Technical vs Mental Training

Once upon a time I considered myself a highly technically oriented coach. I focused a lot on how players executed skills. I came up from a highly block oriented training background (meaning skill repetition), and I think the two kind of went together. Somewhere along the way, though, I started to shift to a more mental view of training.

I don’t recall a specific moment when the light bulb went off. I think it was more of a gradual realization that the teams I was involved in coaching were just not playing the game as well as required. They could execute the skills, but that simply wasn’t enough.

What do I mean by a more mental focus?

Basically, I mean focusing more on the structure of play and the decision-making process. The latter relates to choices individual players make while they play. For example, should I attack the ball aggressively here? Do I need to make sure I keep my serve in this time? Who’s my best set choice at this moment? And so on down to the level the specific skill the player elects to use. This is the solution side of the solution-execution combo Julio Velsaco talked about when I was at the 2014 HP Coaches Clinic.

The structure of play aspect relates to how players work together. It’s an element of what Mark Lebedew wrote about in his The Key to Volleyball post. Mark has also previously talked about how as soon as you have more than one player on the court it becomes an organizational situation much more so than a technical one.

I should note that when I talk about structure of play I’m not talking about systems. Yes, systems are part of it. For me, though, structure begins with mentality and expectations. How do we train and play as a group? That then feeds into how each individual plays within the scope of their role in the squad.

Is technique important? Of course. But technique is at the end of a chain on things, most of which are not physical. The vast majority of a player’s time is spent not in skill execution, but in preparing for that execution (see Going beyond maximizing player contacts). That is largely mental, and it’s where truly great players and teams excel.

Striking the balance

Clearly, we cannot just coach the mental side of the game. If a player can’t execute the skills, the rest won’t matter much. The question is finding the balance based on where your players are in their development. In my case, I have mostly dealt with players who have at least some base level of skill. Gains from improvements in technical ability at that level are generally less than those from improvements in the mental parts of the game – at least up to a certain point.

As always, it comes down to you as the coach evaluating your situation, setting priorities, and remaining focused on them.

Coaching Log – November 7, 2016

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

Just two weeks left in the regular season and things are still working themselves out in the Lone Star Conference. Most of the results went as expected, but there were a couple of interesting ones. Top of the last was Cameron getting its first victory of the year against Western New Mexico. The other was Commerce winning at Kingsville. Angelo continues to roll along and started the new week #10 in the Division II poll.

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Unfortunately, our losses against Eastern NM and Western NM (especially the latter), probably reduced our chances of moving up from 8th place to near zero. Western doesn’t have any easy matches left, but play four of their last six at home. We probably need them to lost almost all of them to have a shot at jumping into 7th.

Monday

After the weekend’s exertions, and with the match upcoming on Tuesday, we had a light session. We did some serve & pass. Then we worked a little on a new option for one of our serve receive rotations, which has had some problems. Lastly, we had them play some 4s. All together it was about 75 minutes.

Before practice we did video on the upcoming match. We also talked about some stats I developed. One of our biggest focus areas of the last few weeks has been defense. One part of that was getting our block timing corrected as we were late very frequently. The other part was improving positioning and reading, as well as digging the ball and having a stronger mentality about keeping the ball off the floor.

The stats I did compared our performance in the first half of the conference season to how we have done through the second half to-date. I calculated block and dig percentages. By that I mean I calculated the number of non-error attacks (excluding blocked balls) by the other team. I then divided blocks and digs by that number to get a percentage.

Up to this point we played five matches in the second half of the conference schedule. In all but one, our block percentage was higher than when we played those same teams the first time around. The same was true for dig percentage (different team, though). I also added blocks and digs to come up with an overall defensive percentage. In only one instance was that number lower the second time around. In three cases it was 10 points higher.

Tuesday

We played Texas Woman’s at home. Like our Commerce match two weeks prior, this was a chance to reverse a tough 5-set loss the first time we played them. Things didn’t go to script.

This was a really disappointing performance. We lost 3-0 despite holding the other team to hitting below .100 as we only managed to hit .041. We only got kills on 23% of our swings, which is incredibly low. Our serving and passing wasn’t great, but wasn’t bad. The one issue we had with the serving was bad errors. At one point in the third set we missed three straight in the net. Hard to get much going when you do that.

After the match we ended up having a long meeting in which we collectively talked about the vibe on the court and how we can get things turned around to finish the season strong and positive.

