Coaching Log – October 10, 2016

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

Monday

After the weekend’s exertions, and with a match upcoming on Tuesday, we didn’t want to go too hard. We told the team it was basically an “activation” session. By that we meant it was intended to get mentally and physically back after a couple days off.

To that end, we played a couple of variations on volleytennis to start. The players had fun with the competition and it got them moving. After a serving warm-up (including target work) we split them up for a short period. One court worked on serving and passing in game fashion. The other saw the MBs reinforce getting up early and work on slides.

The last part of practice was dedicated to game play. The primary focus was back row play, but after an initial couple of rounds of Speedball style play (4s with front row setters), we added in MBs.

Before practice the players had a team talk in the locker room. The leadership wanted to make sure they group took the right attitude after the disappointing weekend losses. We coaches came in at the end and extended the discussion by looking at how we did statistically and how despite the results, we did get better in certain areas.

Tuesday

We had an away match at Southern Nazarne. They that played in our home tournament (went 3-1), but we didn’t play them then. They are in the Great America conference, which is outside our NCAA region, so it was like a mid-season friendly. It counted toward our overall record, and factors into our strength of schedule part of the our overall RPI, but doesn’t count toward any rankings that matter for our post-season prospects.

This was an opportunity to get some players in and give others some rest. We started our freshman setter. She’s played a few times on a substitute basis, but this was her first time running the offense from the start. We also started our freshman MB, both to give her some playing time (she only came on as a serving sub previously), and to give our Junior MB’s shoulder a rest. Finally, we also started our freshman OH. She’s actually gotten a fair bit of court time thus far, but recently found herself on the bench with our two Juniors fit. The other thing we did was get in a few of our defensive players in back court roles.

We won the match 3-0, though every set was close. Our passing was poor in the first and third sets, but very good in the second. Not surprisingly, we struggled to side out at times. Fortunately, our service game put them under considerable pressure. We scored in bunches, as a result.

Obviously, with all the changes it was probably not going to be a super smooth match. Still, the job got done. It was good for the team to get a win after the recent string of tough losses, and with two difficult matches ahead on the weekend.

Wednesday

We had a couple of major focus points for this practice. One was to improve our defense, especially against the outside attack. The other was to start developing some additional options in attack out of serve reception. We did this initially by splitting the group. One part worked on defense in a couple of ways, partly against coach attacks off boxes. The other part worked on pin hitters and MBs hitting different combinations of sets. Both later progressed into game play.

We were not really satisfied with the practice, and it seemed like the players felt the same. I think part of it for them was there was all the new stuff, which naturally means less success than usual and more frustration. For our part, there were period of concentration lapses leading to really poor play. It’s stuff we need to clean up overall.

Thursday

The focus here was much the same as on Wednesday – keep looking to improve on defense and to develop more offensive options. After a ball-handling warm-up (4-person pepper variations), and some target serving, we split the team. Pin hitters and defensive players went through an exercise to try to be better positionally on serve receive. Setters and MBs continued to work on the speed and timing of the middle attacks.

Up next was a defense to transition attack drill. The attack side was controlled via a coach on a box hitting from 4. From there, though, we progressed to 6 v 6. In this case the starting side received a serve, defended an attack from 4, then defended an attack from 2. The latter were both off free balls. We kept track of how many points each side won on the serve ball and on the transition balls.

Friday

We hosted Angelo State. They won the conference tournament last year and currently sit #12 in the national poll for Division II. Their only conference loss coming into the match was at West Texas in five.

The match was a dud. It was something we could see coming in the warm-up (though you always hope you’re wrong). There was a clear lack of focus and intensity during the pre-match, that carried over into play. We made foolish mistakes and flat out didn’t do our jobs consistently. For a while in the third set it looked like we could put up a fight (we were up 13-11, I think), but then we gave up about 10 points in a row. Just no battle.

If Angelo was simply a dominant team, there wouldn’t be the coaching angst. We didn’t get overpowered. Maybe we would not have won regardless, but we had some opportunities to at least put them under more pressure. We just failed to execute.

There were a couple of good performances. Our OPP had a very solid match. Her numbers weren’t eye-catching, but she did well in both pass and attack. Our M1 also did pretty well on offense. Her timing on quicks has improved quite a bit.

Saturday

We hosted Tarleton State, who were the top team during the 2015 regular season. Their only conference loss coming in was to Angelo.

