From time to time a coach in a forum or discussion group looks for some advice about buying new equipment. Often it starts with something like this:
I have $1000 left in my fundraising account. What should I buy with it?
My personal philosophy on this sort of thing is to think about what you’ll get the most use from over its lifetime. Maybe that comes from my background in business and finance. 🙂
Anyway, with that in mind, here’s what I would look at in order of priority. I should note, I’m thinking here in terms of stuff to help from a coaching perspective. I’m not thinking about things like uniforms and other player gear.
Balls and ball carts
There is definitely a limit to how many balls it makes sense to have. You need space to store them, and the size of your gym plays a part.
For example, when I coached at Exeter our main practice gym had almost no space around the court. That means stray balls were always at risk of getting underfoot. As such, having a big number of balls didn’t make sense. I think we had about a dozen balls. Different situation at MSU where the gym is much larger and balls roll well away from the court, allowing us to have four or five ball carts full of balls.
At a minimum, you probably want at least one ball per two players. That allows you to do partner work. More is definitely better, though. It lets you keep drills and games going without needing to stop to collect the balls. Granted, you can use that as a break, but you don’t want to have to halt things too often. So get as many balls as you can reasonable handle.
As for ball carts, you obviously need at least enough to hold all the balls. Beyond that, think about how you can distribute carts around your gym to facilitate ball entry and the like in your exercises. For example, if you like to do station work or otherwise split the team, you probably need at least one cart for each group.
Poles, nets, and stuff for additional court(s)
If you have the opportunity to increase the number of courts you can set up in your gym, grab it! That could be something as simple as creating a situation where you can suspend a long net across run mini volleyball courts. Or you could set up full competitive courts. Whatever the case, you can add more nets to use for practice – perhaps to do stations or small group work. You can also potentially use the extra courts to host tournaments, and maybe even make some money in the process.
These days, if you are not using video in your practices you are behind the times. It could be something as simple as an tablet you use to record players doing reps and playing it back for them. Or it could be an delayed video system. This is the sort of thing where you can find a solution that fits your budget.
Addition coaching help
If you’re in a situation where you don’t have a full staff and could use a bit more help in the gym, maybe you can put the money to use on an assistant. This is not something you’d think of as having a long-term benefit, which is why I put it here. You never know, though. An extra pair of eyes or another voice in the gym could make a big impact with lasting effects, even if it’s just for a short period.
Can you use the money to go to a coaching clinic or convention? If so, that might be a great investment. Increasing your coaching knowledge is something that can have both an immediate positive impact and long lasting ones.
Ball throwers, targets, and other devices
As it’s position on the list implies, I think investing in one of the many devices available on the market should be a low priority. Most of the time these devices are quite expensive and are not used all that often. You have to really look your situation and make a realistic estimate of how often you’d use the new piece of equipment your considering. Then you should probably reduce that estimate because we all tend to overestimate these sorts of things. We have all sorts of grand ideas, but then the reality of having to pull the device out of storage, set it up, and take it down hits.
A serving machine is a prime example. First, you want to consider whether you really want players passing off a machine instead of from an actual server where they are also learning to pick up on visual cues. Second, could you not simply use real servers, thereby also giving them serving practice?
Admittedly, there are situations where a machine makes sense. For example, in men’s volleyball it is hard to get a high volume of reps off a live jump serve because of the physical demands on the servers. A serving machine in that situation makes quite a bit of sense.
Another situation where it might make sense is in a small group or individual training session. Maybe you don’t have someone who can serve, or at least serve they way you need. That’s another time when it makes sense to have a serving machine. Even still, you have to consider how often that kind of situation comes up to decide whether the machine is worth its large price tag.