Wednesday

We actually didn’t train for very long this day. Much of our practice time slot was dedicated to video review. We watched some of the prior night’s match to look at things both offensively and defensively. In the case of the latter, there wasn’t a lot of negative to point out. A little bit of positional stuff and some movement bits, but in line with what we’ve seen in the numbers, we’re definitely doing better. In terms of the offense, we talked quite a bit about the purpose of what we’re looking to do in attack. There were a number of questions, which isn’t a real surprise given how poorly we’ve generally been on offense of late.

Once it got to practice, we only really did one set of exercises. On one court the head coach worked with the passers on some technical elements. On the other court I initially had the Middles. A major focus was on spacing to allow them to be able to attack different angles. Later the OHs came over to work on the tempo of their sets as well. This has been a major breakdown of late.

Thursday

We watch video on our prior match against Friday’s opponent before practice. This was a shift from our prior scouting where we focused on recent matches. Partly, this reflected the fact that there wasn’t likely to be much change in opposing personnel or playing style from the last time we played. Mainly, though, we wanted to look at the things that worked on offensive and how we could be a bit better defensively.

Practice itself was something of a progression. We started with some 3 v 3 over-the-net pepper – first with down balls, then back row swings. After some target serving work, it was on to an out-of-system setting and hitting exercise, and then Side-v-Side, a competitive variation on Cooperative Cross-Court Hitting. We ran the latter to continue the prior day’s work on outside set rhythm. From there we shifted to 6 v 6 play.

This was one of the more positive and energetic recent sessions. It seemed like a good prep for the weekend’s matches.

Friday

We played at Tarleton. Our home match against them was one of our better performances.

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The return fixture was pretty good as well. We lost 3-0, and the scores didn’t really flatter us, but offensively we were much improved. Unfortunately, they really did a number on us with a couple of tough servers. They also played really good defense. I think the team came away feeling much better than in other recent performances, while also knowing where we need to be better.

Saturday

We were at conference leaders Angelo.

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When we played them the first time it was a poor match. This time it was much better. We still lost 3-0, but we continued to perform at a higher level. We made a defensive change for this match. All season we’ve played with our OHs defending in middle back (6). For this match we shifted one of them to left back (5). She ended up with 18 digs. This is something we may expand heading into the final week of the season.

Observations

Tuesday’s match could end up being a “what could have been” moment for the team. We’ll have to see when the dust settles at the end of the conference season.

Tracking block and defense improvement

During the 2016 season, one of the things we focused on with the Midwestern State team as the Lone Star Conference season progressed was improvement in our block and defense. Our block timing was poor. That meant not only few blocks, but also few digs. Though we also needed improvement in defensive position and actual digging. We were bottom of the league standings in both categories at one point, I believe.

Per set figures

Toward the end of October I ran some numbers to gauge our progress. I first started with blocks/set and digs/set. Those are the commonly reported figures, so it made sense.

Through the first round of conference matches (10 total), we averaged 1.17 blocks and 11.16 digs per set. Over the course of the first five matches of the second half of the season we averaged 1.57 and 15.47 respectively. That’s pretty good.

Percentages

A coaching friend suggested I look instead at block and dig percentages. Basically, that divides those figures by the total number of non-error attacks (blocked balls excluded from the error count). Since attack numbers can vary from match to match – and five set matches always mess with per set averages – the percentage approach is the better way to go.

For the first half of the season our block percentage was 4.5%. Our dig percentage was 42.1%. That adds up to a total “stop” percentage of 46.6%. For the first five matches of the second half the comparable percentages were 4.9%, 48.3%, and 53.2%. Again, gains across the board.

In each but one of the second half matches our block percentage was higher than against that same team the first time around. The same was true of the dig percentage (different match). Similarly, when looking at the total figure, only one match was worse the second time than the first.

Limitations

While these comparisons tell us the team was more effective in defense for the first five matches of the second half of the conference season, there is a limit as to how far you can take the analysis. What happens on the other side of the net leading to an attack matters. If you do a better job putting a team in difficulty through tough serves and/or good attacks, you will likely find it easier to block or dig their attacks.

Also, ultimately what you want from your defense is it to generate point scoring. That means it’s worth extending the analysis of something like dig percentage to see how many swings you get from those digs and how efficiently they convert into points.