The energy and attitude was much improved for this match. We made a couple changes to the official part of our warm-up to give the OHs more reps and to get some more game-like action going. The feedback from the hitters was that they liked it a lot better. Certainly, what we saw in the final phase was better.

We did a lot of things well in this match. Our passing was solid. It was probably our best blocking match of the year in terms of position and timing. This against a team with a lot of moving parts in attack. We kept the conferences most prolific hitter below her kills/set average by more than 1.5. The timing of our quick sets continues to improve.

Unfortunately, our serving was kind of weak. We just didn’t get them out of system enough. We struggled against the slide and right side sets. Also, our set quality was sub-par. Too many times good passes turned into poor sets. The result was a pretty poor attacking match (.105) and a 3-0 loss, though a much closer one than against Angelo.

Observations

The thing that is really hampering us at this point is the mental side of the game. We’re just not staying engaged in plays all the way through. The result is we’re just not doing what needs to be done. That might be being in the right spot on defense. It could be failure to get a good transition. It could be failing to react to a tight/over-pass from our reception. We forget to change up the reception pattern after giving up a couple points in a row.

We are physically capable of being competitive with every team. Now we need to get mentally capable of doing so as well.

Match-day serve & pass questions

This is an open question to especially college volleyball coaches, but potentially also to professional volleyball coaches.

Do you do a serve & pass session on match day?

If so, I’ve got a few follow-up questions.

Do you do it both home and away?

How long do you go?

What do you do?

When do you do it relative to the start of the match?

I ask because I can’t help but wonder at some things.

Serve & Pass routines

It is regular practice in the Lone Star Conference for visiting teams to do 30 minutes on-court prior to the match. Generally, this is done in the hour prior to the 60-minute match countdown. For example, if the match is at 6pm, the visiting team might do a session from 4:00 to 4:30. Some teams look to do them earlier in the day.

One of the other conferences in our area has a specific arrangement. The home team gets 75 minutes before match start to 60 minutes. The visiting team then gets 60 minutes from the start to the 45 minute mark. After that it’s shared until the 19 minute mark when the 4-4-5-5-1 begins.

These sorts of arrangements are not unusual in my experience. It was the same way when I coached in the Ivy League. No doubt this sort of thing happens all over the country. When I coached in Sweden, we did a serve & pass session on home match days. For Saturday matches, it happened in the latter morning, with team lunch to follow (we played at 2:00 or 3:00). Visiting teams didn’t usually have time, though there was never an issue with jumping on the court before the 60-minute countdown started if the home team wasn’t on the court.

Serve & Pass, then full team warm-up?

One of the things I find curious is when a team does a fairly active serve & pass time, then roll almost directly into a full pre-match warm-up. Aren’t the players already warm?

I saw a team doing a fairly intense 45 minutes (well at least the end was fairly intense), then 20 minutes later start pre-match with a dynamic warm-up.

Why do that? Is it a case of being married to the idea that pre-match warm-up must always be done a certain way?

Why Serve & Pass on match day?

The next question I have is the value of doing a serve & pass session. To be clear, I’m talking about a session on match day, not something the day before. The automatic response from coaches, I’m guessing, is that it gives the players a chance to acclimate themselves to the gym. I’m also thinking there’s a secondary motivation of getting extra practice time – especially time that doesn’t count toward NCAA limits in the case of US college volleyball.

So where’s the trade-off between the value of getting those reps and the added physical and mental exertion on match day? Players have to mentally ramp themselves up for the serve & pass session, then obviously have the physical workload for that period of time. Then they have to wind back down, recover, and do it all over again for the match.

Are the extra touches worth the fact that the players probably won’t be at full 100% for the match?

I’d honestly like to hear some opinions.

 

Coaching Log – October 3, 2016

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

Now that we’re a couple weeks in, things are starting to settle out a bit in the Lone Star Conference. There are still a couple weeks left in the first half of the season, but some separation has developed in the standings.

Lone Star Conference Standings 9/26/16

One of the really interesting developments of last weekend was West Texas beating Angelo. The latter was looking like they might be far ahead of the pack this year, and were #8 in the Division II poll ahead of that match after having previously beaten a couple of strong teams.

