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.

Drill: The Hard Drill

Synopsis: This is a team pepper type of drill which works on back court attacking and defense, controlled attacking, and keeping the ball in play during scramble situations. It also has a mental toughness element.

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

Requirements: 6+ players, a full court, 1 ball

Execution: This a cooperative back court exchange variation on pepper. The players are in two teams of three, all playing back row. The drill progresses as a game of back court 3s, but with the objective of keeping the ball in play and getting 10 successful pass-set-hit sequences before the ball hits the floor or an error occurs. If that should happen, the drill restarts with the count at 0.

Variations:

  • A 4th player can be introduced in the front row as setter
  • The setter can be required to jump set
  • Players can be required to rotate positions each time they send the ball across the net
  • If there are extra players, they can be subbed in in either a rotational or contact fashion (e.g. sub goes in for the hitter)
  • You can vary the number of successful reps required based on the level of the skill of your team.
  • With advanced teams you can require that the 10 reps be completed consecutively, meaning the ball only crosses the net 10 times. With less advanced teams you can allow for faulty sequences where a team cannot execute a proper pass-set-hit, but keeps the rally going. In that case, you count the good pass-set-hits and don’t go back to zero unless the ball hits the floor.

Additional Comments:

  • Make sure to enforce that successful reps only count if there’s a dig, a clean set with hands, and a legitimately attacked ball (no soft swings).
  • Allowing a team to not have to get all 10 reps in a row will result in faster completion of the drill if time is a concern. It will also let you get the players to focus on keeping the ball in play when they are in scramble mode.
  • Because there can be considerable frustration with having to restart on errors (or discontinuities), mental toughness can be a developmental aspect to this drill.
  • You may have to put a time limit on the drill to keep to your practice plan.
  • There is a problem solving element to this drill in that it behooves the players to make sure the best hitters are the ones getting most of the swings and the best defenders are the ones receiving most of the hits to keep the play going. This thinking is something you may have to hint at if the ball is just being shared around.

Problem Solving: Setting out of the middle

The first volleyball team I ever coached by myself was the Southeast Boys Scholastic team in the Massachusetts Bay State Games. You can think of the Games as an annual mini Olympic type of competition. The six regions of the state compete against each other in a wide array of sports. In volleyball it means running team tryouts, having weekly training sessions for a month or so, then competing in the 3-day tournament during the month of July.

I’d never even seen Bay State Games competition, so I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into from that perspective. I’d had enough exposure to high school boys volleyball to at least have a general idea of what to expect. I didn’t, however, know the specific level of play there would be among presumably the better players in the state. I did know that I had some talent on my team, though.

Then I heard my setter sprained his ankle the week before the tournament.

Forced to Re-Think the Setting Position

I had just one pure setter, so this forced me to have to rethink my whole line-up plan. Naturally, the big decision was who would take that role. I had two candidates. One was a kid named Josh who set and hit outside in a 6-2 system for his high school. The other was Greg, who was primarily a middle, but also set.

I only had two proper middles, but in the end I decided to have Greg set rather than Josh. Why? Because Josh was a real stud player who could potentially get two touches on the ball each time it was on our side of the net. If he set he’d only get one touch.

Of course, using Greg as setter in a 5-1 offense left me with only one viable middle. As a result, I had to rethink how to set my line-up. I decided to have him set out of the middle when he was front row. That way he could still perform the middle blocker function. While in the back row he played normal setter defense (right back), while my right side players played middle back defense.

Believe it or not, we won the gold medal with this line-up. Just goes to show, you can win with non-standard line-ups. This is why it’s so important for coaches to have a firm understanding of the different types of systems teams can play (see a book like Volleyball Systems & Strategies). It helps adapt to situations and be able to maximize the talents of the team.

 

Volleyball Coaching Concept: Wave drills & games

Wave drills in volleyball are quite useful when you work with larger groups of players. They’re also good in high intensity drills. They can help avoid excess fatigue.

Basically, wave drills involve grouping players. You then rotate them through positions in a game or drill together. Doing so can effectively minimize down time in the form of players sitting out. You can also use them to move players into a less demanding role after a high intensity sequence. For example, MBs shift from fast-paced front row play to serving or defense.

A game like Winners 3s is a simple version of a wave structure. At the end of each point, one group of players comes off while another group comes on. A third group may also shift from the challenge side of the court to the winners’ side.

Another variation on this is breaking the team in to cohorts of three. They then play a 6 v 6 game during which those cohorts are rotated through front and back court positions. For example, a new wave comes on in the back court position on one side after each rally ends. That then cascades the waves through. It pushes the back court cohort on the other side of the net off as the front court group moves into their place. This allows you to have players on for 4 straight rotations. They are only off a minimal amount of time (1 rotation if you have 5 groups, 2 rotations if you have 6, etc.).

You can also wave on errors. Say you have 18 players. You split them into six groups of three. Three teams are assigned to each side of the court. Two teams are on and one is off waiting. The teams play through a rally. One of the cohorts on the losing side is replaced by the cohort waiting on the sideline based on some rule, like which group was at fault for the point lost.

I’m sure you can think of numerous other waves ideas. In fact, you probably use them in an ad hoc way right now. When you flip front and back row during a drill or game (like in Bingo-Bango-Bongo after a big point), that’s a form of a wave. The advantage of formal the wave rotations, however, is players are responsible for automatic waving. That means you don’t have to stop things to do it. This saves time and keeps the training intensity up.

Drill: Twenty One

Synopsis: This a good drill to work on all kinds of ball-handling skills and to encourage communication and teamwork. There’s also an element of mental toughness involved because it can be very frustrating.

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

Requirements: 3 players, one ball, a net

Execution: This is a multi-player follow-the-ball type of drill much like a passing shuttle. The drill starts with the players doing a forearm pass-and-follow where when a player passes the ball over the net they follow under the net and get in line behind the player there. The three players pass 21 consecutive balls. They then switch to setting/over-head passing, following the same sequence of 21 balls. When that is complete they switch to pass-set-tip, again going for 21 straight executions. If at any point along the way the group makes an error, they must start all the way back at the beginning with passing.

Variations:

  • The last part can be dropped for beginner groups
  • The last part could be switched to pass-set-down ball as a step down from pass-set-tip to make it a bit easier for more advanced beginner groups.
  • Roll shots could replace tips in the pass-set-tip
  • For advanced teams the pass-set-tip could be changed to pass-set-hit (essentially over the net pepper).
  • Lesser skilled players can be allowed to finish each section of the drill individually. In this case an error would just require them to go back to the beginning of that section rather than all the way back to the start.
  • Intermediate and advanced players should be required to make all the transitions continuous such that pass #21 is directly followed by set #1 and set #21 goes right into pass-set-tip #1.
  • In the pass-set-tip section you can either have the player who has just tipped the ball go under the net to set, or you can have one player stay setter (switching back-and-forth) for 7 balls, then having the tipper for that 7th ball go under the net and set for #8.
  • This drill can be done with 4 players, in which case the last part should either be a tip-then-set as described above, or the players just stay on their side. In the latter case, the tipper becomes the next setter and the setter backs off to become the next passer/tipper.

Additional Comments:

  • The requirements of the drill is that all the first 21 balls be forearm passes, all the second 21 be sets, and all the last 21 be proper forearm pass, set, tip. You must make that clear to the players and monitor to ensure that they abide by it.
  • Require the players count the reps out-loud so you can hear it and be able to monitor things.
  • Really encourage communication throughout the drill.
  • You may need to put a time limit on the drill to ensure it doesn’t take up more time than you want for all groups to finish.
  • Make sure those who finish support those still trying to do so.