Coaching Log – October 31, 2016

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

There were some interesting results in the prior week’s matches. One of the more interesting one was Tarleton losing to Commerce, a team we had just beat. Another was Eastern New Mexico beating Kingsville. That’s good in terms of demonstrating a high degree of competitiveness and parity among a large part of the conference. Unfortunately, neither of those results helped us.

Here’s how the standing sit going into the new week.

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We are in a good position to qualify for the conference tournament. We have two matches left against teams below us in the standings – though one of them beat us earlier. The tricky part is trying to move up the table so we can avoid Angelo in the first round of the tournament. Help from others will likely be required. Plus, we need to grab a couple of wins against teams above us. This week provided a pair of opportunities to do that.

Monday

Our big focus on the day was serve receive. We dedicated about the first half hour to the pin hitters and defensive specialists passing, especially in the combinations used in matches. It was fairly standard serve and pass, then added in a hitting element. After that we went straight to full 6 v 6 play. We worked on some new offensive options for serve reception.

Tuesday

This was basically a totally competitive practice. We split the team in half and played a series of 25-point games. The first was Speedball style 4s (fixed setters, others flipping through in 3-player units). We played the back row attack only until one team reached 10 points, then switched to allowing front row swings. The second game was 5 v 5. Since it was two teams rather than three, the teams just used player rotations. Finally, we played a straight up 6 v 6 game.

Before practice we met with the team to talk about some things in what is normally our video review time slot (when not playing). After Monday’s practice we gave them some homework. They were told to watch this Club World Championship match. Their homework was to make observations with respect to the players in their position. We had them share those observations at this time. They did a pretty good job with it.

Wednesday

We did a sort of Halloween themed session. The wrinkle was we gave the players an assignment to pick a superhero that they could personally relate to on some level. They only had about 24 hours to come up with costumes, but they did a pretty good job.

We were again in our secondary gym for this practice. That allowed us to use two courts, so we split out the passers and the middles. The former did serve & pass by rotation. The latter worked on middle sets. While it wasn’t the only focus, we dedicated a fair amount of attention to our 31s to get them on a more consistent fast tempo.

After that, it was all game play. That started with winners 4s. Initially it was back row attack. Then we shifted to allowing front row attacks. We continue to use these small-sided games because they have a clear positive impact on our defensive play, as well as on our offensive thinking and decision-making.

We then finished up the two rotations not done in Monday’s 6 v 6 work. Finally, we played a 6 v 6 game in which we put the hitters on one team and the setters and defensive players on the other. They had fun with it. The hitters won, but it was tight.

Thursday

We had a prospective recruit practice with us, so the session was a combination of exercises to allow us to watch her and to prep for the upcoming matches. We started with the rotating partner pepper we’ve done a few times lately. After that was a serve and pass game that incorporated middle attacks in the point scoring.

The rest of practice was competitive games. We started with 4s, both back row only and then anything goes. From there we progressed to 5s. The last game was the modified version of 22 v 22 we used before where teams rotate when they score a big point. This time we gave a team a big point if they scored a first ball kill on a 31.

With Homecoming on Saturday, the team took part in the annual bonfire event in the evening.

Friday

We got Eastern New Mexico on the return leg. They have had some good results recently, so came in with some confidence. As you may recall, we fought back against them for a 3-2 win at their place last month.

This was a disappointing one. All through the first set we could see the potential in our offense to really do some damage. We passed relatively poorly, but still managed to hit .226. Unfortunately, we didn’t put them under enough pressure – especially from the service line. As a result, they hit .323 and we lost 25-17.

We got the serve kicked in to gear in the second set, and made it much tougher for the other team to run their offense. They only hit .116. We got off to a good start with our own offense, and got out to a good lead. We couldn’t hold it, though, making a number of errors down the stretch. We ended up hitting only .026 and lost 24-26.

Things didn’t improve at all in the third. Our serving was OK, but passing remained erratic. Our setting was inconsistent (which was the case throughout). We only managed 6 kills and hit .029 on the way to a 25-19 loss.

It seemed to me that whereas in prior matches there seemed to be a tightness against good teams, this time we looked a little over-excited. A lot of errors came from over playing the ball in certain ways.

Saturday

Two matches were on tap for the day. The first was Western New Mexico. They handled us rather easily at their place the first time around. It was definitely a different story this time.