Monday

We did a couple of player meetings, but decided to give the team an extra day of rest after the long travel over the weekend. We did ask them to email in responses to the questions of what they think we’ve been doing well and where we have room for improvement. They were meant to talk about technical/tactical stuff, but that wasn’t always (perhaps even mostly?) the case.

Tuesday

Before practice we talked stats and reviewed film from the weekend. The focus was on block/defense improvements, and getting faster on the quick.

A priority moving forward is getting more out of the right side. It’s not been bad, but it could be better. That was part of the thinking for our first set of drills. On one court, the MBs and OPPs worked on transition attacking, with the former just doing 1s and the latter running a standard 2nd tempo ball to the pin. We had the camera delay on them so they could see the timing. On the other court the OHs worked on serve reception and attacking.

After 15 minutes we switched it up. The OPPs went over to work off serve reception with one of the MBs. The other MBs stayed on the defensive court, with the OHs coming over to work on attacking in transition from off-blocker defense.

We then moved to Bingo-Bango-Bongo. In this case a team had to win three different initiations. The first was a down ball hit by the RS from the opposing team. Second was a down ball from the opposing team’s OH. The third was a free ball. The requirement was that on the first ball they had to set the initial ball to their RS, on the second ball it had to go to the OH, and for the final one it had to go either to the MB or the pipe. After the initial phase they could set anywhere. The idea, especially for the first two balls, was to continue work on the off-blocker defense-to-attack transition.

The last exercise was 22 v 22. This time the second ball for the team who won the first rally went to the setter to create a setter-our situation.

Wednesday

Following up on Tuesday’s talk about getting up earlier on quick attacks, early in practice we had the MBs work on just. That started with the MBs hitting straight off a pass. We did that to bring in the idea of “beat the ball to the setter”. That then progressed to hit off the set. They definitely got faster. Unfortunately, they seemed to revert later when we played 6 v 6. More work is required there.

While the MBs worked on quick tempo, the rest did serving and passing work. After that, we moved into a 5 v 5 game, with no MBs. It was thus a pin attacking game with a major focus on defensive position and pin blocking. This featured dig-or-die scoring (if you don’t touch the ball you lose all your points)

Next up was a 6 v 6 bonus point game. One side earned bonuses on MB quick attack or pipe kills. The other side earned bonuses for kills from the right side of the court, including setter dump.

Finally, we played another set of 5 v 5 games. These were right side vs. left side. Each side was down one of the pin hitters. We played a bunch of mini games to five.

All through the game play we whistled teams for failure to cover their hitters.

Thursday

This day’s practice started similarly to Wednesdays. We continued working on the MBs going faster on quicks as the OHs and liberos did serve and pass to attack. Eventually, we brought the groups together. Then we repeated the 5 v 5 no middles dig-or-die game to keep working on our defense.

After that we spent a fair amount of time playing A side vs. B side, with the latter acting as Friday’s opponent in certain rotations. We finished up with 22 v 22. This time, a first ball quick attack kill won the big point straight away. All second balls replicated OH attacks and went to the defending front row OH to work on that defensive transition to attack.

Friday

Our host for this match was Texas Woman’s. They finished third last season, but had some stuff happen over the Summer and during preseason that probably set them back a bit – including the head coach being removed just before preseason.

This was a gut-wrencher. We twice fell behind by set, but rallied back to bring it back level. In the 5th we got out to what looked like an unassailable 12-7 lead, but then never scored another point and lost. Part of the collapse was passing errors. Part of it was decision-making. All in all, though, it comes down to knowing how to win, which we clearly still struggle with. We were up 23-20 in the 3rd and ended up losing 26-24 as an example.

Generally speaking, our serving and passing were pretty solid. Our MBs were not particularly effective on the night (they faced bigger players on the other side of the net). Our pin hitters, though, were very solid. Overall, we hit a .275 for the match. We just let them hit .288.

Saturday

Texas A&M – Commerce was our opponent for this match. They finished 6th last season and were picked to come in 8th this year in the preseason poll. They’re not a big team, but they are quite athletic and hard hitting.

This was a match of streaks. Both teams were able to score points in bunches. We had the better of it in the first two sets, and jumped out to a 2-0 lead. We were a little ahead in the first part of the 3rd set when one of our starting OHs had to temporarily come off with a leg niggle. Our freshman OH, who’s seen her share of playing time this year, took her place. By the time the starter came back on, though, we seemed to have lost our momentum. The score went from 15-15 to 25-17 in short order.

