions. Choose a weight heavy enough that you can only get 2-3 good reps, then refer to the scale to estimate your 1 rep max. Use the number given on the scale to calculate your percentages for the summer program.

Please remember; as the program progresses, your strength will improve. If possible, you should re-test your estimated max halfway through the program and recalculate the weight. If the percentage for the session is 90-95% and your sets are easy, you should add weight and re-test your max.

If you have any questions about the program or cannot remember a specific exercise, ask a trainer at the gym where you workout. If you are uncomfortable performing a specific exercise and cannot get proper instruction, please try and substitute another exercise that targets the same muscle group.

There is a training calendar provided with an example of the optimal training split for your summer program. However, in the instance that you want to train on weekends, it is acceptable to spread the workouts over 7 days instead of just 5. Never lift weights more than 2 consecutive days without a day off in between. Itā€™s OK if your training split is different from the calendar provided you rest properly and get all the sessions completed within the week.

SUMMER CONDITIONING

The training calendar also includes options for summer conditioning. There are 4 conditioning sessions listed along with your weight training. The basis of most of your summer conditioning is interval training. You can follow these workouts precisely, or use them as guidelines for training. If you have more than 2 club sessions each week in addition to this program, substitute the 3rd session for one of your conditioning workouts.

Descriptions of the summer conditioning sessions are provided in the summer manual along with several other options. Bike workouts, volleyball (club) workouts and spinning classes can be substituted for conditioning sessions as long as you are working with the principles of interval training in mind. However, these workouts were designed specifically for your summer training and should be followed as closely as possible.

If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact me by email at anytime. GOOD LUCK AND TRAIN HARD!

Game: Hard Drill Game

Synopsis: This is a game which offers the benefit of working on back court attacks and defense against them in game-like fashion with a cooperative element which focuses on control and a competitive aspect which brings in going for points.

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

Requirements: 6+ players, 1 ball, court

Execution: This game is based on The Hard Drill. Each play begins with a cooperative back court exchange which goes for 3 good pass-set-hit sequences. Once that number has been reached the rally becomes competitive with the teams now going for the kill. The winning team gets a point and a new play begins. Play a game to a number of points which fits the allocated time in your practice plan.

Variations:

  • For a wash scoring variation you could make the winner of the rally have to serve for point.
  • You can vary the number of good pass-set-hit sequences required base on the level of your team and/or if you want to play for a larger or smaller number of points.
  • This can be played with either 3 or 4 people on the court per side, though from a competitive perspective probably is best suited for 4-person teams.

Additional Comments:

  • One thing to think about in how you run this drill is how to arrange the players if you’re going to have 4 people on the court with one at the net. Normally in The Hard Drill you would have that person be just the setter. By introducing the competitive element with this game, though, blocking becomes a consideration. As a result, you may want to use middle blockers at the net, which allows them to work on blocking the back row attack and also to work on taking the second ball.
  • Obviously, it make sense to first introduce The Hard Drill.