Our offense struggled in the first set (.018), but we kept them from really getting going too, which resulted in a narrow 26-24 loss. Just too many hitting errors on our end. In the second we cleaned that up and took a 25-17 win. Back to lots of errors in the third, resulting in a 25-13 loss, but then another reversal in the forth for a 25-20 win. In the fifth we let them get out to something like an 8-2 advantage with another poor run in the attack. We managed to claw back to I think about 9-7 with a good serving run, but that was about it. In the end we lost 15-8.

That was tough. We played some really good defense, and both served and passed well. We just didn’t quite get it done well enough on offense. It wasn’t strictly about hitting errors. A lot of times we simply didn’t score when we had the chance.

The second match of the day was against Southern Nazarene to complete the non-conference portion of our schedule. We played it right after our other match. In hindsight, scheduling this one was a bad decision. Neither our starting OPP nor our leading OH could play. That meant we couldn’t rotate players around, especially at OH. The fatigue was clear. The players fought hard, but we lost 3-1.

Observations

Before Saturday’s first match I talked a bit with our Associate Athletic Director. He was at Friday’s match and made an observation. He said the team on the court didn’t look like they wanted to be there. This is in stark contrast to the bench. They were lively and engaged. I told him it’s something we’re trying to figure out. It seems like the players have less fun out there since conference play started. Whether that’s because they put more pressure on themselves or what, we don’t know. The head coach spoke with them about that before Saturday’s first match. Things did look better. I think we need to keep working on it, though, especially given the tough upcoming schedule.

Teaching Volleyball Log – Fall 2016 Midterms

It’s been a while since my initial volleyball teaching log entry. I figure now is a good time for a second one as I just put my students through their midterm exam. So here goes!

I ended up with a total of 9 students. I lost the male student I started with, but picked up another one, and also added a female student. Nine isn’t a great number, but at least I can mix my grad assistant in to balance the numbers out when required.

Classes

Classes are somewhat like coaching. Obviously, the difference here is that I’m not training them to compete as a team. It’s more about them developing their skills and playing a lot. It is, obviously, a participation class. Thus far I have generally had the players do skill type work in the first half of the session, then made the rest be a mixture of small-sided and full-court games.

The skill stuff is mainly serving and serve reception. I have them do a partner serving warm-up every session. I sometimes do target serving after that, and sometimes they play serving games (like Amoeba). I also have them do serve and pass in groups as well.

In the last few weeks I’ve been working on encouraging most pass-set-hit when they play games. That’s been through bonus points. Initially, I gave them for just attempting to attack. Then, as they became aggressive, I shifted to just giving them for kills. I also started giving them for blocks as well.

Basically, I am gradually working them toward playing a more complete version of the game.

Off-Court Stuff

Along with the skill and game work, I have spent time on rules and other stuff. Since most of the group has played before, they are largely up on them. We went over referee hand signals, line judge responsibilities, and overlap rules. There was a day when we could not use the court, so I did a video session. We watched some of the 1964 Olympics, as well as a little of both the USA men and women from the 2016 Olympics.

The exam

So here’s what I did for their exam. I came up with a long list of volleyball questions. Most of them were about rules. I mixed in a bit of history, though, too. I also asked them about the 2016 Olympic USA men’s and women’s teams, as well as the Midwestern State team. I randomly ordered the questions before the exam. I had the students draw lots to determine their order (1 to 9).

Here’s how it went. I asked a student a question. If they answered it correctly, they earned points. If they did not, the next person in line could either answer it or request a new question. I went one time through the list of questions, then went back through and re-asked questions not correctly answered the first time. Correct answers on the second round earned more points. I’m told this format is called a randomized tournament.

After the question round, I broke the students into three groups of three. They were required to list the players on the USA and MSU rosters. They earned points based on how many players they correctly named.

My grad assistant liked the format. I liked how it helped the education process overall better than if they just answered them individually on paper.

Is a block a hitting error?

A reader asked me the following question about hitting and blocking statistics.

Is a won block counted as a hitting error for the corresponding hitter?

In U.S. volleyball the answer to that question is usually “Yes.” Elsewhere in the world, I think the answer is “No.”

I say that based on my experience as a coach in Sweden, and also from statistics in European leagues. The common practice there is to break out actual hitting errors from blocked balls. This might just be a function of DataVolley reporting, though.

Which is the right way? That is up to the statistics user.