We never really got the momentum – or belief – back. The fourth set finished with a similar scoreline. Then we fell well behind in the 5th. We mounted a late rally, but only got as far as 15-12.

One of the issues we had in the latter going was bad errors. Several serves were missed in the net. We missed back-to-back (even 3 out of 4 in one stretch). We did not put balls in play that should have been put in play (bad sets, scramble plays, etc.). On the plus side, we saw a better blocking performance. The timing still has a ways to go, but we had 12 blocks on the day, which I think is about twice what we’ve done in any prior conference match.

Observations

One of our biggest hurdles as we try to turn around this program is to develop a winner’s mentality. I think MSU has only had four winning seasons in the LSC in about 20 years. No one in the current team has been part of one of those squads. We’re also young. There’s a lot we have not yet learned about all the little things you have to do in competitive matches to come out on top.

On the plus side, we constantly hear really positive things from folks coming to see us play who’ve seen the team in years gone by. They praise not just what’s happening on the court, but also the attitude and actions of our bench.

Coaching Log – September 26, 2016

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

Monday

Before practice we had a team talk about both on-court and bench mentality during matches – in particular late in close sets. Just looking to get everyone on the same page in terms of expectations, consistency, etc.

Practice was focused on hitting and blocking. In the former case, it was about the pins making sure they were hitting high, especially out of system. In the latter case it was mainly about timing, as we have consistently been late on our blocks. This is something I showed the players via still frames from recent match video.

After some serving and passing, the first part of the work done was pin hitters against defense. This was done off a serve reception, with the hitters having marked out corner targets to aim at. The second part was a wash drill where one side received a served ball, then had a ball played to the setter to create a setter-out situation. In both cases the first ball had to go to the pin hitter. After that, anyone could be set.

Tuesday

This was the first match against our travel partner, Cameron. This time around we played at their place. We saw Cameron playing at our home tournament. They’re a small team, but a scrappy one. They play good defense and will go fast in attack given the opportunity. Over the weekend they lost in 5 to West Texas (already their 5th five-setter of the season), then got swept by UTPB. The latter was a little bit of a surprise.

img_20160920_174636

We had some struggles at the start of the first set, in particular by way of hitting errors. They jumped out to a 0-4 lead and stayed in front until very late. In fact, they were up 24-20. We fought back, though, and ended up winning 29-27. Our pin hitters scuffled, but our MBs tore it up. One of them went for 8 kills on 10 swings, with three of those kills part of our late comeback.

After that we were basically in control. We hit .324 and .325 in the second and third sets ( .154 in the first). For the match we had 20 more kills than Cameron. At times our offense was a thing of beauty, with players scoring from all across the net. That was against a relatively poor blocking team, however. We’re not a real tall team, but Cameron is notably smaller.

Wednesday

This was a rough practice. The tempo was a little low. That’s not a big surprise given we played the night before. We did some back row attacking and defense work, and serving and passing as part of the early stages. After that we spent time having the pin hitters work on effective tips and roll shots.

When we got into 6 v 6 at the end, though, we had two collisions involving heads. One was head-to-head when two players dove for a ball in the middle of the court. The other was head-to-knee. Crazily, the “head” player in the latter was also involved in the former. She joked the second was on the opposite side of the first, so they balanced out. The knee ended up a bit swollen and sore, but all the heads seem to be fine.

After the second coming together, we called a halt and one of the players joked we needed to wrap everyone up in bubble wrap. On the plus side, the starter we had down with a knee issue was back to basically full participation. Also, our ankle injury player from the first tournament is all the way back in to training. We may eventually get back to full strength!

Thursday

No practice today as we had to get on the road for our lengthy weekend road trip. We jumped on the bus for a 2:00 departure. Six hours later we were at our hotel in Clovis, NM.

Friday

Doing one-night hotel stays when you have an evening match is always a logistical challenge. You have to work around check-out times that are usually hours before you want to head to the gym. In this case, it was noon check-out when the plan was to leave for the match at 4:00pm. Video review, lunch, and study hall in the breakfast area of the hotel filled the time.

This night’s competition was Eastern New Mexico. They were picked to finish 9th in the preseason poll. It was a tough match.They have an OPP who we particularly made note of, though they also had a solid MB and OH. We knew keeping them out-of-system was going to be important.