From the perspective of reporting, the trend is to take a positive view. By that I mean they want to report players earning points rather than players giving up points. In that mindset a block is a positive thing for the defensive player. It is a negative for the hitter.

As coaches, however, we must decide which way to count them. It is about which approach provides the best information for us in the context of our own teams. There is definitely value in splitting errors and blocked balls, which standard NCAA box score reporting does not do.

Personally, I like including blocked balls for hitting efficiency [ (kills-errors)/total attempts ]. There is value in more granular reporting, though.

Coaching Log – October 24, 2016

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

And so began the second half of the conference season!

Here’s how the Lone Star Conference standings were at the turn.

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Most of the prior week’s results were basically true to form. The one surprise was UT Permian Basin beating Texas Woman’s (in 5). That was a good result for us as it kept TW from moving onto level terms with us.

We have some work to do in the second half, though. While it’s no guarantee, beating the three teams below us in the standings likely gets us into the conference tournament. Ideally, however, we want to be in no worse than 6th position by season’s end. That would get us away from Angelo and Tarleton in the first round.

Monday

It was a relatively short session, not very high on the intensity scale. We did some station-based ball-handling work during the first 25 minutes. Mostly it was over-the-net pepper, but we had a couple of defense stations mixed in as well. From there we shifted to a serve & pass game.

The core of practice was an offense vs. defense exercise. The offensive team was in reception and had to score two points in a row – basically meaning a kill. If they got a good attack, but not a kill, it was a wash. If they lost the rally, they went back to zero. Much of what we wanted to do was work on running our OHs on some different types of sets.

That carried over into a wash game to finish. Every rally started with a serve. Whoever won the serve rally got a setter-out ball. A team had to win both balls to score a point. If, however, a team won the initial rally via an OH kill from something other than a set to the pin, they automatically won the point. We played a game to 10.

Tuesday

Round 2 of conference play began with a chance for redemption against Texas A&M Commerce at home after suffering that loss from a 2-0 position a couple weeks back. This match went eerily similarly to the last one.

We won the first two sets, 23 and 21. Then we completely laid an egg in the third – at least for the first half the set – and lost 25-17. We took the opportunity to give our starting setter and one of our OHs a bit of a break during the latter stages of the set. The fourth was tighter, but we lost that one as well, 25-22. That set was just two teams hammering on each other as we had 16 kills and they had 20. The fifth set was pretty sloppy. We were a little less so, though, as we hit .087 compared to their -.094. The end result was a much needed 15-9 win.

Both of our MBs were over .300 in their hitting percentages. We had five players with double-digit digs and four with double-digit points. For the first time in a long while, our point scoring percentage was at 50%. Unfortunately, our sideout percentage was also at 50%, which is a few points below our usual rate.

Wednesday

This was a low jump session for the players after Tuesday’s match. We were in our secondary gym, which allows us to do two courts, but with limited service area – especially on one side. We started them off with 3s pepper over the net with the third contact a down ball. On one court the down balls went cross court. On the other, they were hit straight. We did four rotations of that. After that, we did target serving.

Next up was Continuous Cross-Court Digging. We had the hitters amp things up and swing more aggressively. It was some much needed work on digging harder hit balls. That’s an area of developmental need for the team.

After that it was some servers vs. passers games. In this variation the servers got points for hitting target zones, but lost points for serving to 6, missing in the net, or missing back-to-back serves. The receiving team scored points for good passes. One game comprised each team having a chance to serve and receive, combining their points for an aggregate score.

The last part of practice as Speedball style 4s – first back row only, then anything goes.

Thursday

This was a travel day. The players lifted in the morning, but no practice.

Friday

We were on the road against UTPB.

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The match went basically as expected. We won relatively easily 3-0. The good thing was we saw improvement from the first time we played them. Back when we played in our gym we hit .198, had two blocks, and 27 digs. This time we hit .257, had 6 blocks and 47 digs.

Saturday

West Texas was the opposition for this match.

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Unfortunately, we couldn’t keep the string going. Our passing broke down. Naturally, that meant our offense sputtered. Plus, we were against a good defensive team. The result was sub-.100 hitting for the match. We didn’t do a particularly good job of stopping them either, as they hit .273. Not surprisingly, it was a fairly one-sided match. On the plus side, we got 7 blocks. That’s well above our season average from a per set perspective.

Observations

The West Texas match is the second in as many weeks where we had a major break down in serve reception. Clearly, that’s something which needs attention.

Coaching in a tough conference

I appreciate what it must be like to coach a middling team (or lower) in one of the Power 5 conferences in NCAA Division I. My current employer, Midwestern State University, is part of the Lone Star Conference. Based on the 2015 final rankings (the 2016 rankings aren’t yet available at the time of this writing), the LSC was the 4th strongest conference in NCAA Division II.

In the last couple of weeks we played three well placed teams from other conferences. One of them currently sits in a tie for third in the Great American Conference. We beat them in three using a line-up featuring our three freshmen as starters. Basically, we rested some of our normal starters.

The other two are second and third in the Heartland Conference. We lost to the latter in five at their place, but could have won it. Our freshman setter started the match, but didn’t play great. We put our starting junior setter in at 1-2 down and improved immediately. Just a bit too late.

Against the second place team, we again used our freshman setter to start. We brought our junior back for the final set, though. Other players were rotated as well, but we won easily in three.

All of this from a team currently sitting 8th out of 11 teams in the LSC with a 3-7 record.

Of course, as much fun as it is be to fantasize about playing in another conference, that’s not reality. For example, this MSU team would do exceedingly well in BUCS, where we competed when I coached at Exeter. The problem is such a team in BUCS for Exeter is not a reality. The recruiting prospects just aren’t there – though they are at some other schools.

The same is true of lower ranked conferences in NCAA volleyball. Teams there simply struggle to get the same caliber of athletes. Some of that is geographic. Teams in better volleyball regions just have access to more good players. Some of it is resource-based. Those in the best-funded, best-supported programs have a clear advantage.

This isn’t just the case in college volleyball. You can see it in professional volleyball as well. Even low level teams from the top leagues are strong enough to dominate the lower leagues. There are exceptions. Some leagues have one or two very well-funded teams that can compete with teams from stronger leagues.

The bottom line is we all must coach to the best of our abilities with the resources we have available to us.

Coaching Log – October 17, 2016

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

An interesting situation is developing in the Lone Star Conference standings heading into the final weekend of the first half of the schedule. It’s turning into quite the muddle in the middle.

Lone Star Conference standings 10/10/2016

Angelo and Tarleton look very likely to take the top two spots. UTPB and Cameron, similarly, are odds-on favorites for the bottom two spots. That leaves seven teams to fight for the six spots left to qualify for the conference tournament.

Monday

The head coach was very ill, so I had to take charge of practice. We started with volleytennis as an initial warm-up. After that, we did rotating partner pepper using for different variations for two rounds each (8 total). I would normally prefer to do some kind of over-the-net pepper, but we only had one court available for 15 players. That limitation also prevent us from doing some target serving work I wanted to put in.

After that was a speedball style backrow 4s with rotating setters. We played two games to 10 with each side earning collective points for rally wins. After the first game, I flipped two of the teams.

From there we progressed to a Winners 5s. This time the setters and the MBs were in their own rotation, with the rest in three teams of three. Aside from the MBs, it was still backrow attack only. We played three games of first team to 10, mixing setter/middle combinations each time. Initiation was over-the-net down balls from a coach to the winning team while the losing team subbed out.

The last thing we did was a narrow court (about 2/3rds) Winners 5s. The teams from before we kept. Now, however, we played three up and two back. Initiation was the same as previously. The pace as very high – potentially too high for what I had envisioned. But it did have them in scramble mode a lot.

My main focus for the session was on defensive reading. That’s why I intentionally used drills where there wouldn’t be a lot of fixed defensive positioning around a block, as would be the case in 6 v 6 play. Not sure I achieved that objective as much as I’d have liked.

Tuesday

The head coach was still on limited duty for this practice, but in attendance. We were still on only one court, so repeated the rotating partner pepper as a ball-handling warm-up. Moving forward, however, we talked about adding some kind of consequence for balls hitting the floor with no effort.

Next up was a 3-station rotation. One group did target serving, with another group collecting their balls on the other side of the court. The third group worked on emergency defense techniques.

After that it was all game play. First up, we repeated the 4s back court speedball. This time, though, after a short while we shifted to allow front court swings as well. We were disappointed, however, that during the initial round the players didn’t block. As a result, the attacks were practically unstoppable. We talked to them about the need to problem solve before playing another round. It was a little better.

From there we added MBs to make it 5s, with three permitted front row players. Each team had to sort out how they set that up. There were three rounds of play, with the defense getting progressively better as the players adapted.