Western NM

We lost the first 25-21, then won 25-20 in the second, though that was more about ENM making a lot of errors. During the long break we decided to swap libero’s (you can change them set-to-set in college volleyball) to bring in a player who’s been getting time as a serving and defensive sub. Our starting libero just wasn’t playing confidently and wasn’t passing well.

We really struggled in the third set, losing 25-14. We hit negative and allowed them to hit .435. In the latter stages we made a couple of changes. One was to swap setters. Our starter was struggling with accuracy and wasn’t making the best decisions. We swapped out one of the OHs who wasn’t hitting well to bring back in the one who was out due to injury. We also turned the rotation, both for offense and defense (blocking).

That helped turn things around. We hit .286 in the fourth and held them to .098 on the way to a 25-20 win. They were better on offense, but we held strong and ran out 15-12 winners. Not a pretty match, but a good fight.

Saturday

We played Western New Mexico at their place. They were picked 6th in the preseason poll. Like UTPB, they are a new edition to the Lone Star Conference this year. They are also the longest trip for us. In particular, it’s a lengthy trip from Eastern NM as you have to drive from northeast (Portales) to southwest (Silver City), making for a tough back-to-back. We drove part of the way after Friday’s match, which meant getting to the hotel around 1:00AM. We drove the last two hours the next day ahead of a 3:00PM match.

img_20160924_140218

The players didn’t outwardly show signs of feeling the effects of the tough match the night before, the short night’s sleep, and all the travel. They were very loose and lively to start the match. You know there had to be some, though.

WNM is probably the biggest team we’ve played thus far, so we knew there would be some challenges for our attack. We basically kept the squad who finished the match the night before, except for putting back in the starting setter. Unfortunately, we both struggled on offense (.069) and in defense (they hit .407). We lost 25-21.

We made an OH change for the second set as the freshman who played well the night before struggled. Our hitting percentage did improve (.250), but we just couldn’t stop them from scoring (.556).

To boost the defense, we changed setters. Our second setter (a freshman) is stronger in both blocking and defense. That seemed to help. The start was rough, as we went down 10-4, but we managed to claw our way back in gradually. We kept them to only .138, and actually got our only two blocks of the match – one by the new setter. Unfortunately, we made three straight service errors late in the set which may have kept us from at least pushing them to the limit. We ended up losing 25-21 again.

Notes

We drove straight back from the match. It took around 12 hours all together, including picking up dinner and doing a mandatory driver change. I got home just after 7:00AM on Sunday morning. Fortunately, that’s now out of the way.

Post-match team talks

During the 2016 women’s college season I witnessed a team having a lengthy post-match talk. It came after they lost a match to my team, Midwestern State. Interestingly, it looked like the assistant coach was the one doing most of the talking, while the head coach stood by fairly quietly.

This wasn’t a ranting, raving type of coach talk, though there was definitely a negative tone. I only heard bits and pieces. They made it sound like the focus was on mindset – at least during that part of the talk. The real standout about the meeting to me was its length. That, and the fact that it took place in the corner of the gym rather than in a locker room.

I’ve seen some ugly, long-winded post-match team talks in my time. Some involved teams I coached. Others involved teams I coached against. In the former, very rarely did I think that sort of meeting was productive (see Does yelling at the team accomplish anything positive?)

In the case of witnessing a team scolding, my reaction comes in two forms. On the one hand, sometimes I feel bad for them. When I coached at Exeter, our men’s team beat a team from Northern Ireland in a playoff match. That coach, who seemed like a nice guy, laid into them for a ridiculously long time afterwards. I felt really bad for them. So did the guys on my team, who wanted to invite the other team out for a post-match pint (they do that in England).

The alternative reaction is more a competitive one. There’s a certain amount of satisfaction to beating a team so badly that they get yelled at afterwards. It’s kind of like targeting a single opposing player to the point they eventually have to be subbed out. It’s a psychological victory above and beyond the one on the scoreboard.

Can’t help but wonder if coaches who yell at their team in public realize this? Or if they’re just trying to embarrass their players.

Coaching Log – September 19, 2016

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

Monday

Before practice we talked with the players about improving how we play on the second day. Now that we’re heading into conference play, it’s not something we can afford. We asked the players for their impressions why we came out flat in our first match on Saturday.

This was mainly a fairly slow-paced session. Aside from the warm-ups and a bit of serving, it was entirely a 6 v 6 practice. The biggest part of that was an offense vs. defense game where the ball stopped after the initial attack. The focus was mainly on serve reception technique, which is something we want to see improved. The replay camera was set so the receivers could look at themselves each time they passed. After that we played an out-of-system game.

Tuesday

In evaluating four of our recent matches I realized that our kill % on perfect passes in serve receive was surprisingly low. It was only 35%, which is a lot lower than most guessed when I asked. Part of that comes from the fact that we’re still developing parts of our attack. Another part comes from the fact that we don’t do a lot of work in practice on perfect pass situations. Many of our games are transition and out-of-system oriented. And even when we’re initiating with served balls, we’re encouraging our players to serve aggressively. As a result, we don’t have great passing in training.

That being the case, we decided to go through the reception rotations one by one. In each rotation the team had to get five first-ball kills out of ten. Any rotations which failed were repeated at the end. It was slow, and low intensity, but something we needed to do to help identify the best options and decisions.

Wednesday

We continued to work on perfect pass offense and problem rotations, but at a much higher intensity level. As a warm-up, we did a down ball version of the Cooperative Cross-Court Hitting drill. The players did a serving warm-up after that, followed by a serving and passing game.

After that it was 6 v 6 play. First up was a variation on the Bingo-Bango-Bongo game. In this version a team received a free ball. If they won it, they received a down ball from the opposing Zone 4. If they won that, they received a final ball through Zone 2. Winning all three balls earned the team a point. If at any point the team lost a rally, the other team received a free ball to restart the sequence. Thus, it was basically a near-continuous play game. In all cases, the balls were initiated by the opposing team. By that I mean if a free ball was required to go to Team A, we tossed a ball to Team B to send it over. If no one won a point for too long, we rotated players around. Otherwise, we made the switches at each point win.

We then played 22 v 22, and focused on Rotation 1 and Rotation 6. Those are the problem ones up to this point. A team automatically won the big point on a first ball kill, either off serve receive or in transition.

Class schedules cause us to lose players late in this practice. That being the case, we finished playing Winners 5. It featured fixed setters and three teams of four. Each team had a middle, who attacked front row. The other three were back row only players.

Thursday

The main part of practice was 6 v 6 playing first a wash game, then a standard game with bonus points. In the case of the former, the game featured alternating serves. To win a big point, a team had to win two rallies in a row. We played 3-point games and went through four different rotations. In the last game the bonus points were for off-speed shot kills when in-system. It’s something we don’t do enough of, so we want to start encouraging it more.

After practice (and showers for the players), we had a sports psychologist come in to talk with the team. He went over some personality-based communication stuff, cycling back to his work with the squad in Spring. The majority of the time, though, was focused on mindset elements.

Friday

This was our first Lone Star Conference match. We hosted the University of Texas, Permian Basin (UTPB). UTPB is a new member of the conference this year. The coaches and sports info folks picked them to finish last in the league this year in the preseason poll. We were picked to finish second to last, so this was a match-up of the two teams least expected to reach the conference tournament.

MSU Ligon

We won 3-0. The first set was pretty straight forward. We let them creep back up late, but won 25-19. Our offense wasn’t great (.161), but there’s was worse and we had four aces. The second set was more challenging. They got on top early, with a 5-1 lead. We clawed back fairly quickly, but it nip-and-tuck from that point on, and we didn’t really get on top of them until the very end for a 25-23 win. Our hitting wasn’t any better, and their offense improved some.

The final set started off like Set 2 with them putting pressure on us – particularly in reception with a few tough serves. They were ahead 9-13 at one stage. After that, though, we ran away with it to win 25-16. We hit .304 on the set, despite getting blocked number of times, while they hit .000.

It was the best match of the year so far for our MBs. Both hit over .400. As a team our kill rate was 47%, which is solid. Just made a few too many errors, though, so only ended up at .198 for the match.

Nice to get the first conference win under our belt after the team went 0-16 last year.

Saturday

In our second match of the week we hosted West Texas A&M. They ended up 4th in the preseason poll, after a 7th place finish in 2015. This is a team that dominated the LSC for several years before running into injury issues last season.