We then played four rounds of Scramble, and finished up with one regular game.

Wednesday

The head coach spoke with the team before the start of practice about shifting our attitude about balls hitting the floor. Specifically, it won’t be permitted anymore and there will be consequences if it does. We started once more with rotating partner pepper with a set of lines the consequences for balls hitting the floor with no effort. I suspect the players were a little more unforgiving than we coaches would have been in their counting, but at least we know they are taking it seriously.

Next up was some serve and pass in groups of three as a kind of warm-up. That was followed by a set of servers vs passers games. Servers scored on aces and poor passes. Passers scored on good passes, serves in the net, and back-to-back service errors.

From there we shifted to game play. Once more we began with Speedball style 4s. The first couple games were back row only, then we shifted to allow front row. We then transitioned to a variation on 22 v 22. In this case, teams rotated each time they scored a point. When one team reached 25, the serving side changed, but we continued along from where each team was in their rotation.

Unfortunately, we had some player health issues. One player went to the E.R. before practice with severe stomach pains. Later, during practice, a player with a pre-existing back problem was in a collision diving for a ball. She ended up being taken out of the gym on a back board as a precaution.

Thursday

We played an away match at Lubbock Christian. They are a member of the Heartland Conference, so part of our Region. Heading into our match, they were 3rd in the standings.

Lubbock Christian

We took a kind of two-part approach to this match. One the one hand, we kept the starters mainly in place to keep working on things. On the other hand, we started our freshman setter (as we did last week) to give her some more experience as a starter.

It ended up being a pretty good match overall. We dominated the first set as the hosts just made an uncharacteristic number of errors. They played much better after that. Meanwhile, our offense sputtered for the next two sets. Our kill % was in the 25% range, which is WAY too low. Not surprisingly, we lost them.

We brought back our starting setter for the fourth set, which definitely jump started the offense. We were up around 40% kills thereafter. That helped us dominate the fourth set. Unfortunately, we made a few too many mistakes in the fifth set, and lost 15-13.

This was by far our best blocking performance. We tallied 15 in total. Most of them were of the hard variety, which is something we haven’t done a lot of to-date. Mainly, that’s been an issue with block timing. We’ve been consistently late.

We had our frustrations in defense, though. This was especially the case in the second and third sets. Positional discipline was poor. It got better in the latter sets, though.

Friday

Limited session after the 5-setter the night before with two matches upcoming on Saturday. Essentially, we did the same first few exercises from Wednesday’s practice. Then, instead of running back row 4s we did 2-contacts 4s.

After that, it was on to 6 v 6. This time the game was a variation of Baseball. The at-bat team was the serving side. They served until the receiving side won three rallies (recorded 3 outs). The serving team scored a run for each rally they won. The receiving team did not score. We played 6 innings (rotations).

Saturday

We actually played a tri-match. First up was Texas A&M Kingsville conference match. They finished 4th in the LSC last season and so far have been one of the better teams among those in the middle.

We flat out played poorly. We had nearly as many hitting errors as they had kills. Add in 12 service errors and 10 reception errors and you have all the makings for a quick 3-set defeat. A very disappointing performance.

The hitting errors and poor passing were, of course, the big issues. Serving, though, was problematic. Most of the misses weren’t bad in terms of missing serves in the net. They were generally missed long. The problem was the timing. They were bad misses from that perspective.

We talked with our setters and pin hitters between matches. The primary subject was improving the setter-hitter communication – both in terms of set location and play-calling. We also talked about the hitters needing to avoid making errors (or being blocked) when the sets aren’t great.

The second match was with St. Edwards. You may recall they were the team we lost to on Saturday of our home tournament. They’ve had a good season in the Heartland Conference so far, sitting in second, just ahead of Lubbock Christian. St. Edward’s also lost to Kingsville in three in the day’s second match, but they were more competitive than we’d been.

We started our freshman setter and used our OHs in a rotation, among other personnel decisions. It ended up being a complete reversal. This time we were the team making very few errors while the other team made loads of them. Our serving and passing were much improved. The result was a fairly easy 3-0 win.

Observations

Generally speaking, it was a good week. Yes, the Kingsville match was disappointing. Overall, though, I found myself feeling like we were headed in the right direction – maybe more than has been the case in a couple of weeks. I think some of the things we changed in terms of practice and general focus have been positives.