This was a winnable match, but we were lacking on the mental side of things. One of our issues with previous Saturday matches was not coming out with good focus. That showed up in poor serve receive passing. In this case, though, that wasn’t the issue. We passed a 2.11 for the match, which was one of our best on the year so far. We had them under pressure as well, as they only passed a 1.75. The mental issues this time were on other areas. Several balls didn’t get played on defense because players weren’t expecting the ball. Balls to be set fell between players. We made some poor decisions.

As the opposing coach said after the match, both teams had pucker spells. We ended up going down in four: 25-21, 26-24, 26-28, 25-18. The result might have been different had we managed to hold on to a 20-16 lead in the second set.

Funny match. Neither team could stop the other very well out of serve receive the first set. Then in the second, neither team could sideout very well.

A nice bright point in the match was the play of our freshman OH. She’s been mainly used as a back row sub so far, but had to start this weekend because our red shirt junior is sidelined with an injury. She was probably our best hitter on the match overall.

Observations

One of the positives of the seasons so far has been the recognition by just about everyone internally how far the team has come. We got some external affirmation of that this weekend. One of the opposing coaches said to us after the match, “You guys are going to be f—ing good!” It’s a funny thing to get that kind of external comment. Internally, our tendency is to see developmental needs.

Playing multiple matches a day question

I had an interesting conversation with the assistant men’s soccer coach. He and the guys on that team watched the first of our matches on Saturday before they left for their own. Naturally, that was our weakest performance of the tournament. :-/

He made the observation, though, that the team is different this year. In particular, he talked about how the team bounced back from losing a set. It’s something teams in prior years have not done well. The players have made that sort of resilience a part of their team focus for the year. They want to be the team that looks the same, no matter the score.

Recovering between matches

The question the soccer coach asked me had to do with how players handle playing multiple matches in a day. As he noted, soccer players in the US don’t play more than one match a day after about the age of 12. He was curious what was the biggest challenge for players when playing two matches. Is it the physical? Is it the mental?

I’m curious to hear what you think. Leave a comment below.

For my own part, I think it’s probably more mental than physical. Yes, there is definitely a physical element, especially for players who jump a lot. There’s a ton of mental energy exerted in especially a competitive match. Even as a coach I find myself wanting a nap after an intense match!

To be fair, though, volleyball players are used to multiple matches per day. That’s the deal for Juniors volleyball, after all. College players usually come from clubs that play in 2-3 day tournaments, and pool play rounds feature generally three matches a day. Obviously, those matches aren’t at the same level as a college match, and they are usually only best-of-3 rather than best-of-5. But the players are used to having to “get up” for a match multiple times a day.

Coaching Log – September 12, 2016

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

Monday

This was a shortish, fairly technical practice. We talked about stats from the weekend, in particular the comparison of hitting effectiveness of different types of sets (see last week’s post). We also gave them some time to write in the journals their thoughts on our generally poor first sets. The plan was to actually talk about it on Tuesday.

We said this week’s focus is making improvements. The blockers worked on getting better net penetration while the liberos and smaller setters worked on defense. After that we mixed players up in a couple of serve & pass and middle transition stations. The setter-middle connection was a big focus for the week.

Next up was the Continuous Cross-Court Digging drill, which we put in for the first time. We had the players hit, which I also did at Svedala. It would have been better to see some stronger swings, but it was the first time running it, so it was fine. The point was to work on control digs better, especially on balls not hit directly at the player. Player hitting creates a higher degree of randomness.

We finished up with 6 v 6 play, with bonus points for an ace or 1-pass for the serving team, and 3-passes for the receiving team.

Tuesday

First up was a session watching video from the weekend. It was an opportunity to focus on a few things, and for the players to confirm that we just need to be better in certain areas. By that I mean no major overhauls are required to get where we want to go. After that we talked about the slow start issue. The general conclusion seemed to be that the 4 minute and 5 minute pre-game segments aren’t getting the job done. Players aren’t feeling physically ready, and if anything are mentally frazzled. Adjustments will be made.

The biggest single focus of practice was the connection with the middles. We played a couple of games where scoring was driven by effective middle attacks (e.g. bonus points for MB kills). More technically, we did some work on digging balls outside the body line, which is something we identified as an issue over the weekend.

One of the more interesting things we did was a dig-or-die back row game.

Wednesday

The focus on the setter-middle connection remained a theme for this practice. After doing some serving to begin, we once more split the team into stations, with one working on serve & pass and the other working on middle attacks. After that, we repeated the dig-or-die back row game as a prelude to playing 6 v 6.

Our starting OPP has to leave early on Wednesdays, so the first game we played awarded bonus points for right side and in-system back row kills. After that, we repeated Tuesday’s bonus game with respect to middle hitter attacks. In particular, because we wanted to develop the slide, we gave two points for a kill on that set.

Overall, we were quite happy with the middle offense. Our freshman setter took a while to lock in on going for the bonus points, but she eventually got there.

Thursday

We started practice off with some 2-touch games as a warm-up. After that, we progressed to our new pre-match warm-up routine for the 4 minute and 5-minute parts. They still needed to get smoothed out a bit, which we hope would happen during the tournament.

The rest of the session was 6 v 6 game play. First we did a game where they were only allowed to set back row in-system, and only the pins out-of-system. After that, we played 22 v 22, with the rule that if a team won the initial rally via a middle attack they immediately won the big point.

Friday

The day’s first match was against Fort Lewis from the Rocky Mountain Conference. Our focus with the team on getting better starts seemed to help. We didn’t have a perfect first set, but we did win, 25-22. We were behind late in the second, but came back to win 28-26, hitting a solid .298 with 20 kills. Fort Lewis failed to recover and we jumped out to a big lead in the third. A slip in focus toward the end, though, allowed them to narrow the gap some, but we still won 25-20. Serving in the match was very solid. We only had 3 aces, while missing 11, but put the opposition out-of-system consistently.

The second match of the day was against Dallas Baptist from the Heartland Conference. This was the team, going in, we thought would be our strongest competition. On the day, at least, they probably were the better of the two teams. We rolled out to a pretty easy first set win, 25-16, keeping DBU to -.050 hitting. There was a LONG officials delay at the start of the second set, which may have impacted our performance somewhat. Things got a bit sloppy and we ended up losing 21-25. Things turned around in the third, though it was still tight. We managed a 25-22 win. Our serve was really on form in the fourth set, and we rolled to a pretty easy 25-19 win.

Saturday

The first match of the day was against  St. Edwards from the Heartland Conference. Unfortunately, this was not a good match. We didn’t come out well. It was quite a bit like last weekend in terms of passing poorly and making a lot of mistakes. We managed only six kills in the first set, against seven hitting errors. Things improved dramatically after that. We won the second set, but it remained a struggle the rest of the way and we lost in four.

Our final tournament match was vs. Southeastern Oklahoma State from the Great American Conference. In stark contrast to the first match, we jumped on this team with a relentless assault from the start, hitting .438 in the first set with 19 kills. Things cooled off considerably in the second set, but our block/defense kicked in to allow us to win. The offense returned to form in the third with even better defense, and we won going away.

Observations

The Rocky Mountain and Heartland Conferences are both part of the Division II South Central Region. That also includes the Lone Star Conference, which is the one we play in. That means our matches against those teams counted toward our regional rankings. At this writing, the first set of regional rankings for the year have not been posted. They will eventually be updated here.

We didn’t really do much in the way of video prep for this tournament. We showed the setters some footage of three teams, but that was it. We’ll do more moving forward.

All in all, it was a good tournament in terms of our development. In particular, the middle attack was much improved. It’s a long way from being where we want it to be, but the progress was clearly evident.

That’s it for the pre-conference action. Now on to Lone Start Conference play!

Game: Dig or Die Back Row Speedball

Synopsis:  This is a variation on the Speedball Winners idea as applied to a game with back row attacks only. The difference is that point scoring is collective and defensive intensity is highly encouraged.

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

Requirements: 12+ players, full court

Execution: Players are split, with half on each side. Those teams are then split into at least two groups. One group from each side starts on the court, with one of them serving to begin the rally. Once the rally plays out – back row attacking only – the losing team rotates out, with a new group from that same side serving to the winners and coming on. Points are earned for rally wins, with each side being a single team on the score board. If a team lets a ball drop without a touch, they lose all their points and go back to zero.

Variations:

  • For a higher tempo game you can start each play with a coach-initiated ball.
  • Depending on your numbers and training focus you can have fixed setters or not.
  • Again, depending on your level of play you can loosen up the must touch the ball requirement to must make a legitimate effort.

Additional Comments:

  • Playing multiple shorter games is probably better than playing one longer game. That way a single ball dropping isn’t quite so demoralizing (think being at 20 and going back to zero).